ROUND TWO!

Posted: May 2, 2011 in NHL

I would be lying if I said that I have been disappointed by one of the best season’s in sports so far, isn’t this awesome?! NBA and NHL playoffs are into their second rounds and for the most part I have enjoyed every second of the first rounds so far. We’ve seen buzzer beaters, blowouts, defensive stands and offensive onslaughts all in the first rounds. Now to break apart the action we’ve seen so far let’s break it down by sport and reflect on what we’ve seen.

 The NHL passed the entertainment test with flying colours this year and I cannot praise them enough. We had four series go to a game seven, the result of intense play all around and neither side willing to accept defeat and go home early.Vancouver withstood the comeback of a lifetime attempt by Chicago, Boston stood tall overMontreal at home and Tampa Bay despite a slow start came out victorious in Pittsburgh to advance for the first time since winning the cup in 2004.

 I would vote that the Vancouver/Chicago series was by far the most exciting as games were blowouts near the end due to Chicago’s refusal to go down quietly as the defending Stanley Cup champions. One could also argue thatVancouver became a little nervous in the spotlight as the President’s Trophy winners after the regular season and strong cup favourites. One must learn never to under estimate the heart of a champion and their ability to rally behind each other in times of desperation. The team that has the least to lose is the deadliest of all and we can’t forget that when a team is in the dumps and everyone is counting them out, they’re more in the game than you think. The Canucks made it seem like they won the cup after beating Chicago in OT which I caution against because you have won nothing yet. Player’s train and play for the ring and the chance at history, not to make it past the first round. Roberto Luongo was quoted as saying this win was bigger than winning gold for Canada.  I caution against using such strong statements about a professional organization in the same city where you helped solidify your legacy months ago to adoring fans. They may wear Vancouver Canucks colours for 8 months of the year, but their blood flows red and white 365 days a year so be careful what you say around them. All in all this series was spectacular, I can’t remember the last time I watched so many games so closely while not having vested interest in the outcome.

 Boston and Montreal provided us with a spectacular original 6 matchup again! We saw great drama play out this year as always but with some extra twists that made this first round series irresistible to even the casual hockey fan. Earlier in the year we had the very controversial collision between Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins All-Star Captain and defenseman) andMontreal’s Max Pacioretty. Everyone knows the hit after countless YouTube views and SportsCentre replays but that hit was the gasoline thrown on the fire that was waiting to engulf these teams into a fury of competition and emotion. The first game after the hit was filled with boos and heckles every time Chara hit the ice or touched the puck. The emotionally charged Canadians could not wait to get this series started and it showed from games 1 through 7. Montreal jumped to an early 2-0 series lead after surprising the Bruins at home looking like a team on a mission behind the stellar play of Carey Price and quick feet of the Canadians players. Then before we knew it, Boston came right back taking both games in Montreal evening the series at 2-2 and winning the first game by a home team in game 5 to take the lead 3-2 and giving themselves 2 chances to win the series. In the end Boston won a thriller in OT in game 7 to move onto the second round and in the process temporarily erasing the memories of last years embarrassing collapse in the conference semi-finals against Philadelphia.

 Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were the surprise of the first round as I did not expect that series to go to 7 games at all. Pittsburgh although having an extremely strong season given their injury losses to Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, still managed to finish a very respectable 4th place, three points ahead of their opponent and very offensively talented Tampa Bay Lightning. I predicted in an earlier post that this series would be easily won by the Lightning, boy was I wrong. Pittsburgh through the whole series showed great resolve and it looked like the Penguins were going to manhandle the lightning and send the former champions home early. Pittsburgh started off great with close wins in games three and four by the exact same score, granted the second time it was in OT, to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. HoweverTampa showed great poise and resilience in winning the next three games to close out the series. They started with an absolute beat down in game 5 winning 8-2, followed by a strong 4-2 performance in game 6 to set up an always exciting and emotion filled game 7. The series finale was certainly not nearly as entertaining as the others from a scoring point of view, but to see Tampa win a close game 7 by a score of 1-0 says a lot about a team. It shows they know what to do to win; they didn’t need their offensive powers to shoot the lights out. They stayed tough in the defensive zone, withstood a lot of penalty kill situations and rewarded the strong play of 41 year old net minder Dwayne Roloson.

 Finally we have Philadelphia taking on the surging Buffalo Sabres in the East. A lot of people including well paid analysts smelt upset city here and picked the Sabres to take down the reigning Eastern Conference champs in either six or seven games. If there was an upset to be had it certainly wasn’t going to be easy as these Flyers, like their broad street bully’s of the past, do not go down easy. Crafty play by Daniel Briere against his former team and a goalie carousel helped advance the Flyers into the second round. Buffalo got started early, winning tight games and eventually getting the series to a 3-2 lead but could not hold on. Philadelphia rallied behind its leaders in Pronger, Richards and Carter and with big contributions from Claude Giroux proved too strong. Was it simply more experience on the Flyers end? Or did time just run out for the Sabres and their late season charge into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league? I firmly believe that although there is serious goal tending issues in Philly, as witnessed when they went through all three goaltenders, but their position player talent is too large to ignore. If they can find stability between the pipes we may see at least half the pair from last year’s finals in it again this year and maybe leaving without disappointment this time around.

This is not to ignore the other series champions, Detroit in four, Washington in five, San Jose in six, Nashville in six. However seven game series always make things more interesting, it’s the result of hard work in the past six games and a great reward to fans who were watching the six previous games, or even to those who weren’t. San Jose and Detroit look like real contenders out there and whoever wins their series could very well represent the Western Conference in the cup finals, but we’ll just have to wait and see. As for Nashville I feel that although they showed great poise in beating Anaheim(a strong playoff contender) and winning their first series in team history, I do not see them getting past Vancouver in the next round. Washington has a tough battle coming up with Tampa Bay but we’ll have to wait and see just how that one pans out before I look to change any of my playoff predictions. I can only hope that the second round of these very exciting and intense playoffs brings even half the entertainment that I got from the first.

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