Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bruins up 3-1

Approximately 5:50 into the second overtime of last night’s Boston-Buffalo game, I couldn’t help but notice Buffalo Sabres Coach Lindy Ruff, as the camera cut to a shot of him on the bench. The dude was livid. A couple children were tapping or pounding on the glass (I’m not sure) and seemed to be talking. Not sure if they were egging the poor guy on or not. They might as well have been, because you could read Ruff’s lips as he paced a little behind the bench.

I hope those kids didn’t hear it, because he wasn’t talking about the Sabres’ upcoming strategy for the penalty kill. A penalty kill that resulted from Buffalo’s Drew Stafford being a sixth man on the ice.

Maybe Coach Ruff should have considered doing the strategy thing instead, because a moment later, Miroslav Satan burned (and I mean burned to a crisp) Sabres goalie Ryan Miller with a sick deke, then flipped a shot through another guy’s legs to pot the winner on the power play from that unfortunate line change gone wrong.

I’m glad the camera didn’t cut back to Ruff after that. Somehow I imagine a smashed pane of glass, with Ruff devouring one kid before lunging for his sister as their terrified parents flee their seats.

It’s not hard to understand the coach’s anger. He’s down three games to one now, in a series that could very well have been the other way around – or even over – if not for the third-period heroics of David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron in Game 4; Bergeron in Game 3; and Michael Ryder, Zdeno Chara and Mark Recchi in Game 2.

It has been one hell of a series… and a close one. Neither team has been able to run away with a game, and if the credit on the Bruins side had to go to just one person, who wouldn’t choose rookie Tuukka Rask?

Looking beyond his latest great performance, he has been solid throughout the series. Even when giving up early goals, he has been a brick wall when it counts: as the offense mpounts a comeback, puts on the pressure and comes through. You can’t say enough about a netminder who can shake off early setbacks and still give his team a chance to win. That’s one hell of a good quality to have, especially when you’re going up against a goalie on the other end that was a Sidney Crosby goal away from winning an Olympic Gold Medal two months ago.

It’s the kind of goaltending Stanley Cup runs are made of. It’s still an uphill battle from a 6th seed, but man, the Bruins look really good right now. This was a team written off by many people (myself included… that’ll teach me) because it was missing Marc Savard, who suffered a Grade 2 concussion courtesy of the Penguins’ Matt Cooke’s elbow back in March. He is now skating, and may return to the team for the second round, so long as the Bruins finish the job. Barring a serious turn of events in this series and others, the Bruins are likely headed to a second-round date with – interestingly enough – the Penguins.

But that’s still at least a game away. The B’s will get the chance to clinch Friday.

Also Around The NHL:
Pazzy Making Postseason Debut … Former Blue Jackets goaltender Pascal Leclaire will finally take the ice in a postseason game. Leclaire, per the Toronto Sun, will try to grab a win tonight, in order to force a Game 6 in Ottawa. He went to the Sens last year in the trade that brought Antoine Vermette to Columbus. The last couple seasons have not gone well for Pazzy. Last season was ended early by injury, and the emergence of Steve Mason cemented his fate for the trade at the deadline. Then this year, he struggled overall, and even missed time after taking a puck to the face while he sat on the bench as the backup.

I don’t see a Senators comeback to win this series, but I really hope Pazzy can steal one tonight.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Three Games In, Avs Up 2-1… And (Maybe) Damn Lucky To Be There

It has been one wild week thus far in the Playoffs. If I count correctly, five of the eight teams I picked in the first round put themselves in 0-1 holes in their respective series, including the Sharks. Now, most of them have pulled even -- or even taken the lead -- by now, but wow. It was a little weird.

And one of my surprises was the Avs, which makes me wonder: Has my cynicism taken over in regard to the Avalanche? After all, I picked them to be in – or at least sharing – the Western Conference cellar this season. Then, even after they shocked many in the hockey world (at least give me credit that I wasn’t the only one who thought the Avs would be horrible), I may have committed an ultimate wrong by picking the San Jose Sharks to somehow fight past their recent string of top-seeded Playoff futility, and do so at the Avs’ expense.

