Monday, April 20, 2009

They say never judge a series until game three... so lets judge then..

With the NHL playoffs now well underway and the intensity levels seeming to rise by the game, it seems timely to take a look at how the series are progressing so far.

Boston and Montreal

Boston has just been too strong for the Habs in this one, even with all the scrapping and after whistle silliness that has gone on, in the end the Bruins have been in command of all three games so far.
While Montreal fans seem to be fixing their disappointment on the pads of Carey Price, the problems are much deeper than the hit and miss goal tending of the last three games. Injuries have played a huge part of the troubles for Montreal, the Habs line up suddenly looking like a training camp roster, rather than a team in the thick of a long run for the Stanley Cup.

Boston on the other hand doesn't seem to miss a beat, whether it's an injury or a suspension, someone steps in and steps up.

Montreal came close in game three, they had all that emotion in their favour in the first ten minutes and seemed poised to provide that statement game that Bob Gainey has been waiting for , but the Bruins weathered the storm, righted their ship and now are in total command of the series.

Three and zero after three, it's more than likely that Wednesday night will be the final night of the season for Les Habitants.

Carolina and New Jersey

It's return and volley time in the NHL east as the Devils and Hurricane just alternate in the win column. New Jersey the most recent victor taking the first game in Raleigh by a score of 3-2.

The Devils have actually been rather impressive in this series, not resembling the squad that slumbered a bit in the final weeks of the regular season. Backed by Martin Brodeur they have taken the play to the Hurricanes on most nights, though Sunday's game did seem to finally shake some cobwebs out of the Carolina playbook.

Game three could have gone either way and the suddenness of it's ending in overtime, is more of a testimony to Carolina not getting focused to the task at hand.
They had a chance to build on the momentum of the home crowd, but instead now will have to play for their playoff lives in game four, with hopes of at least turning the series into a best of three showdown.

Washington and New York

Hockey pool fans were rejoicing on Monday night, after two consecutive games of Ranger domination (well at least in the nets) the Capitals finally solved the problem of Henrik Lundqvist for one night anyways.

With four goals on the scoreboard and control of play through all three periods, the Capitals finally regained some of their balance in their series with the Rangers.

With Washington appearing to have suddenly lost their confidence in Jose Theodore, they turned to an untested rookie to lead them in game two and again in game three, with Simeon Varlamov rewarding his coaches with a shutout and the calm demeanour and confidence in nets that any team requires in the playoffs.

Monday night the big guns for Washington were finally free of their frustration, and while they weren't shy about taking shots in games one and two, in game three the Capitals finally found the back of the net, a long overdue message to New York that one of the most potent offensive teams in the league was ready to put on a show.

If the Capitals can keep their offensive punch in place for game four, those surprising two Ranger wins on Washington ice won't seem quite as devastating as they did late Saturday, game three provided Washington with that break out game they had stored up waiting to come out.

What they do with their sudden burst of energy will give us an idea as to whether the Caps are for real in the post season, or merely destined to be a faded memory from the regular one.

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia

The Pennsylvania family feud has been about as nasty as one might have expected, from the opening moments of game one, through to game three's fast paced end to end action and crushing hits, the tempo has been quite something to witness.

Pittsburgh had taken both games on home ice, going toe to toe with the Philly style and scoring the key goals when required to put away the wins. Heading into Philadelphia, the tensions and occasional hostilities of a playoff series were sure to bubble over.

Game three didn't disappoint in the intensity department and while the Pens did end up on the wrong side of the score, they did put a scare into the Flyers in the second period, when they clawed their way back into a tie and it seemed as though Philly was ready to fall.

But the Flyers put together three consecutive goals from the middle of the second period on into the third and that salted away their first victory of the series.

They look for the equalizer on Tuesday night, should they capture it then this series takes on a whole new dimension and very well could go the full seven games. A series which will feature more hits, more goals and more talk about how much these two teams are starting to really dislike each other.

