Some first-round musings
An entirely unintended consequence of taking on a job in the sports media is that, when the games get good, you get rather busy.
The first-round of the NHL playoffs are the busiest time of the year, bar none, on the sports desk — so busy, in fact, that here I am crawling into my apartment after 2 a.m. on a Tuesday night in which there were five games. Combine that with the fact that somehow there are now three of these blog things I'm supposed to contribute to and a newspaper redesign on the way and, well, time has been in short supply.
I feel as though I've barely scratched the surface in talking about what's happened through Week 1 of the postseason, so here's the sum of a few random thoughts:
- After Games 1 and 2 of the Sharks-Predators series, it looked as though Peter Forsberg still had 'it' and was just about ready to reclaim his spot as one of the game's dominant player. Then came Monday's Game 3, where the husky-eyed gorilla man was positively awful, and now I'm not so sure where he stands. One things certain: Nashville needs him to be Peter the Great instead of Peter the Horribly Broken.
- Anyone else surprised to see Ilya Bryzgalov start four games in a row for Anaheim? Game 1 made a little sense given what J-S Giguere has been through, but Bryzgalov started just 26 games this season and was handily outperformed by Jiggy all year. Giguere drew into the final minutes of Game 4 after it was out of hand (and getting Boogaard-ishly silly), but who does coach Carlyle turn to now? And what happens if Giguere plays and lays an egg in Game 5?
- Since I picked the Minny Mild to win the Cup, I might as well acknowledge their existence: As far as I've seen, their biggest single problem just might have been staying out of the penalty box. Through the first three games, no team had spent more minutes killing penalties (Minnesota was down 5-on-4 for 28 minutes in those games) than the Wild. It's hard to score when down a man, the sportswriter's handbook tells me. The other problem has been that, for all of the shots they've thrown Bryzgalov's way on the power play, the goals have been few and far between.
- Daniel Alfredsson has been terrific this season, one of the most dominant offensive players in the league (and second to only Thomas Vanek in on-ice goals for per 60 even-strength minutes), and is finally getting some pub because, so far, he's done it in the playoffs. Thumbs up to that.
- The pre-playoff moaning about how big a difference Gary Roberts would make hit a fever pitch last week, and unbelievably, the 40-year-old who had 42 points this season has lived up to that ridiculous, Toronto-bred hype. I'm not sure why, but I can't help but crack up every time Roberts bear hugs baby-faced Jordan Staal after a goal. (Staal was, after all, about eight months old when Roberts won the Cup with Calgary.)
- Mark Eaton's actually pretty good.
- Does Don Waddell lose his job given the utter meltdown that's happening in Atlanta? Or was getting this sad-sack team into the playoffs in that awful division enough to keep the good times going? (At least fans got new scarves out of the deal.)
- Sean Avery has played far better than I'd ever thought he was capable, and Paul Mara is playing the best hockey of his career. Most of the time I don't know what to think of Tom Renney's laissez-faire coaching style, but he's looked like an absolute genius next to Bob Hartley in this series.
- Speaking of which, why on earth didn't Johan Hedberg get the Game 3 start after playing so well in a Game 2 loss? It looked as though Kari Lehtonen's knees were knocking from the word go(al) on Tuesday at MSG. It's great to see the Big Apple crowd so ready to go.
- Boldly assuming Anaheim and Detroit are advancing in the West, a series win for Vancouver would mean a draw against the Ducks. Dallas would face the Red Wings if they can pull it out, which leads me to believe whoever wins out in that Canucks/Stars match-up is toast come Round 2. Just a feeling.
- Being a native British Columbian, it's bizarre watching Trevor Linden still scoring big goals for the Canucks, 13 years after the team's last big playoff run fell just short.
- Is Mike Modano done?
- The Lightning have really impressed me so far. Martin Brodeur has been around so long that it seems impossible there's a 'book' on him that all 29 other teams wouldn't already know (or have at least checked out of the library), but Tampa's players have seemingly been firing the puck at his feet all series long, something that has paid off in a few bizarre goals. Both St. Louis and Lecavalier have also scored by teeing up shots from near the goal line, another unlikely, low-percentage place to shoot from, which makes me think the team's video coach is doing a nice job down south. The East is wide open enough that I think Tampa could potentially have a chance to advance further if they can continue to befuddle Loophole Lou and friends. I get the feeling all coach John Tortorella has to do is play Lecavalier another 15 minutes a game to really put them over the hump.
- Losing Robyn Regehr dramatically changes what the Flames have to do to beat the Red Wings — if only because it means Brad Stuart's going to be on the ice a heckuva lot more. Roman Hamrlik, Stuart and Dion Phaneuf all played 25+ minutes in Game 3.
- And finally, the Sabres started to wake up in Game 3, but they certainly haven't looked like world beaters. It's still fun cheering for Ryan Smyth in an underdog role, regardless of the jersey he's gone on this go-round.