Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tying Up Series is Most Fun

Well, if you were looking for proper representation of what the last couple days of playoff action has been like, you might get a good idea from this picture taken from the Blues and Sharks game last night. It has been a low-down, gritty bunch of series already this year and there doesn't look to be any sign of that changing.

Line brawls, fights, high hits and impending suspensions are all in the name of the game in the 2012 playoffs and personally, I don't seem to mind much.  I think the argument for it all is showing how much these opening round series now mean to these teams that make it into the playoffs, as teams have adapted a little into the Boston Bruins mode of winning... by any means possible.  Sticking up for your teammates and throwing down the gloves is all part of this team sport and it's the teams that stick together that win it all.

Just thought I would throw that in there, just for the sake of some interest.  Now, let's see what the story is from Saturday.

In the early game, the Bruins and Capitals went toe-to-toe again and these two teams are not about giving up goals in regulation time, if at all, which is really hurting the playoff pool a little bit.  These two have some good offensive weapons on their side, but their goaltenders and defense are seemingly stealing the show.

In Game One, these two teams were scoreless into overtime, which the Bruins had taken, but the Capitals struck first blood in regulation in Game Two, gave up the equalizer in the 3rd period and they were sent back to overtime.  It took time in the second overtime period to end the game, but it was Nicklas Backstrom who snuck a great wrist shot on the short (blocker) side on Tim Thomas to pick up the game-winner and tie up the series at one.

Since Michal Neuvirth is also injured, Braden Holtby got his first playoff win on Saturday, taking 2 points away from the pool again, leaving Backstrom as the only player in this game to pick up multiple points.

So far, this series has done quite well to stay healthy as well.  That is all well and good, but if this series doesn't pick up the goal scoring, it will be considered one hell of a disappointment.

The Senators and Rangers set off some fireworks early in Game Two on Saturday and that really set the tone for the rest of the series. Huge melees in the 1st period, resulting in some ejections, majors and other various penalties and the goals hadn't even started to be scored yet.

Ottawa had a lot to prove in Game Two, as they had buckled in Game One under the pressure that is the Rangers physicality, so they went out and proved it with some physical play of their own and it got the entire team motivated.  In the end, the Senators came out of Game Two with a tied series at one game a piece, thanks to a 3-2 overtime victory, which included a tying goal with under five minutes to go in the 3rd period, digging deep for that winner.

Only two players of note for the pool, as Chris Neil, the Sens X-factor player in Box 19 scored the winner and Craig Anderson recorded his first win of the playoffs, so they each came away with 2 points in this game.  Unfortunately, Neil was only taken once and Anderson wasn't taken at all, so there wasn't much for points infused into the standings.

There is an injury to speak of, as Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators' Box 15 player (and captain) left the game in the 2nd period after taking an elbow to the head from the Rangers' Carl Hagelin. There was no immediate word on Alfredsson, but Hagelin will have a hearing with the NHL to determine any supplemental discipline, which there would be a good case for at least a couple of games in this instance.  If Alfredsson is to miss some time, that would be a huge loss for the Senators and for three teams in the playoff pool.  If the dreaded concussion word comes around, which it might, that could end his participation in this series.

This series will head back to Ottawa all tied up and with a lot more questions about health and more fireworks to come.

You want to talk about an ugly game, let's talk about the Blues and Sharks game.  It was already foreshadowed at the top of this post, but it may not have done the whole scope of the game much justice, as 132 minutes in penalties were handed out in that one, with over 80 of them coming at the final buzzer.  This game was ugly from start to finish, a style that we knew the Blues could play coming in, but really shouldn't be surprised to see the Sharks in, knowing how desperate they have to be to get some playoff success this year.

Since the ugly, physical style of play is a staple in the St. Louis game, they were ready and willing to play this game and it suited them much more than it did the Sharks, hence the 3-0 scoreline in the game for the home side.  The Blues were on the board early, due to a Marc-Eduoard Vlasic miscue in his own crease and that stood up to be the eventual winner in this game.

A lot of the ugly stuff kicked off in the 2nd period, where a couple of fighting majors were dropped, but all of that nastiness just exploded at the end of the game, where five misconducts were given out, not to mention a few fighting majors and there is going to be a lot of talk surrounding all that nastiness.

In the pool, T.J. Oshie recorded a pair of assists and Jaroslav Halak did record the win, but was injured mid-way through the game, so he had to split the shutout with teammate Brian Elliott, so this doesn't count as a shutout for either goaltender.  Halak only comes away with 2 points, but the injury concern is much greater, which I'll get into right away.

The early word on Halak is that he is going to make the trip to San Jose and get re-evaluated there, but just in case, the Blues have called up Jake Allen from Peoria of the AHL, just in case they need someone to back up Elliott on Monday.  I would imagine we would know more when the team announces the starting goalie for the game, after practice on Monday morning.

Another injury to consider, Dominic Moore, the Sharks' Box 7 X-factor player, suffered a broken nose from a Vladimir Sobotka sucker-punch in that end-of-game melee, so his status for Game Three may be up in the air.  A game out of the line-up would not be uncalled for, just to make sure he can breathe just fine and get adjusted to a face shield, but that should be about it.  No one took Moore in the pool, but he will be key to the Sharks success down the line.

In the late game, there wasn't quite as much of that ugly stuff, as line brawls and fights go, but there was some questionable occurrences of its own in the game between the Blackhawks and the Coyotes in Phoenix.

These two teams may suffer a bit from not having much of a relationship against each other, as the four games a year in the regular season hasn't really translated into a great deal on the ice in the playoffs, which may have lessened the tenacity and hatred between the two sides.  Nevertheless, each team is using their systems to find ways to win and that's all you can really ask.

The Coyotes, for the most part, dominated the game, the play and really took it to the Blackhawks.  Unfortunately for the home side, they could never really see all this solid play translate into tallies on the scoreboard, nursing 1-goal leads late in the 3rd period, which now in back-to-back games, Chicago has scored late to force overtime.

The only difference between Game One and Two was the winning team, as the Blackhawks got the best of the Coyotes in the second affair, tying up this series as well and sending it back to Chicago all even.

The Game Two hero for the Blackhawks was Brian Bickell, the Box 7 X-factor player for Chicago, who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner, giving him 3 points on the night, leading the way for a tied up series.  Also picking up a pair of points was goalie Corey Crawford, who made 23 saves for the win.

On the Coyotes' side of the ledger, Antoine Vermette scored a pair of goals and Keith Yandle had a pair of assists.

Tonight's Games

Well, today is the first day where the 8-ball starts to loom on a couple of teams, which will make things much more interesting in the games on Sunday.

Already under way at the time of this post, the Predators and Red Wings are in Detroit for Game Three of their series, which is all locked up at one game a piece.  This has been a pretty good series, to this point and there is no stopping it now.  It doesn't look like Nashville is intimidated at all by the experience of the Red Wings, so that answers one question about this series.

The Pittsburgh Penguins could be put behind the 8-ball on Sunday, if they lose today in Philadelphia.  Already down 2-0 to the Flyers after losing both games at home is going to hurt, but this hole that they are in isn't too bad, but one more loss should pretty well end any hope for the Penguins and their Cup aspirations.

New Jersey and Florida will only play their second game of their series on Sunday evening, with the Devils already up 1-0 and poised to take home-ice advantage for themselves with another win.  Florida will have to step up and be a lot better for 60 minutes, if they want to stay in these playoffs.

In the late game, much like the Penguins, the Canucks are in the same boat, having lost both home games to the Kings and heading to Los Angeles for Game Three.  Everything that was said about the Penguins, applies to the Canucks... plain and simple.

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