Vancouver and St. Louis

This has been a showcase series for the Sedin brothers, Vancouver's first line has been dominant in the series and the twins have provided the bulk of that spark, both with their scoring and their perseverance in the face of some fairly nasty behaviour by the Blues.
Whether the Canucks go all the way to the Stanley Cup final or bow out after some kind of remarkable Blues comeback, the Sedin's most likely have finally managed to bury those whispers that they would never measure up in a playoff series.

The simple fact of taking the best that the Blues have been able to dish out and come back and take the play back to the St. Louis end, is quickly becoming a motivating factor for Vancouver.

The series has been a chippy one for the first three games, much in the way of post whistle scrums, occasional cheap shots and some seriously crushing hits, has made it an interesting study, despite the one sided nature of the win loss column thus far.

St. Louis has let the game get away from them at times, taking too many penalties to tempt fate with and seeming to not be able to focus on the simple things that should be routine, such every day tasks as clearing the puck, clearing the front of the net and making wise choices when they move the puck up the ice.

The physical nature of the games, has at times threatened to move beyond the normal hits along a blue line or in the corner, with coaches yelling at each other, players yelling at each other and the refs hoping to find ways to compress those sixty minutes into a shorter experience.

The refs were indeed the early story in the series as game one turned into a penalty box parade, with play frequently whistled dead while officials tried to tame the wild west showdown.

Game two was a more free flowing affair as was game three for the most part, while the results haven't changed much in the first three games, for St. Louis there's always hope for game four. With elimination staring them in the face, the Blues now must develop the mindset that it's one game at a time, win and play on, lose and it's time to review the year, and make plans for the next season.

Chicago Black Hawks and Calgary Flames

The Flames were no doubt kicking themselves all the way back to the West after they let game two slip away from them. A result that left a surprised Black Hawk team in control of the series after two games and threatened to unleash the Bad Mike on the Calgarians in short order.

Game three however, turned the Black Hawk control aside as Calgary established themselves back into the series. It was finally a bit of a sign that the Flames were beginning to resemble that squad that charged up the standings at the start of the season, with scoring chances now finally becoming results.

The third match of the series provided the Flames with the opportunity to get back into the challenge of the playoffs, a convincing victory that served notice on the young Hawks that those four wins required to move on won't be quite as easy as they may have thought after those first two games in Chicago.

Anaheim and San Jose

This series hasn't had it's game three swing game yet, and if ever a team needed some kind of sign that things are going to change it's the San Jose Sharks. The Ducks have made the best of their scrappy entry into the last and final playoff spot, taking the Sharks down in two consecutive games, leaving the hometown fans once again feeling nervous about their perennially under performing playoff challengers.

Year after year the Sharks are chosen by many as the team to beat in the West, the right mix of veterans and youngsters that will finally deliver a Stanley Cup to Northern California. But once again, the first round is proving to be a problem for the Sharks.

The all California battle has been as expected a nasty adventure at times, the Ducks known for their physical nature have carried the play to the Sharks and not been shy about the contact necessary to take the two wins.

The Ducks have shut down the top scorers on the Sharks lines, leaving the likes of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau as more akin to spectators as opposed to participants. If the Sharks have any ambitions to reverse the apparent meltdown, game three will be more than pivotal to their future plans for this years playoff season.

Columbus and Detroit

The Red Wings, Stanley Cup champions that they are have once again shown that in order to win the cup you need to knock off the champ.

And in the case of the Columbus Blue Jackets this playoff series so far has been one that has offered up not much more than awe at the machine that is Red Wing hockey.

Detroit has had little trouble with the Blue Jackets so far, the scores indicative of the control of play that the Red Wings have been able to institute from the drop of the puck each night. With eight goals for and but one against, the Wings have slipped into that extra gear that they always seem to have around playoff time, leaving the Blue Jackets to but watch and hopefully learn.

This first appearance in the post season has no doubt been an exciting one for the Columbus squad, but you don't get the sense that it is going to be a long lasting experience.

Game three offers up the first playoff home game for the Blue Jacket fans, there's a very good chance that tickets for a return game six won't need to be printed up.

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