2011 NHL Playoffs, Round Two: Western Conference Recap
(2) Sharks over (4) Red Wings: I finally had one prediction correct: this was to be the most entertaining series of the second round, and it lived up to every bit of the hype. Six of the seven games were decided by just one goal with two of the first three needing sudden death. Each game was exciting with the outcome in doubt until either the final buzzer or red light.
I mentioned in the Tampa/Washington recap that this playoff year’s recurring theme seems to be winning the first two games on the road to open a series. Well that is so last week.
The Red Wings joined Chicago as yet another team to erase a 3-0 series deficit to force a game 7. The Sharks won the first two on home ice and then dashed the Wings’ effort to hold serve, when Devin Setoguchi stunned the former octopi launching crowd 9:21 into overtime, grabbing the Wings by the throat. Had the Sharks won game 4, it would have been the first time Detroit had been swept out of the playoffs since the Devils blew them out of the 1995 Finals to capture their first Stanley Cup.
But before you could say this is not your just-slightly-older-brother’s San Jose Sharks, the Wings began to try and make history, and the Sharks went from looking like Jaws, to looking like Jaws 4.
After one period, game 4 looked to be the turning point of the series, with Todd Bertuzzi opening the scoring, and two goals from Nicklas Lidstrom, who is finishing up his 63rd season with the Wings. In all seriousness, the 41 (going on 28) year old captain joined Detroit in 1991, coincidentally the same year San Jose joined the league. The Sharks got on the board near the end of the period, and cut the lead to one with the only goal of the second period. Incredibly, Dany Heatley tied the game early in the third, and the sweep seemed all but inevitable. But Darren Helm scored the game winner for the Wings with less than two minutes left to send the series back to San Jose.
Detroit proved they planned to make a series out of it by twice overcoming two-goal Shark leads in game 5. Trailing 2-1 to start the third period, the Wings overcame a first-minute Logan Couture goal that appeared to be a back-breaker, putting the Sharks up 3-1. But Jonathon Ericsson answered just two minutes later, and Danny Cleary tied the game less than two minutes after that. Detroit capped off the third period explosion when Tomas Holmstrom tipped in the game-winner off the stick of Nicklas Lidstrom of course.
The Wings would not be denied a return trip to Joe Louis Arena. An extremely tense game was scoreless heading to the final stanza, when 22-year old Couture, wishing the playoffs figured into rookie of the year voting, opened the scoring with his sixth goal of the post-season. But for the second straight game, the Wings ended the final period with three goals, and the series was unbelievably tied.
One can say that San Jose showed they would not complete the collapse by scoring twice in the first period to take a two-goal lead into the locker room. But if the prior six games of this series taught us anything, it was that a two-goal lead between these two teams is basically a tie. It also taught us that the Detroit playoff staple of throwing octopi on the ice, established in 1952, is now a punishable offense (although the fans didn’t seem to mind the risk after the game 6 winner). Really, PETA? Do you feel better about yourselves? What’s next on your hit list, Easter eggs?
Anyway, the Wings cut the lead to one by the end of the second, but Patrick Marleau gave the Sharks yet another 3-1, third period lead. Pavel Datsyuk cut it back to one with 6 minutes left, but the Sharks hung on and ran the clock out to advance to the conference finals for the second straight year. I for one am glad, partially because this is the fourth straight season I’ve said this is their year, but mostly because there are so many metaphors for this team name I have yet to exploit. I will sink my teeth in next round.
As for Detroit; like most of the hockey world, I’ve had enough of the Red Wings to last me two lifetimes. However, I do like them hanging around because to be honest, I get chills every time I hear 20,000 strong at Joe Louis Arena scream, “Born and raised in South Detroit,” when Journey booms over the loud-speaker about that city boy who meets that small town girl in Don’t Stop Believing. Unfortunately, the Wings took a midnight train going anywhere but Vancouver.
(1) Vancouver over (5) Predators: The Nashville Predators, the potential this year’s Flyers (only likeable), fought valiantly, but came up just short against the Canucks.
The series opener was short on offense all around, as Vancouver had a 30-20 shot advantage. This was the type of game that favored Nashville, as they would fare better in a game in which they could slow Vancouver’s rocket-fuel (high-octane does not do them justice) offense. They were able to limit Vancouver to only one goal, but that is often all Roberto Luongo needs, and the Canucks took the opener 1-0.
Nashville showed they belonged in this series, as they came out flying in game 2. They peppered Luongo with 46 shots, 13 more than Vancouver. They also threw a game-leading 41 hits and held a 51-38 faceoff advantage. But with two minutes left in the third period, it appeared as if Luongo would steal another one. Alexandre Burrows’ second period goal was the only one. With Pekka Rinne pulled for a sixth attacker, Ryan Suter tied the game with just over a minute left. The game would go fifteen minutes into a second overtime before Matt Halischuk gave Nashville a well-deserved win to tie the series at one.
Vancouver would take a stranglehold on the series by winning both games in Tennessee. The Preds, though, once again showed their resolve as the series moved back to Vancouver, where many believed it would end. Vancouver scored twice after David Legwand opened the scoring for Nashville. Legwand scored again to tie the game in the second period, before Joel Ward scored two early third period goals to put Nashville up for good. Ryan Kessler cut the lead to one with four minutes left, but the Preds hung on and earned one last home game.
Unfortunately, this exciting series would end in game 6. Vancouver scored twice in the first ten minutes of the game, but once again David Legwand came through, pulling Nashville to within one. Much like in last year’s Olympics after the United States shellacked Marty Brodeur, Roberto Luongo stopped everything thrown his way, and kept the Preds off the board for the final 36:29, and Vancouver was back to the conference finals for the first time in 18 years.
Every Canadian is well aware that the last time the Stanley Cup resided north of the border was in 1993. To put it mildly, they are not pleased that it has been property of the United States since the Rangers gave it a one-year home in Manhattan, removing it from the hockey Jerusalem known as Montreal. Ironically, the team on the losing end of the ’94 Finals was in fact the Vancouver Canucks. Since then, a Canadian team has only made the finals three times: Calgary in 2003, Edmonton in 2006 and Ottawa the following year. While there were many other great Canadian teams that underachieved or were just beaten by better teams, I honestly believe this Canucks team is the best chance Canada has had to regain Cup control since ‘93. Vancouver is loaded, stacked, stocked, built, or any other adjective used to describe a great team or great beasts (which I guess could also be described as a great team).
Written by Scott Blander aka Mr. Ice Guy exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com
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