2010 NHL Playoffs: Thoughts on the first round


HalakOvi.jpgAs we prepare for a quick turnaround into the conference
quarterfinals, with the San Jose Sharks taking on the Detroit Red Wings
tonight, here are some final thoughts on the first round of playoff

– As we prepared for the playoffs to begin, nearly
everyone was aghast at just how bad the Eastern conference was. None of
the lower seeded teams seemed to actually want to make they playoffs, as
the Flyers, Canadiens, Rangers and Thrashers all stumbled to the finish
line. After the bruins sleepwalked through their ‘revenge game’ against
the Penguins, the finally turned it on. Yet no one believed that any of
these teams had a chance in the playoffs, as there was a clear line
drawn between the top four and the bottom four in the East. I guess we
were wrong, and that’s the beauty of playoff hockey.

– If I had to
name my Stanley Cup favorite after one round of hockey, it’s tough not
to turn to the Vancouver Canucks. While they’d need Roberto Luongo to
stay out of the funk he keeps falling into, I don’t know how you can say
there’s another team playing with more confidence and more firepower
than them. The Red Wings and the Penguins would be next on the list.

We now have no Vezina finalists, no Jack Adams finalists, and just one
Norris finalist remaining in the playoffs. When the Hart Trophy
finalists are announced later today, I’m guessing that one of those
won’t be in the playoffs any longer either. All of the voting is done
before the playoffs begin, but it’s incredibly interesting to see how
the ‘best of the season’ do once everything is on the line.

– I’m
guessing that we won’t be having another Mike Green debate next year
when it comes to the Norris Trophy. While he could certainly have
another monster year next season, there’s no way the voters will forget
how he became an incredible defensive liability in the playoffs while
contributing nothing on the scoreboard.

– I know that everyone is
going to be turning to Alex Ovechkin and focusing on his issues in this
playoff series, but it’s far from fair to say this loss was all on him.
Despite all his struggles, he was the leading scorer on his team; when a
team that relied on it’s team offense all season long loses it’s
secondary scoring ability, that’s when top-seeded teams lose playoff
series in the first round.

– I’m trying to think of another time
when a goaltender has been shellacked in back-to-back games, benched,
then come back and absolutely dominated and carried his team to an upset
win. That was one goaltending performance for the ages, and it’s one
that Halak will never be able to duplicate again.

– I debated
bringing this up, but screw it. Seeing just about half of the Capitals
give a momentary salute to the crowd after the game for some reason got
up under my skin. Seeing the crowd start emptying out before the game
was over really rubbed me the wrong way. I understand this is just about
as disappointing a loss as there is, but the fans and the team owe it
to each other to salute one another for a great season, no matter how it
might have ended. I know there’s incredible anger and sadness at the
outcome involved, but seeing how both the team and the fans reacted in
the final minutes of the Capitals’ season spoke volumes about what might
be wrong with the team and the franchise. Just because you have a great
crowd, a great arena and a great season does not mean you are entitled
to a great postseason. The Capitals played like they expected a win and
didn’t do what was needed to get there. It was a sad night in D.C., but
the fans and the players deserved better.

Same story, different location? Isles foil flat Flyers

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NEW YORK (AP) The New York Islanders distaste for the Philadelphia Flyers clearly came with them during their move to Brooklyn. Seeing their nemesis Wednesday night brought out some needed emotion.

“We needed a good, hard, physical game like that,” Casey Cizikas said after the Islanders beat the Flyers 3-1 in a rough-and-tumble affair.

“Those games are fun. When they get testy like that, when they get physical like that, that’s what makes the game of hockey so much fun. I think we thrived off of that.”

Jaroslav Halak made 17 saves and Kyle Okposo put the Islanders ahead early in the second period. Cizikas and Frans Nielsen also scored and the Islanders improved to 11-8-3 by snapping a two-game losing streak.

Steve Mason made 33 saves and Claude Giroux scored the Flyers’ lone goal.

Philadelphia has lost four of five and fell to 7-10-5.

“We’re just inconsistent. It’s the same story every game. We need to find a way to be consistent the whole game,” Giroux said. “I’m not too sure what to say. It’s the same story every game.”

The first of five meetings this season between Philadelphia and New York was a chippy one. There were post-whistle scrums seemingly after every whistle, and tempers boiled over in the second period when Nick Leddy fought Giroux.

Leddy had earned the Flyers’ ire in the first period after boarding Michael Raffl face first into the boards, but Giroux said his rationale for fighting was only partially inspired by wanting to get even for his teammate.

