The first night of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs seemed to have it all.
Anyone unfamiliar with playoff hockey should have tuned in Wednesday April 11th. They would've gotten a feel of the tournament that's played to win Lord Stanley’s cup.
The Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the Philadelphia Flyers series looked like it would be a route in the first period with the victory going to the home team. That was until the Bryzgalov woke up from his first-period nap, along with the Flyers offense. The Flyers not only got themselves back into the game, but they won it in overtime. It will be interesting to see how the Penguins recover.
The Predators vs. Red Wings series looks like it will be another doozy. The Predators came out on top in this close game, thanks to some foolishness at the end of the game from their captain and Norris Trophy candidate Shea Webber, who may be in solitary confinement for the next few games. If he does in fact get a suspension, look for the Wings to get back in this series in a big way.
The third game of the night was perhaps the most intriguing. The No. 1 overall seed and Presidents' Trophy winning Canucks were taking on the No. 8 seed Kings. No one expected the Kings to roll over and give up, but I don’t think many predicted the Kings to dominate quite as much as they did.
The score actually looked fairly close, but for anyone watching the game, the Canucks seemed to be out-hit, out-shot, out-hustled, and overall outplayed. The potential goal of the Canucks' Roberto Luongo was actually the reason the game was close. He stood on his head and almost stole the game for his team.
Most predicted that Jonathan Quick would have to be the man in order for the Kings to win. Quick played a solid game (even when he was interfered with), stopping the pucks he needed to stop. He didn’t, however, have to steal the game.
The Kings stepped up their physicality and Vancouver was unable to match. When they tried, they did it the wrong way (see Bitz's hit on Kyle Clifford). Kyle Clifford is now out with the notorious upper-body injury (concussion) and one hopes that it will not be for long.
It will be interesting to see how the league comes down on some of these dirty plays in the playoffs. Historically, punishments are lighter during playoff time. Heck, lots of times penalties are down compared to the regular season.
After watching the Kings vs. Canucks, it’s hard to think more penalties could have been called.
Last night, the player who showed up big for the Kings was the guy they traded for last summer.
In the Flyers' game, they had two players starting that used to be in Los Angeles: Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. Those two, along with a draft pick, were sent to Philadelphia for former Flyers captain Mike Richards.
Mike Richards was a proven commodity, a leader on the ice who is considered by many to be the best two-way center in the league. He won an Olympic gold medal in 2010 playing for Canada. He played in a Stanley Cup Final two years ago with the Flyers. He was the guy that was supposed to put the Kings over the top.
Throughout the regular season, he showed flashes of being the player the Kings thought they were getting. Overall, he had one of his worst seasons in a long time and had a lot of Kings loyalists scratching their heads, wondering if they got the short end of the trade.
On Wednesday in Vancouver, everyone watching was no longer scratching their heads. Mike Richards showed up in a big way. As the cliche goes, he answered the proverbial bell. He demonstrated the ability Dean Lombardi traded for. He represented himself in a big way.
He also showed up with his all-around play and he let the Canucks know he is alive and well and they better keep their heads up when he’s on the ice (see hit on Burrows).
Mike Richards is the kind of player who, when he is on his game, makes those around him better. He set up the go ahead goal by Dustin Penner, yes that Dustin Penner. That is a bit of an inside joke because Kings fans have been waiting for Dustin Penner to do something since the Kings gave up two first-round picks to the Oilers to get him. If he can help Dustin Penner find his game, imagine what he can do for the guys that haven’t lost touch with theirs.
The reality is the Kings won the game. They didn’t steal it, they earned it. They went into Vancouver and took it to them.
As great as the game was for the Kings, it was one game. It takes 16 wins to raise the 35-pound trophy from Bettman and skate around the ice with it. The Kings can’t get caught up in the hype of winning that game. That would just prove how young and inexperienced they are. If they stay in the now and focus on their game, they have a good chance.
Quick was good last night, really good. The scary thing is that he has another level. When he is playing at that other level, he’s is as good as anyone the league, maybe as good as anyone that has ever played (that statement is a little bold hence the maybe). I know this, if the Kings play the way they did last night and Quick plays to his all-world level, the Canucks don’t stand much of a chance. If the Kings play the way they did last night and Quick plays to that level, the Canucks still don’t stand much of a chance. Luongo is good, he played very well last night, but he proved in the playoffs last year he is not the best.
Friday night is Game 2 for the six teams that played last night. I would expect the same level of intensity from all the teams involved. Who knows what is going to happen.
I do know this, the 2012 NHL playoffs are going to be a heck of a ride.
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