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MARSHALL MN… In the Stanley Cup First Round last week we were treated to three Game Sevens and while I went 1-2 in my series ending prognostications, I was anything but disappointed. There is nothing like this tournament in any sport, anywhere. To my dismay, but in line with my bracket pick, the Boston Bruins ousted the Toronto Maple Leaf’s from the tourney by a 5-1 Final. The game was more exciting then the final tally. Right after that tilt the San Jose Sharks eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights from the tourney in an astounding turn of events in that epic game. Days later I’m still certain that “astounding” is not an adequate descriptive to recall what occurred in this game. The VGK were in total control of this game at 3-0 nearing the midway point of the third period. In one of the more bizarre faceoff plays I have seen in some time, a hard fall and an injury to the Sharks Joe Pavelski resulted, and a Major and a Game Misconduct to the Knights Cody Eakin were issued and on the ensuing Power Play the Sharks scored 4 times in 4:01 to take a 4-3 lead.
The VGK then tied the game with 47 seconds left to send the game to OT. With 1:41 left in the first OT the Sharks won the game on a Barclay Goodrow score to move the Sharks on to the 2nd Round. There is still a lot of discussion regarding the penalty call and if you follow the game you already know the debating points. For me, I could have seen a minor for a crosscheck, but believe the Major and Game were officiating overreaction. I’ll leave it at that, the incident would require the space of 3 to 4 columns to adequately discuss. The following night, and of no surprise to me, the Carolina Hurricanes knocked out the defending Champion Washington Capitals in a 2OT thriller, winning 4-3. As mentioned previously, I’ve seen a lot of games in my time. And usually, unless a team I am pulling for is playing, I remain in a pretty relaxed state. For some reason this year, during most of the OT games, I have found myself standing through most of the OT periods. I’ve no explanation.
In 2nd Round action in the East we have the NY Isles meeting the Hurricanes and the Bruins are matching up with the Columbus Bluejackets. In the West the upstart Colorado Avalanche are up against the Sharks while the STL Blues are meeting the Dallas Stars. In an unusual twist this season, since so many fans brackets were busted before the end of the First Round the NHL has offered up a “second chance” bracket provision for fans. Like a high percentage of the fans my brackets were shot to Hades and I did get in the second chance bracket. In that I have the CBJ over the Bruins and the NYI over the Canes. I have the Av’s over the Sharks and the Stars over STL. So, what is happening thus far?
CBJ/BOS; the series is tied at 1-1 with G3 in Columbus. The CBJ had 9 days off after sweeping Tampa and the Bruins were on a quick turnaround after the Leaf series. The Jackets looked rusty in G1 and the Bruins continued forth with their steady play and although the CBJ took a 2-1 lead in the 2nd, former Wild forward Charlie Coyle tied the game late in the 3rd and got the GWG in OT for the Bruins. The Jackets returned the favor in G2 in 2OT, 3-2 on a PP goal by Matt Duchene. The CBJ found more of their game while the Bruins looked out of sync a great deal of the game. And yes, the penalty call was controversial.
NYI/CARO; well, I have failed to adequately consider how much juice the Canes are playing with at this time because they just took the first two games of this series on the Isles home ice. Like the CBJ, the Isles had a lengthy wait for the 2nd Round after sweeping the Penguins from the tourney. They didn’t look out of sorts in G1 against the Cane machine, nor did they in G2. They just didn’t get the rewards for their work and the Canes did. A beauty of an assist from former Wild forward Nino Neiderreiter helped on the G1-OT GWG by Jordan Staal. It was one of the smartest setups you will see in this tourney. I wouldn’t change my game if I were the Isles, and the Canes got a minor slew of injuries in G2. I have moved this series to a tossup status though.
COL/SJS; the Av’s were 0-3 in the regular season with the Sharks this year. Then they dropped G1 of this series 5-2 in a game they had two leads in. At that point the Sharks asserted their will upon the Av’s and that was that. In G2 the Av’s D-man Tyson Barrie had a top-notch game on 1G/2A, but the Shark duo of Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson also had extraordinary games but came up short in a 4-3 loss to the Av’s. As I have said before, few teams can play at the pace of the Av’s and that just might be the ultimate undoing of the aging Sharks team versus the upstart Av’s.
STL/DAL; the Blues mostly controlled G1 and held on for a 3-2 win. In G2 the Stars came out with a strong effort to tie the series with a 4-2 win. The Stars never trailed in G2. This eve back home in G3 this was an exciting and entertaining game, but despite tying the tilt on 3 occasions the Stars dropped this game 4-3 and the Blues took a 2-1 series lead. Before the tourney I wasn’t sure how the Blues rookie tender Jordan Binnington would handle the playoffs. With a combination of his play and the overall team defense of the Blues, he has performed mostly well. On the other hand, there are times when the Stars vet goalie Ben Bishop invokes great concern. How will this one shake out? When a series is tied 1-1, the club that wins G3 ends up winning the series a very high percentage of the time. The Blues may have established an upper hand here tonight….
TEAM USA Men’s U18’s won Bronze over the weekend in the IIHF World Championships in Sweden. The Yanks beat Team Canada 5-2 in that match. The USA had the best team in the tourney though and lost out on a chance at Gold when they lost to Russia 3-2 in the SO in the Semi’s. Netminder Yaroslav Askarov had a superb outing and stoned all 5 USA shooters in the SO. All 5 tried the same strategy to get in tight and score on a dazzling stickhandling play and failed on this kid. If I’m the Coach, after 2 fails, I’m ordering a different shot selection… PEACE