What can I say, I kinda feel like a cynical putz….

Or should I?

I mean, the Avs are up 2-1 in their first round series. However, let’s face it… they could just as easily be down 0-3 to San Jose. The two wins came off a deflection off Rob Blake’s skate, and a wild clearing attempt gone horribly (and I mean exponentially, horribly) awry. However, no one can ignore that in the two wins, Craig Anderson has been a freakin’ beast in net for Colorado. I mean, what was that, 51 saves in Sunday night’s/Monday morning’s game?

Now, maybe the Avs’ defense is playing well enough to make sure Anderson gets good enough looks to make that ridiculous number of saves… but that is also a lot of rubber for a netminder to see in one game. San Jose should not be allowed that much time in the Avs’ end. And where the hell was the offense from Friday?

Hopefully, it’s with the young guys like Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Paul Stastny and the other young guys who contributed so heavily to the Avs’ remarkable run this season. The Avs may or may not have Milan Hejduk’s services tonight, after a collision with Stastny in Game 3.

The fact is, up to this point the Avalanche have benefited from some lucky bounces. But how long until those bounces start going San Jose’s way? If the Avs can spend more time getting shots on Nabokov tonight in The Can, we may not have to find out.

Back to my Avs prediction for a second: If it makes anyone feel better, in the column I write in Columbus, I went beyond the first round, and actually gave picks for the entire postseason. That means the Avs and Coyotes could very well bust my “brackets” in the West. To be completely honest, I won’t be too disappointed. After all, the Avs were one of my pre-Blue Jackets teams, and despite the animosity Columbus fans all share over Adam Foote’s forced departure, I still wish the Avs well. I may be the only Jackets fan in Columbus who will say that, too.

I doubt anyone would be too disappointed if the Coyotes pull off a series win against Detroit. Hell, I’ll take any outcome that involves keeping Todd Bertuzzi’s filth off the Stanley Cup.

Random NHL Playoff Notes

A little premature smack-talking… What would a Stanley Cup Playoff series be without a little smack-talk, right? Caps captain Alex Ovechkin seems to think Jaroslav Halak’s hands were shaking before Ovechkin finally began scoring Saturday night (in an eventual 6-5 OT win for the Caps). Even after tonight’s 5-1 drubbing of Montreal, I’m still not buying just yet. Well, that’s why the series is best-of-seven.

Shining in Detroit… Whatever Colorado fans might think of former Avs Wojtek Wolski and Radim Vrbata, you have to like what they did in Detroit Sunday. Wolski’s go-ahead goal in the final minute of the second period? Vrbata’s insurance goal just 99 seconds after Detroit cut the Coyotes’ lead to 3-2? Good stuff.

Stunner of the day… Referee Bill McCreary waved off what was probably a legit goal by Todd Bertuzzi, which would have cut the Coyotes’ lead to 4-3. You read that right… McCreary actually made a call against the Red Wings – and Hell freezes over. Bertuzzi said he was told he couldn’t push the goaltender. C’mon, ref… like Bertuzzi hasn’t gotten away with worse…?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It Truly Is The Hardest Thing To Say…

…but I was wrong.

It has been right about 6½ months since I last put a blog entry on this platform… which is also wrong, but that is not specifically what I am talking about here.

I wrote on October 1 that the Avalanche was done. Finished. Doomed to finish at the bottom of the Western Conference. The Glory Days of the Avalanche were over. Done. Dead. Stick a fork in them.

Now, in this first post here on Martini Hockey since then (I know, it's terrible that I slacked off this much), I now hereby admit that I was wrong.

