Monday, May 9, 2011

NHL Playoffs Update

The NHL Playoffs are as entertaining as any playoff in any sport. This year is no different. The Boston Bruins avenged their monumental collapse from a season ago, and the Tampa Bay Lightning secured another early round exit for the Washington Capitals. Both of those series were quick and painless for the victors. As for the Western Conference, the two remaining series have become quite a battle. Early on, it looked as if both series' would end rather quickly. However, the Predators and Red Wings have both clawed their way back into their respective series and are in great positions to force pivotal Game Sevens. Hit the jump to see my complete playoff review of the Conference Semifinals.

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay Lightning (5) vs. Washington Capitals (1)
Game One--Lightning 4, CAPITALS 2 (1-0, Tampa Bay)
Game Two--Lightning 3, CAPITALS 2 (OT, 2-0, Tampa Bay)
Game Three--LIGHTNING 4, Capitals 3 (3-0, Tampa Bay)
Game Four--LIGHTNING 5, Capitals 3 (4-0, Tampa Bay wins)

With expectations as high as any team in the NHL, the Washington Capitals failed to come through for one more season. For the fourth consecutive year the Capitals failed to make the Eastern Conference Finals, as they continue to get ousted by lower seeds. This season and last may have stung the most, as Washington came into both playoffs as the number one seed and favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. This year's nemesis was the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Not only did Tampa Bay win the series, but they completely dismantled the Capitals by completing a sweep Wednesday night. Washington was not completely outplayed, but they consistently were playing from behind, and that took its toll. The momentum seemed to shift in Washington's direction with 1:08 left in the third period of Game Two, when Alexander Ovechkin notched his fourth goal of the playoffs, and sent the game to overtime. However, that was hardly the case. Vincent Lecavalier tallied the overtime winner, and sent the Lightning back to Tampa with a commanding 2-0 lead. The Lightning handled business from there, completely overwhelming their division rivals. Dwayne Roloson was not spectacular, but he made the saves he needed to make. Throughout the final two games, he stopped 62 of 68 shots. Michal Neuvirth was solid throughout the first round of the playoffs, but hit a slide against Tampa. The rookie net-minder allowed an abysmal 15 goals on 113 shots.

Another early exit for the Washington Capitals, and another chance for the Tampa Bay Lightning to win Lord Stanley's Cup, just as they did back in 2004. This team may not be the favorites to win it all, but they have as good of a shot as any team to hoist that trophy.

Boston Bruins (3) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (2)
Game One-- Bruins 7, FLYERS 3 (1-0, Boston)
Game Two--Bruins 3, FLYERS 2 (OT, 2-0 Boston)
Game Three--BRUINS 5, Flyers 1 (3-0, Boston)
Game Four--BRUINS 5, Flyers 1 (4-0, Boston Wins)

Anybody who thought history would repeat itself one year later was sadly mistaken. Philadelphia could not muster an 0-3 series comeback this year, let alone a single game. The Boston Bruins completely overwhelmed the Flyers and Tim Thomas put on a show, which might have told Philadelphia brass that they will need a legitimate goaltender heading into next season.

Thomas had an astounding 142 saves on 149 shots in the four-game series, and he was the definition of a goalie stealing a game. He did that in Game Two. After two early goals from James van Riemsdyk, Thomas did not allow a goal the rest of the game, while making spectacular save after spectacular save, not allowing Philadelphia to pull even in the series. This allowed Boston to crawl back and tie the game, and score the eventual game-winner in overtime. David Krecji had the deciding goal, which sent the Bruins back home with a commanding 2-0 series lead.

Like Tampa Bay, Boston never looked back, and completely manhandled the Flyers on their home ice. Boston now heads into the Eastern Conference with home-ice advantage, and the favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Western Conference

Nashville Predators (5) vs. Vancouver Canucks (1)
Game One--CANUCKS 1, Predators 0 (1-0 Vancouver)
Game Two--Predators 2, CANUCKS 1 (2OT, 1-1 Tied)

Game Three--Canucks 3, PREDATORS 2 (OT, 2-1 Vancouver)
Game Four--Canucks 4, PREDATORS 2 (3-1, Vancouver)
Game Five--Predators 4, CANUCKS 3 (3-2, Vancouver)
After taking a commanding 3-1 series lead, the Vancouver Canucks stumbled, and failed to clinch their spot in the Western Conference Finals, on their home-ice. Now they head back to Nashville, where they have yet to lose in this series, and will try one more time to finish off the Predators.

Game Five had many twists and turns. Nashville took the early lead on a shorthanded goal by David Legwand. After Raffi Torres scored his first goal of the playoffs, to even the score, Ryan Kessler notched his fourth goal by continuing his stellar play, and gave the Canucks and their fans a reason to believe they were headed to the Western Conference Finals. However, that feeling was short-lived. David Legwand tallied his second goal of the game 51 seconds into the second period, and Nashville never looked back. Joel Ward scored twice and Pekka Rinne reverted back to Vezina form, as the young goalie made 31 saves on 34 shots.

Now, Nashville heads home where they will try to win on their own ice for the first time in this series. If they can figure out a way to do so, they will instill fear into the Canucks and make Game Seven a do-or-die for both teams.

Detroit Red Wings (3) vs. San Jose Sharks (2)
Game One-- SHARKS 2, Red Wings 1 (OT, 1-0, San Jose)
Game Two--SHARKS 2, Red Wings 1 (2-0, San Jose)

Game Three--Sharks 4, RED WINGS 3 (3-0, San Jose)
Game Four--RED WINGS 4, Sharks 3 (3-1, San Jose)
Game Five-- Red Wings 4, SHARKS 3 (3-2, San Jose)
The San Jose Sharks may have started looking ahead to the Western Conference Finals a bit prematurely. After holding a commanding 3-0 series lead, the Sharks have faltered, which has allowed the Detroit Red Wings to climb right back into the series. Now the two teams head to Detroit, where the Wings will have a shot to force Game Seven, and possibly become the fourth team in NHL history to come back from an 0-3 series deficit.

Which Antti Niemi will show up for Game 6?
To me, the story of the series has been Antti Niemi (right). Through the first three games, he looked as if he was in form from a year ago, when he won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks. During those first three games he allowed only 5 goals on 100 shots. However, Niemi's play has died off, allowing 8 goals on 62 shots, throughout the previous two games, breathing newfound life into the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit is not a team one can afford not to put away.  They Have reached the Cup Finals two of the previous three years, and that includes a victory parade in 2008. Detroit has bee there before, and San Jose needs to do whatever they can not to allow a do-or-die Game Seven.

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