Tag Archives: Niklas Backstrom

Two days, four upsets, seven observations: The Stanley Cup playoffs so far

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

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Olympics hockey tournament, week 1

The Games of the 21st Winter Olympiad are just about halfway home. For those of you not sick of the seemingly endless stream of Mary Carillo allegedly heart-wrenching fluff features, here are some of the biggest story lines from the premier competition of these Games.

The men’s ice hockey tournament is off to a schizophrenic start (and yes, fans of sequin-vested Russians, it is the premier sport). We’re now in the middle of the third round of games, and I no one is asserting anything looking like dominance on the tournament just yet. Let’s take it team by team to see where everyone stands:

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Canada: When I thought of writing this on Thursday, I thought by opening observation would be about how strong Les Habitants looked after their thrashing of Norway. But the Swiss begged to differ. I don’t know what it is about the Swiss, but they the biggest threat to Canada since Alan Alda in “Canadian Bacon”. If they were ever to somehow meet up in the knockout rounds, and the Swiss were to pull the upset, Stephen Harper would have no choice but to declare war. I’m picturing something like the US invading Kuwait in the first Gulf War, only instead of oil wells and deserts, we’ll have ski resorts and chocolate factories burning through the night. Continue reading

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