NHL Playoffs: Phoenix Completes Western Conference Semis

The Western Conference semi-finals are now set, as the Phoenix Coyotes finished off the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 last night, setting them up with a matchup against Nashville, while Los Angeles-St. Louis will be the other series. Unlike the first five games of the Phoenix-Chicago series, overtime was not required and there wasn’t even any drama coming down the stretch. The superiority in goalies, the dominant theme throughout this series rang true even more in last night’s 4-0 win for the Coyotes.

Phoenix only put 20 shots on net against Corey Crawford, and a disproportionate amount came from the defenseman—it wasn’t Ray Whitney who beat Crawford last night, but defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He scored a power play goal in the second period to give Phoenix a 1-0 lead. After another power play goal early in the third period, Ekman-Larsson delivered an assist with seven minutes to go that all but sealed it, and less than a minute later Kyle Chipura scored the clincher. While Crawford was allowing 1 in every 5 shots against him to find the back of the net, Phoenix’s Mike Smith was holding off the barrage of 39 shots that the Blackhawks put up against him.

TheSportsNotebook will have previews of both Western Conference semis up later in the week after the schedule is announced. Right now we don’t know when Game 1 is in either case, and the guess is all four teams get a few days off, because the East is taking longer to shake out. We already had one Game 7 in the books for tomorrow night with Washington-Boston. Now we’ve got another in Madison Square Garden, after the New York Rangers beat Ottawa 3-2.

Ottawa got on the board in the first period with a  power play goal and tightened the noose on the top-seeded Rangers’ necks. Then Brad Richards and Derek Stepan each stepped up. New York got some power play opportunities and each fed the other to turn the game in New York’s favor. And in the period’s final minute, Stepan picked up another assist to make it 3-1.

There was controversy in the third period as the Jason Spezza scored for Ottawa amidst a crowd around the goal with less than a minute to play. Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist insisted he was interfered with and complained about the call in the postgame. There’s nothing wrong with that, but then Lundqvist showing a complete lack of understanding about conspiracy theories went on to say that someone must have wanted the game to have more drama at the end. Yeah, right.  The NHL was so desperate that the last 30 seconds of this game be more compelling, so they decided to risk a Game 7 in New York City with the top-seeded team?!?!?  Following that logic, we should really wonder about the spate of penalties that was called on Ottawa in the second period when the Senators had the lead.

There’s only one game tonight and it’s Florida’s visit to New Jersey. The Panthers are looking to close out the series and to join Phoenix as teams they were seeded #3 only because of a weak division title and were lightly regarded coming into their first-round series. I had felt Phoenix would win, but I can’t claim to have seen Florida’s strong play against New Jersey coming. The Devils need to bring a complete defensive effort tonight, because you can’ t ask Martin Brodeur to pull up a shutout like he did in Game 4.