Season Series: Pittsburgh 3-1
The Pittsburgh Penguins want to repeat as the Stanley Cup Champs more than anything. You know it, I know it and they know it. But to the Penguins, last year is history, it’s gonezo, behind em’, 2010 is a new year and one thing you won’t hear is any mention about Crosby and Co. hosting the Cup last June because they’ll have none of it (unless it’s in the media). The Penguins couldn’t have started the playoffs a better way for their team with Crosby having 3 assists and Malkin netting two goals but most importantly losing 5-4 against the Senators proved to the defending Cup champs that nothing comes easy and they’ll have to work even harder this year if they want a third consecutive Eastern Conference Championship. In games two, three and four, the Penguins gave the NHL a taste of why they won the cup last year with Crosby netting eight points (four goals, four assists) and Malkin adding a pair of goals himself. Next, they dropped game five before winning game six in overtime after trailing 3-0 early (Crosby was held pointless in game six). A lot of people hate on Crosby, they call him a cry-baby among other things and personally, I’m not the biggest Crosby fan out there, but he’s a fabulous hockey player and stand-up individual. His talent is undeniable. He had five consecutive multiple point games to start off the playoffs and if I had the chance to pick one player in the NHL to build my team around, it would be Sidney Crosby and not Alexander Ovechkin. Crosby proved this season he can score, while continuing to prove he is a better play-maker. Yes, Ovechkin is flashier but Crosby is a true champion. He’s already lead his team to a Stanley Cup and his country to Olympic gold… at 22 years old!
On defence Gonchar has stepped up his game (as expected) when April hockey rolled around by playing solid D’ and adding an offensive punch with assist after assist (it helps when you have players like Crosby and Malkin to pass too). The Penguins problem may come down to the biggest defensemen of all though… their goalie. Marc-Andre Fleury had question marks around him the entire playoffs last year and proved the media and fans wrong. At least he did until this season because yet again, the main concern for Pittbugh and all the talk in the media remains on the Penguins goaltending. Fleury is posting a worse goals against average and save percentage in the playoffs than he did all season and when you pair yourself up against a team with the offensive fire power similar to that of the Penguins, Fleury may put his team in a position they really don’t want to be in. The Canadiens don’t have that punch. If Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar, Guerin, Dupuis and a few more players can continue to step up in pivotal times in the game, it may just put the woes of their goaltending in the rear-view mirror. Either way, it’d help Pittsburgh repeat as Cup champs if Fleury just stepped up and played solid hockey. After all, a goalie can win (or loss) you an entire series but the Montreal Canadiens won’t take this series to seven games like they did Washington because they aren’t one of those teams with offensive fire power that can challenge Pittsburgh. The Capitals weren’t playing good hockey, the Penguins are. I don’t have enough confidence in Jaroslav Halak, and clearly either has Montreal (since they played Carey Price for a couple games and watched him crap himself). And yes, I watched Halak in game six against the Capitals make save after save after save but that’s only one game. Players like Crosby, Malkin, Staal and the rest of the Penguins will be simple too much and the Montreal squad who got lucky against an unenergized Caps squad. Pittsburgh will ultimately ruin the chance of the Canadiens making a Stanley Cup run, forcing Canada to turn their eyes over to Vancouver… the only hope Canada has left.
When people told me the Montreal Canadiens were going to beat the Washington Capitals I laughed, and when the Capitals took a 3-1 series lead with three games remaining and on their home ice, I knew my original prediction may have been wrong game wise (Capitals in FIVE) but I was laughing even harder. One thing not many people saw coming was the Canadiens coming back and winning the series by stealing three straight games. Don’t get me wrong, with Canada in my blood, there was nothing more that I wanted to see than Montreal move on and not leave Canada’s only hope for the Cup in the hands of the Canucks. Well, they’ve taken a bigger step than any other team in the 2010 playoffs by knocking off the Washington Capitals, who easily had the best record in the NHL. To get to the Stanley Cup, the Capitals knew if they kept winning series, they had the home-ice advantage that is oh’ so important. Montreal took that away and no longer does the Stanley Cup go through the capital of the United States… now it’s got to go through something that may be even more daunting as in the East, it travels through Pittsburgh; the defending Stanley Cup Champs. When Montreal surprised the entire NHL by knocking off the Capitals, it sent all Habs fans into a frenzy but no player on the Canadiens has time to celebrate (except for their post-game on ice celebration) because they know they have to start preparing to beat Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Beating the Capitals was big, actually it was huge… but beating the Penguins is going to be that much harder. After all, they’re the two-time Eastern Conference defending champions and defending Stanley Cup Champs, and not to mention playing much better hockey than Washington had to this point in the playoffs.
