Reflections on Round Two and Predictions for NHL Round Three

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIMay 15, 2009

BOSTON - MAY 14:  Byron Bitz #61 of the Boston Bruins gets the shot past Cam Ward #30 of the Carolina Hurricanes to score in the first period during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 14, 2009 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Well round two is over and my record took a bit of a hit.  This time I was only .500.  It didn't surprise me that Pittsburgh won; I knew I was taking a chance picking Washington, but I certainly didn't count on Vancouver losing though I predicted it would be a tough series.

I am going to do what I did after round one and list any players whose career took a hit, followed by an analysis of the teams who exited in this round.  Then I will try to predict who will be in the Stanley Cup Final.

Usually, by the time round two comes around, there is nobody to list whose career is in trouble.  You get to round two because you are good.  However there are three candidates whose career has to questioned.

Roberto Luongo

His career took a big hit this round and with it the future of the Vancouver Canucks.  I know Chicago is a good team that can score lots of goals, but Luongo was brought in order to beat these "superior" teams. 

The Canucks entire future and philosophy is based around the premise that "you don't score on Roberto Luongo."  Touted as the "best goalie in the NHL", he gave up only one goal or less once.

He lost a tight 2-1 game in which the Canucks were leading, gave up five or more goals twice, and had three goals scored on him in one period in the first game.

Some people point to the 2-1 game as the turning point in the series, but I think it was that period in the very first game.  After that game, the Blackhawks knew they could score on Luongo and followed it up by scoring five more in the next game.  The myth of Luongo was gone, perhaps forever. 

Everyone who predicted a Vancouver victory, including myself, had based it on the premise that Luongo was the NHL's best goalie.  Instead, given leads time and time again, he relinquished them.  In each game there were goals that could have been stopped.

Everything seemed to be in his favour; the Canucks had played well for the last half of the season including a shut-out of Chicago in their own building.  In addition, Khabibulin had not beaten Vancouver for eleven years. 

Instead, whenever the big save was needed, Luongo didn't make it.  The strength of the team turned out to be a weakness.

Curiously, the reaction of most of the fans and the media has mostly been muted and forgiving.  Luongo, to his credit, didn't duck anything and took responsibility for the defeat.

But Don Cherry didn't say anything nor did any of the other commentators on the CBC.  Nor has there been a single article or comment written on BR criticizing Luongo.  It is almost that everyone is afraid to admit the possible truth: that Roberto Luongo is not good enough.

Nobody mentioned that during his entire career with Florida, he failed to lift the team into the playoffs.  Nobody has mentioned that he has only won two playoff rounds.

Before this series, everyone had anointed him the successor of Martin Brodeur as the NHL's best goalie and penciled him in as the starting goalie for Canada in the Vancouver Olympics.

But after this series, would you trust him now?  I think my choice would be Cam Ward, especially if Ward takes the Hurricanes to another Stanley Cup.

If I was Luongo, I would be cheering for the Chicago Blackhawks in the upcoming series.  If Detroit should eliminate Chicago, especially easily, it will only make his own performance look worse.

There is still time to salvage his career, but from now on there is going to be an increasing element of fans and opponents that will say "show me."

Mike Green and Alexander Semin

It has since been revealed that both Green and Semin had injuries during the Pittsburgh series.  They better have been injured, because both had a miserable series, neither scoring and being bad defensively.  Washington got nothing from both of them and this was a major reason for their elimination.

It would not be so bad when they didn't score if they were good defensively, but they were bad at both ends of the rink.  Both are young players who can still learn, but they will be under increasing scrutiny in the future, especially defensively.

This is an analysis of the four teams that met their end during round two.

Vancouver Canucks 

Who would have thought that the strength of their team should become its weakness?  Everyone wondered if they would get contributions from the Sedins and Matts Sundin.  Everybody was worried the secondary players would not contribute enough offensively. 

Nobody worried about Roberto Luongo who was expected to be the difference against more talented teams.  Instead the Blackhawks scored easily against Luongo and now the entire future direction of the Canucks is in peril.

