30. That was Canucks hockey at its finest. Even at the Madhouse, the Blackhawks lacked that extra step all night. But that's what's most frustrating about the Canucks - they can't play their game on a more consistent basis.
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/03/mar1909_ob3_b.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">29. I was never a fan of Shane O'Brien, especially in game four when he took two bone-headed cross-checking penalties. No one has ever questioned his toughness but you can't help but notice that his game has improved drastically. His skating and his hockey smarts are two things that have really jumped out at me this season.
28. Will the real Ryan Kesler please stand up? Much like Alex Burrows, Kesler has struggled to find his game in the second round after a fantastic regular season and an even better performance at the Olympics. It's not like Kesler's invisible - that's more Pavol Demitra than anyone - but he hasn't made a big impact in games like we all know he can.
27. Roberto Luongo was better, but not fantastic. He didn't exactly steal the game, although there were more Hawks chances than I'd like to see. It's not exactly like the Hawks are an easy team to play against either.
26. Special teams is vital, especially if it's not the regular season. The Hawks powerplay didn't look nearly as dangerous and Dustin Byfuglien wasn't as noticeable as he was in Game Four. The Canucks didn't allow a single PPG in four penalty kills. A rarity these days.
25. If there was a goat for the entire series, I'm not picking the less than spectacular Luongo. It's Daniel Sedin. Having accumulated only 28 PIM all season, the twin without the 'A' has 12 PIM in 11 games and just one powerplay goal. Daniel was clearly rattled by David Bolland in Game Four and a lot of the penalties he's been taken have just been plain dumb. There was a collective sigh of relief for Canucks Nation when the Canucks came out strong again in the second period after a late hooking call on Daniel. Perhaps this is the reason why Alain Vigneault gave Henrik rather than Daniel the 'A'.
24. Kyle Wellwood can be a blast to watch. He's perhaps one of the best stickhandlers in the league in close quarters, but ask him to do it while skating at full speed and, well, it's probably not going to happen. But either way, I think he was one of the best players out there last night (along with Kevin Bieksa and O'Brien), and I think most will agree. He may be only one of the few returning UFAs and he won't come much more expensive than his current salary ($1.2 million).
23. It's a foregone conclusion that Pavol Demitra is gone after this season. I didn't expect him to be back next year but his overall lack of effort just solidified my case even more.
22. Never mind Patrick Kane - he's a slick puckhandler with great vision and soft hands, but it doesn't seem like he'll be anything more than that. Perhaps it's because his development into a NHL star has paled in comparison to Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews', but even after a couple of seasons in the league I don't think he's improved his defensive game any, if at all. I don't expect Kane to win the Selke, Kesler's going to do that this year, but I know some Hawks fans that cringe when they see 88 loitering around the defensive zone.
21. Kris Versteeg is one of those sneaky fast players that plays hard. If anything, his spirited tilt against Patrick Eaves was a testament to his heart and grit. 29 other teams would love to have him. Asides from Toews, for obvious patriotic reasons, he may be one of my favourite Hawks. Don't shoot me.
20. If the Canucks advance to the finals it won't be because Henrik, Luongo, Alex Edler, or even Christian Ehrhoff elevated their play. It's because of the return of Ryan Johnson, who returns to his regular fourth line spot. The underappreciated centre won 8 of 9 draws (he single-handedly raised the Canucks' FO% by 5%), blocked 2 shots, and dished out 1 hit in 11 minutes of ice-time. One thing that you can depend on Johnson for is quality minutes. Against San Jose defense will be huge, now with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton (finally) hitting their stride.
<img src="http://habsinsideout.com/files/hio/imagecache/littleimage/images/0subban_0.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">19. How about that PK Subban? The kid oozes poise and confidence on the blueline and with Hal Gill questionable for an elimination game and Jaroslav Spacek's expected to return (although not necessarily at 100%), expect Subban to log 20 minutes. He's already averaging 18:41 and don't be surprised if Jacques Martin assigns Subban to Sidney Crosby.
