The Eastern Conference 1st-round of the NHL Playoffs offers me the opportunity to provide a quick-and-dirty review, preview, and prediction. While a painfully long NHL regular season rolls into a painfully long NHL post-season, make no mistake about one thing – I’m a huge fan of all things hockey. I can make it through a lot of hockey en route to the NHL Playoffs and then I’m hard pressed to miss a whole lot of it.
The Eastern Conference
#1 Seed Washington Capitals hosting the #8 Seed New York Rangers
The New York Rangers have enough fire power to hang with the Washington Capitals. Don’t let the difference in seeding fool anyone here. In terms of statistical comparisons, call it a draw. The Rangers scored more goals during the regular season and the difference between them in goals against was exactly one. Defense and goaltending rule the playoffs and these two teams have a near identical showing in each category. Throw the seeds out the window in this contest because they simply confuse the issue. These two teams are about as evenly matched as they get and a Rangers win would be the furthest thing from an “upset” as I will have witnessed in recent years.
Hot Spots: For the Rangers it has to be the 11-shutout goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist. For the Capitals, it’s no surprise that it’s Alex Ovechkin that led the Caps to a sizzling close to the regular season as the Flyers fell back to the field.
I don’t see the Capitals choking two seasons in a row and pick them to win this series.
The talk these days is on the NFL and the rules changes designed to protect players from head injuries, but let’s not forget the NHL, which is dealing with its own version of excessive play. Pittsburgh Penguins player Matt Cooke is no stranger to punishment, and just got his latest (and harshest) penalty on a hit to the New York Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh.
Hockey is known for fights and hard hits, but the head injuries some of these guys are suffering just aren’t worth it. Just how harsh was the hit on McDonagh? Judge for yourself:
I think what made this hit really bad was that McDonagh didn’t see it coming. He was focused on the puck. Besides that, there was no reason for Cooke to use the elbow to smack his head. Excessive.
So who had the better weekend? The Lakers or the Penguins? An unexpected Game 7 win over the team that beat you last year or the league’s best player silencing whatever “you can’t win without Shaq” critics there were? If I had to make a call, I’d say the Penguins and their Stanley Cup victory was probably more satisfying, seeing how it wasn’t really expected. The Lakers, on the other hand, expected a championship, especially after going up 3-1.
I guess because the Penguins/Capitals Game 7 was kind of a bust — unless you are Pens fan — ESPN’s headline writers decided they’d phone it in on their image caption for the game. March of the Penguins? Is that the best you can offer? Surely you jest? Granted, there aren’t a great deal of pop culture references that fit Pittsburgh’s hockey team, but does that mean you have to force one on your website-viewing public? Hell, “Crosby, Skates and Smash” would’ve been better — provided you are aware of the Crosby, Stills and Nash reference.
OK, maybe not; but then again, I’m not responsible for creating these snappy headlines. Maybe my expectations are too high…
More outdoor hockey please. Such is the plan of the NHL after the success of last season’s Pittsburgh Penguins/Buffalo Sabres outdoor game on New Year’s Day. The event proved to be one of the more popular ideas put on by the NHL since their return from their self-imposed near-death sentence, if not before.
Naturally, Gary Betman and company want to capitalize on NHL’s version of the Ice Bowl and feature more outdoor shenanigans. This time the players are Wrigley Field, the Chicago Blackhawks and the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Detroit Red Wings. While the crowd for the second American NHL Ice Bowl probably won’t surpass Ralph Wilson’s almost-72,000 from last year, you can expect the Chicago/Wrigley Field faithful to be out in absolute force.
It should also be noted Wrigley can hold 41,000-plus Cubs fans and will, in all likelihood, be expanded for the NHL. While I’ve never claimed to be a hockey expert, more outdoor hockey can only be a good thing for the NHL. I watched a little bit of the Pens/Sabres game and you could tell the crowd was having a blast. Any time the fan experience is improved, especially for a sport that’s trying to regain a status it once had, it has to be deemed a good idea.
Some fans that didn’t get to make the trip to Pittsburgh to watch their Detroit Red Wings win another Stanley Cup enjoyed the game courtesy of JoeVision at Joe Louis Arena. Needless to say, they enjoyed the result.
I’m digging the homemade Cups. And hey, at least the Detroit fans didn’t tear the city apart while celebrating their victory. The victory parade is scheduled for tomorrow between 11 and 11:30.
This is how it was supposed to be. Detroit, having not clinched a playoff series at home during their run for the Cup, had to secure their right to raise it by winning in Pittsburgh. With the Red Wings, that’s par for the course. And win, they did. After beating Pittsburgh 3-2 (and almost giving the Pens another shot at life late in the third quarter), the Detroit Red Wings are your NHL Stanley Cup Champions. It was their fourth cup in eleven years and their eleventh overall.
Your Conn Smythe Award winner was Henrik Zetterberg, who had 13 goals and 14 assists during Detroit’s run. As pointed out by Puck Update, some feel Zetterberg’s performance, coupled with likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, vindicated European players and their quest to shake the “we’re not tough” label.
Whatever the case, I’m not a savvy enough hockey fan to debate these things; however, I do know this — the closing minutes of the third quarter in both Games 5 and 6 were damn exciting. Maybe Pittsburgh could’ve played with that sense of desperation for all of Game 6 instead of waiting until the wanning minutes, but alas, they did not. And now we have a new Stanley Cup champion because of it. Here’s some video of those closing moments, followed by the Red Wings’ celebration:
I’m left wondering what different locations Lord Stanley’s Cup will wind up at during his tour with these Detroit Red Wings…
By now, everybody’s used the image above this text of Hayden Panettiere making out with Lord Stanley’s Cup and that’s why I added the layover. Anyway, there’s a semi-important hockey game going on tonight in Pennsylvania and I’m pretty sure you all know the stakes — if Pittsburgh wins, they stave off elimination again and if Detroit wins, they raise the Cup.