Tuesday’s set of Game 6 action has a tough act to follow.
The Caps-Pens and Hawks-Canucks tilts Monday night set the bar high for exciting, do-or-die hockey in this round, but if anyone is up to meeting the task, it’s the four teams being showcased tonight.
First, we have the Bruins and Canes in raucous Raleigh. The Bruins haven’t had success on this part of the continent yet these playoffs, losing in overtime in Game 3 and decisively (4-1) in Game 4. Give Boston credit for recovering from the onslaught with a 4-0 win at home in Game 5, but don’t give the B’s too much credit – after all, they’re the East’s best team and they’re supposed to beat Carolina in Beantown.
While Boston is certainly capable of taking a run at the Cup, its dominating performance in Game 5 hasn’t put a damper on the Canes and won’t linger in their dressing room. The experience and leadership on Carolina cannot be underestimated and it’s not as though the Canes have had an easy ride to this point; they never had a lead in the series against New Jersey until they came away with a last minute 4-3 win in Game 7. If any team left in these playoffs can handle adversity with ease, it’s Carolina.
Games 3 and 4 in Raleigh set a road tone the Bruins don’t want to hear. Not only did Carolina recover from an early physical and puck possession surge from the B’s in Game 4, but they kept Boston’s key players away from the scoreboard. If one thing shone through in the first two games in North Carolina, it’s that Boston is young and hasn’t yet learned how to handle the big away games.
For Boston to win, those guys have to step up – as they did at home in Game 5 – and the vets have to hold the lantern. Mark Recchi had a great Game 4, setting up his team’s only goal, and Zdeno Chara had a solid return home after being thoroughly embarrassed and exploited by Eric Staal the last time these two met down south.
For Carolina to win, they simply have to continue to feed off the energy of their passionate crowd and play their game. That is, exceed the spirit Boston brings to the ice, crash the net, work the corners without fear and get the puck to one of their seemingly endless amount of unsung heroes. They’ve only lost once at home in the playoffs – an overtime Game 3 loss to New Jersey – so don’t think Boston has stolen any momentum.
To do so would be to underrate the upstart Canes once again.
In the West, it’s the Red Wings and Ducks. Nothing against the Ducks, who played a solid first round to knock out the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Sharks and gave a scare to Detroit early in this series, but the Wings have hit their stride and when a championship caliber team finds that groove there isn’t a force powerful enough to dislodge it.
As good as Anaheim has been, the Ducks haven’t been able to contain Detroit’s support players such as Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader (who was inserted into the lineup for Game 5) lately. Detroit’s depth is what makes the Wings so good, taking the pressure and spotlight off their headliners. Those are the guys coming to life and making the Winged Wheel a tougher customer. If they don’t get points, they at least distract and open opportunities for guys like Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk to create big plays and find chinks in Anaheim’s armor, like how to beat the once unflappable rookie netminder Jonas Hiller.
The bottom line is Detroit’s depth players are better and more plentiful and Detroit’s star players hold the same advantage over Anaheim.
Oh, and defenseman Brian Rafalski is expected back in the Red and White’s lineup for Game 6.
Good luck, Anaheim. You’re going to need it.
Host Edward Fraser sits down with senior writer Ken Campbell and blogger Rory Boylen to discuss Detroit closing out the Ducks and the prospect of seeing a new scoring record set in the 2008-09 playoffs.
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
The THN.com Shootout will appear Monday to Friday throughout the playoffs.
Show off your hockey knowledge by entering The Hockey News’ FREE Playoff Challenge!
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before and the games ahead, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.