If you like scoring, then you loved the game last night. Game two was a shootout. It did not take long for the scoring to begin. Thirteen seconds into the game, Adam Hall gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Bruins fans were thinking, “Here we go again.” Nathan Horton tied the game for the Bruins 13:58 into the period. Now the fans were back in the game. Then, Martin St. Louis demoralized the Bruins faithful by scoring with only seven seconds left in the period. However, Boston scored five goals on only nine shots in the second period. Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson was broken and yanked in the second period. The Lightning made a furious comeback scoring three more goals and pulling within one. In the final minutes, Tim Thomas made spectacular saves, and preserved the lead for the Bruins. The series is tied at one thanks to the great play of Tyler Seguin and Michael Ryder for the Bruins. Seguin has scored three goals since filling in for injured Patrice Bergeron this series. Now the two teams head to Tampa Bay. The Lightning should feel confident after splitting the two games in Boston, and scoring five goals on the best goalie in hockey in the first two games. Boston needs to tighten up their defense for the rest of the series.
Turnovers kill a team, and the Bruins learned the hard way. The Bruins got off to a sloppy start in the game and the series. Eleven minutes into the game, a Dennis Seidenberg turnover led to a fury of shots by the Lightning, and Sean Bergenheim gave Tampa Bay the lead 15 seconds later. Then, 19 seconds later, Lighting defenseman Brett Clark skated through the Boston Bruins defense and scored on a back-hander past Tim Thomas. A minute and six seconds later, the Lightning struck again, Ted Purcell took the puck from Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle and stuffed it in the net. Game over. The Bruins could never come back from that deficit and lost the game 5-2. Boston hoped to play better in front of their crowd in game two.
On Sunday, the Vancouver Canucks had to come from behind to take game one in the series. In the first period, the Vancouver crowd was silenced when Roberto Luongo threw a lazy pass towards Joe Thornton. He buried it in the net and gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead with a 1:13 left. Not the way the Canucks wanted to start off the game. Then in the second period, the Canucks answered 1:49 into the second period with Maxim Lapierre’s wrister. Then, the boos came in as Mason Raymond was called for a weak holding penalty, and the Sharks capitalized on their power-play with a Patrick Marleau goal. After two periods, the Sharks had a 2-1 lead, and looked like the better team. Unfortunately, the demons from the Detroit series returned and the Sharks blew another third period lead. First Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa scored on a sliding Antti Niemi. Then, 8:21 into the third period, and 1:19 after Bieksa’s goal Henrik Sedin scored the go-ahead goal. There was still plenty of time left in the game, but Luongo finished strong and preserved the lead for the Canucks. Game two is tonight, and both teams hope to play better.
This Saturday, the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning will kick off their Eastern Conference Finals series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This will be the third different matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals in the past three years. In 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins squared off with the Carolina Hurricanes; and last year it was the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens that met in the Eastern Conference Final. The Bruins look to make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1990, and to win the Cup for the first time since 1972. Meanwhile, the Lightning will try to make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals since their championship season in 2004.
How they arrived here:
The Tampa Bay Lightning finished the NHL 2010-2011 regular season in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. That meant the Lightning would have to face the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. The Penguins were without stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but fans should not forget that this team won the Stanley Cup two years ago. It would be a tough test for the Lightning as the series needed all seven games to complete. Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson was clutch in game 7. He shut out the Penguins, and improved his “must-win” record to 6-0. Next for the Lightning was the top-seeded Washington Capitals. Many people thought this would be Alexander Ovechkin’s year. However, the Lightning had other plans. Unlike the first round, the Lightning made quick work of the Capitals. In fact, they swept the Capitals. Four games. Boom. Done. Steven Stamkos finally woke up, and returned to the scoring tear he was on in the regular season, but he is still not the team leader in goals this postseason. Instead, it is Sean Bergenheim. He has emerged as a scoring threat that no one saw coming. This is a good sign for the Lightning, as depth and defense is what wins in the playoffs.
