Vancouver and Pittsburgh may have been the betting-line favorites* when the Stanley Cup playoffs started on Wednesday, but each is halfway to elimination after dropping the first two games of the opening round on their home ice. TheSportsNotebook looks back on their games Friday night, other first-round action and looks ahead to Saturday…
Let me start by saying that a year ago this weekend I was in Boston for an epic weekend of watching every sporting event known to man, living off sub sandwiches and getting to know every ticket scalper in the Hub by name. And one of those sporting events was Game 2 of an opening round Bruins-Canadiens series. The B’s lost, fell behind 2-0 in the series and one of the conversations I had with a girl in our box (we scalped our way into a luxury box**) was whether it was time to go with Tuuka Raask in goal. My purpose in telling you this is not to recap the greatest weekend of my life instead of hockey (though that is a fringe benefit), but to point out that I’m up-close familiar with the notion of a team losing the first two on home ice, questions about the goalie arising and then seeing that team turn it around and ride to the Cup on the strength of that very goaltender. Nonetheless, that’s not stopping me from saying that Vancouver needs to bench Roberto Luongo immediately and all pundits have to stop talking about how Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury is some kind of gamer.
Los Angeles 4 Vancouver 2: Luongo faced 26 shots last night against Los Angeles, a team not exactly known for its offensive prowess and still coughed up four goals. Luongo helped Dustin Brown look like Sidney Crosby, as the King forward scored shorthanded, not once by twice, and later assisted on a power play goal that all but the game away at 3-1 in the third period. Meanwhile, Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick showed Vancouver what a real goalie looks like, taking a 48-shot pounding against an offense that even without Daniel Sedin is as smooth and talented as there is. Then again the Canucks know what a real goaltender looks like—they have one on the bench in Cory Schneider. Letting him sit is the equivalent of the Philadelphia Phillies’ choosing Vance Worley for a big game over Roy Halladay—it’s not that Worley isn’t decent, but come on. And in the case of hockey that’s a decision that reverberates every day, not every fifth day.
Philadelphia 8 Pittsburgh 5: The score itself should vindicate my comments about Fleury, but it gets worse. The Flyers also scored twice when playing a man down—even though the Penguins went 2-for-4 on power play chances, they still only got a wash on their own power play. Philly center Claude Giroux showed why he’s one of the game’s best offensive threats. Normally it’s when he’s setting someone else up, but Friday he scored twice in the second period when Philly turned a 3-1 deficit around and tied the game 4-4. Sean Courtier then scored twice in the third period as the Flyers built up a 7-5 cushion and then cashed an empty-netter. By rights the city of Philadelphia should be screaming for the head of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov—he’s faced 48 shots in two games and allowed eight goals. Somehow the team is up 2-0. I might excoriate Fleury for his own performance in goal and note the absence of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal from the Pens offense (only one assist apiece through two games), but one player you can’t blame is Sidney Crosby. He’s set the tone each game with the first goal, but when your defense collapses and you don’t get help, you fall behind 2-0.
Detroit 3 Nashville 2: Can I say how much I’m starting to love Detroit head coach Mike Babcock? It started in Game 1 when he ripped the officiating in an in-game interview, eschewing the normal bland diplomacy that usually makes coaches’ interviews more useless than a presidential debate. Now in Game 2, when the entire world knew the Red Wings were coming after Nashville’s Shea Weber for a vicious cheap shot at the end of Game 1 that got him only a $2,500 league, the Wings’ Todd Bertuzzi picked a fight early. Rather than blowing the subject off after the game, Babcock responded in words that smacked of Don Corleone lecturing Amerigo Bonasera in the opening scene of The Godfather—“I think sometimes when things don’t get looked after, you have to look after it yourself and I didn’t think things were looked after at all.” I’m half waiting for Babcock to rise from behind the desk and say “And if an honest man like yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you.”
–Washington is in Boston for Game 2. The Caps simply must find a way to pressure Tim Thomas more. You aren’t going to beat Double T by only getting 17 shots. And while a huge increase in volume would be nice, a small increase with most of that done by Alex Ovechkin—only one shot on Thursday night in the 1-0 overtime loss—would be even better.
–It’s all about focus for the New York Rangers, who are vastly superior to Ottawa, showed it in their Game 1 win, and now need to clamp down defensively again in Madison Square Garden tonight.
–I was driving through Chicago yesterday listening to frustrated Blackhawk analysts talk about what it would take to beat Phoenix and even the series. Even though Chicago hit Mike Smith with 45 shots in Game 1, the radio people seem to think that better offensive play is what will turn this around. How about starting by admitting that Corey Crawford is nowhere near the goaltender Mike Smith is, and you can’t expose Crawford to 34 shots. Chicago needs to double up on shots and make sure they’re quality looks—either rebounds, re-directs or something with a screener.
–St. Louis is the two-seed in the West and faces a big test from San Jose tonight. The Blues looked lackluster at home in a Game 1 double-OT loss and need to be tighter defensively.
*The term betting-line favorites is used because the Penguins are not the top seed in the East, that honor going to New York. However, the Pens were the favorite of the betting markets to reach the Finals.
**If you were in Suite 604 during Game 2 of the Boston-Montreal series last year know that your legend lives on. And if you were the twentysomething girl I talked goalies with, I’m still defending our pro-Raask position to a friend of mine who thought we were nuts at the time and even crazier now.