Monday, May 01, 2006

The GAME of the night
Avalanche 3, Stars 2 (OT)

Colorado wins series 4-1

"He's the reason we're standing here with smiles on our face, really. He was unbelievable today."
— Joe Sakic said of goaltender Jose Theodore

You know what — kudos to Jose Theodore.

The thing is, Colorado was really a pretty strong team this year when they had a solid goaltender in net, and were even contending for the Northwest Division lead when former starter David Aebischer began to play well. They have weapons up front and guys like Rob Blake and John-Michael Liles on defence have been great.

But everyone — everyone not named Maggie the Monkey, that is — picked Dallas to win this series, and they all did so for basically the same reason: No one thought that, given the year he's had, Theodore would outplay Marty Turco.

Last night, the Avalanche were the visiting team, were outshot 52-30 and still managed to eliminate the heavily favoured Stars from the playoffs. And Theodore deserves all the credit.

Colorado GM Pierre Lacroix is, once again, looking like a genius for a move he made at the trade deadline.

James's pre-playoff prediction: Dallas in 6

Sharks 2, Predators 1
San Jose wins series 4-1

"We were really expecting that storm coming from a desperate team down 3-1. We survived that first end, and that was the key."
— San Jose Sharks netminder Vesa Toskala

This series was pretty much a no-brainer for the prognosticators, and it played out much like everyone expected (aside from the fact Tom Preissing and Christian Ehrhoff finishing ahead of Joe Thornton and Jon Cheechoo in scoring).

I heard more than one commentator last night say that Nashville goaltender Chris Mason wasn't the reason his team lost this series, but that's a bit of a misnomer. Yes, Mason played well — better than many expected — but this is a team that is built from the goaltender on up. Tomas Vokoun is the Predators perennial MVP for a reason; they allow a ton of shots against and he stops most of them. (Not to mention the fact Mason allowed a few stinkers in a nearly must-win Game 4 in San Jose.)

All that said, the Sharks played well, but they basically just beat the weakest club playing in the postseason. Nashville's a small team, so I'm interested to see how San Jose fares when paired up against a more punishing opponent.

James's pre-playoff prediction: San Jose in 6

Hurricanes 2, Canadiens 1
Carolina leads series 3-2

"We need Alex [Kovalev] to be good, to be a threat. I still think there is more to Alex's game."
Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey

I said it after Game 4, and it still holds true: Les Habitants are in trouble.

It's not so much that Montreal is playing poorly — aside from a penalty killing unit that couldn't get it done last night — but rather that Carolina is getting huge performances from the guys who got it done for them during the season.

Captain Rod 'The Bod' Brind'Amour was one of the best players in the league this year, and he's dominating right now in match-ups up against the less physical Montreal centremen. Erik Staal is also showing why he emerged as a star this year, and brings the sort of power game the Habs aren't getting.

And how about guys like Bret Hedican and Aaron Ward? Wow. Talk about underrated — especially in Ward's case.

I can't help but throw in a mention for the team's other Ward, young rookie goaltender Cam. Montreal won the series' first two games for the most part because Carolina's regular starter Martin Gerber couldn't get it done, and without play like this from Ward, this is a short series in the Canadiens' favour.

This Hurricanes team will be a fun one to watch if they can go deep.

Sabres 3, Flyers 0
Buffalo leads series 3-2

"He [Ryan Miller] struggled in Philadelphia. Everybody knows that, he knows that. He came back and answered the bell.

"Now it's our turn. This thing is far from over."
— Philadelphia Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock

'Hitch' called this the Sabres' best game of the series, and of the portions I saw, I'd tend to agree. This has really been a Jekyll and Hyde series, one that has favoured the home team in every game so far, and Game 6 really depends on what Flyers team shows up Tuesday.

When Ryan Miller is at the top of his game, he's a better goaltender than Robert Esche. When Peter Forsberg is at the top of his game, he's a far better forward than anyone the Sabres can put on the ice against him.

What will that mean? Well, I think it'd be best if Game 7 decides, don't you?

