Well, the final four are set and have already met. Two Original Six franchises, another team with plenty of history, and then a team founded in 1991. Two large American markets, a large Canadian market, and a California team. I'd say the NHL could be content with that. But I'm sure they're hoping for a Philly/Chicago final, as am I.
As difficult as it is to actively support the Flyers, it's impossible to root for Montreal. And I'd rather Joe Thornton not get his name on the Stanley Cup, so go Blackhawks!
Before getting to Sunday's games, why does the NHL insist on waiting for every series in a round to complete before even scheduling the next round? It makes sense in the 1st round, as teams are re-seeded afterward. But there's no re-seeding for the Conference Finals. The last 2 teams play each other. So while the Bruins and Flyers played Game 7 on Friday night, the NHL could have scheduled Game 1 of the Western finals for Saturday afternoon. That would avoid any competition with the NBA, and would allow the two series to alternate nights. West, East, West, East. Yet another fuckup.
Another, quicker question: Could the NHL please boycott Arizona too?
CHICAGO 2, SAN JOSE 1 (Blackhawks lead series 1-0)
Antti Niemi might be the best goalie left in the playoffs, and he's only now getting some credit for it. He stopped 44 of 45 shots in this win. The 26 year old Finn also had a 2.25 GAA in the regular season. Jason Demers scored his first goal of the postseason in the 1st, but that was it for San Jose. Patrick Sharp tied it in the 2nd, then Dustin Byfuglien netted the game-winner in the 3rd. Byfuglien has been a bit of an unlikely hero for Chicago. This was his 5th goal of the playoffs.
PHILADELPHIA 6, MONTREAL 0 (Flyers lead series 1-0)
The Flyers run has been nothing short of spectacular. On the last day of the regular season, they hosted the Rangers, with the winner earning a playoff spot and the loser seeing their season end. They won the game 2-1, thanks to a 2-1 shootout win. Then they upset 2nd seeded New Jersey, made history in Boston, and now they've annihalted the Canadiens.
But I wouldn't be too confident if I were Philly. They may have toyed with Halak in Game 1, seeing him pulled halfway through the 2nd, but Halak faltered in Game 1 of Montreal's series with Pittsburgh. He then allowed a mere 11 goals in the next 6 games, with a .945 SV%. This series will be a long one.
My Conference Final predictions:
Chicago in 6
Montreal in 7
CONN SMYTHE WATCH:
Mike Cammalleri, LW, MON - 12 G, 6 A, 2 GWG
Jonathan Toews, C, CHI - 6 G, 14 A, 3 GWG
Mike Richards, C, PHI - 5 G, 12 A
Dany Briere, C, PHI - 7 G, 8 A, 3 GWG, +3
Joe Pavelski, C, SJ - 9 G, 6 A, 3 GWG, +7
Chris Pronger, D, PHI - 4 G, 7 A, +3, 29:39 ATOI, 34 BS
Brent Seabrook, D, CHI - 2 G, 6 A, +5, 44 Hits
Hal Gill, D, MON - 54 blocked shots
Josh Gorges, D, MON - 20 hits, 44 blocked shots
Jaroslav Halak, G, MON - 8 W, 2.42 GAA, .933 SV%
Evgeni Nabokov, G, SJ - 8 W, 2.43 GAA
7:00pm - Montreal @ Philadelphia - Versus (Flyers lead series 1-0)
10:00pm - Chicago @ San Jose - Versus (Blackhawks lead series 1-0)
Monday, May 17, 2010
During the Bruins' regular season, I once "advised them" to watch BC's hockey team play, and maybe learn a lesson on how to score goals. Now, I think the Bruins should be forced to watch the Celtics' continuing playoff run, to learn a lesson on how to win.
Not many gave the Celtics a chance, including myself. And I took great care to ridicule those that did predict another deep postseason venture. But the Celtics have played as a team, and that's allowed them to beat some individuals. The C's don't have anyone as good as Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, or Dwight Howard on their roster. But the Celtics, at least in theory thus far, have had a better team.
Howard was held to 13 points as the Celtics gutted out a 92-88 win over the Magic. It can be argued that the C's could have and should have won more comfortably, and that they let Orlando buzz around for too long. But you also have to give credit to the Magic for that.
Ray Allen was 8/16 shooting with 25 points. Pierce was 6/8 with 22. He made 8 of 10 free throws. Rondo was stymied, reduced to just 8 points, 8 assists and 4 boards. KG only had 8 points. But that's sort of the whole strength of the teamwork. There's layers, so when Rondo and/or KG have bad outings, Pierce and Allen are there to pick up the slack. The bench also contributed. Sheed had 13 in 20 minutes, and the bench combined for 25 total.
