Archive for May, 2011

Canucks vs. Sharks: Who has the edge?

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Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who is prone to occasional alarming lapses, will have to be consistently and especially sharp in the face of the Sharks’ attack. (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

In a series that matches two teams with star-crossed postseason histories and similar styles, the Western Conference Championship could shape up as a classic. The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks are more rested, but the Sharks, the West’s No. 2 seed, have to feel pretty good about themselves after prevailing against an excellent and determined Red Wings team in what was the tightest seven-game series in Stanley Cup history: six games decided by one goal and one with an empty net goal. It’s hard to figure which of these teams has an advantage, so let’s mull it over and look at six important categories. (For the Eastern Conference Final analysis, click here.)

We’ll determine which team has an edge in each, but you can draw your own conclusions on the outcome. We stand by our practice of making no predictions as you never can tell what will happen in the playoffs. If want a prediction, SI.com’s Darren Eliot offers one here.
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  • Published On May 13, 2011
  • Bruins vs. Lightning: Who has the edge?

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    Key figures: Bruins goalie Tim Thomas can steal any series, but Martin St. Louis, a veteran of Tampa Bay’s 2004 Stanley Cup championship team, knows what it takes to go all the way. (Elsa/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    One of the most intriguing Conference Championships imaginable, this series will match the crashing, banging Bruins against the calculating, high-skilled Lightning. The styles may contrast, but each team comes in with a similar back story, having staged a first-round comeback, then swept their second round opponent. Each has some momentum and each is rested, so rust will have accumulated evenly, and each has a top goaltender. (For a Western Conference Final analysis, click here.)

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  • Published On May 13, 2011
  • Red Wings prove again that no lead is safe

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    To the consternation of Joe Thornton (prone) and the rest of the Sharks, Detroit’s wizardly Pavel Datsyuk is playing better with one good hand than most NHLers do with two. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    So, now, if you’re the Canucks, who do you want to win Game 7 between the Sharks and Red Wings?

    Vancouver wanted that series to go the distance and got its wish. But should the Canucks be careful what they wish for? The Red Wings are already banged up and could be spent should they overcome the Sharks’ 3-0 lead and become only the fourth team in NHL history to do so. But if Detroit wins on Thursday night, will the Wings have shown themselves to be a team that just will not die, regardless of the adversity it faces?

      

    San Jose would mean easier travel if it squeaks by in Game 7, and the Sharks appear to be playing worse as the series goes on.  But if this team wins, it will be a mirror image of the Canucks themselves, playing with the confidence of knowing it finally can win the big, pressure-packed game, just as Vancouver did in Game 7 against the Blackhawks in the first round (a series that now feels like it was played last year, not a couple of weeks ago).

    The Canucks don’t get to choose, of course. But if they did, it would not be an easy pick.

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  • Published On May 11, 2011
  • Marleau not entirely to blame for Wings staying alive for Game 6

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    Winger Patrick Marleau, a key figure in San Jose’s recent history of playoff frustration and disappointment, has yet to score a point in the Sharks’ five games against the Red Wings. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    The Red Wings and Sharks battle again tonight as Detroit tries to climb the highest of playoff mountains, from down three games to none in the series.

    It’s been a thrilling matchup in many ways, every game of the five so far being a one-goal decision . When one team scores, the other often seems to answer right back. In Game 5, the Sharks couldn’t pull away, and the Wings quickly responded both times San Jose established a two-goal cushion. Even in Game 4, when the Wings jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, the Sharks clawed their way back to tie early in the third period before Darren Helm’s late goal with 87 seconds left in regulation won it for Detroit. As we’ve all learned this spring, almost no margin is safe (and Justin Bourne on Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog has a very good post on how close games are supposed to be played).

    “If you look at the whole series, it’s like frantic hockey,” Mike Babcock said after Game 5 (video). “You know, you’re pros and you’re supposed to be composed and under control and that’s not what I see both ways. I see frantic hockey. It’s racing up and down a hundred miles an hour and things are going on and no one seems to lose the other team.”
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  • Published On May 10, 2011
  • Playoff stars finding another gear

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    Canucks’ center Ryan Kesler is being compared to the great Mark Messier for his strength, leadership, timely goals and all-around play when the going gets tough. (Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    “It’s interesting as you watch the playoffs, there’s lots of nice players during the regular season and they’ve got good skill level and all that but if you don’t got a drivetrain, if you don’t compete at the highest level, you can’t win at this time of the year. It’s all about competition level, it’s all about digging in and winning that simple little battle.” — Mike Babcock (video)

    The Red Wings coach was talking about Pavel Datsyuk, who accelerated his play on Sunday night to keep Detroit alive with a 4-3 comeback win against San Jose. But it’s the concept of that “drivetrain” that Babcock was speaking about that concerns us today. It’s a good Detroit automotive metaphor for what moves things forward.
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  • Published On May 09, 2011
  • The playoff broom closet is open

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    The determined Sharks have gotten stout defense from captain Joe Thornton. (Chad Ziemendorf/Reuters)

    By Stu Hackel

    The second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs seems anticlimactic compared to the first, when four series went the limit, two lasted six games and only one was over in the minimum four. Now we’ve already had one sweep in the second round, and the Flyers and Red Wings face elimination on Friday night and should they be swept, that will leave the Canucks-Predators series with Vancouver coming home with a 3-1 lead. That one looks likely to end on Saturday night in five games.