“The second period we were flat,” Giroux said. “Anytime you have a chance to change the momentum, you do it.”

Seven minutes after the Leddy-Giroux fight, Matt Martin squared off with Wayne Simmonds.

According to hockeyfights.com, New York had three fights this season prior to Wednesday night, and the Flyers had eight.

“It was two teams battling hard,” John Tavares said. “We’re going to have a lot of those games coming up.”

New York took a 2-1 lead 5:14 into the second period on Okposo’s fifth of the season. Tavares won an offensive-zone faceoff to begin the sequence, and Okposo gained possession of the puck along the wall, then curled toward the net before flipping a harmless-looking shot that appeared to ricochet off Nick Schultz and over Mason.

“There’s no room for error,” said Mason, adding that the puck “bounced off the side of the net” for the game-winning goal.

The teams traded goals in the first period and the long-time rivals went into the first intermission tied 1-1. Giroux opened the scoring with a power-play goal from the left circle 3:59 into the game, but Cizikas tied it with a short-handed goal with 58 seconds left in the period. It New York’s third short-handed tally this season.

New York’s penalty kill came into the game ranked 11th in the NHL, while Philadelphia’s power play was 24th.

“We have to look at everything,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said when asked if his team’s scheme needed to be modified in order to generate more offense. “(We) try to do that every day. So we have to look at everything.”

The Islanders outshot Philadelphia 36-18. New York had a 65-48 advantage in total shots.

“It was one of our better games defensively,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We didn’t give them too much.”

NOTES: This game marked Colin McDonald’s season debut. The Flyers called up the ex-Islander from AHL Lehigh Valley on Tuesday. He had played in four games this season with the Phantoms, where he had two assists. … Philadelphia scratched Vincent Lecavalier, Evgeny Medvedev and Sam Gagner. Lecavalier has been scratched the last six games. The 35-year-old is in the third year of a five-year, $22.5 million contract. He has one assist in seven games this season. … New York scratched Adam Pelech and Taylor Beck. … The teams came into the match having split the last 16 matches. The Islanders were 8-8-0 while the Flyers were 8-3-5. … The announced attendance was 13,027.

Vatrano presence: Bruins edge Red Wings in overtime

Frank Vatrano David Krejci

The Boston Bruins keep flipping the script.

In Wednesday’s case, it swerved to a “Cinderella” story, as little-known forward Frank Vatrano scored two of Boston’s three goals – including the overtime clincher – as the B’s beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 (OT).

Here’s his first goal of the night:

While this is his overtime game-winner:

It wasn’t a perfect night for the 21-year-old, yet it may have been a convincing one.

The Bruins continue to begin a month on a sour note before ending up with impressive sprees.

October: 0-3-0 start, finished month with four straight wins and victories in six of seven contests.

November: 0-3-0 start, losses in four of five; currently on a four-game winning strek with victories in five of six.

Boston faces a challenge in closing this month out against the Rangers on Friday, and it’s possible that this trend may continue, as they begin December with a three-game road trip through Western Canada.

More than anything else, the safest bet with the Bruins is for ups and downs.

Crosby roars, Malkin scores in OT for Penguins win

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Controversy just seems to find the Pittsburgh Penguins. Credit Sidney Crosby & Co. for responding with a win on Wednesday.

Crosby generated two pretty goals, including this slam-dunk slapper:

… While Evgeni Malkin‘s overtime-winner stood as the Penguins managed a 4-3 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues tonight.

(You can see Malkin’s OT-clincher in the video above this post.)

Will this win and strong performance from Crosby silence murmurs about his relationship with Mario Lemieux? Probably not, yet it likely turns the volume down in some ways, including killing the “Is he struggling because of distractions” storyline.

You know, at least for a little while. Maybe.

Fight video: Claude Giroux vs. Nick Leddy


Claude Giroux isn’t the nastiest, most physical captain the Philadelphia Flyers have employed. Even so, he can be feisty at times.

Wednesday showed that, as he clearly wasn’t happy with an earlier Nick Leddy hit, and eventually got the New York Islanders defenseman to drop his gloves.

You can see the fight and the check that inspired that scrap in the video above.

It’s the fourth fight Giroux has been a part of, with his most recent adversary being may his most bitter rival.

Not a heavyweight bout between Giroux and Leddy, mind you, but sometimes it’s amusing to soak in such a rare sight.

Update: The fight may have inspired the Islanders more than the Flyers, as they bested Philly 3-1 on Wednesday.