The Boston Bruins are not as big of a surprise as the Lightning. The Bruins made it to the second round of the playoffs last year, while the Lightning failed to reach the postseason. This year, the Bruins won their division and finished third in Eastern Conference. In the first round, they had to face their division rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. These two teams hated each other, and Bruin Defenseman Zdeno Chara’s hit on the Canadiens Max Pacioretty added fuel to the fire. It was an intense series, and needed all seven games to complete. The Bruins won an epic game 7 in overtime thanks to Nathan Horton’s clutch goal. Horton actually two game-winning goals in the series, and by the way, this is Horton’s first time in the playoffs. Next was the defending Eastern Conference Champions, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins were still bitter over the collapse from a year ago, when they choked and lost the series to the Flyers after having a 3-0 series lead. This year, history would not repeat itself, and the Bruins swept the Flyers. Goaltending is crucial in the playoffs. The Flyers were still searching for their goaltender; using three different goalies in the playoffs. The Bruins had Tim Thomas, a proven veteran, and the best goalie in hockey right now. Why is he the best? He broke Dominik Hasek’s all-time save percentage record this year. Thomas beat the previous mark of .937 with a .938 save percentage this season. The Bruins look like they have the tools to win the Cup.
Advantage Lightning. Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Sean Bergenheim are the top scorers. Simon Gagne and Vincent Lecavalier look to contribute as well.
Advantage Bruins. The Bruins had the best defense in the Eastern Conference, only allowing 195 goals the whole year. Zdeno Chara intimidates everyone on the ice, and currently has a plus 11 rating in the playoffs. Tomas Kaberle, Andrew Ference, and Dennis Seidenberg help neutralize opposing teams as well.
Tim Thomas. He plays behind a fantastic defensive unit, and he can make the “Sportscenter highlight-reel” saves. Dwayne Roloson is clutch, but Thomas has been more consistent than Roloson.
Tampa Bay has a slight edge because they can actually score on the power play. However, the Bruins penalty killing unit is tough to beat.
Nathan Horton is the X-factor for the Bruins. He needs to continue scoring the clutch goals for his team. On the other hand, Bruins forward Milan Lucic needs to step up his offensive game. He only has two postseason goals, after being the “breakout player” for the Bruins last postseason. The Bruins need someone to step up in the place of injured Patrice Bergeron.
The X-factors for the Lightning are Martin St. Louis and Dwayne Roloson. St. Louis has a minus five rating. He has scored, but he needs to improve his defensive game. Dwayne Roloson has played well, but he needs to treat every game like game 7. He needs to outplay Tim Thomas for the Lightning to win this series.
The Bruins will win the series in five games. They play the type of hockey you need to play in the playoffs. Defense wins championships.
Images courtesy of: Yahoo Sports (Bruins Celebration), Nimg.sulekha.com (Chara’s hit), Rootzoo.com (Spectacular Save from Thomas), Media.Pennlive.com (St. Louis and Lecavalier), and Digitaldads.com (Stamkos)
The NHL is starting to become like March Madness. Okay, it is a best-of-seven series instead of single elimination, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs are still fun to watch. What a great start to the NHL postseason. There were four game 7’s, and nine consecutive days of which one game had gone into overtime. Oh, by the way, the nine consecutive days of overtime was a new NHL record. Who knows what to expect in the second round? What we do know is that teams need their star players. Just look what happened to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Game 7 Breakdowns:
How we arrived here:
The Pittsburgh Penguins suffered a serious blow before the series began. Their two best players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who are also two of the best in all of hockey, were injured. Crosby suffered a concussion, while Malkin suffered a knee injury. The Tampa Bay Lightning looked to take advantage of this opportunity. In game one, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury looked like the Fleury that led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup, as he shut out the Lightning in a 3-0 victory. The Lightning answered the Penguins in game two with a 5-1 victory. Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson made 35 saves, and captain Vincent Lecavalier’s power play goal 6:53 into the game proved to be the game-winner. In game three, the Penguins won a close contest by the score of 3-2. Martin St. Louis tied the game at two for the Lightning early in the third period. Then thirty-one seconds later, Tyler Kennedy scored the game-winner for the Penguins. Game four would be the most exciting game of the series. Double overtime was needed to determine the winner of this game. Sean Bergenheim of the Tampa Bay Lightning tied the game at two after sending a wrist shot past Fleury with 3:17 left in the third period. Then, 3:38 into the second overtime period, James Neal blew the puck past Roloson to give the Penguins a 3-1 series lead. The Lightning needed to win out in order to advance to the second round. In game five, the Lightning piled up 8 goals against the Penguins in an 8-2 rout. The Lightning’s star player Steven Stamkos finally provided a spark by scoring his first two goals of the series, and assisting on another goal. Simon Gagne and Pavel Kubina also had two goals apiece in the 8-2 beating. Game six was a much harder contest for the Lightning, but Tampa Bay scored two goals in the third to win 4-2. The Lightning had all of the momentum. Could they pull off the comeback?