Luongo was expected to lift the Canucks into the elite of the NHL, but if he can be disposed of so easily, the Canucks are going to have to rethink their philosophy and direction.  There are other Chicagos standing in the Canucks way besides the Blackhawks.

It is not that the Canucks were defeated.  Chicago has a good team and it would not have been much of an upset if they won.  If the scores had been 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, it would be easy to say that Chicago had slightly better goaltending and the better offense that everyone knew they had.

Then it would be easy to fix the problem; just get some more talented offensive players for the Canucks next year.

But most of these games were high-scoring and the Canucks lost despite getting the lead and getting contributions from players whom there were doubts about.

Now there are doubts about the very strength of this team.  Luongo failed to lift Florida into the playoffs; should the Canucks expect him to lift them higher?

Instead of being in a position of knowing where to go and what to do, the future of the Canucks is very much in doubt and confused.

Washington Captials

There is no doubt this team is better than the one that lost to Philadelphia the year before, especially the offense.  But this team occasionally plays like the San Jose Sharks and eventually it caught up to them.  Washington paid dearly for not having a top goalie.  Varlamov played better than expected but there were lots of times he showed he was not a Stanley Cup goalie yet.

Starting in goal, the Capitals are going to have to improve their defensive play vastly or they are going to be stuck as a mid-pack playoff team.  They also have to be more physical.

If I were the Captials, I would be inquiring if either goalies Giguere or Hiller are available for trade from Anaheim and except for Ovechkin, there is nobody on their roster I wouldn't trade to get either one of them.

Boston Bruins

They were better than I thought they would be, but their lack of playoff experience showed.  They are well coached but their victory against Montreal was more due to the weakness of Montreal than any exceptional strength they possessed. 

The playoff experience they gained will help them in the future, but they still need more top players to be a Stanley Cup contender.  I also have my doubts that Tim Thomas is a Stanley Cup goalie.  Especially in the last game, he was out of position on several occasions and made a bad decision on the winning goal. 

One only need to look at Cam Ward's performance at the other end of the rink to see the difference.  Thomas has improved as a goalie but he will have to improve even more to lift the Bruins higher.

Anaheim Ducks

They were the best team of the four losing teams by a wide margin.  Indeed, one could speculate that if they played anybody else but Detroit, they would still be playing for the Stanley Cup. 

They are the most physical of all the teams and gave Detroit everything they could ask for.  Their one weakness is that they don't have enough top forwards and it caught up to them at times.

They survived the loss of Brian Burke and the new management did a masterful job filling in holes at trade time.

Blessed with two top goalies, they could probably trade one of them and strengthen themselves further.  If they do this successfully, along with a good draft, they'll be challenging for the Stanley Cup next year.

And now my fearless predictions for round three...


Pittsburgh has played well during the playoffs and have got big performances from their two main stars, Crosby and Malkin, and good support from others like Guerin.  But Pittsburgh has yet to face a goaltender as good as Cam Ward. 

Since the last part of the regular season, Carolina has been the hottest team in the league, consistently beating supposedly superior opponents.  One of these was Pittsburgh.  Cam Ward is going to the Stanley Cup Final again as Carolina will win 4-2.


I've got to admit it, I've under-rated Chicago.  I didn't think they could do what they did to Luongo, but now I think I, like most others, have over-rated him.  Nikolai Khabibulin has won the big one before and knows what it takes to win it again.  And that offence that Chicago can display at times can be intimidating.

But until you can beat the champions consistently, you have to be considered the underdog.  Chicago has challenged Detroit at times during the regular season, but now this is the playoffs with everything on the line. 

Detroit is still the team to beat in the playoffs.  Chris Osgood gets scorned but he came through for Detroit in a tough series the way everyone expected Luongo to for Vancouver. 

And Chicago has shown some weaknesses.  How often can you fall behind and keep coming back?  You can't go to the well too often especially against the defending Stanley Cup champions. 

Chicago's best hope is that Osgood plays the way all the downers on him expect him to play and that Anaheim has bruised Detroit so badly that they can't keep up with a younger team.  I don't see that happening and Detroit will win 4-1 or 4-2.


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