Today is Monday, and there are no games on the NHL schedule, the IIHF World Championships are over, and there’s not even an expletive NBA game on tonight. Seems like the perfect time to try to make sense of these conference finals matchups.
I touched on the first game of the Bruins / Lightning series the other day, but as far as projecting forward, this is as good a time as any. My general feeling is that people shouldn’t overreact to the first game of a seven game series. With this said, I already liked Boston coming into the playoffs to reach this round — the same cannot be said for Tampa Bay. Like everyone else, I liked Boston’s punishing defenders, who can also get involved offensively. I also thought the Bruins possessed a lot of different types of scoring options, from shooters like Recchi, Krejci, and Horton to the power forwards like Milan Lucic. And of course, everyone loves Tim Thomas.
What I didn’t seem to quite understand until right around Game 2 of the second round was both how physical this Tampa Bay team can be, and how unhindered they are on the blue line. The Lightning’s trade deadline acquisition of defensive defenseman (I hate that this phrase has to be stated, but it does nowadays) Eric Brewer from St. Louis. The last time a team captain got traded in midseason, Joe Thornton collected the Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophies as league leading scorer and MVP. Brewer certainly isn’t up for MVP in June, but his arrival has shifted the way Tampa Bay has seen its own strengths and weaknesses. When added to the early season trade for goalie Dwayne Roloson, the Brewer deal solidified the Lightning as a team that not only could light the lamp in the regular season, but could play the defense necessary to win playoff hockey games. Kudos to Steve Yzerman for getting these deals done in his first season as general manager in Tampa. Tuesday, the Lightning have a golden opportunity to knock Boston to the mat for an eight-count before boarding the plane to Tampa for Games 3 and 4. I do not think the Bruins will go into Tampa and win both games, as they did in Montreal in round one, and therefore I think it is imperative that Boston finds a way to out muscle Tampa Bay and play the responsible hockey needed to keep the Lightning off the scoresheet as much as possible.
As far as the Canucks / Sharks opener goes, I hear a lot of talk about the Sharks choking and the Canucks using last night’s third period as a stepping stone to more victories in the series. I have to say, a loss in Game 1 would have been far more costly to Vancouver than it is to San Jose. First, and obviously, Vancouver was at home, and therefore “needed” to defend home ice. But second, I sort of get the feeling that San Jose really likes this matchup with the Canucks. It is true that Vancouver took 7 points from San Jose this year, compared to the Sharks’ 3, but anybody who has watched the NHL this year has to think that San Jose was just the slightest of underdogs coming in. San Jose’s perfect 5-0 overtime record is still intact in these playoffs, while the Canucks have gone just 2-2 in the extra frame. And San Jose isn’t really giving anything up to Vancouver line for line except for probably defensemen three through six. That does matter, but not to the extent that San Jose “had to” win Game 1. It was a solid game played by both teams, but Vancouver played better and deserved to win probably by one goal, which they did. The Canucks did that in the last series against Nashville as well, only to have the Predators fire back with a vengeance in a Game 2 road victory that saw them outshoot the Canucks 46-33. It will be funny to see how many flip-floppers there will be regarding this series if San Jose is able to do something similar in Vancouver for Game 2, which is Wednesday night.
And a final note: it is being widely speculated that Winnipeg will indeed get a team next year, but that it will be the Atlanta Thrashers, and not the previously suspected Phoenix Coyotes. I don’t care to discuss such things until announcements are made, but the talk is that it is almost a certainty. What’s more interesting is that the Winnipeg franchise would be playing eastern conference hockey next year in a division with Washington, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Florida, because the NHL Board of Governors does not have enough time to get together and vote on this small matter of realignment in time for it to go into effect for the fall of 2011. After next season, Winnipeg would then move to the west, and make way for a western team to head over to the east. It has been speculated that the team would be Nashville, as it would make geographic sense to put them in the southeast division with the above-mentioned four teams. Like I said, until announcements are made, I’ll save my time and yours.
Thanks for reading, cheers.
*** And a congratulations to Finland for winning the 2011 IIHF World Championship with a five-goal third period in the gold medal game over Sweden, to win the game 6-1. ***