18. It's funny how much ink Jaroslav Halak is getting, but once the playoffs are over expect the Halak vs. Carey Price debates to continue. Habs fans have fallen head over heels with Halak but I caution against jumping on the bandwagon too soon. One good season does not make for a good goalie. I'm not doubting Halak's ability, but I am a little appalled how fast people throw Price under the bus. But, I guess that's just Montreal for you.
17. The Flyers have always wanted that elite netminder, but ask any Philly fan and they'll say that Ron Hextall was the last good goaltender they had. But what's Hextall's career save percentage? A rather pedestrian .895. What Flyers fans miss is the toughness and pugnacity Hextall brought to the table but those goalies don't grow on trees. In fact, I think a case can be made to jettison Ray Emery (in all likelihood won't be re-signed, anyone else think he has a career in MMA?) and enter the 2010-11 season with Brian Boucher as the number one and Michael Leighton as the backup. Neither come with starting goalie pedigree (Boucher was a former 22nd overall pick), but the Flyers are a team built for the playoffs and all they need to do is to make it. They got lucky and drew the declining Martin Brodeur in the first round, but Boucher has always traditionally played better when it counts. His regular season numbers aren't exactly stellar (.900, 2.72 GAA career) but his playoff numbers are significantly better (.915, 2.17 GAA career). A Boucher/Leighton tandem will save them money and allow them to keep Simon Gagne. If anything, this would be a one season experiment. I've always felt some backups never get the chance to show what they can really do.
16. Everyone's been saying how easy it was to shut down Alex Ovechkin but how about Crosby? He's almost been a non-factor in the series but like Mike Babcock, Dan Bylsma will live or die with his best players on the ice. Evgeni Malkin, last year's Conn Smythe winner, has been invisible for stretches of the game. I actually think the best Penguin in this playoffs has been Kris Letang. So much for finding the right wingers - Ruslan Fedotenko has zero points and Alexei Ponikarovsky was a healthy scratch recently.
15. The new Bobby Orr statue that commemorates the 40th anniversary of his goal against St. Louis will be unveiled tonight. The Bruins are looking to eliminate the Flyers at home (they will) and advance to the Conference Finals where in all likelihood they will face Pittsburgh, which will no doubt be a spirited bout. After facing the 6'7" Gill, Crosby will yet again face another giant, this time the 6'9" Zdeno Chara. Expect more frustration and shattered sticks. Marc-Andre Fleury needs to outplay Tuukka Rask if the Pens want to advance.
14. If there were any doubts over Doug Wilson's job security in San Jose, the Sharks' first appearance in the Conference Finals in six years certainly wiped it all away. Joe Thornton, surprisingly, came up huge and he's been playing really well. But the big coming out party is for "Little Joe" Pavelski, who I thought along with Ryan Kesler, Ryan Miller, and Brian Rafalski was one of the best players for USA.
13. Just a little story on Pavelski. After playing two years at the University of Wisconsin, Pavelski signed an entry-level contract at $850,000 in the summer of 2006. Despite his spectacular college numbers (101 points in 84 games, James van Riemsdyk only collected 74 in comparison), Pavelski initially didn't expect to make the team. He was absolutely shocked when he walked into the locker room one day and saw his familiar #8 (his college number) waiting for him at his stall. He knew then that he had made it. Even his mother has often commented about how the entire family was surprised at how good he was at the game. It's this kind of modesty that really makes great players. The kind of modesty that makes you work hard at your game day-in and day-out.
12. That San Jose made the Conference Finals must be great news for Gary Bettman. After interest in hockey in California began to fade after the Ducks' struggles, the Sharks have finally found that playoff success and the Kings are becoming relevant again. If you were to argue for Bettman's side that hockey will work in non-traditional markets, California is a great example. Former Vancouver Giants standout Jon Blum is from California and a big reason he got into hockey was because of Wayne Gretzky. We could see a big boom in hockey interest in California very, very soon.
<img src="http://media.scout.com/media/image/63/634544.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">11. Back to college hockey - if anyone gets a chance, watch the NCAA Frozen Four. I personally dislike watching basketball in general, especially the NBA, but March Madness is a different animal altogether. Just imagine the hype, the skill, the determination, and the hard work, but just on ice. It's a spectacular tournament that unfortunately really doesn't garner enough attention. The player that I've been watching all year and think could have a great NHL career? Former Wisconsin captain Blake Geoffrion (whose squad finished second this year to Boston College), the grandson of Hab legend Boom-Boom Geoffrion and wears #5 in his honour. If there was any family that knows how to shoot the puck, it's the Geoffrions.
