Friday, May 2, 2008

Bringing Hockey Back Again

Being that the NHL season is in the waning weeks, I’ve asked my very busy blogger colleague Casey Shea to visit again and give us his thoughts on the playoffs so far. He’s a return guest that writes the blogs Bringing Hockey Back and Pittsburg Penguins Analysis. Casey so graciously took a moment out of his busy schedule to compile the biggest surprises of the first and second round for me that he originally posted on his blog:

I was sitting around thinking the other day about some of the biggest surprises of the first round so far and why I'm giddy as a Pens fan. I figured that would be good for a later post and started thinking about the flip side of that scenario being the biggest disappointments of the playoffs so far. After running this by Gopher and bouncing off my few ideas and with some of his own I narrowed the list down to a cool
five. Here they are:

#5 - Martin Brodeur's Play Against The Rangers

Has he ever played a worse playoff series in his career? I don't think so. Go back to the two blunders he had in Game 1 on home ice. With the score tied in the third period and on the power play, Brodeur either had a massive brain lapse or was his typical cocky puck playing self. (Yes, he's one of the best puck handling goalies in the league, but he gets a little over-confident some times.)

With Ryan Callahan curling around the net, Brodeur drops the puck in his crease about a foot from the goalline thinking that the man coming around the net was his defenseman only to see Callahan hack it into the net for a backbreaking shorthanded goal.

As if it wasn't bad enough, later in the same period Brodeur overplays Scott Gomez on a 2-on-1. Gomez was practically in the 5th row of the crowd when he realized Brodeur was staring him in the face and not in the crease when he passed it out front to Sean Avery for an easy tap in goal to pad the lead.

These are just two examples of his poor play in this series. A majority of the goals he allowed in this series were pucks he should have stopped or were pucks that had no business being in the net. Did Avery's antics really get into his head that bad, or is this just the first signs of an aging goaltender in the new NHL? Time will only tell, but needless to say this was not the Brodeur we are all used to seeing at this time of year.

#4 - The Dominator Becomes The Dominated

This is pretty self explanatory, but can you really blame Mike Babcock for turning to Chris Osgood this soon? I think I saw Hasek filling out his AARP membership info uring Game 6 against Nashville.

He was brutal in Games 3 and 4 in Nashville. He singlehandedly put Hockeytown into a state of panic not seen since the Sharks upset them many a moon ago. I enjoyed atching Hasek play during his career, but I hate seeing athletes hang on too long. Look at Jerry Rice, does it get much worse than seeing a Hall of Famer be cut and no one pick him up and then see him have success on "Dancing With The Stars?" I don't think so.

This needs to be Hasek's last season. Yes he put up great numbers this season, but honestly put a pylon in net and the wings still win at least 48-52 games. That team is loaded and is a well oiled machine. The Wings have a very capable goalie in Jimmy Howard waiting in the wings for his turn. He's the future of this franchise and has proven that he can play at the NHL level when he filled in for the osteoporosis-ridden Hasek earlier this season.

#3 - Carey Price Is Either On Or Can't Stop A Beachball

I hate to see someone struggle like this and for me to have to come on here and say "I told you so," but here it is. I TOLD YOU SO.

Carey Price looked great for five of the seven games against Boston. Games 5 and 6 were terrible where he gave up 10 goals in those two games and allowed Boston to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-1 in the series. Now I haven't been able to figure out if his shutout in Game 7 is anything to be overly excited about as the Bruins had absolutely nothing left in the tank for that game. Price did have some great saves in the game, but his team had already spotted him a 3 goal lead before anything he did mattered.

Flash ahead to the current series against Philadelphia. He hasn't looked solid in any of the first three games and was pulled in Game 3 after the second period. He let up three goals on 12 shots and was replaced by Jaroslav Halak who didn't allow a goal in the third period as the Habs almost forced overtime after heading into the final period down 3-0.

Who will be in net for Game 4? If I'm running the show I go with Halak. You can't waste time waiting for a kid to show up and play like we all know he's capable of playing. I've said this before. I like Price. I really do, but the inexperience of a 21-year-old kid playing in Montreal with the hopes of all of Canada on his shoulders right now to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada, is starting to show.

