There really is nothing like playoff hockey: the intensity, the insanity, the towel-waving, whited-out crazed throngs of fans, the collective rise and fall of thousands of hopes and dreams with every hit, carom, and deflection. The difference in the playoff brand of hockey from its regular season counterpart is greater than the change that occurs in any of the other four major sports (with the possible exception of Major League Baseball, but that’s a numbers game of condensing the efforts of 162 games into a mere seven games where talent and ability are more likely to give way to sheer dumb luck).
The hits are harder. Every slap shot has just a little more gusto behind it. Every player is just a little more willing to sacrifice life and limb in the path of a slapper to get that much closer to hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. It is, without a doubt, one of the greatest happenings in sport, and it plays itself out over two shiner-filled, scraggly-bearded months.
With two days and seven games of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs already in the books, I’ve got seven observations—one for each series underway—to whet your appetite for the quest for the most prestigious trophy in sports.
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Sens in Steal City
There’s something amiss about this year’s Pittsburgh Penguins. (Disclaimer: I am a Pens fan who’s watched 65 of their games this year; prepare for more detail than you ever could have wanted.) I thought Pens in six was a pretty safe bet over the Senators, who the boys from the Steel City quickly dispatched two years ago en route to their first of two straight Eastern Conference Championships.
This team just doesn’t have the mojo last year’s Cup winners did, and the first round matchup doesn’t help. If there’s one aspect where the Pens would have an advantage borne out of their experience, it’s their grit, hustle, and ability to pressure a team into mistakes. But Ottawa is one of the grittier teams in the playoffs, and their ability to forecheck effectively against the Pens and grind their attacks to a halt in the neutral zone is a testament to that. It helped that they got a lot of bounces to go their way (see goals 2-4), but they certainly earned the win.
It was to a team that on Wednesday looked like it lost that winning feeling (thank you, Righteous Brothers.) They weren’t able to impose their will, and even when they did, quickly relapsed and were answered by the gritty Sens. The Pens weren’t playing their puck possession, shooting gallery-type game (much to the benefit of a not-so-convincing Brian Elliott in goal). The pace resembled that of a college basketball game in that each team had runs of sustained pressure that may or may not have led to a goal. And like so many college games, the Pens spent so much energy in the fight back that they had to let up on the gas and didn’t have enough to finish the deal.
It’s been a constant theme for the Pens down the stretch. They managed to maintain contact with the top teams in the East, but it was an unconvincing 6-6-3 finish to the season. Three of those wins required overtime, the finish was made to look better thanks to 13 goals over two games against the Islanders, and a 2-0 home loss to the hapless Lightning and a 1-0 loss at a Thrashers team just playing out the string were interspersed in there. Continue reading