It’s pretty crazy that the Canadiens knocked off the Capitals because prior to game seven, only four players on the 20-player roster (Kostitsyn, Gill, Moen and O’Byrne) had a plus-minus rating that wasn’t in the negatives… insane’. The main reason for that has been because of the horrific play of the Canadiens goalies. Carey Price’s goal against average and save percentage in the two games he played in were horrendous compared to his stats during the regular season and even Jaroslav Halak hasn’t been himself (although he had one of the best Montreal playoff performance in game six against the Caps and followed it up with a stellar game seven), there is no question he’s been better than Price. If Halak can play like he did late in the series, the Canadiens have a chance. To be quite honest, the Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t have had a better round one out-come considering they were the only high seed to move forward in each series and they’ve watched the Capitals, Devils and Sabres all trade in their hockey equipment for their golf clubs. The Habs certainly didn’t move onto the second round because of their goaltending, even though late in the series it was a HUGE factor but when facing the Penguins, that is going to cause massive problems for Montreal. I don’t care if he’s played a couple stellar games… do it through-out an entire series before I crown your ass. Montreal moved on with Halak playing phenomenal late in the series but it’s also been players up front such as Cammalleri, Plekanec, Kostitsyn, Gionta as well as defensemen Markov, Hamrlik, Spacek chipping in offensively. Gorges, Gill and O’Byrne were big reasons the Capitals didn’t run away with the series as they played solid defence and will need to continue to help out Halak in the Habs want to move forward. One thing is a given, and it’s that the Canadiens want to contend for the Eastern Confernce Championship but they have their hands full and have bit off more than they can chew with the Pittsburgh Penguins. If they are victorious and prove me wrong yet again, the Flyers or Bruins shouldn’t be as much of a problem… it’s these damn Penguins that no one can beat.
Season Series: Tied 2-2
I won’t lie, I knew the Boston Bruins were capable of beating the Buffalo Sabres but I didn’t they would pull through and actually do it (I originally took Buffalo in six and changed my prediction to the Sabres in seven before the series got under-way). If you like low-scoring, defensive style hockey games than you absolutely loved watching Buffalo-Boston and that was the reason the Bruins were victorious and at the same time, it’s reason this series could be the exact same style of boring hockey with the Bruins pairing up against the Flyers. When Boston picked up Michael Ryder, they were expecting to get a lot more out of him during the regular season as he was only able to muster 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) but in game two (after the Bruins had lost game one), Ryder was the main reason Boston got back into the game after trailing 2-0 after two periods. Unfortunately for Boston, other than game two (in a game they won 5-3), they haven’t seen much production out of anyone offensively… at least with any consistency. When your point leader was drafted in 1988 (Recchi), you could be in trouble, no matter who your opponent is. Ryder has sat back since netting his pair of goals, Bergeron was no where to be found early on and David Krejci finally was able to provide a huge boost for Boston in game six helping eliminate the Sabres. Boston has a great chance at moving past the Flyers but if they continue to not rack up points on the stat sheet they way Stanley Cup Champions tend too, they are going to need Tuukka Rask to continue to stand on his head.