The backbreaking goal he allowed in Game 2 in the third period had no business being scored. On a floating puck in the air he nonchalantly put his glove out to catch it only to see it batted out of his glove and then into the net. You have to fight for that puck at all times as a goalie. Maybe he'll turn it around, but he's got to do it quick if the Habs are going to keep advancing in the playoffs.

#2 What's Up With San Jose?

I felt obliged to put this in near the top of the list since I picked them to win the Stanley Cup.

I don't quite get it. This team was the hottest of any team heading into the playoffs, but has been just good enough to advance. The one game that sticks out in my mind was when they ran Kipper from the net in Calgary with three goals in less than four minutes. Things looked great for the Sharks in that game and then it all fell apart as they went on to lose the game.

You can't blow three goal leads in the playoffs and expect to win. Ask the Rangers about how Game 1 against Pittsburgh turned out after they did the exact same thing.

Now they find themselves down 0-2 against the Stars and heading BACK TO DALLAS for the next two games. The Stars have completely dominated the first two games of this series and I wonder if San Jose is feeling some fatigue from playing a very physical seven game series against the Flames. (Apryl's note: since this was written, the Sharks now cling for dear life with the series at Dallas 3, Sharks 1)

This team has no business losing like this. They are too deep and too good of a team to be tossed around like this.

#1 - Anaheim Ducks Made The Playoffs?

Boy I bet Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne are glad they came out of semi-retirement for this splendid Stanley Cup defense.

What a pathetic showing from the defending champs against the Stars who were one of the coldest most out of sync teams heading into the playoffs. It was almost like the Ducks expected to win and didn't put any effort into doing so.

J.S. Giguere was solid in only two games and those were the two they ended up winning.

The Stars controlled this series from the opening puck drop and the added boost of knocking off the defending champs has carried over into their series with the Sharks. I can't believe how the Ducks rolled over in this series. You can't take anything for granted in the playoffs even as the defending champs. With the way the Ducks played
in the first round, I wouldn't have been surprised if the Lightning could have knocked them out. (Yeah, it's a bit of a stretch, but come on this was almost as bad as how the Senators played against the Penguins.)

The only thing I can come up with is that someone had really good tee times at Pebble Beach that making a run at defending the Stanley Cup was an afterthought. (Apryl's note: the way they played, they were probably too lazy to go all the way up to Nor Cal for golf and probably opted for the Anaheim Hills course.)

Now that it looks as if the second round of the NHL playoffs will be over by the end of the weekend, here's the Top 5 Surprises.

#5 Colorado Avalanche Round 1 Style

Yeah, this post is meant to be a look at isolated incidents in the playoffs. The Avs from round one were mighty impressive. I didn't think they had it in them to actually knock off the Wild, but they proved me wrong.

Jose Theodore was fantastic in that series and actually looked like his old self. If I remember right in my overall predictions blog I said in order for the Avs to move on to the next round it would have to be because of Theodore.

Now let's look ahead to where they are now on this second round against Detroit while I still have a couple hours where that is actually true. This series ends tonight. The Avs have been terrible in this entire series. Maybe not the whole team, just one guy in particular.

Jose Theodore.

The only reasoning we've been given for Theodore's unfathomable suckfest in this series is he supposedly has the "flu." Really? That's the best we could come up with? If he had the flu that bad, why put him in net to begin with? You have a capable guy in Peter Budaj who could have at least stopped a puck in the first two games while
Theodore rested up. Get out the brooms Red Wings fans, cause this one is over tonight.

#4 Boston Bruins Push Montreal To 7 Games

I don't think even the most rabid Bruins fans thought that they were going to win this series, much less come back from 3-1 down and force a Game 7. What was even more mindblowing was the stat that kept flashing during every game that said the Bruins have NEVER beaten the Canadiens in a playoff series.

Really? Two original six teams that played each other practically every year and Boston NEVER beat them once? That's worse than the Red Sox ineptitude against the hated Yankees until they came back from 0-3 down in 2004.

This was a great series and embodied what playoff hockey is all about.

Once this series was 3-1 in favor of Montreal, I could not believe that they lost Game 5 on home ice and then proceeded to lose Game 6 back in Boston. What then happened in Game 7 was basically like watching a sick animal be put to sleep. The Bruins had absolutely nothing left in the tank. Yeah they lost 5-0, but it wasn't a 5-0 game.

