The first round of the NHL playoffs is over and my predictions came in 5-3 which isn’t too bad. It is time to look at the second round match-ups.
Boston Bruins defeat Carolina Hurricanes Boston has been the team to beat in the East Conference all season. They breezed by Montreal, while Carolina had an epic seven game struggle with New Jersey. The Bruins are the more talented, better rested team and thus the better bet.
The first round of the AHL playoffs is complete. Here is a summary of what happened in the first round series.
Worchester Sharks defeat Hartford Wolf Pack 4 games to 2 Worchester is the San Jose Sharks farm club and Hartford is the New York Rangers affiliate. Hartford took the lead in this series winning the first two games. Worchester required two overtimes to pull out game three and then held on to the final three games. Worcester was led offensively by Riley Armstrong and Dan DaSilva. Patrick Traverse played well on defence and Thomas Greiss was in goal. Hartford’s top scorer was defenceman Bobby Sanguinetti, followed by Dane Byers and Dale Weiss. Matt Zaba was in goal.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are defending Stanley Cup finalists. Despite that they had a slow start this season that had them out of the playoff race. The slow start even led to them firing their coach. These problems occurred despite having Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in their line-up. Malkin was leading the NHL in points and Crosby was not too far behind him. The problems were largely tied to a lack of an elite defenceman and poor goal prevention. They were solved when Sergei Gonchar returned from a shoulder injury.
Gonchar only played 25 games for the Penguins this season, but it was in those games that Pittsburgh climbed back up to serious contention. Gonchar continued his top play into the playoffs scoring five points in six games. He scored the series winning goal against the Philadelphia Flyers,
The leader in ice time (per game) so far in the playoffs is Paul Martin of the New Jersey Devils. He has played over 27 minutes per game. He is an underrated player who gets little written about him, so I thought I would write something. Martin has quietly developed into the best defenceman on the Devils team.
Martin consistently scores thirty or more points a season and puts up one of the better +/- ratings on his club, while playing against some of the top offensive players in the league. He has the best defenceman on the team with the fourth best defence in the league this year. He is the Devils go to guy in all situations - even in the playoffs. Paul Martin is one of the most unsung players around in the NHL today.
One of the stories of the first round of the playoffs has been the struggles of the President’s Trophy winning San Jose Sharks. They are currently losing to the Anaheim Ducks three games to one. The main reason for this is that the San Jose offence has not succeeded in the playoffs this year. The Sharks have only six goals in four playoff games and have been shut out twice. The Sharks only have three goals from their forwards in four games. Ryane Clowe, Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau have each scored one goal each. No other forwards have goals. Obviously that isn’t good enough.
A lot of the blame for this is being placed upon the shoulders of Joe Thornton. Thornton is the team’s regular season top scorer and while he has two assists, he has no goals in these playoffs. He has no history of successful playoff runs in his past. In his career he has never made it beyond the second round.
The Detroit Red Wings have been a very successful team in the past several years. They have won four Stanley Cups in the past twelve years. Because of their success many of their individual role players have achieved legacies above the level that their talent level might have predicted. There are no players who fit in this camp more than Chris Osgood.
Osgood is a good goaltender who has had a pretty long career. He has been able to win a lot of games (a team statistic). He has 389 career regular season wins. This ties him for tenth place overall with Dominik Hasek. That coupled with his team’s Stanley Cup success is often used as an argument for Osgood one day making the Hall of Fame.
It is a popular story in sports when an improbable team makes a run and wins it all. It is also a story that rarely ever happens. This season the team that best fit the Cinderella role was the St Louis Blues. At mid-season it looked like they were in the race for a lottery pick in the draft and they wound up finishing strong and placing sixth in the West Conference. That got them a lot of believers including high profile bloggers such as Puck Daddy (Greg Wyshynski). The St Louis playoff run ended the way a lot of Cinderella playoff runs end. It ended in failure. There is a reason why the team is so improbable to be such an underdog and those reasons almost always win out. Cinderella is left in a field with a pumpkin and a few mice wondering what happened.
In general it is a bad thing for plan A to fail and to be forced to change to plan B during a best of seven playoff series. An example of this is when a team has to change goalies in mid-series in the playoffs. Despite this, the last three teams to win the Stanley Cup have all done this. The 2006 Carolina Hurricanes changed from Martin Gerber to Cam Ward, the 2007 Anaheim Ducks changed from Ilya Bryzgalov to Jean-Sebastien Giguere and the 2008 Detroit Red Wings from Dominik Hasek to Chris Osgood. The first team to do this is 2009 is the Washington Capitals who have changed from Jose Theodore to Simeon Varlamov.
Theodore may be a former Hart Trophy winner in 2002, but his career has not gone particularly well since. In the first game of the series against the New York Rangers, Theodore played badly allowing four goals on only 21 shots. He was the main reason Washington lost. In the next two games the Capitals turned to rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov. Varlamov has only six regular season NHL games played. He has succeeded so far in the playoffs. He has stopped 56 of the 57 shots he has faced and sports a playoff leading 0.50 GAA and .982 saves percentage.
Teams have played either two or three games each at this point in the playoffs. I think it is the earliest meaningful point to try to pick an early playoff MVP. I think the clear choice at this point is Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Malkin leads the playoffs in both goals and points with four and seven respectively.
Malkin is carrying on his dominance from a regular season where he won the Art Ross Trophy. His offensive totals have made large jumps every season in his young NHL career (from 85 to 106 to 113 points). If he has another jump like that next season, I think many people will begin to call him the best player in hockey (and some people are already making arguments of that nature).
Malkin is off to a great start in the playoffs so far. Will he keep it up and help the Penguins have a deep run?
Last season as the Pittsburgh Penguins went to the Stanley Cup finals, there was a big screen set up outside Mellon Arena where thousands of fans watched the games. It was a successful promotion which likely paid off as the fans present at these viewing parties were more likely to buy Penguins memorabilia and to attend Penguins games in the future. However in yesterday’s game three of their series with the Philadelphia Flyers there was no viewing party. NBC vetoed it.
NBC had the television rights to the game. They obtained them by paying the NHL nothing in advance and sharing revenues after the fact. This agreement gives NBC the right to dictate some NHL policy. This is policy which is against the NHL’s best interests.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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