A team whose offence is lead by Mark Recchi, a man old enough to be Sidney Crosby’s father (when Recchi was drafted Crosby had just turned one) and earlier on in the series was lead by a defensemen (Zdeno Chara), quite frankly is doomed. I understand they were playing against Ryan Miller is round one, who is questionable the best goalie in the NHL and it’s tough to have an offensive outpour when playing him but there lies the problem for Boston as they have their hands full yet again assuming Brian Boucher plays the same way he did in the previous series. Dude was phenomenal in the first round and out-played Brodeur in every way possible and if he continues his stellar ways… the Flyers will be moving on to face the winner of the other series. In the season series, both teams won two games (one at home, one on the road) and two of the four games went past regulation time. Personally, I am much more interested in the other series as Philadelphia and Boston could become a very slow, low scoring, boring and defensive game to watch and let’s be honest, no buddy likes to watch that kind of hockey. Anyone (outside Boston or Philidelphia) would rather watch the the Habs and Penguins in a fast pased, quick series full of action and lots of scoring. If you are a Bruins/Flyers fan, I apologize but don’t get me wrong, whichever style of play works for your team and allows you to win is what your team should ultimately be doing… but I could care less to watch it. No matter who wins this series, whether it be the Flyers or the Bruins… it won’t matter because when the Penguins smash the Canadiens, they will also smash the winner of this series becoming the Eastern Conference Champs for the third year in a row. And no, I am not a Penguins fan, I am merely speaking the truth.
Don’t let the 14 losses the Philadelphia Flyers had in their last 23 games of their regular season fool you as they were trying to recover from the loss of their goalie Michael Leighton who they lost to injury. I know they almost didn’t make the playoffs because of it but when their season has been on the line (literally), they have outplayed and outsmarted their opponents which has landed them a berth in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Boston Bruins. Winning the game against the hot New York Rangers to clinch a berth and knock out New York was one thing, and the way the Flyers dominated New Jersey through-out the round one series is even more impressive and things couldn’t have turned out better with a second round match-up against the Bruins considering they could have faced Washington’s dynamic offence. Their back-up keeper Brian Boucher has played extremely well, actually out played Brodeur in the previous series and lets be honest, he could absolutely steal this series against the Bruins but at the same time… so could Tuukka Rask. A lot of people are going to be saying ‘the lay-off since April 22nd is going to hurt the Flyers’ but all it’s going to take is the first half of the first period, and Philly will be back. At the same time, it could have helped their players get healthy. What are the chances of Boston scoring in the first ten minutes anyways… five percent? The Flyers has played solid hockey all around thus far in the playoffs as Mike Richards has been stellar up front with fellow first-line teammates Simon Gagne and Daniel Carcillo. Strangely enough, the last time the Flyers won the Cup was in back-to-back seasons in 73-74′ and 74-75′ and those were the years of the Broad-Street Bullies when Philadelphia didn’t get just win games but they punished their opponent in the process.
A few players on the current roster would have fit in just perfectly with those 1970′s champs but mainly Carcillo, who is notorious for getting in his opponents mind, dropping hit mitts and spending a lot of time in the penalty box. Another bully the Flyers added this year is Chris Pronger, who undeniably is big and slow but at the same time is a dominating force in the Flyers own end and will cash in on the point sheet as well. Things could get tough for the Flyers with players like Gagne and Carter banged up (they suffered injuries against the Devils), but players like Claude Giroux and Daniel Briere stepped up in their absence late in the series against New Jersey but will Carter and Gagne be 100% against Boston and if not can their teammates do enough for an entire series? Boucher has proven when on his game and the defence in front of him playing well, he can outplay Rask (based on the fact he out-played Brodeur, who is one of the greatest, if not the greatest goaltender of all time) but Leighton may just be healthy enough to make his return which will pose question marks all over Flyer-Nation if Boucher has a bad game early on. Who do you go with, the guy (Boucher) who just got you through the first round against the East’s second best Devils, or the guy (Leighton) who carried you through the season after Ray Emery went down (Emery was the original starter). Regardless of who is in net, this series is going to go the distance (or close too) and expect whichever goalie plays a better six or seven games overall, to steal the series for his team.
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