What a wild playoffs. I've been so caught up with everything that I had neglected to add new entries. Apologies. As a gift, here's everything that's been on my mind for the past 2 weeks.
<img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/89/fullj.7a91908a184526bbb821a5fc3389d855/7a91908a184526bbb821a5fc3389d855-getty-98063257.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> - Colorado just simply ran out of steam. Craig Anderson looked exhausted at times and the game time Peter Budaj saw I'm sure gave Anderson some much needed rest, however brief. Matt Duchene hit a wall and had an obvious difficulty adjusting to the more physical playoff hockey after an outstanding rookie season. Chris Stewart really had a coming out party and could become a legitimate 30-goal power forward. The Sharks almost became another punch line to a choking joke again and even though San Jose can breath a sigh of relief, they still won't make it past the second round. Even Dan Boyle was reluctant to talk about his Game 3 gaffe. If they do, it'd be totally on the shoulders of Boyle, Joe Pavelski, and Devin Setoguchi. The Sharks' vaunted Big Three have once again pulled their disappearing act. Joe Thornton has 3 assists in 6 games and is -4. Patrick Marleau has 3 points and is -2. Dany Heatley has 0 goals in 5 games. You really have to wonder how long Doug Wilson is willing to hold on to this core. And you also have to really wonder if Thornton can really be considered a franchise cornerstone anymore.
- There's no secret that there's a double standard in the NHL and their failure to remain objective in all their disciplinary actions just makes the joke even worse. Zdeno Chara should've been suspended as per league rules but he wasn't, and you can expect the same with Marian Hossa for his hit on Dan Hamhuis. To make matters worse, Hossa was the Game 5 hero, giving the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead against a Nashville squad. I didn't think Chicago would have this much trouble against a team that pales in comparison in talent, but it just goes to show how far blue-collar hockey can get you. The Hawks will have no problem closing this out on the road or at the United Center.
<img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/capress/d8/fullj.1ee1ab3e17070f7eef2792201806597f/capress-hkn_kings_canucks-232609823.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed"> - The Kings skated with such confidence that it totally disrupted with the Canucks' play and if not for Mikael Samuelsson's (he's been fantastic since the "Sweden Snub") shooting the Canucks wouldn't be in this position. Roberto Luongo still really hasn't found his game while the defense can be criticized, his .882 SV% and 3.11 GAA just won't cut it. The penalty kill has been awful, and for those who wonder how Ryan Johnson and his one-goal season can justify more than a million dollars per year, well, there's your answer. Meanwhile, the usual suspects continue to march on. Henrik and Daniel and Ryan Kesler have continued their great regular seasons. The return of Steve Bernier was big, and the always under-appreciated big forward has caused some havoc in front of the Kings net. I think the last 7-2 thrashing totally shot down whatever confidence the Kings had. Give credit to the Kings - they're a young squad that really exceeded expectations this year, and they're going to be Pacific Division heavyweights for a long time with Anze Kopitar up front and Norris-nominee Drew Doughty on the blueline. If the Canucks can't defend the Kings, they'll have headaches with the Blackhawks. Again.
- I think in the Detroit-Phoenix series, experience has really tilt the scales in the Wings' favour. Admittedly I haven't been following this series as closely as the other, but each Red Wing win looks more and more convincing. After an ugly 7-4 win, the Wings have absolutely clamped down on Phoenix's offense, with two goals allowed in their last two games. Pavel Datsyuk's simply a magician on ice and he's led the Wings' attack. Nicklas Lidstrom has remained relatively quiet (as usual) but I somehow expected a little more out of him considering that this may be his last NHL playoffs amidst rumours of retiring or returning to Sweden. Usually, half the teams that make the playoffs one year don't make the playoffs the following year (Edmonton and Carolina being the most extreme examples, no Rangers, Blues, Flames, Ducks this year). I have a feeling Phoenix and Colorado will both fall victim to this because the biggest reason for their success has been their goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov and Craig Anderson have had outstanding seasons but they'd have to do it again to prove to me they're not one-trick ponies.
- There's no way the Habs can limit the Caps to one goal again. That simply won't happen. Bruce Boudreau was noticeably flustered with his team's lack of offense in Game 5, but they'll find their game soon. You can shut down Alex Ovechkin for one game, but not an entire series. I really think the wild card here isn't goaltending, but rather Mike Green. Green has just 2 assists and is the Caps' fourth highest scoring defenseman behind USA World Jr. hero John Carlson, Tom Poti, and deadline pick-up Joe Corvo. Alex Semin only has one assist and is driving everyone crazy - he earns $6 million next year on a one-year contract and if he doesn't perform then he will be trade bait. Much like LA's Alex Frolov, Semin's desire to compete has been questioned. I've been impressed with the Habs' effort despite being a much less skilled and smaller team, but I think for the most part they've responded well. Size wasn't an issue here but look for the Habs to address that need at this year's draft where there's plenty of big-bodied centres.
- I called the upset, and it was Philadelphia. They were simply built for the playoffs and the Devils just couldn't overcome their aggressive play. The Scott Hartnells, Mike Richards, and even Dan Carcillos of the Flyers simply outworked the Devils. Ian Laperriere required 60-70 stitches to fix his face after taking a shot and it's the little instances like that that can tell you about what sort of personality the team has. They'll face Washington next round (if they win) and that's a tough match-up. All you need in the playoffs to go far is a hot goalie and the Flyers have just that with Brian Boucher. At the heels of the Devils' elimination, it should be no surprise that the rumour mill has started to turn again. With a third straight first round exit, I think it's a definite sign that Martin Brodeur can no longer be the man. His .881 SV% and 3.01 GAA was awful for his standards and it has sparked rumours that Lou Lamoriello may be going after Carey Price.