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson was 5-0 in games facing elimination coming into this game. They hoped he would remain undefeated. Penguins fans thought they were watching a Pittsburgh Steelers game; it was low scoring. Actually, there was only one goal scored. In the second period, Sean Bergenheim scored on a wrist shot to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. That was all Tampa Bay needed, as Roloson played the game of his life, and blanked the Pittsburgh Penguins. Roloson is now 6-0 when facing elimination, and now he will have to face Alexander Ovechkin and the top-seeded Washington Capitals.
The NHL is starting to become like March Madness. Okay, it is a best-of-seven series instead of single elimination, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs are still fun to watch. What a great start to the NHL postseason. There were four game 7’s, and nine consecutive days of which one game had gone into overtime. Oh, by the way, the nine consecutive days of overtime was a new NHL record. Who knows what to expect in the second round? What we do know, is that the defending champions have been knocked out, so there will be a new team hoisting the Cup this year.
Game 7 Breakdowns:
Canucks vs. Blackhawks
How we arrived here: The Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks met for the third straight year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The last two years, the Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks, and Vancouver hoped that the “third time’s the charm”. The Canucks seemed poised for a series sweep of the defending champs, as they won the first three games. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver’s goaltender, shut out the Hawks in game one in a 2-0 victory. In game two, Daniel Sedin scored twice for the Canucks, as they went on to win 4-3. Game three was another close game, but the Canucks prevailed yet again, after Mikael Samuelsson scored the game-winner 6:48 into the third period. Chicago was down and out. The team needed a spark. Enter Dave Bolland. The Blackhawks third-line center returned from a concussion to play in game four. It was desperate times for the Blackhawks. Little did they know, Bolland would take over game four by scoring one goal, assisting on three more, and shutting down the Canucks top line in the 7-2 slaughter. The Blackhawks had new life as they won big again in game five. Then in game six, the Blackhawks won in dramatic fashion, as rookie Ben Smith scored the game-winning goal in overtime. The Blackhawks had the Canucks doubting themselves.
There’s nothing like game 7, especially in a rivalry like the Canucks-Blackhawks. Both goalies had a ton of pressure on them. On the Canucks, you had Roberto Luongo who was looking to silence his critics. In game six, Luongo, who was the best goalie in the Winter Olympics last year, was benched for rookie Cory Schneider. Schneider ended up injuring himself in the third period, and Luongo now has a chance to redeem himself. On the other side, you had rookie Corey Crawford. He is trying to make a name for himself and trying to keep the defending champs alive. Crawford also wants to prove to everyone that he can win in the playoffs like Anti Niemi did for the Blackhawks last year.
Well, both goalies did their job. It was a defensive struggle throughout the game.
Alex Burrows gave Vancouver a fast start with an early goal, but after that Crawford settled down and found his rhythm. Luongo was playing his best game as it appeared that he would shut out the Blackhawks for the second time this series. With three minutes left, the Blackhawks were shorthanded thanks to a Duncan Keith penalty that resulted in a penalty shot for Burrows. However, Crawford rejected Burrow’s shot, and kept the Blackhawks in the game. Crawford was not ready for an early playoff exit, and neither was Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. With 1:54, Toews dug deep and scored a clutch short-handed goal to tie the game. Game seven would need overtime to determine who advanced and who went home. The Blackhawks received an early power play after an Alex Burrows holding 24 seconds into the period. The Blackhawks were not able to convert as Luongo robbed Patrick Sharp of a goal. The Canucks gained huge momentum after the penalty kill, and 5:22 in the period the Blackhawks made a crucial mistake.
Blackhawks defenseman, Chris Campoli attempted to clear the puck out of his zone. However, Burrows was right there to bat the puck down and skate toward the net. Burrows then blasted the puck past Corey Crawford.
Pandemonium filled the ice. The Canucks finally sealed the deal. Up next for the Canucks is the Nashville Predators. The road to the Stanley Cup does not get any easier.
The NHL is starting to become like March Madness. Okay, it is a best-of-seven series instead of single elimination, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs are still fun to watch. What a great start to the NHL postseason. There were four game 7’s, and nine consecutive days of which one game had gone into overtime. Oh, by the way, the nine consecutive days of overtime was a new NHL record. Who knows what to expect in the second round? What we do know, is that no goalie is safe. So far, seven teams switched goalies during the playoffs. The Philadelphia Flyers used three different goalies in the first round. Both are very unusual statistics.
