We are only in the first round of the hockey playoffs. There has been more sizzle, more controversy, and more physical play in the past week than we have seen in many a playoff year.
The intensity was always there. Year after year, fans began to tune in to hockey once the playoffs began. Players always “took it up a notch” when there was a little more on the line. Certain teams were said to have been built for the playoffs, perhaps with a mean edge to get them through the rounds.
But this year, the floodgates have opened, the tongues are wagging, and hot stove lounges around the country have plenty of fodder to digest. Several favourites are on the verge of collapse, and there is pain and suffering. Did I mention the Canucks?
As expected, several stars have come to the forefront for their teams, and have led them to victory. The New York Rangers have Henrik Lunqvist in goal, and he has been hard to beat by the Senators. One of the lesser lights on the Blueshirt team is a third year player named Brian Boyle. The hulking forward has put the puck in the net at the most opportune times, giving the New York squad a leg up on the Sens.
The Florida Panthers won their first playoff game in fifteen years! That is some kind of drought! At the time of writing, the series is tied at a game each, with the teams heading to New Jersey for games three and four this week. Stephen Weiss scored his first goal after only 23 seconds had lapsed in the first period. As expected, the Panthers put up a defensive wall in the third, protecting their lead; however, it took Tomas Fleischmann’s empty net goal with only one second left to seal the deal.
Certainly, the series between the Flyers and the Penguins has stirred the most controversy thus far. Sidney Crosby has returned to the Pens lineup, and was expected to lead them over the Broad Street Bullies. Wrong again, Bessie! The Flyers have really taken it to the Penguins, and have won the first three games. The game on Wednesday night starts at 7:30pm. That is a “can’t miss” game.
The Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins are also involved in a nasty fight. There is no love lost between the two rivals, and the hitting has been tenacious. It has not escalated into the war that Penguins and Flyers are waging, but it has been a battle.
The Red Wings have also stumbled out of the blocks this year. They are trailing the Nashville Predators in their series, and have not looked impressive. The Predators are backstopped by Pekka Rinne. He alone has the potential to turn a series, and that would not be unexpected.
The Chicago Black Hawks have discovered that the Phoenix Coyotes are for real. They are deadlocked at the present time, and it will likely be a long series. That depends on the health of goalie Mike Smith, who was steamrolled behind the nest by Andrew Shaw.
The St. Louis Blues took a lead after Monday’s game with a 4-3 win over the Sharks. This is also a nasty conflict, and could result in fisticuffs at any time. The Blues learned a lesson on Monday night. They led 4-1 well into the third period, and played a little “kitty bar the door” defensive hockey. That does not work any more in this fast-paced, wicked slapshot kind of game.
The Canucks? Oh yes, they trail the upstart Los Angeles Kings three games to none. There has not been this much excitement in the L.A. hockey world since # 99 played there. Belleville’s Brad Richardson was ready for the playoffs when he ran up against appendicitis. Hopefully, he will be ready in the potential later rounds. The Kings can be thankful to Jonathan Quick for his fine play.
Brendan Shanahan is the NHL’s Czar of discipline. There is a lineup of bad boys at his office door, as we speak. There will be suspensions, and rightfully so. Players still have not grasped the concept that head checks are dangerous. There are some fine players not able to help their teams at this time, due to careless hits. The culprits will be nailed today.
Keep your head up, and your stick on the ice!
April 17, 2012