    If it all seems like a weird turnaround, well, it has sort of happened before. In 1992, perhaps the best first round in history — six series went seven games, and three featured teams that came back from 3-1 deficits — was followed by a second round that had two sweeps and two six- gamers. Both Conference Championships and the Stanley Cup Final were sweeps.
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  • Published On May 06, 2011
  • Capitals still missing key Cup ingredients

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    Just one of many questions for the Capitals to ponder: With a 10-year, $67 million deal, just what kind of player does 23-year-old Nicklas Backstrom want to become? (Photo by Kim Klement/US Presswire)

    By Stu Hackel

    With just over three minutes remaining in Game 4 and his team, the Washington Capitals, near elimination in Tampa Bay on Wednesday night, Alexander Semin was shown on a TSN replay barking at the referee for what he thought was a missed call behind the play. Semin then floated poutily toward his bench while the Lightning’s Teddy Purcell was passing to Marty St. Louis for the home team’s fifth goal. It was a snapshot of what still ails the Caps, an NHL glamor team that remains a chronic Stanley Cup playoff underachiever.

    This is not to pick on just Semin. As we noted yesterday, there are some serious flaws in this club that go beyond the lethargy of one or two players.

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  • Published On May 05, 2011
  • Lightning speed exposes Capital gridlock

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    As the Lightning frustrate the Capitals and make them resort to their old style of play, Alexander Ovechkin has been trying to do everything himself, without much success. (Kim Klement/US Presswire)

    By Stu Hackel

    Three games are on the playoff schedule tonight, and that won’t happen again this season, so fans have to figure out what they’re going to watch. If you don’t have a favorite among the six teams, its possible you’ll be attracted to Capitals-Lightning Game 4 because of all the attention that Alex Ovechkin and company have gotten in recent years and the possibility that — once again — this marquee NHL club could crash and burn long before many expected their elimination from the postseason.

    Now trailing Tampa Bay 3-0 in this best of seven, having lost 4-3 on the road on Tuesday night, Washington doesn’t seem anything like the defensively oriented club it supposedly was transformed into during the season by coach Bruce Boudreau. The Caps couldn’t hold a 2-1 lead in the second period or a 3-2 lead in the third. And when they fell behind, they didn’t seem like the offensive juggernaut they had been or a team with much fight, will or character.
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  • Published On May 04, 2011
  • Goaltending again stealing the spotlight

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    Dwayne Roloson, Tampa Bay’s steady, seasoned veteran leads all playoff goalies in save percentage. (Geoff Burke/US Presswire)

    By Stu Hackel

    There’s been some thinking around hockey in the past few years that teams can win in the playoffs without great goaltending, that merely good performances in net will do the trick if the other 18 players on the team are well coached and all of them execute. The Red Wings — the most successful NHL team of recent times — are largely responsible for this thinking because they’ve won the Stanley Cup with goaltenders who have made the saves when needed but were not among the elite at the position. Detroit GM Ken Holland, himself a former goalie, holds the theory that he’s not going to overpay for an elite netminder when he can have a less expensive but competent one. He’d rather spend money on a deep defense and impact forwards. You can’t argue with his team’s track record.

    Then you watch what the Bruins’ Tim Thomas did on Monday night in Philadelphia or what the Predators’ Pekka Rinne did in Games 1 and 2 in Vancouver, and what the Dwayne Roloson of the Lightning did in Washington — three goalies stoning three strong teams with strong offensive talent — and you wonder why anyone would listen to Kenny Holland.
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  • Published On May 03, 2011
  • Road teams feasting on defensive breakdowns

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    Leaky goaltending is just one problem the Flyers must address as they try to recover from a Game 1 rout by Boston on home ice in their Eastern Conference semifinal series. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Road teams continue to roll in the Stanley Cup playoffs. With the Lightning winning in Washington on Sunday night, visitors have now captured four of the seven games played so far in the second round and 31 of 56 since the start of the postseason. The Bruins, who won on Saturday in Philadelphia, will try to extend their 1-0 advantage tonight.

    The Flyers are going to have to be smarter and more physical to avoid dropping a second game on home ice and suffering the fate of the Capitals, who are going to Tampa Bay trailing 2-0 in that series. Can the Caps rebound? That answer is far from certain, although fans will remember that  the Bruins fell behind Montreal after losing two games on home ice, then came back to take their dramatic first-round series in seven games.

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  • Published On May 02, 2011


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