In a week’s time we will come upon the fifteen year anniversary of the Detroit Red Wings sending the Jets from Winnipeg to Phoenix. Last night, Detroit may have returned the favor for the people of Winnipeg.
Last night the Boston Bruins showed some mettle and snapped a six game playoff losing streak by grabbing a 3-0 lead and holding on for a 4-2 victory in Game 3 at Montreal. The Bruins looked determined and got a good effort out of pretty much every player, and for once were able to solve Carey Price and play with a lead. However, at this point Game 4 is no less important for the Bruins, as they don’t want to head back to Boston down 3-1 given that they sit today down 2-1. They survived the first night locked in a room with the acid bath murderer, now they have a couple days to kill elsewhere in the asylum while they wait to go back into the room for Game 4. It will be interesting to see which team plays as if it shoulders all the pressure in Game 4, or if they both come out free and uninhibited by their own minds. On one hand, Boston could feel the pressure because they need the win to avoid the 3-1 hole, but on the other hand, Montreal could be devastated by letting this 2-0 lead slip away at home, and would be within their rights as humans to be worried about losing this boon that they earned. Either way, the scene should be a great one, and both coaches should do their best to move their guys past any “pressure” surrounding the game.
It’s now time for me to eat some crap. Prior to the regular season finale I suggested that the Red Wings shouldn’t worry about the 82nd game at Chicago because winning that game would force an undesirable matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes. ** Pause for laughter.** I’m sorry puckheads; I was way off. Being a fan of the Wings may have distorted my view of the matchup, but I don’t really think it did because I’ve improved my objectivity every year and I just thought this would be a progression from last year’s first round matchup. This whiff of mine wasn’t based so much on underestimating Detroit as it was totally overestimating Phoenix. The two reasons I liked the Coyotes were their physical forwards and their exceptional goaltending. Three games of allowing four goals a piece later and I look like an idiot, and Ilya Bryzgalov looks like a guy losing a lot of money come July 1. James Mirtle wrote a terrific piece on this topic in today’s Globe and Mail. Bryzgalov appears to be in with Tomas Vokoun as the only two big name goaltenders who can hit the UFA market this summer, and Bryzgalov has done himself no financial favors with this playoff showing. Before the trade deadline the talk seemed to be that Vokoun was the rental goalie that a contender could add to make a run at the Stanley Cup. But I never understood this thinking, as there were no teams other than possibly Philadelphia who could add Vokoun and make you say, “I’m pretty certain they are a better team now with Vokoun starting than the guy he’s replacing.” There was not one team. Look at the starting goalies on the playoff teams and even most of their backups. And if anyone seriously thought the Washington Capitals were even considering a move to bring Vokoun in, they weren’t thinking. Semyon Varlamov has pretty much the same playoff resume that Vokoun has, and Michal Neuvirth has done everything asked of him for the last three years. You can only ask a guy to chase Calder Cups for so long. And by the way, I’m not entirely sure that Tomas Vokoun is better than Washington’s third goalie, Braden Holtby, who has been outstanding when called upon this season in the absences of Varlamov and Neuvirth.
That situation aside, both Vokoun and Bryzgalov are now looking at a lot of closed doors and fewer suitors than they might have expected heading into this season. To make matters worse, they play for probably the worst NHL franchise and one that’s moving back to where they came from in 1996. Winnipeg’s final game was a home playoff loss to Detroit back then, and it looks like Game 4 might yield the exact same result in Phoenix’s last game in the NHL, as it has been widely reported that the franchise will be moving back to Winnipeg. Coincidentally, 1996 was also the year the Florida Panthers (Vokoun’s team, and “probably the worst NHL franchise”) made their surprising run through the eastern conference en route to getting swept in the Stanley Cup Finals by Colorado. That was 15 years ago, and neither franchise has done anything of note since. Those are the options for these two big name goalies to resign with. The other options are… Toronto, maybe? Tampa Bay if Roloson retires or Mike Smith doesn’t earn the Lightning’s trust for the fourth time? Detroit could have been an option, as many experts criticize the play of Jimmy Howard, but the Wings gave Howard a 2 year extension in February, so that option’s out. Even most of the bad teams either have big money goalies or young guys that they want to see about. So all of this adds up to the basic fact surrounding both Bryzgalov and Vokoun this summer: There are almost no opportunities to get away.
Tonight’s schedule is meager, but both games should be worth watching for different reasons. First, Vancouver looks to close out the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. After the undercard, the Staples Center will be the 16th and final building to open its NHL playoff schedule this year when the Kings host the Sharks in a deadlocked series. I’ve already dedicated an entire entry to the Vancouver – Chicago series, and nothing that has happened so far has warranted any amendments (damn you again, Phoenix). Going into the playoffs I thought San Jose would make quick work of Los Angeles, and they still might, but it should be pretty tough going for the Sharks tonight as they leave the Shark Tank and go into a place that should be brimming with excitement at this big opportunity for the Kings. Traditionally I really like home teams in Game 3s, and don’t like the Sharks, but something has been telling me for a few months that this is a different Sharks team. They haven’t looked any different so far, as they barely escaped with Game 1 in overtime, and were throttled 4-0 in Game 2 at home. Tonight I’m going to go with history and logic over my irrational feeling that San Jose has somehow transcended their history and reputation. Besides, San Jose might not be able to conjure up desperation in a 1-1 series. Let’s wait and see if they fall behind 2-1, and then we can expect the talented and now arguably gritty Sharks to lock down and grab a road victory. I expect this series to be 2-2 heading back to the Shark Tank, but we’ll go with LA tonight.
Enjoy the closest thing to a day off in the NHL playoffs folks, because we’ve got 5 games on Wednesday’s schedule, and none of them are small (except Phoenix, thanks again…). Cheers!