They, like any other team in that situation, started taking chances and got burned while fighting to live another day. This was at best a 2-0 or 3-0 game. The Bruins have nothing to be ashamed of or disappointed by. This was a team that many didn't think would even make the playoffs and they pushed the number one seed to the brink.
That's gotta count for something doesn't it?

#3 How Much Does Philly Love Briere and Biron?

For as much as I have a deep hatred of the Flyers as a Pens fan, I can't overlook the fact that this team was the worst team in the league last year and now they sit just one win away from the Eastern Conference finals.

I'm chalking almost all of this up to the play of Daniel Briere and Martin Biron. Briere currently leads the NHL in points in the playoffs. (Make the argument all you want about how some teams like the Penguins have played almost half as many games. I'll back you up.)

His leadership skills along with the resurgence of Mike Knuble have carried this team this far along with Biron in goal. Biron has been disgusting in this postseason and especially in this series with Montreal where they've been outshot 1651574145 - 30. (yes I know that's a really big exaggeration, but ask Biron how much rubber he's
faced and I bet he probably throws out a number close to that.)

This team has gotten healthy at the right time of year and it's showing. Imagine how much scarier this team would be if Simon Gagne would have not suffered three concussions this season. Baring a meltdown this team is moving on to the Eastern Conference finals.

#2 Dallas Stars Break Out Of Funk

Are you kidding me? Right after the trade deadline I was hanging out with Cheech and we were discussion who we thought had the best chance to win the Stanley Cup. At the time we both agreed that the Dallas Stars were probably the most complete team after getting Brad Richards.

Then for one reason or another this team just couldn't mesh together. A couple injuries to key players like Sergei Zubov and all of a sudden this team is dropping like a rock and they end up holding out thanks to an earlier lead in points and drew the Ducks in the opening round.

Then all of a sudden everyone wakes up and collectively says "OK Let's do this thing." They go on to completely dominate the Ducks and have smoked the Sharks for the most part and have Dallas fans once again looking ahead to a Wings/Stars playoff series.

If they continue to play like they have been and Marty Turco plays like he has, this team WILL beat Detroit in the Western Conference Finals. Write it down. If you don't give me a few days once everything is official and I'll write it down on here for you.

#1 Pittsburgh Penguins Are 7-0

This is self explanatory and I refuse to even talk about it for fear of jinxing this run we're on. The only thing I will say is that they are the first team since the 1994 Rangers and we all know how that turned out.

So instead of wasting my time on writing about this which will inevitably come back and bite me in the ass, let's move onto something else shall we?

Why Sports Are Great

Before I even start commenting on this subject, Read This!

I'll give you a few minutes to get through that.

Go ahead.

I'll still be here.

(Jeopardy Theme)

OK, now that you have read that this should be real easy to comment on.

Every once in a while a sports story comes along that makes you forget about how everyone on your favorite team makes more money per game than any of us probably make in a year. Something like that story makes you remember why you fell in love with sports in the first place.

Of course sports is all about who wins and who loses, or at least that's what we're taught to believe. Sport was based on the honor of competition and respecting the field of battle no matter what it might be.

I wish I would have been at this game just so I could gather those three young women together and shake their hands. These girls deserve more recognition than what they are getting. Maybe in the coming days more people will pick up on this and everyone will feel good about themselves for a minute or two, but not get the big picture.

The big picture here is that none of those girls on the field has a big dollar contract awaiting them. This was about making someone's dream come true. This was about a moment bigger than any individual person or even the game itself. Where else would you see anyone pick up an "enemy" and carry them to safety? This was more than just sportsmanship and is one of the most overlooked storylines and this is just my way of paying tribute to three remarkable women.

Thanks to Casey for delivering superior hockey analysis and musings as well as recognizing what will likely be the best moment in sports for 2008. When I first saw the softball story, I was glad that it was getting so much attention. The women involved are the epitome of sportsmanship and what is right in the world of sports. I’ve said it before - I am such a sports fanatic because of the ability of these events to bring people together from all walks of life. Thank you Mallory Holtman, Liz Wallace, and Sara Tucholsky for reminding me why I love sports. May you all have bright, successful futures in whatever you choose to do.


Lindsay said...

I guess you were right about where people would comment.

Yes, that is a great story about those softball players. Sports should be about the love of the game and not money. Someone said to me, why would you run a marathon if you don't expect to win? Well...

Apryl DeLancey said...

Clearly they've never run a marathon - just finishing = a win!