Senators v. Lightning
Ottawa wins series 4-1

"It was with a heavy heart. I've been going through a lot. It was important to my mom that I came out and played hard, and it's still going to be that way because I know she's going to be watching."
— Ottawa Senators defenceman Wade Redden

Was there anything that the Lightning did better than the Senators in this series?

We really only saw a hint of what this Tampa Bay team was two years ago when they won it all, including Game 2 when Martin St. Louis broke out for two nice goals. Still, there wasn't much to be happy with here for Bolts fans, and the Lightning proved pretty easy pickings for a stacked team like Ottawa.

All in all, it was a good warm-up series for the Senators, who look just as strong as they did early in the regular season with Dominik Hasek in net. The real surprise has to be the play of Jason Spezza, who has had a reputation in his career of not coming through in the playoffs (including a terrible performance last season with the baby Sens), and Martin Havlat, who hasn't needed any time to return from a huge chunk of time away.

The Senators, and Ray Emery, look good.

James's pre-playoff prediction: Ottawa in 6

Devils v. Rangers
New Jersey sweeps series 4-0

"It's kind of sad for our fans and the guys here. We thought the way we were playing in the middle of the season we had a pretty good chance if we were going to play the same way.

"But the worst hockey we played was before the playoffs and in the playoffs. You always look at the way you finished the season. It wasn't pretty."

— Jaromir Jagr

This wasn't even close.

The Rangers only managed four goals in four games in this series and seemed almost completely outclassed from the beginning. The things that went right for New York during the season — Jaromir Jagr's offensive dominance, Henrik Lundqvist's play, strong defensive performances from an underrated defence — were no shows here.

New Jersey, on the other hand, looks primed for a deep run. Despite all the talk that the Devils' offence was too weak to be a true contender, New Jersey averaged more than four goals a game in this series.

The big-game players that showed up are obvious — Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner, et al — but it's the supporting characters who are really going to help this team excel as they goes deeper into the postseason.

Even without Colin White, who was having a career year before going down with an injury in Game 1, the Devils' defence played a big part in what was a 90.5 per cent penalty killing team in Round 1. Youngster Paul Martin had the second most minutes and a club-best +6 rating while three-time Stanley Cup winner and former Kamloops Blazer Brad Lukowich was solid in a special-teams role (4:06 average shorthanded icetime, 3:19 power-play).

This team's a lot deeper than people think.

James's pre-playoff prediction: Devils in 5



At 9:27 a.m., May 01, 2006, Blogger Jes Gőlbez said...

While Jose had a pretty good game last night, he wasn't all that great for the majority of the series. Jose can thanks the Stars for playing far below their abilities and the Avalanche offense for doing such a great job.

At 10:38 a.m., May 01, 2006, Blogger Christy Hammond said...

What are your thoughts on the Wings vs. Oilers series?

At 2:38 p.m., May 01, 2006, Blogger Nick said...

Holding off on tearing apart the wings until they're really out of it? Does this mean that James thinks they might have a chance to dig themselves out of the hole they've placed themselves in?

At 2:42 p.m., May 01, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I do think the Wings are definitely still in this one, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see this series head to Game 7. Actually, I'm expecting that to happen.

I only wanted to recap the Sunday games, and also give some final thoughts on the series that wrapped up. Talking about all eight series on the same post would have been kinda unruly. Win or lose, tonight I'll definitely have thoughts on Detroit.

At 12:00 a.m., May 02, 2006, Blogger d-lee said...

And how about guys like Bret Hedican and Aaron Ward? Wow. Talk about underrated — especially in Ward's case.
Yeah. I've been singing AWard's praises all season, and he's been a crowd favorite. He had the best season of his career. By far. And he's been solid in the second season. Actually, though, I think you're too quick to give Yamaguchi credit. Despite being named to team USA, he was only so-so in the regular season, and has been disastrous so far in the playoffs.

AWard, Like Brindy, is playing like a man ten years younger than he is. Heddy, on the other hand....


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