This won't be an easy series, but winning Game 1 on the road was huge. The Magic may have been rusty, a little underprepared. The C's played on Thursday, which means they were fresh but still in rhythm. Orlando hadn't played in nearly a week (last Monday). And the competition they'd encountered in their previous series was of pushover quality.
They weren't ready, the Celtics shot well and took advantage. That's what you do to win, exploit every opportunity, protect every weakness.
Game 2 Tuesday night in Orlando.
The Canadian Press
Heads are going to roll. And the first head that should roll is the bald, beefy melon of Claude "Les Choke" Julien. This guy is now 21-21 as a head coach in the playoffs, 1-3 in Game 7s (0-3 with the Bruins), and behind the B's bench his teams are 2-7 in games that they can eliminate their opponents. This guy is not a winner. Just replace "Elliot Ness" with "Claude Julien" in this clip:
And of course, it was a too-many-men penalty that allowed Philly to score their game-winning goal. The Bruins have been notorious for having too-many-men penalties called on them all season. I can't find the actual statistics for it, but I'd venture to say that the B's have had too-many-men on the ice about a dozen times this season. And of course, Philly fans will revel in the irony, as it was a missed too-many-men call that allowed Marco Sturm to score the game-winner in the Winter Classic.
But to pinpoint only one failure, one mistake, would be taking it easy on the Bruins. This was such an epic Bruins collapse that it can't just be because of one play, or even two. Countless errors, shortcomings, and fuckups have led us to this sad place. This was a clinic of defeatism. This is the biggest choke in Bruins history, which true fans of this team know is quite an allegation. It's like accusing the French of having the biggest defeat in their military's history.
The Bruins went up by 3 goals in Game 7. How? By outplaying Philadelphia. Plain and simple. The first goal was a great sequence, with Lucic blocking a shot, keying a breakaway which failed, but then winning the puck on the boards, allowing Savard to take a nice shot. The puck dribbled out to the neutral zone, but a tired Hartnell got sloppy with his stick and the B's earned a power-play. Faceoff win, Chara shoots, big rebound, Ryder has the best finish of his season and it's 1-0 B's.
Second goal: Wideman carries the puck in on another power-play, brilliant centering pass to Lucic, who simply has to tap it in. 2-0 Bruins.
Third goal: Lucic wins a battle in the defensive zone, with Philly's defensemen so involved on offense, this win triggers a 3-on-1 breakaway. Lucic wisely keeps it himself and goes 5-hole on Leighton. 3-0 Bruins.
But I have a saying for Claude Julien's Bruins. I'm much more comfortable with a 2 goal Bruins lead than a 3 goal lead. The B's get foolish with 3 goal leads. They try to be too clever. They don't value possession of the puck anymore. And they typically forget what it was that actually got them that 3 goal lead. In poker it's called "reverse tilt," when things go so well that a player kind of goes nuts, just assuming that he'll continue to get lucky and run well forever.
The B's kept the pressure up, and showed good puck support. They were relentless along the boards. Then in the defensive zone, that puck support failed. Wideman moved the puck along from the corner, but Satan whiffed on it. This allowed Philly to regain possession. A couple odd bounces later, and it's 3-1. But the bounces would have never happened had Satan played Hockey 101 and been able to move the puck along and out of the zone. Inexcusable.
The 2nd period has been dominated by the Flyers in this series. A clear indication of Peter Laviolette's outcoaching of Claude Julien. Going into Game 7's middle frame, Philly had outscored Boston 8-3 in 2nd periods. That turned into 10-3.
The Bruins came out decently, but couldn't get much on net. Leighton was reeling but the B's weren't able to do anything to capitalize. They were actually shooting too much, instead of waiting for clear shooting lanes, they allowed the Flyers to block shots (18 in total). Then Hartnell outworked the Bruins in the offensive zone and was able to sneak in a severe angle shot. 3-2 Flyers. Wake up time, right? Not for a Claude Julien team. Snooze button time.
The Flyers continued to get to every loose puck. They were hungry again. And should we be surprised? That's how Philly has been when they've faced defeat. Briere scored an excellent wraparound goal. And what a surprise, Andrew "Why Did I Get a Contract Extension" Ference was on the ice, and fell down as Briere maneuvered around him then the net.
But hey, the B's ended the 2nd period with a nice 5 minutes of possession, getting a few shots on goal, keeping Philly from doing anything more. Like a girl with a pretty face, nice legs, and a pudgy beer belly, the 2nd period had a good start, an ugly middle, and a good end.
The 3rd was crazy. Leighton made some big saves. Rask made some big saves. The Bruins were giving away the puck too easily, particularly Wideman and Chara. But Rask was forgiving them. The Flyers hit a post. The Bruins hit two posts. It seemed as though OT was predestined. Then the Bruins put 6 skaters on the ice.