Not about the beginning of the decline coming with the boneheaded trade by Pierre Lacroix to get Jose Theodore. Not about the over-committing salary to top players after the 2001 Stanley Cup. Not about the “hosing-Granato-for-Quenneville” or the “hosing-Granato-by-openly-pursuing-Patrick-Roy-as-coach” sagas. Not about signing Brad May to the Avs after his involvement in the Bertuzzi-Moore incident. Cetrtainly not about Adam Foote being a jerk for forcing his way out of Columbus via trade.

I’m still right about all those things.

I was wrong about how the Avs would finish. In fact, the Avalanche finished pretty much where I thought Columbus would end up, and Columbus ended up… pretty much where I thought the Avalanche would. And for once, Adam Foote showed up to work in Columbus… just wearing the wrong uniform, and the Avs unceremoniously swept the season series with Columbus. Hell, the last one even cost Ken Hitchcock his job. What a difference 6 ½ months can make.

That having been said, I don’t exactly see the Avs going very far in the Playoffs, but I won’t take a whole lot of pride in it if I’m right.

So there it is. Mea culpa.

In the West, starting with the one that really matters in Denver:

(1) San Jose vs. (8) Colorado
Season Series Winner: San Jose, 2-1-1
I don’t think there were very many people who saw Colorado even contending for the Playoffs. I was one of them. They are young and good. However, like I said, they’re young. They’ll make noise in the future, and they’ll make some noise here.
However, Sharks in 6.

(2) Chicago vs. (7) Nashville
Season Series Winner: Chicago, 4-2
Well, no one even came close to Chicago this season in the Central Division, although Nashville and especially Detroit made it interesting when the ‘Hawks got a little sketchy in March. Their goaltending is their biggest question mark. It’s not that Huet and Niemi weren’t good. It’s just that neither is really Playoff-tested. Expect Nashville to give the ‘Hawks trouble, and I think it will be just a little bit too much. Preds in 7.

(3) Vancouver vs. (6) Los Angeles
Season Series Winner: Vancouver, 3-1
Los Angeles had a really good year this year. They got off to a great start. However, Roberto Luongo has been a beast this year. If it seems like I focus on goaltending a lot in these picks… well, it’s true, I do. Vancouver has a lot of good, offensive weapons to help, though, not the least of which is Ross Trophy winner Henrik Sedin. Watch L.A. get some good shots in, but their stay in the Playoffs will be brief. Canucks in 5.

(4) Phoenix vs. (5) Detroit
Season Series Winner:
Detroit, 2-0-2
Phoenix is such a great story. The true upset here, though, is if they win. However, if they can challenge the Red Wings and get them on their heels, I could be very wrong about this series. I hope I am. Seriously. Sorry, Wings in 6.

Now for the Eastern Conference:

(1) Washington vs. (8) Montreal
Season Series Winner:
Washington, 2-1-1
Life was not kind to Jose Theodore in the Playoffs last year. A year after getting yanked after one game, then watching Semyon Varlamov save the Caps (and even make life interesting for the Penguins in the second), Theodore is riding a hot streak that has him the winner of 20 in his last 23 games. He has one series in him, though, if the Caps give him a chance. If Montreal challenges early, the Caps might need Varlamov for an encore. They have weapons, but if the Caps don’t get the goaltending they need, they’ll hit the links again. I think they’re done in the second, but here, Caps in 6.

(2) New Jersey vs. (7) Philadelphia
Season Series Winner:
Philadelphia, 5-1
I know, Philly won five of six. They could make it interesting, but Martin Brodeur should be money in the Playoffs. Devils in 6.

(3) Buffalo vs. (6) Boston
Season Series Winner:
Buffalo, 2-2-2
I so want to see Boston do well here. But they’re hurting, and Buffalo is healthy, and they have a great goaltender in Ryan Miller. The dude didn’t almost win Olympic gold for nothing. Sabres in 5.

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Ottawa
Season Series Winner:
Tied 2-2
I pretty much never call sweeps, and I won’t here. I just don’t see this series going beyond five games, though. It won’t even be close. Pens in 5.

Enough of the picks... bring on the pucks. The NHL's Second Season begins now....