Stanley Cup Playoffs 2012: The Most Important Storylines for Saturday's Games
The 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs have felt a little less National Hockey League and a little more National Football League—at least in terms of their storylines so far.
From NFL-like scorelines—if you saw the Game 4 score of the Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia series, you might’ve thought the Steelers had played the Eagles—to players being suspended for doling out vicious headshots, the NHL is drawing its share of media attention this postseason.
Whether hockey fans agree that this extra attention is good for the league or not, there’s no denying that NHL headlines are more prevalent now than in recent years.
Not all of the headlines have been negative, however.
The Los Angeles Kings are on the verge of a major upset in their series with the Vancouver Canucks; the Phoenix Coyotes are proving that even an organization in disarray can compete with a storied franchise like the Chicago Blackhawks; Nashville can now claim itself a hockey city after the Predators knocked off the seemingly ageless Detroit Red Wings.
Each game on the Saturday schedule offers more of the same—there’s an underlying thematic element in each series that’ll be put on display.
With the puck set to drop for Game 5 in five different series today and tonight, let’s take a look at a headlining aspect of each…
Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins: Will (Recent) History Repeat Itself?
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The second-seeded Boston Bruins have had just about all they can handle in their series with the Washington Capitals, the Eastern Conference’s No. 7 seed.
In years past, the seedings might have been reversed—usually it’s the Capitals who storm into the playoffs as the favorite, having challenged for or captured the President’s Trophy along the way.
This season, the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins hold the edge according to the oddsmakers.
Despite the relative disparity between the teams’ quality of play during the regular season—Washington has underachieved whereas Boston has been dominant at times—the series is tied at two as a pivotal fifth game looms.
The storyline for tonight’s Game 5 is about the repetitive nature of the series itself; a one-goal Boston win, followed by a one-goal Washington win, followed by a one-goal Boston win, followed by—you guessed it—a Washington win coming by a single goal.
This series has been back and forth since the opening puck drop of Game 1—expect the commentators to rehash this point on several occasions tonight.
Since neither team has been able to carry any sort of momentum from one game into the next, it seems logical that the Bruins would take advantage of being on home ice and record the victory.
Then again, when has logic ever applied to the NHL playoffs?
New Jersey Devils vs. Florida Panthers: Florida’s Goaltending Situation
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After losing Game 4 to the New Jersey Devils by a score of 4-0, the Florida Panthers’ coaching staff has a difficult decision to make regarding their starting goalie.
Backup netminder Scott Clemmensen replaced starter Jose Theodore in Game 3 and pitched a shutout after Theodore had let in three consecutive goals during the first period.
But Clemmensen was unable to replicate his stellar form in the following game, which begs the question: Should Theodore be reinstated as the starting goalie for tonight’s pivotal Game 5?
Goaltending controversies have long been talking points when it comes to the NHL postseason—with St. Louis’ Jaroslav Halak/Brian Elliott situation drawing some initial attention until Halak’s injury—and it seems like the Panthers won’t escape one tonight.
Florida fans, take heart—naming one goalie over the other won’t mean a noticeable difference in terms of talent, since Theodore (2.46 GAA, .917 save percentage) and Clemmensen (2.57 GAA, .913 save percentage) posted similar numbers during the regular season.
Watch for the starting lineup to be announced tonight—early indications are that Theodore will be between the pipes to start, owing to his extensive career playoff experience.
Ottawa Senators vs. New York Rangers: An Ottawa Lead?
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The Ottawa Senators have looked every bit like the token scrappy eighth seed in their series against the mighty New York Rangers; in their two victories, they’ve done just enough to win.
In fact, the Senators have held the lead for exactly 00:00 of ice time. Look it up.
At this point in the series, an actual Ottawa lead seems like a novel concept. But if leading the game at any point hasn’t been integral to their success yet, there’s no reason to think that it’s essential for a Senators win tonight.
The Rangers, on the other hand, must be scratching their heads wondering why they’re not up 3-1 in the series or sitting at home waiting for their second-round opponents by now.
Apparently holding a lead in-game is overrated.
It'll be interesting to see if the Senators mix up their strategy in tonight's game and actually try taking the lead while there's still time on the clock.
San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues: Home-Ice Advantage
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With a 30-6-5 home record during the regular season, the St. Louis Blues don’t exactly have trouble winning games at Scottrade Center; the San Jose Sharks will have their work cut out for them in tonight’s game.
On the bright side for San Jose fans, its team has already pulled off one road win in the series—who’s to say it can’t do it again?
After all, playoff elimination is a powerful motivator.
The Blues will look to capitalize on their season-long success at home in order to put the Sharks away and take the series 4-1. Despite this year’s league-wide trend of road-team success in the playoffs, St. Louis won’t be concerned heading into Game 5.
This time of year, having an entire season’s worth of home-ice success to draw from can go a long way towards earning your team a trip to the next round.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes: Shane Doan
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Despite a 42-27-13 regular-season record, a Pacific Division title, the No. 3 seed in the NHL's Western Conference and even their 3-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks, the Phoenix Coyotes can't seem to earn the respect of the general public.
As an ownerless franchise that's often the subject of league contraction discussions, Phoenix hasn't let any of the negativity bother it.
Much like how their captain Shane Doan hasn't let anything dissuade him from finishing his NHL career in the desert as a member of the Coyotes.
Doan is a 16-year NHL veteran and an inaugural member of the Phoenix franchise; even though he's a perennial All-Star candidate, he's never been past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Simply put, tonight's game at home against Chicago is all about Doan and his dedication to a team that has been toiling in obscurity for nearly his entire career. A win tonight puts the Coyotes and their lifelong captain into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in history—both team and personal.