Game 7 Breakdowns:
Sabres vs. Flyers
How we arrived here:
In game one, it was a defensive struggle. The Sabres pulled off a 1-0 win over the Flyers after spectacular goaltending from Ryan Miller, and Patrick Kaleta’s clutch third-period goal. Game two was a different story. Six goals were scored in the first period, and Flyers’ goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky lost his starting job. Peter Laviolette, the Flyers’ coach, inserted Brian Boucher to replace Bobrovsky after Buffalo’s third goal in the period. The move was made to wake up his team; and the Flyers did wake up as they came from behind and won 5-4. In game three, Boucher shut down the Sabres in his first start of the series, and Jeff Carter had one goal and one assist to lead the Flyers to a 4-2 victory. In game four, Buffalo evened up the series with another 1-0 victory. Then, Buffalo won game five in overtime with a score of 4-3. This game was highlighted by Boucher getting replaced by Michael Leighton, and Sabres’ left wing Tyler Ennis scoring two goals including the game winner. Game six was a must win for Philadelphia. They had to win in Buffalo to force a game 7. The Flyers got off to a slow start after Leighton’s poor goaltending. Boucher was given another chance, and the Flyers rallied to tie the game at four. The two teams would go into overtime for a second straight game. Four minutes and forty-three seconds into overtime, Villie Leino scored to keep the Flyers alive. The Sabres were stunned after blowing a 3-1 lead, and now they had to back to Philadelphia for game 7.
It was all Flyers. Philadelphia fans received a treat, while Buffalo fans were wondering why their team did not bother to show up. Game seven was a blowout. The Flyers won 5-2, and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was yanked in the third period (not the way you want to finish your season).
Former Sabres player Danny Briere came up big for the Flyers. He led his team with one goal and one assist in the game. Briere had a huge series as well. He scored six goals against his former team. The Flyers look to return to the Stanley Cup and win it this time. Next up for the Flyers is the Boston Bruins. The Bruins look for redemption of their own after they blew a 3-0 series lead against the Flyers last year.
Last year, the Nashville Predators faced the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Many people forget that this team had the Blackhawks “on the ropes”. In game 5, with less than a minute left in regulation, Nashville was winning 3-2 and the Blackhawks were shorthanded after a Marian Hossa penalty. If the Predators won, then they would head back to Nashville with a 3-2 series lead. The Predators seemed to be on their way to their first postseason series victory. However, Patrick Kane tied the game with 13 seconds left, and forced the game into over time. The goal ignited a fire under the Hawks as Marian Hossa would find redemption with the game-winning goal. We all know the rest of the story, as the Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup.
This year, Predators head coach Barry Trotz started the season on the hot seat. Many people believed if Nashville could not make it further than the first round of the playoffs, then it was time for a change. Trotz is the second longest tenured coach in the NHL with 12 consecutive seasons behind the Predator’s bench. He has had a good career. Trotz has led his team to six playoff appearances in the last seven seasons (including this year). Could he finally lead his team to what has eluded him all of these years?
Well, you know what they say, “There’s a first time for everything.” Finally, the Predators reached the second round for the first time with their 4-2 win on Sunday in front of their home crowd. It took six games, but the Predators finally won a playoff series. What was nice to see for Nashville fans, is that it was a total team effort.
You had the stars: Shea Weber, Martin Erat, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne, and Joel Ward. You had the old veterans of Steve Sullivan and David Legwand. You had Mike Fisher, the player they brought in at the trade deadline. Finally, the young guys stepped up as well, with Nick Spaling and Jerred Smithson scoring the game-winning goals in the last two games. Fisher has three goals and three assists to lead the team with six points. Weber has the best plus/minus rating with plus four, and is tied with Fisher and Ward for most goals on the team this series with three. Then you had the “energizer” Jordin Tootoo. He had a plus three rating, he was tied for the most assists on the team with four, he scored a key goal in game three, and he had been in the “sin bin” (penalty box) for 22 minutes this series.
What about Pekka Rinne? He has having the best season in his brief career. Many consider Rinne to be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the best goalie. How good was Rinne? He averaged only giving up 2.12 goals per game, which was third best in the league, and he had a save percentage of 93% which was second in the league to Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins.
Thomas actually broke the all-time save percentage record this year, but that is another story. He played in seven more games than Tim Thomas, so in my opinion he played better than Thomas, and deserves the Vezina trophy.
