NHL Playoffs: St. Louis Quietly Advances; Eastern Powers On Brink
All the St. Louis Blues do is win. It seems as though all seven other first-round series in these NHL playoffs have had some good storyline or notable individual performance, good or bad. The St. Louis-San Jose series didn’t have any of that, it was to the credit of the quiet efficiency of the Blues, who looked exactly like the team that had rolled to the #2 seed in the West, as they finished off San Jose in five games.
San Jose’s classy veteran, Joe Thornton, didn’t let his team’s season go easily, getting a second period goal, but St. Louis owned the final period. Patrick Berglund had two assists, the team had the lead with eight minutes to go. The defense kept San Jose under wraps, with the Sharks only getting 26 shots, and goalie Brian Elliot locking down on the finishing end, turning back 25. An empty-net goal for St. Loo finished the 3-1 win.
St. Louis and Nashville are the only two teams to have advanced, both in the Western Conference. With the league re-seeding for the second round, we don’t know who they would play in the conference semi-finals. Four other games were played yesterday, with one team missing a chance to join the Blues and Predators, and three Eastern battles seeing one team get a leg up…
Ottawa 2 NY Rangers 0: This is positively stunning. While the NHL is noted for its upsets in the first round, there was no rational reason to think the top-seeded Rangers would be on the brink. They outplayed Ottawa in Madison Square Garden yesterday, winning shots 41-30, although there were some caveats that make that edge less imposing than it appears. New York couldn’t get Marian Gaborik in position to score, and the team’s most proven lamp-lighter only got two shots. Ottawa got six shots from center Jason Spezza. He scored early, then scored an empty-netter late, and the team celebrated the performance of goalie Chris Anderson. The Senators go home with a chance to close in Game 6.
Washington 4 Boston 3: Did we mention first-round upset? 2nd-seeded Boston is now one game from going home. The conventional storyline, including what’s been repeated here is that this is a goalie battle between young Braden Holtby and veteran Tim Thomas. That has a certain truth to it, but the reality is that Thomas is getting a lot more help from his defense, while poor Holtby is being exposed to an array of shots. The games have also been low in penalties, which favors Boston and its excellent 5-on-5 play. Even given all that, Holtby still has his team one win from advancing. Our caveat here is that while Washington is high in shots, they’ve played all season as a team who scores disproportionately to the number of shots. That’s something that tends to be a characteristic of teams with a singularly great offensive player. In this case, that’s Alex Ovechkin. Even though he didn’t register a point on Saturday, Ovechkin got five shots. Am I being unreasonable in concluding that high shot totals from Ovechkin mean something good one way or another, much like a basketball star who should touch the ball each time down the floor?
Chicago 2 Phoenix 1 (OT): Chicago won its survival game and gets to come back to the Windy City for Game 6. Regular readers know I’ve been harping on the fact that this series is all about whether Chicago can generate shot differentials big enough to overcome the obvious goaltending edge Phoenix has with Mike Smith. Apparently a 2-1 ratio is what’s required, as the Blackhawks got 38 shots to the Coyotes 19. Are the fans getting their money’s worth in this series? Every game has gone to overtime.
Three games today, and from this point to the end of the first round, every game is an elimination possibility…
Boston-Washington: Making these teams play back-to-back with travel mixed in isn’t something to appeal to the sport purist, but I understand the logic. These are not only two big markets, but both are passionate about hockey and I’m sure NBC wanted to maximize coverage on the weekends. Since the NHL isn’t so popular they can ignore such considerations, it’s fair enough and both teams play under the same rules. The B’s needs to hope the Double T got some sleep on the plane, because Thomas needs to ramp up his game in the Verizon Center.
Pittsburgh-Philadelphia: Two years ago I attended a Game 6 in Philadelphia where one team was holding on for dear life after leading a series 3-0. That year I was a Boston fan going incognito to avoid getting killed. The Flyer fans were smelling it. Now they’re on the opposite end. The Penguins found some defense at the end of Game 5. Now the Flyers need to answer or it’s going to be a nervous flight back to the western side of Pennsylvania for Game 7.
Los Angeles-Vancouver: This one’s still in Game 5, as the Canucks look to stave off elimination. Daniel Sedin is playing again and no one is sleeping on top-seeded Vancouver to rally from a 3-0 deficit in games. I picked Los Angeles to pull this upset at the start of the playoffs, but I was thinking seven-game series. I’m still thinking the same thing.