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BIG SANDY LAKE… Now that we are into Round two of the Stanley Cup Playoff it’s easy to say that it’s another great tournament. Round one had all of the chills and thrills that we normally observe at playoff time and even though only one series went to a seventh and deciding game, there was plenty of intrigue to go around. After the Washington Capitals dropped their first two games at home to the Columbus Bluejackets, they reeled off four straight wins to advance to R2. The only series to require a seventh tilt, between Boston and Toronto, was a don’t-change-the- channel affair until the Bruins came out for the 3rd period and made a statement that it would be them advancing in the tourney, not the upstart Maple Leafs. The NJ Devils kind of owned the Tampa Bay club during the regular season but could muster only one win in a short 5 game series versus the Bolts. The hapless Minnesota Wild, outside of a one game surprise victory, were not going to beat the ice hockey machine known as the Winnipeg Jets.
The Vegas Golden Knights embarrassed the LA Kings with a four-game sweep, and in like fashion the San Jose Sharks did the same to the Anaheim Ducks thus encouraging one pro analyst to dub this phenom as the “death of heavy hockey”. Well, only time will tell on that as it appears that that is at least one element of the Jets multi-faceted skill set at this point in time. I would rather call the playoff demise of the Kings and Ducks as the death of dumb hockey as neither could seem to come up with the answers to besting their opponents overall offensive attacks or defensive prowess. And as far as the Pennsylvania State Championship series went, was there ever going to be a different result then what we witnessed? Sure, the Pens and Flyers went 6 games, but in 3 of the Penguin victories they outscored the Flyers 17-1! I’m not sure that the Pens weren’t merely banking some energy for R2 in the two tilts they gave up to the Flyers.
The President Cup winning Nashville Predators, most experts pre-tourney Cup Finalist pick, had to take it to 6 games to get past the Colorado Avalanche. The regular season turnaround the Av’s put up this season was nothing short of admirable but with the injuries they sustained going into the playoffs, it was a given they would have a tough time prevailing, however, that they eked out a couple of wins is either a testament to their fortitude or a premonition that the Pred’s might not be going deep this year. I had an interesting debate with a Pred’s fan about the curse of the President’s Cup winner before the tourney began and this person just about fell apart when I suggested that Nashville may fall prey to that. We went back and forth until I pointed out that the PC winner had only won the Stanley Cup 8 out of 32 seasons in that Cups existence. Never heard back from him after that…
EARLY IN ROUND TWO, and until tonight’s early morning result between Vegas and the Shark, (a 4-3 OT VGK win, VGK leads 2-1) each series stood at 1-1. If my aging memory is correct, the last time all four series in R2 were 1-1 after two games was 1991, the year the Minnesota NorthStars surprised everyone and made it all the way to the Cup Final. I might be incorrect in that though. Vegas embarrassed the Sharks in G1 by a 7-0 tally. The Sharks got one back in a helter skelter G2 in 2OT. The Pens mounted a furious 3rd period comeback in G1 versus the Caps to win 3-2 before getting dominated in a 4-1 loss on Sunday in DC. The Jets withstood what appeared to be a Pred’s blitzkrieg in G1 to prevail 4-1 before dropping G2 in 2OT by a 5-4 final. On Saturday the Bruins whipped the Bolts by a 6-2 score before losing 4-2 this eve. There will be a pair of G3’s Tuesday night with the Pens and Caps in the Steel City and The Jets and Pred’s up north on the prairie.
TWO THINGS I HAVE observed thus far in the tourney is the sheer amount of stick usage on opponents and the inconsistency of the application of standards in goaltender interference calls or non-calls. There have already been 2 suspensions meted out for crosschecks to the faces of opponents, and you can see in every single game unpenalized crosschecks to the backs of other players, slashing in a variety of ways and it seems to me that the general use of sticks as a means of defensive play is of a higher volume in this year’s playoff. It does not police the situation when the calls against this are minimal at best. I like to see a good physically challenging hockey game when it’s played the right way. I don’t need to see 200lb. plus players beating on each other with their sticks. These are not “hockey plays” and it makes the product look bad. I would implore the league to step up and address this.
There exists data that shows when the league moves to consistently penalize unwanted on-ice actions that the players react, and those actions decrease in volume. Personally, I am tiring of seeing multiple crosschecks to the back in every game, what it means is that the offending player is out of position and/or got beat on a play and this is their response in an attempt to correct or cover that. Please NHL, do something to put an end to this. As far as the calling and review of goaltender interference goes, it seems like every time we must go through this it’s a new adventure. The tweaks that were recently put in place after the last Board of Governors meetings that were aimed at bringing more clarity to these issues, have not. The intent was great, the application has not been.
In tonight’s Shark-Knights game, on the Sharks second score, a wrist shot by Evander Kane, teammate Logan Couture was on the top of the crease and netminder Marc Andre Fleury, still in the “paint”, but clearly on the top of his space appeared to have contact on him initiated by Couture right as Kane let his shot go. The shot beat Fleury to his short side and the VGK challenged the good goal call but lost the challenge even though Couture had made contact and wasn’t pushed into Fleury by an opponent. I must think that if this was IIHF rules, that goal doesn’t stand. I must think that on a different night with another set of officials, that this doesn’t stand. NHL, do we have a probleme’? PEACE!