What about the Ducks? They were the fourth seed, which meant they had home field advantage in the first round. They had an amazing first line with Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry. Perry was being considered for MVP, and Teemu Selanne, still playing well at 40 years old. Don’t forget about the “cinderella story” Ray Emery. He came in late in the season, and returned to the NHL after a one-year absence due to a serious hip injury. Emery carried the Ducks to the playoffs, and is now a finalist for the Masterton Trophy (award for “perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey”). The Ducks had returned to the playoffs after a surprisingly disappointing season last year. What went wrong for the Ducks?
Their defense. The Ducks gave up four goals in each of their four defeats this series. They gave up three goals or more in all six games. Unfortunately, the lack of depth did not help the Ducks either. They only have two quality lines. Defense and depth wins in the playoffs, and the Ducks had neither.
MVP: Mike Fisher
Best Goal: Bobby Ryan
Happiest Man in Nashville: Barry Trotz
Game One: Nashville starts fast by beating Anaheim 4-1. Mike Fisher scores twice and Pekka Rinne makes 27 saves to put up the Predators 1-0 in the series. Teemu Selanne scores the lone goal for the Ducks in third period.
Game Two: Anaheim responds by winning 5-3. The Ducks top line (Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan) scored four goals. Bobby Ryan had two goals including the empty netter to seal the deal, Corey Perry scored the first goal for the Ducks on a power play 5:24 into the game, and Ryan Getzlaf scored what turned out to be the game-winner with 4:06 left in the second period. Selanne scored his second goal of the series, and the Ducks second goal of the game on a power play 6:02 into the game. Shea Weber, Patric Hornqvist, and Joel Ward scored for Nashville. The series was knotted up at one as they headed to Nashville.
Game Three: This game was back and forth. The first two periods were like basketball. The Predators started fast with Martin Erat’s power play goal 15:00 into the game, and Jordin Tootoo’s goal 38 seconds later. In the second period, the Ducks responded with the Teemu Selanne show, as he scored two goals to tie the game. Then, in the third, David Legwand scored 5:25 into the frame to give the Predators a 3-2 lead. Matt Beleskey answered for the Ducks just over a minute later. With just under ten minutes left in regulation, Mike Fisher scored for the Predators as they retook the lead. Nashville tightened up their defense for the remainder of the game and gave the Predators a 2-1 series lead. Anaheim only had 16 shots on goal and hoped to get more offensive production in game four.
Game Four: Anaheim stepped up their game offensively and won 6-3 to even the series at two. Cam Fowler scored on a power play 4:41 into the game to give the Ducks a fast start. Saku Koivu scored 33 seconds later and gave the Ducks a two goal cushion. Patric Hornqvist scored 31 seconds later to stop the bleeding for Nashville, and Joel Ward tied the game 5:44 into the second period. Once again, the game would come down to the third period. That is when Anaheim took control and scored three goals in the period, which prompted Nashville coach Barry Trotz to yank Pekka Rinne. Corey Perry’s shorthanded goal 1:17 into the third was the game-winner. Anaheim looked forward to game five, as they would attempt to take the series lead in front of their home crowd.
Everyone knew this would be a pivotal game in the series. The game would need overtime to determine a winner. Who would expect any less? The game was tied at one when the third period began. Just forty seconds into the frame, Bobby Ryan scored the best goal of the playoffs so far. He stole the puck in their own zone, deked David Legwand, and then performed a zig-zag maneuver between Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne. Since Ryan changed directions so quickly, Rinne was faked out, and that opened the door for Ryan. He buried the puck into the net and gave the Ducks the lead. Even though the goal appeared on Sportscenter a billion times, it ended up meaning nothing, because the two teams would go back and forth for the rest of the period. Who ended up scoring the game-winning goal? Jerred Smithson. Who? The third-line player became the unlikely hero of the game as he scored for the Predators 1:57 into overtime. Now, Nashville looked to close the series back home in game six.
Game Six: Meet Nick Spaling. Technically, this is Spaling’s second year playing, but this was his first full year in the league. Spaling is a defenseman for the Nashville Predators and he has only eight career goals. In game six, he made a name for himself, as he scored two goals, including the game-winner, to help the Predators win their first postseason series. Steve Sullivan and David Legwand also contributed in the Predators’ 4-2 victory. After the game, Trotz summarized their success by saying that it was a total team effort. He said, “That’s sort of what we do. That’s our DNA. To win this series, we needed everybody, and everybody contributed.”
Quote Provided by: NHL.com
Stats Provided by: NHL.com, Anaheim Ducks.com, and Nashville Predators.com