The Czech Republic lose to Norway in the IIHF World Championship ice hockey tournament. Canada loses to Switzerland; and now the NHL team that scraped into the playoffs at the last post (Montreal) defeats the reigning champions. Something is seriously amiss in the hockey universe.
Credit must go to Montreal – in both playoff series they were up against vastly superior teams if talent and the season’s performances were taken into account. In both series, they defeated their foe in game 7 in the other teams building by coming back from 3-1 series deificts.
They will face either the Boston Bruins or the battling Philadelphia Flyers in the conference finals. That series teeters on a 3-3 knife edge with Philadelphia verging on a hockey miracle of their own – coming back from a 0-3 series deficit.
Whatever weird stuff happens in the east, the west is shaping up to be a battle for the ages. The two top teams square off in what will be a crucial series for both Chicago and San Jose. Both have been building for sometime – Chicago made it this far last year. San Jose have looked promising for the past 10 years but have repeatedly failed to deliver. This will be a big series. Both sides are stacked with stars including a number of Olympic finalists.
The difference could well be the strength of the goaltending. Can Evgeni Nabokov finally achieve glory with the team he has failed with for several years? It’s hard to tell. I do know, without the benefit of a crystal ball is that the young guns on Chicago will be firing. The question for them is will they get support from the veterans like Marian Hossa? One thing is for sure – we wait knowing anything can happen, as this playoff year has shown emphatically.
I must be honest, I really thought the Washington Capitals were the real deal this year. About two weeks ago, there was good reason for thinking this. They were the NHL’s top team, they boast a list of scorers including the flamboyant and insanely talented Alexander Ovechkin. The team finished the regular season on 54 wins and 121 points. Only five Capitals home games resulted losses. In the space of seven first-round playoff games with the Montreal Canadiens, Washington suffered three losses at home – 60% of the losses they incurred at home over the entire season.
Ovechkin had another stellar year, finishing with a predictable 50 goals despite missing 10 games to injury. Nicklas Backstrom continued his ascent into the top 10 players in the league. Alexander Semin scored 44 goals. The writing was on the wall. Unfortunately, Semin couldn’t register a goal throughout the seven game battle against Montreal. Backstrom and Ovechkin were the only two players to turn up on the score sheets with any regularity.
The old adage – that the playoffs are a completely different game to the regular season couldn’t have been confirmed in a more emphatic way than watching the top three Easten Conference teams capitulate in the first-round. Joining Washington in the ‘taking early vacations’ department is New Jersey and Buffalo. All were tossed out of the playoffs after first round losses despite each team winning their respective divisions.
What this does is toss the odds of a Stanley Cup repeat heavily in favour of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite a stuttering six game series against the Ottawa Senators, it is fair to say the Pens didn’t really look like losing that series. They are a class act that knows how to win at the right time of the year. Sadly for the Washington Capitals, this lesson in turning up the intensity in the playoffs was a hard one to swallow. Next year guys?
Posted in Ice Hockey