Thursday, April 28, 2011

First Round Highlights, Second round predictions

Hawks goalie Corey Crawford

I couldn't let the gallant comeback efforts of the Chicago Blackhawks, 2010 Stanley Cup champions, pass without comment.   For those who didn't stay up till 1 a.m. to see the end of the Game 7 thriller, the cliff notes version is: a) Vancouver, which had lost three straight, scored in the opening minutes and held that 1-0 lead entering the third period.  They were desperate and very physical.  b) Chicago goalie Corey Crawford stopped a penalty shot by Vancouver's Alex Burrows just 27 seconds into the 3rd, the first Game 7 penalty shot in Stanley Cup playoff history, believe it or not.  c) Crawford continued making one breathtaking save after another to keep the Hawks in it.  d) Hawks Captain Jonathon Toews tied the game with just 1:56 remaining, shorthanded, no less, whacking in his first goal of the series while lurching up from his knees.  e) Burrows won it with his second goal of the game after an unfortunate turnover early in the overtime, but not before he'd taken a penalty in the opening seconds of OT to give Hawks fans further reason to believe destiny was smiling at them.
Ben Smith wins Game 6
     It was one of the best hockey games I've ever seen.  The Hawks, who'd backed into the playoffs, had fallen behind three games to none, but showed their hearts by nearly becoming just the 4th team in NHL history to come back from that deficit.  And they did it against the team with the NHL's best record in the regular season, and against the league's top goalie, Roberto Luongo, who was pulled from two straight starts.  Crawford, a rookie, got better every game of the series, and looks like a keeper going forward.  Decimated by salary cap cuts last summer after winning their first Stanley Cup since 1961, the Blackhawks proved that GM Stan Bowman has assembled enough young talent to keep them one of the league's elite teams for years to come.  They are led by two 22-year-old superstars, Toews and Patrick Kane, and their top defense pair of Duncan Keith (27) and Brent Seabrook (25) will be in their prime for another decade.  Another 22-year-old, former Boston College Eagle Ben Smith,  who'd played in only 6 NHL games prior to the series, emerged as the surprise of the playoffs, scoring three goals including the OT winner in Game 6.  This is a very, very exciting team with a great future, and it's a shame their run and gun style is not going to be on display the rest of the playoffs.  They play beautiful hockey.
     I've always believed the first round of the Stanley Cup was the best entertainment of the playoffs.  The teams are fresh, the energy high, and the upsets are many.  Eight sedes beating top sedes happens all the time.  Why?  The goaltenders in hockey have a disproportionate effect on the outcome of a short series.  The better goalie will often beat the better team.  As the playoffs drag on, the players start to wear down, and nagging injuries effect the quality of play.  The energy levels just cannot stay at that early fever pitch.  This year's first round will especially be remembered as a great one.  The last two nights I watched four game 7s, something I never remember doing before, or being able to do.  Vancouver-Chicago was by far the best of these, though the Bruins-Canadiens grudge match also went into overtime. But the skill level of Montreal-Boston was noticeably below that of Vancouver-Chicago.

Edwards and Brickley: The worst
      Though I live in Boston, I actually ended up rooting for Montreal.  Why?  Bruins announcers Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley are such insufferable homers that they ruin the game for me.  I have one friend who, smartly, just turns them to mute.  Brickley tries to sound like a college professor, taking twenty words to say something when four will do.  Instead of "he should skate harder", Brickley will bombast thusly: "He needs to eliminate those portions of the hockey game when his legs are at the ready but remain motionless while his skates are gliding, and endeavor to sink his edges deeper into the ice surface to propel himself with greater alacrity and tenacity." 
     Edwards, meanwhile, sounds like an utter lunatic, especially when there's a fight or when someone makes a big hit.  Check out this clip from a game against the Philadelphia Flyers, when Edwards does his mad scientist laugh after watching a Flyers forward pummeled into the boards from behind.
He sounds like someone who should be committed.  In last night's Game 7 against the Canadiens, Montreal forward Jeff Halpern, 34, a classy player throughout his career, was given a cheapshot a zone behind the play which sent him to the ice with a possible concussion.  It was a totally uncalled for, dirty play in the 3rd period of a do-or-die game.  The ref didn't see it, so it wasn't called.  But it was caught on tape.  Instead of recognizing the Bruins luck, never mind acknowledging that sort of play has no place in the game, Brickley kept repeating that plays of that nature happen all the time in the NHL. (Right, and they lead to suspensions.)  Then Edwards sunk to a new low by announcing he was "putting the clock on him" when Halpern was led to the dressing room so trainers could examine him for a possible concussion.  New NHL safety rules say players should stay there for 15 minutes to be properly examined.  When Halpern returned six minutes later, Edwards began ranting about how the NHL wasn't properly enforcing its own safety procedures, and that Halpern should not be allowed back before the full 15 minutes had expired.  He was outraged.   Never mind that it was game 7 of the playoffs, and that the Bruins' Andrew Ference, who'd delivered the cheap shot, had assisted on the go-ahead goal while Halpern was in the dressing room.  The whole sequence ruined the game for me.

Okay, prediction time:  Detroit Red Wings vs San Jose Sharks
    These are the two best teams remaining in the playoffs, I believe, and the winner will take the Stanley Cup.  Detroit is playing fantastic, and they're rested. 
Prediction: Detroit in 7.

Vancouver Canucks vs. Nashville Predators
     Tough one.  The Preds are playing great, and Vancouver is tired.  But I think Roberto Luongo has emerged from the Chicago series a stronger goalie mentally, and perhaps the Canucks team has, too.
Vancouver in 7.

Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
    A rematch of last year's first round, when the Flyers became the first team since 1975 and only the third in history to win a series after falling behind three games to none.  It won't be that close this time.  With Chris Pronger back on defense and Danny Briere at the top of his game, the Flyers will handle the Bruins.
Flyers in 6

Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning.
     If you care about hockey, root, root, root for the Capitals.  Tampa Bay is playing a stultifying 1-3-1 defensive scheme, abandoning forechecking.  Yes, it leads to wins like the 1-0 Game 7 shutout last night over the Penguins.  But it is a snooze cruise all the way.  Meanwhile, Washington has learned how to play defense, and the best player in the playoffs, Alex Ovechkin, has bought in.

Capitals in 5.


  1. Thanks Eddie. It's been an incredible start to the NHL playoffs so far--got to watch three OT winners three nights in a row (two of which were game 7's). Hard to beat that.

    And thanks for calling out Edwards and Brickley. How do these two still have jobs? In case any of you out there need further proof to back up Eddie's claims, here you go: So bad.

  2. Simon--That clip you referenced just exploded my brain. I seriously think he's gone insane.