NHL PLAYOFFS: A LOOK BACK AT THE FIRST ROUND
Three Stars Of The 1st Round
1st- Jaroslav Halak, G, Montreal- Halak proved that old hockey cliché true that a hot goalie can steal a series away. In his case however, it was more like highway robbery. With his eighth seeded Montreal Canadiens trailing the overall number one seed Washington Capitals three games to one in their series, the supposedly “shaky” Halak was anything but. He came through with 37 saves in Game 5, 53 in Game 6 and 41 more in Game 7. Of those 131 shots, Washington only managed to put three past Halak; one in each game.
2nd- Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh- You knew Crosby’s name would’ve crept up in here somewhere. Crosby is the leading points getter through the first round with 14 total points (5 G, 9 A). When he’s not selling soft penalties, he can also play goalie, as evidenced by his swiping the puck out of the crease when goalie Marc Andre-Fleury couldn’t see it behind him.
3rd- Henrik Zetterberg, C/LW, Detroit Red Wings- Zetterberg had six goals and five assists during the Wing’s seven game first round series with the Phoenix Coyotes. That’s 11 points in six games and six goals in five games after not getting on the score sheet in the series opener.
Team That Needs The Heimlich Maneuver…
…The Washington Capitals. Not only did the President Trophy winning Capitals exit in the first round of the playoffs, they became the first number one seed to lose to a number eight seed when having a 3-1 lead. The Capitals, who practically clinched a playoff spot around Christmastime, have another off-season to ponder just what the heck happened. In their last four playoff series, all which went seven games, the Caps managed only one series win and that was after being down 3-1 against the New York Rangers. A very disappointing season for a team that has all that offensive firepower and a top scorer and playmaker as its captain. Washington is on the fast track to winning another award: the San Jose Sharks of the East. However, another team may take a crack at that title and they are….
…The New Jersey Devils. It was another disappointing season for the Devils as they couldn’t live up to their high expectations yet again. Every single year New Jersey somehow manages to put a legitimate Stanley Cup contender on the ice, but once the calendar turns to April, the Devils look more like figure skaters in Rockefeller Center than a playoff hockey team. Even though they were ousted in the first round for the third straight year, I’m sure they’ll be back in the post-season next year.
Team looking over its shoulder…
…the San Jose Sharks. As if facing the Detroit Red Wings isn’t a big enough challenge, not beating themselves will be another obstacle that the Sharks will have to over come. The only two games the Colorado Avalanche “won” against the Sharks, came when San Jose’s players scored in their own net. Maybe they were just making it more suspenseful and exciting for their tortured fan base, but rest assured, the Red Wings will not need “own goals” to beat San Jose.
Biggest Disappointment of the First Round...
...There will be no Crosby vs. Ovechkin Round 2. After watching the NHL’s two mega stars go head-to-head in last year’s playoffs, I couldn’t wait till they met again this year. Looks like I’ll have to keep waiting. It was almost a certainty, that the way the regular season went, we were going to be treated to another Penguins-Capitals series. The stakes would have been much higher this year, as it would have come in the Eastern Conference Finals. Ponder that for a second: Game 7 between the Penguins and Capitals with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals on the line. Instead, the NHL doesn’t get it’s ratings bonanza, and while us hockey fans will still see some great hockey, we’ll have to wait for the next Winter Classic to see these two teams square off again.
Best Game Of The 1st Round
Game 5- Chicago vs. Nashville
With the game winding down and the Nashville Predators nursing a 4-3 lead, the Chicago Blackhawks were pressing for the equalizer when all of a sudden, Marian Hossa drew a major penalty, five minutes to be exact, for shoving Dan Hamhuis into the boards. With only 1:03 left in regulation, the penalty couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Chicago had no choice but to pull goalie Antii Niemi for an extra skater and with 13.7 seconds left on the clock, Patrick Kane found himself in the right place at the right time, and put the puck in the net for a clutch goal that he described as the “best of his career.” After Chicago killed off the remaining 3:57 of Hossa’s penalty in overtime, Hossa came out of the box and raced up the ice and found himself in the perfect position to score the game winner. A shot from teammate Brent Sopel was deflected to his stick and Hossa was able to slide the game-winning puck into Nashville’s goal. After their come from behind win, the crowd in the United Center erupted and two nights later, Chicago went on to win the series in Nashville.
Honorable mention: Game 5- Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa
Ottawa’s Matt Carkner scored in the games 107th minute (7:06 of the third overtime) to force a Game 6 against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Anytime an NHL game goes into overtime it’s must see TV. Unfortunately, the Senators lost the series in six games, but they had a nice run this year and played a lot better against the Penguins than most people thought they would have.
Who’s Gets the Humble Pie In His Face?
Alexander Ovechkin. I wonder if Ovechkin still thinks Halak is “shaky” now. After the loss Ovechkin had this to say, "I'm in shock right now. It was great going up 3-1 in the series. But it's only one step. We didn't do it."
Second Round Predictions
I didn’t do too well with my first round picks (you can view them here), so maybe I’ll do better this time around. Here they are:
Red Wings vs. Sharks- Wings in six.
Blackhawks vs. Canucks- Blackhawks in six.
Penguins vs. Canadiens- Penguins in six.
Bruins vs. Flyers- Bruins in seven.
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