- The Boston-Buffalo series was certainly one that caught me by surprise. I knew that neither team would score much, and I thought Buffalo could hold off Boston's physical attack before the fatigue would set in the second round, but I guess I was wrong. Both goalies have been incredible and I still can't really pick which team is going to win, but I'll have to stick with Buffalo and hope they can win two straight. If the Sabres do win, it'd make me 8 for 8 in my predictions. The winner of this series won't last past the second. After Lindy Ruff told the media that whether or not Thomas Vanek would play would depend solely on him, it's going to be very difficult for Vanek to say no, no matter how far away from being 100% he is.
- The Sens played great despite missing some several key pieces and going against two of the most offensively talented players in the league and Selke nominee Jordan Staal. It's tough enough beating all three of them, but with a strong supporting cast (although not as strong as the Pens would like) they prevailed. The series does put the Sens in a bit of a curious position, as moving forward they'll have to decide if either Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliott is their number one guy going forward, or if they're just going to split everything 50-50.
- Very quickly, that sets up San Jose and Detroit, Vancouver and Chicago, Washington and Philadelphia, and then Pittsburgh-Buffalo/Boston. It's going to be a dandy, because I see Detroit and Chicago in the Conference Finals and another Pittsburgh-Washington showdown before Chicago claims the Cup. Bold? Maybe.
- The obsession with getting the right match-ups has set a new record for too many men on the ice penalties. It's going to cost a team mightily in the Finals and it'll have to be pinned on the coach. Poor bench management leads to poor communication and it won't necessarily be the players' fault.
- John Tavares didn't make the list of Calder nominees that includes Detroit's Jimmy Howard, Colorado's Matt Duchene, and Buffalo's Tyler Myers. It's not that Tavares didn't have a good season - he did, with 24 goals to tie for the lead with Duchene but it was Tavares' -15 that didn't do him any favours. If it were my pick it'd be Howard. Duchene was one of Colorado's top scorers and Myers was Buffalo's top defenseman, but both I think were real beneficiaries of having Anderson and Ryan Miller in net. In hockey the most important position (arguably) is in net and without Howard the Red Wings wouldn't have made the top 8. He's much older but he's the most worthy of the league's top rookie award.
- The race for the Selke essentially comes down to two players: Pavel Datsyuk and Ryan Kesler. There's no contest for the third candidate, Jordan Staal. I was a little perplexed by Staal's nomination, but in part because Datsyuk and Kesler are in a class of their own. You could replace Staal with Jonathan Toews, who I felt should've gotten a vote, and it still wouldn't have been a contest. Kesler will be hard-pressed to beat Datsyuk for the award but I think considering Kesler's showing at the Olympics and his offensive breakout it's his time to claim the award.
- The Lady Byng Trophy is usually the least respected major award and it's not totally fair to give it that label and but indeed it is less glamorous. Datsyuk gets his second nomination this year while Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis both enjoyed great seasons. However, I think Datsyuk will go empty-handed once again and St. Louis, who was snubbed by Canada, will take the award.
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/blackhawks/images/upload/2009/01/chi_129_6.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> - The most interesting race will be for the Norris Trophy. This year's list of candidates features three first-timers with Duncan Keith, Mike Green, and Drew Doughty. I'm still a little uneasy over Green's nomination because his defensive game is nowhere near Keith's (glug glug) or Doughty's. Someone please make a Bobby Orr Award or something for best offensive defenseman. Anyway, back on topic, has anyone else noticed that none of those 3 players are feared for their hitting? It's clearly a changing of the guard not so much in terms of age, but definitely style of play. All three are incredible skaters. Chris Pronger was never an incredible skater. If it weren't for Green's nomination I think it would've went to Shea Weber. My pick is without a doubt Duncan Keith, no question.
- Nashville can't even sell out their playoff games against a division rival. Once again, the futility of hockey in non-traditional American markets should give Gary Bettman an idea of what exactly is going on down there but of course he believes they are still viable markets. Bettman got absolutely lucky with the Coyotes' success this season. It also shows, however, how a successful team, no matter the location, can be with the proper management. It sounds like Tampa Bay is headed in that direction but apparently Martin St. Louis wants no part of it and has reportedly requested a trade.
- The draft lottery didn't unveil any surprises, but the Oilers are still shrouded in mystery as to who they're going to pick. They've recently re-vamped their front office by firing assistant GM Kevin Prendergast and a number of trainers, but you have to wonder when Steve Tambellini's going to start touching that roster. If I were the Oilers, I'd draft Tyler Seguin and blow up that entire roster. If Tambellini had to pick one player to not trade regardless of the offer, it'd be Sam Gagner. The kid's a wizard with the puck and competes hard.
- It's playoff hockey time and we've already seen our fair share of blood, bruises, and shattered teeth courtesy of Eric Belanger. The winner of this year's playoffs will be the team that has lost the most teeth and pints of blood combined. It's always been like that though.
Here's to the Canucks and Kyle Wellwood losing all his teeth.
Go Canucks Go!