2011 NHL Playoffs: Round One Eastern Conference Recap (And Other Thoughts)
With yet another early round exit by the Rangers, I am left with just three major sporting events until college and hopefully pro football begin in late August: 1) Praying the Stanley Cup is not lifted by a Devil, Islander, Penguin, Flyer, or Capital. 2) Being disappointed in yet another lack of a triple-crown winner in horseracing. 3) Wondering why the Rangers were excluded from the Crosby (Winter) Classic yet again. Am I being Nancy Negative? Sure. You try being a Rangers and Mets fan for a few years and then come question my attitude. Sure the Giants have given me some bliss as of late, but most of that was obliterated in 8 painful minutes against the Eagles.
Even though my beloved Blueshirts were sent home early again, I am still very much interested in the playoffs. We have had four series go seven games, two of them incredible comebacks to force the deciding game, 14 overtime games, one of which, a deciding game 7, and two double OT games. So here is my breakdown of what we’ve seen so far, in no particular order.
8 Rangers/ 1 Capitals: It’s hard to feel sorry for a team that lost in five games and has scored a whopping two goals on its last 49 power play attempts, but this series went exactly like I hoped it would not for my beloved Rangers. The Rangers just barely lost each game, with games 1 and especially 4 in the “heartbreaking loss” category. They generated no offense, and one could only wonder what could have been if Ryan Callahan hadn’t gone down on the final week of the regular season. With the exception of maybe Henrik Lundqvist, no single Ranger’s loss could have possibly been more devastating. In addition to being their leading scorer, the Callahan-Dubinsky-Anisimov line was the only one that generated scoring opportunities at will. His tireless work ethic and heart gives the Rangers solid fore-checking and forced turnovers, blocked shots, and signs of life on the power play. The game 4 debacle that saw a 3-0 third period lead evaporate into a double-OT shocker might have been avoided with just one quality shift in the third period or even in overtime had it gone that far. Tack on a goal or a brilliant setup in game one, and the Rangers are coming back to the Garden up 3 games to 2.
About the only series highlight for us bluebloods was a glorious 15 minute span in the 2nd period of game 4, just after two goals in seven seconds opened up the three goal lead, when 18,200 of the greatest fans in sports answered Washington Head Coach, Bruce Boudreau’s insult to MSG and her faithful subjects with a chant of “Can You Hear Us.” About an hour later, the chant could have been, “Can you hear a pin drop?” I do have to give the Caps credit though. This is no longer the nuclear-powered offense, hamster wheel-fueled defense that blows through the regular season and wonders why they can’t win playoff games 9-6, that we’ve grown accustomed to over the past few years. They learned how to play defense since the all-star break, and they appear to very quick learners. It would not surprise me if this is their year.
3 Bruins over 6 Canadiens: The Habs once again did what they do best: win the first two games of an opening round series on the road, and then completely fall apart and lose the series. (They accomplished this same “feat” against the Rangers in ’96, and again vs. the Hurricanes in ’06.) Katey, didn’t I tell you after game 2 not to worry? Overpaid Scott Gomez is now being booed in his own arena due to a lack of production, meaning he now gets booed in almost as many arenas as Sean Avery. Devils fans boo him because he took off to the Rangers for $7 million a year. Ranger fans boo him because in two seasons, he didn’t exactly produce $7 million worth of results. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see Gomez back in his home Alaska next season making $7 million as a greenhorn on Deadliest Catch, before getting booed by Captain Sig.
This was a very entertaining series that, in addition to the road team winning the first 4 games, had 3 of its final 4 games decided in overtime, including the ever-elusive, game 7. Bruins’ goalie Tim Thomas was amazing as usual, and my personal MVP goes to the ageless wonder (43 years young) Mark Recchi, netting a respectable 4 points, including a goal in game 7, and a very impressive 18 minutes of playing time per game for the old man. Recovering from losing the opening two games at home to win the series was just the confidence boost they needed to finally bury the memory of last season’s 3-0 series lead collapse to the Flyers. They are the complete package. With Tim Thomas backing up a solid defense and potent offense, and the two-time Cup champion Recchi contributing just as much on the ice as in the locker room, this team has definite potential to give the United States’ greatest hockey-loving town their long awaited reunion with Lord Stanley.
2 Flyers over 7 Sabres: I was never a big supporter of momentum carrying into the playoffs. When you step out onto the ice in front your home crowd for your first playoff home game, how you got there is immediately forgiven and forgotten. Take last season for example. The Flyers lost 7 out 9 in late March before squeaking into the 8th and final seed in an epic shootout. And then they were in the Stanley Cup Finals, respectfully overpowered by an unstoppable Chicago Blackhawks. You see Don? I told you they would be fine. This season they won just 7 of their final 21 games, including losing 5 of their final 6.
Ok, this time the slumber may have extended into game one, as they were blanked 1-0. Ryan Miller or not, the Flyers potent offense should not open the playoffs by getting blanked before their raucous crowd. They soon woke up, winning the next two, scoring 9 goals in the process. After getting shut out again in game 4, and then dropping game 5 at home to face elimination before a frenzied Buffalo crowd, they showed their resolve by overcoming two-goal deficits twice, tying the game in the third period and winning it in overtime. Game 7 was never in doubt. With the return of Chris Pronger solidifying their defense, their only question mark for another deep run is goaltending. They used three different goaltenders in this series, uncharacteristic of a team destined for the Cup. But their go-to guy Brian Boucher put up a wall in game 7, and the good news for Philly fans (as if they deserve any,) is that he has last year’s Finals run in his repertoire of experience.
5 Lightning over 4 Penguins: Sidney Crosby is out of the playoffs, thus making another Crosby/Ovechkin matchup impossible this year. The good news for Commissioner Gary Bettman is that Crosby has been out for months, and Bettman has had plenty of time to dry his eyes and emotionally heal. The good news for us is that THERE IS NO RIVALRY BETWEEN THESE TWO AND THERE ARE OTHER TALENTED PLAYERS IN THE LEAGUE!! I will however admit, that not having Crosby and Malkin on this Penguins team for most of what still managed to be a very good regular season, just barely losing the Atlantic division title to the Flyers, does make me have to wonder what might have been. That seems to be a recurring theme this playoff season (see Rangers above and Kings below.)
So back to the league’s other talent. Case in point, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stephen Stamkos has quickly become one of the most electrifying players in the league to watch, following up last year’s 51 goal, 95 point coming-out party with 45 goals and 91 points. Apparently nobody told Martin St. Louis he’s getting old, racking up an NHL’s second-best 99 points this season. He, along with the always dangerous Vinny Lecavalier each had 8 points in their 7 game win over Pittsburgh. Lecavalier is tied for the NHL’s lead with 8 playoff goals. But my series MVP goes to Steve Downie. He somehow managed a team best 9 points in the series, while racking up a whopping league-leading 18 penalty minutes. I like him already.
Check back tomorrow for the Western Conference Recap!
Written by Scott Blander aka Mr. Ice Guy exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com
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