10. It's about time the NHL made an award for executive of the year, although I wish they would name it. There is no question that this year's winner is Don Maloney, much like this year's Jack Adams should go to Dave Tippett. What they've done together in Phoenix has been incredible. Should the Coyotes move to Winnipeg, they will already have a solid management group in place, a key ingredient to a successful hockey franchise and ensure that the "new" Jets won't be stuck in expansion mediocrity in its infancy.
9. Next award to introduce? How about an award for most assists? There's a minor award for one of the useless stats in hockey with the +/- award, so why not one for helpers? This isn't some sort of ploy to get Henrik another trophy (he will win both the Hart and Pearson) but playmaking is an art form but is somehow less glamorous than goal-scoring. Let's change that.
8. There's little doubt in my mind that the new hardware being handed out this year is somehow tied to the fact that for the foreseeable future the NHL Awards will be held in glitzy Las Vegas.
7. I'm going to refrain from making any predictions about who will come out of the west for fear of jinxing our dearly beloved, but I am going to say that the East won't be winning the Cup this year. Although I'm sure Bettman is just absolutely jonesing for a Chicago-Pittsburgh tilt. Ratings would be through the roof.
6. My avid golfer dad and I enjoyed the brief absence of Tiger Woods from the PGA Tour. It's not that we don't like the way he golfs - his aggressiveness and competitiveness is second to none - but it's the way he carries himself on and off the course (no more needs to be said here). If you remember, it wasn't too long ago when Woods made a little comment about how "no one watches hockey," which prompted "Mad Mike" Milbury to dub him "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4f9hfH_zGKE," I can't help but think how ignorant that comment is. USA Hockey is providing a new surge of talent and if the Olympics were any indication at all, it's going to become really relevant again. That Tiger Woods, the world's most marketable athlete behind LeBron James (the scandal actually did The Masters a favour), is turning a blind eye towards his own country's feats and accomplishments is downright ignorant and frustrating.
This has gone on long enough. Now for a short top five things to watch for.
5. Steven Stamkos at the World Championships in Cologne, Germany. He will be Canada's #2 pivot for years to come behind Sidney Crosby. Stamkos is already better than Eric Staal, Vinny Lecavalier, or Ryan Getzlaf when they were his age. No surprises here, but Matt Duchene is also another player to watch and will end up having a more brilliant career than John Tavares. Which is why the Oilers should go with potential and smarts rather than raw skill by selecting Tyler Seguin over Taylor Hall. In fact, maybe Steve Tambellini can dupe Peter Chiarelli into thinking that the Oilers are going to take Hall and somehow swindle a low pick from them to guarantee them that they'll take Seguin first overall.
<img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/aa/fullj.d76d2121d550e807b3205e740e4a4921/d76d2121d550e807b3205e740e4a4921-getty-98570716jj019_detroit_red_w.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">4. Nicklas Lidstrom may have played his last game as a Red Wing and it's a shame that it has to end on a low note, especially after falling to Crosby and the Pens last year. Had the Wings won the Cup Lidstrom's decision to retire would be much easier, but like most veteran players who are on the fence (Mike Modano included), there's always that question of "what could've been." Either way, congratulations are in order for both Modano and Lidstrom.
3. Mark Messier selected the squad for Canada at Cologne and no doubt the Canadians will achieve some form of success due to the abundance of talent. But managing a NHL team is a different. There's salary caps, trades, negotiations, and PR disasters (the Rangers still have Sean Avery). I certainly hope Messier's success at the international level doesn't somehow get translated into a lengthy NHL managing career. On second thought, that might not be a bad idea.
2. The Canucks somehow played better with 4.5 defensemen (sorry, Andrew Alberts). With Sami Salo expected to out with a potentially ruptured testicle (ouch... but follow it on twitter @salostesticle) this will be a test to how the Canucks respond. The home team has the losing record in this series but look for GM Place to be rowdy as ever.
1. The number one thing to watch? Game Six. Duh.