HISTORY WILL BE MADE, OR HAS IT ALREADY BEEN?!

2010 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS PREVIEW

ROUND 3

 

I am absolutely stunned at what just happened in the 2nd round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Western Conference is typically the tougher of the two conferences to not only qualify, but win in the playoffs – yet, here we are into the final four, and the top two teams are still standing.  Ho hum, right?  Wrong!  Not only did we lose Detroit, did anybody get a load of what went down in the Eastern Conference?

Let’s just say, the NHL had it bang on when they conceived their ad campaign for this year’s playoffs – “History Will Be Made”.  Well, history was made in the 2nd round – not once, but twice!!  Well, you could even argue three times with Detroit finally bowing out after what seems like an eternity of Conference and Stanley Cup Final appearances.

Just when everybody was calling Montreal’s 1st round upset of Washington a fluke, they did it again – this time against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, in 7 hard fought games, and in the end a well deserved victory for the Habs.  As much as Sidney Crosby didn’t want to make excuses, it was evident he had no clue what to say or what to do about it.

As if that wasn’t enough – just when we were anticipating a Boston sweep to set up what would have been an historic series in itself, the Philadelphia Flyers all of a sudden got some life – an OT win in Game 4, after Brian Boucher went down hard.  In came Michael Leighton, and all he did was get the Flyers a 4-0 shutout in Game 5.  A hard fought 2-1 nail biter at the Wachovia Center in Game 6 set up a first in 36 years – the possibility of a team coming all the way back from a 3-0 series deficit to win in 7 – and Philadelphia didn’t disappoint – a 4-3 come from behind 3-0 win in Game 7, a come from behind 3-0 series deficit to win the series 4-3.  So the Flyers get the Canadiens, and Boston gets relegated to cheering for the Celtics.  It is us, the fans and commentators alike, who now get rewarded with watching what will surely be another spectacle on ice, no matter who wins.

Does it get any better than this?  We’re only halfway home folks!!!  The Stanley Cup awaits a winner, and as they say on CBC, the tradition continues…

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

Philadelphia Flyers vs Montreal Canadiens

Headliner: Expect the unexpected, period.

How they got here: Philadelphia upset Boston in 7 games; Montreal upset Pittsburgh in 7 games

Early Conn Smythe Candidates: Philadelphia – Mike Richards, Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux; Montreal – Jaroslav Halak, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta

Need to see more from: Philadelphia – Lukas Krajicek, Darroll Powe; Montreal – Mathieu Darche, Sergei Kostitsyn

Philadelphia wins if: They get to Halak and force Montreal off their game – enough said.

Montreal wins if: They ride the momentum they’ve been riding so far, get the timely goals they’ve been getting, and get the goaltending.  It’s safe to say there was no pressure on the Habs to even get out of the first round, now in the Conference Final, the spotlight will be on them like never before, especially in a city as hockey mad, if not more than Montreal.  Jacques Martin has been coaching a long time, though, and at this stage he should know what it takes after all those years in Ottawa – this is old hat for him.  Best part of all, he has his team buying into the system.

Throw all of the Cinderella theories out the window – while it’s a definite certainty midnight will eventually come for one of these teams – give the edge to the hot goalie and a team with a little more rest.  Nobody has acknowledged the experience, and fact is – Montreal has a lot of guys who have been here before.  Bob Gainey planned it this way – but we’ll talk more about that if and when Montreal makes their 35th Stanley Cup Finals appearance.  Still plenty of hockey yet to play before we can even think of going there.  After what we’ve seen so far, nothing should surprise us.

Prediction: Canadiens in 6

 

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

San Jose Sharks vs Chicago Blackhawks

Headliner: Did the Sharks finally shake the proverbial playoff monkey off their backs, or is Chicago finally destined for greatness?

How they got here: San Jose defeated Detroit in 5 games; Chicago defeated Vancouver in 6 games

Early Conn Smythe Candidates:  San Jose – Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau; Chicago – Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp

Need to see more from: San Jose – Manny Malhotra, Niclas Wallin; Chicago – Brian Campbell, John Madden

San Jose wins if: They keep scoring, stay out of the penalty box and get better goaltending than Roberto Luongo offered Vancouver.  He may not have enjoyed hearing Alain Vigneault tell the media he was the 2nd best goalie in the Chicago-Vancouver series, but in the end, he really was.  Evgeni Nabokov, take heed.  The Sharks are going to need their top players to produce more than ever, because this Chicago team, you might have heard, they’re pretty good.

Chicago wins if: They continue to get under the skin of their opposition and force them into penalty trouble.  The Hawks are lethal on special teams, both power play and shorthanded, but they’re pretty darn good full strength too.  They have so many players who can hurt you on the scoreboard (and hurt you literally, Dustin Byfuglien anyone?), the Sharks will have their hands full in this one.

I said at the very beginning of this season and again at the start of these playoffs Chicago should come out of the West, and they haven’t given me any reason to believe they still won’t.

Now if you want to talk about history being made – just imagine for one second a Montreal-Chicago final.  History will be made indeed.  It could even repeat itself.  I can see the caption on the TV ad now – “What if we didn’t enter a virtual time warp?”

Prediction: Blackhawks in 6

 

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