Hi Everyone! I just got back from a vacation so I missed 2 weeks of NHL action. Wow! The NHL playoff landscape has changed significantly heading into the final weeks of the season.
The St. Louis Blues have leapt out in front of the Western Conference and to the top of the President’s Trophy race! Who saw that coming? Paul MacLean had been the early frontrunner for the Jack Adams Trophy for best coach for engineering a great turnaround for the Ottawa Senators. It’s safe to say Ken Hitchcock had usurped that position by taking the Blues from worst to first. The Blues are getting it done without superstars and by playing some serious team defence. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott are outplaying each other on a nightly basis – to a point that their perfect split of starting duties has put both of them out of the running for individual goaltending awards. Yay Jennings Trophy!
A very different goaltending situation sits atop the Eastern Conference as King Henrik Lundqvist will finally get the respect he deserves this year. His name will also probably feature prominently on the MVP ballot. A bout of flu sidelined him recently for Sidney Crosby’s comeback game. Either from the flu or just from that fourth goal, I could feel that somewhere he was throwing up during that game.
The Return of Sidney Crosby is a good thing to my mind. Lots of people hate him because he’s overhyped, but I think that’s a pretty stupid reason to hate a player. The NHL is the best league in the world – sorry Mr. Medvedev. It’s the best league because it has the best players, and Sidney Crosby is undeniably one of them. Sunday’s entertaining tilt proved that Claude Giroux is also one of the best players in the world, and Philly is unimpressed with their local rivals star hoopla. That’s the way to deal with overhyped players – make them prove it on the ice.
Last year’s finalists from Vancouver and Boston have both experienced a late season bout of mediocrity. Daniel and Henrik Sedin’s production has been significantly down this year, to the chagrin of many a poolie. Tim Thomas’ White House snub seemed to negatively affect the Boston dressing room, and the Marty Turco experiment’s early results are a spectacular failure.
There’s a few similarities and a few major differences coming from the #4-5 playoff slots in both conferences. Nashville/Detroit and Pittsburgh/Philly are both sets of bitter rivals from the same division. However, Pittsburgh and Philly are both known for rough and tumble play to the point of being pretty dirty. The Flyers reputation of 40 years of brutal streetfighting Hockey is slightly less offensive than Matt Cooke. On the flipside Nashville and Detroit both live by efficient, elegant systems of minimal penalties and lethal special teams. In either case, not winning your division carries a stiff penalty – and 6th place is again rewarded. Still, woe betide the team that takes their first round opponent lightly. The NHL stretch run is on, and the playoffs are just around the corner!