It was unforced. And by that I mean that there was no panic, no confusion in a hurried situation, it was just your run-of-the-mill fuckup. It wasn't like when the puck drifts toward the benches during a change and someone plays it too early. It was an inexcusable, unforgettable, unbelievable mistake. The Bruins put 6 skaters on the ice. As if it were no big deal. But the refs can count to 6.
And give credit to Simon Gagne. As much as I'm blaming the Bruins for this loss, the Flyers showed us here in Boston how real scorers finish. Gagne's goal was just good solid offense.
Then air. A few near misses, a few nifty saves from Leighton, but the clock dwindled down seemingly at double-speed. And the season was over.
It's silly to discuss, but if you'd asked me in February if I'd be happy if the B's lost in a Game 7 of the 2nd round, I'd say "Yeah, sounds like a good season for this struggling team." But once you add the caveats that the Bruins were up 3-0 in the series, and up 3-0 in Game 7, I'd say "Fuck you, I'd rather lose in the 1st round or not make the playoffs at all."
Marc Savard had his worst game of his tenure here in Boston. I know he's concussed, but he'd been apparently fine until Friday night. In the 2nd he launched a breakaway shot about 10 feet above the net. This is against a goalie who has shown susceptibility to low goals, particularly in his 5-hole. Savard got a retarded hooking call in the 2nd (his actions were retarded, not the call), he aired on another breakaway shot from the top of the faceoff circle, and he completely failed to even touch the puck in the neutral zone, which allowed Hartnell to take possession, then Hartnell found Briere, and Briere scored his game-tying wraparound goal. At one point in the 3rd, Savard tried a no look pass between his legs. There's a two letter abbreviation for that: GV. It's short for giveaway.
Blake Wheeler was hit and miss. He had some solid plays, but wasn't the force he was in the Buffalo series. Same goes for Sobotka. Sometimes good, sometimes bad.
Lucic and Ryder woke up, especially Lucic. Milan outskated everyone, at least in the 1st period. His game depends entirely on skating. He's not a clever offensive player, nor is he a defensive genius. But he atones for those shortcomings with strength. But that strength is useless if he's not skating hard enough to get in on the play.
Chara gaveaway the puck too much, and wasn't much of a force on offense. He got an assist on the first goal, but that was because his slapshot was saved, then Ryder swatted the rebound in. To be fair, the guy has played about 2,000,000 minutes for the Bruins, plus the Olympics.
Satan gaveaway the puck too. He was to blame for Philly's 1st goal. And offensively, he never did anything of serious note. To be fair to him as well, he's carried the Bruins in this postseason, even though he was an add-on, garbage-heap kind of player, wallowing in the European leagues until the B's snagged him.
Daniel Paille is completely useless on offense. But he's only playing 19 minutes because other forwards are hurt, and because the B's traded Chuck Kobasew. Unfortunately, seemingly half of the Bruins' breakaway opportunities found the stick of Daniel Paille. If this guy were a Mortal Kombat character, his finishing move would be to shoot a puck 10 feet to the side of his opponent.
Briefly looking ahead to 2010-11, what do the Bruins need to do?
#1: Fire Claude Julien and hire anyone else in the Universe to replace him. I nominate Phil Esposito.
#2: Trade Thomas. As much as I love him, there are too many needs elsewhere to absorb his contract as a backup goalie.
#3: Bribe and/or blackmail Andrew Ference so he asks out of his contract.
#4: Re-sign Seidenberg. This team has great defense (Chara, Seidenberg, Boychuk, Hunwick, Wideman, Stuart), let's build around that.
#5: Get a solid, 20 goal type of forward (possibly in the Thomas trade).
#6: Hope the #2 draft-pick is a quick learner.
The Bruins need some ondemand offense. We saw in the last week how an effective counterattack can turn a series in an instant. Right now, the Bruins offense is based on the notion that if you shoot 40 times on a goalie, one or two pucks will randomly go in. When the Bruins get breakaways, it's a guarantee that they won't score. The best finishers on the Bruins are: Recchi, Chara, Boychuk, Krejci, and Savard. Recchi's collecting social security, Chara and Boychuk are D-men, and Krejci and Savard are supposed to be the set-up guys, not the finishers. They're on this short list by default.
The B's didn't skate in the 2nd or 3rd periods. Maybe they got tired and ran out of gas. Maybe they weren't properly motivated. Whatever the case, they lost, Philly won, deservedly so. Let's get a guillotine (spelled correctly on the 1st try), behead Claude Julien, then use his skull to play some pick-up soccer while we enjoy the World Cup.
NHL Draft is June 25th. The Bruins pick 2nd, 15th, 32nd and 45th.