The buzz from Ottawa-Pittsburgh, Game 1.
If you’re a fan of the Senators, the harbingers were ominous.
• You got Sidney Crosby on an average night – for Sidney – and couldn’t take advantage. Heck, you were never even really close.
• Martin Gerber was not the problem in a 4-0 loss. You can’t hang this one on the goaltending and hope it gets better in Game 2.
• Gary Roberts, a Sens frequent killer, scored twice after missing half the season. What hurts more is that he did much of his damage as a fourth-liner. That has to play on the Sens already fragile psyche.
• The defense, which has been the true Achilles’ heel in recent months, made glaring errors on the first two Pittsburgh goals. It inspires little confidence going forward.
• Exacerbating matters is Anton Volchenkov’s head injury, suffered while blocking a shot. If Ottawa has to replace him with 39-year-old Luke Richardson, the mountain becomes that much steeper.
• The Sens offense, invisible most of the night, couldn’t convert on two 5-on-3s. Daniel Alfredsson would have helped, but the club’s problems run oh-so deeper.
If you’re a fan of the Pens, the harbingers were shining:
• Crosby was just average and you still kicked butt. Better still, he looked as quick as ever, showing no lingering effects from his ankle sprain.
• MVP candidate Evgeni Malkin carried his second-half domination into the post-season and looked so much more mature than the player who was MIA during last year’s playoffs.
• The fourth line provided valuable minutes. If coach Michel Therrien can rely on it to maintain its effectiveness, that’ll go a long way to supporting a prolonged playoff run.
• Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t tested severely, but made a handful of key saves to prevent the Sens from entertaining any thoughts of making it close.
And a few other random notes:
• The advantage a team is supposed to gain on an icing call was negated three times in this game by TV timeouts – the offending team got to rest. One remedy for this is to push back the timeout until the subsequent whistle.
• Gerber made the save of the night during the sequence in which Volchenkov was drilled in the head by the puck. He snared a Marian Hossa shot that seem destined for net.
• I liked Bryan Murray’s use of his timeout in the second period during a Sens’ power play, giving his top scorers a chance to rest. Too often coaches save their timeout, worried they won’t have it in their hip pocket in the last minute. Of course, if you’re down four goals in the last minute, a timeout is rather useless.
The buzz from Minnesota-Colorado, Game 1
• The Xcel Energy Centre has become one of the league’s best venues, especially at playoff time. It’s a building whose name is accurately descriptive.
• The intensity of the game was palpable. The hitting was fierce and the pace frantic for much of the first period. The crowd can take some of the credit for that.
• Minnesota bulked up for this year’s post-season because they felt they were manhandled by Anaheim last year. And to their credit, their big men played well in Game 1. Derek Boogaard made his presence felt without crossing any lines and actually had a few good scoring chances. Todd Fedoruk, meantime, scored a huge goal in the third period that sent the game to overtime.
• Andrew Brunette was called for boarding in the first period on a hit that looked relatively innocuous. I still struggle at times with what is a good, clean hit and what ought to be penalized. There were similar checks delivered later in the game that went unpenalized. Maybe the NHL should send out a DVD to the media to clarify where the lines are drawn. I know we debate this frequently in The Hockey News’ offices.
• In the second period, meantime, Ruslan Salei delivered a fine open-ice check on Mark Parrish who, unfortunately, fell awkwardly into the boards and was injured. TSN’s Pierre McGuire opined the hit was clean (and I agree), but said some observers feel that type of play should be penalized. I don’t see it. Where’s that DVD?
• While Joe Sakic came through like the superstar he is with the winner, Jose Theodore was the star of this game. He was a rock in the first period when the Wild blitzed the Avs, looking very much like the Hart Trophy winner he was in 2002. He was extremely confident, challenged the shooters and was sharp with his rebound control. If not for his play, this game could have been out of reach early. His return to elite status, from being written-off by most, is remarkable.
• Kudos to referees Don VanMassenhoven and Mike Hasenfratz, who had some difficult calls in the third period, but got them right. The first was a kicked-in puck by Colorado’s David Jones (insert your Monkees joke here); the second a penalty shot call when Minnesota’s Keith Carney closed his hand on the puck in the crease. Video review was used in both instances.
• For all the chatter about how boring Minnesota plays, the Wild controlled the tempo most of the night. They limited the Avs to seven shots through two periods and Colorado was the fortunate, opportunistic team. Sounds like role reversal from a few years ago when the Wild upset the star-powered Avs.
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend.
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