Home Authors Posts by Greg Thomson
There are teams in every major professional sports league who dominate the opposition in the regular season, but can’t put it all together and get over the hump when it counts. The San Jose Sharks have historically underperformed in the post season, despite annually posting one one of the top records in the league. If any powerhouse is going to be ousted in the second round, it will very likely be the Washington Capitals, who went down 3-0 in their series last night.
Although the Capitals managed to mount an early lead on the Lightning, Tampa Bay slowly climbed back, with solid play from all four lines. After tying the game at three in the latter stages of the third period, Tampa fed off the support of the home crowd and eventually got the deciding goal from Ryan Malone.
Alex Ovechkin had an above average game for the Caps, but lacked offensive support from his line mates. Nicklas Backstrom has been virtually invisible throughout the playoffs and is nowhere near fulfilling expectations set by Bruce Boudreau.
Unless the Capitals do the impossible and win the next four games, the Lightning will move on to the Eastern Conference Chmapionship amongst the NHL’s final four. Hard to believe when the team owner, general manager and head coach are all first timers.
Regardless of what it says on your passport or birth certificate (see: Barack Obama), the atmosphere in the building at the Wells Fargo Centre when Lauren Hart serenaded the Flyers faithful with ‘God Bless America’ was an amazing sight and whirlwind of emotion.
The performance was a fitting tribute to the ups and downs that North America has endured and the ramifications of 9/11. Observing all of the dangers and tragedies in the world forces you to step back and think about what’s really important. Sport is a way for many of us to get away from all of that. However, it is important to be thankful to the men and women who have sacrificed so much in order for us to live freely.
On the ice last night, the Boston Bruins managed to pull out a very hard fought 3-2 win on the back of Tim Thomas, who stopped 52 of 54 shots. The Flyers thrived off the emotion from the national anthem by jumping out to an early two-goal led thanks to James Van Riemsdyk. A balance Boston attack, led by Brad Marchand and Chris Kelly, paced the Bruins back to a tie game.
With two games in the bag and two more wins required to advance, it appears that the Bruins know how to solve the Flyers, but have they overcome the monumental upset from last season or is it still looming in the back of their mind?
On a night where two giants were expected to make good quality comebacks in their respective series comebacks just weren’t in the hockey godsâ€™ cards. Both the Washington Capitals and the Detroit Red Wings find themselves down in a hole trailing 2-0 after two games played with Washington losing both games in their own building.
If the old saying of â€œYouâ€™re never in trouble in the playoffs until you lose at homeâ€ is true then Washington is really up the creek without a paddle. What is happening to the Capitals? Is it the Guy Boucher 1-3-1 adaptation of the trap? Is it Tampaâ€™s relentless work on the forecheck, or is it the spectacular veteran goaltending from Dwayne Roloson? Could be the almost perfect playoff PP of the Lightning. Iâ€™d argue that itâ€™s a combination of all four things coming together at just the right time for Guy Boucherâ€™s men. Not to mention the play of Marty St. Louis who currently stands 2nd playoff scoring. His main partner in crime isnâ€™t Steven Stamkos who, although improved, still hasnâ€™t matched his regular season heights. No, that mantle goes to Vincent Lecavalier, their captain who proved very captain like last night scoring the OT game winner. Washington is indeed controlling the play for most of those two games but does so with a distinct individualistic taste. There are not going hard to the net and their stars are trying to do too much, but most importantly, they are not winning puck battles and playing like last yearâ€™s Capitals. We all know where that got them.
Donâ€™t look now but the Sharks are now 6-1 in their last seven playoff games against the Red Wings. What other team can ever claim such dominance? It might be true that all their wins were 1 goal games, but that speaks volumes for San Joseâ€™s willingness to win. This may be a very even matchup, but the Sharks are finding ways to win. Tale of the tape â€“ crowding the crease. Joe Thornton and other grey sea creatures sprayed Jimmy Howard with so much snow he might end up with a fever after this one. An almost perfect game by the Sharks special teams killing off 5 Detroit powerplays before giving up a PP goal and scoring one themselves courtesy of our very own Ian White. Same as with Luongo and the Blackhawks one could say that the Sharks are in Howardâ€™s head now. The most surprising thing for me is the turnaround of Joe Thornton. Heâ€™s been a beast all these years but never really played playoff and Cup winning hockey until this year. Backchecking, playing a good physical game this might not be a 100 point plus Joe Thornton but is the kind of Joe Thornton that has 6 points in his last 6 playoff games and could very well lift the Stanley Cup.
Onto your mashup with Greg
If yesterday’sÂ 7-3 routing of the Philadelphia Flyers is any indication, the Boston Bruins have been uncaged from their former,Â low scoring self. The Bruins team that defeated the Flyers yesterday after was a much different one that slipped out of a relatively low scoring first round series with the Montreal Canadiens. Although the personnel is the same, the Bruins have taken on a different attitude with more ‘swagger’ as they look to capitalize after narrowly advancing past the opening round.
David Krejci and Brad Marchand each scored two goals, while Nathan Horton, Mark Recchi and Gregory Campbell all added a marker. It wasn’t an issue in the first round, but Peter Laviolette is now questioning his goaltender and whether the Flyers can rely on a three-headed goaltending rotation to guide them all the way back to the Stanley Cup finals. After appointing Brian Boucher as his starter prior to the series, Laviolette opted for Sergei Bobrovsky midway through the game.
Neither team has a clear advantage over its opposition, but the Bruins showed signs of pulling away with a more balanced lineup, and more importantly, stability in net with Tim Thomas.
Along with the beginning of the second round of the playoff, the excitement in Leaf land was also brimming for the start of the World Championships in Slovakia. Canada had their first taste of tournament action in a 4-1 victory over the Belarussians, who are captained by Mikhail Grabovski. In the win, all three goal scorers (Eberle with two, Jeff Skinner, John Tavares) are under the age of 20, with the youngest being 18-year old Skinner. Judging from the offensive output displayed by these three youngsters, the Canadians will rely on youthful enthusiasm and speed to overpower their opposition. From a Leafs perspective, James Reimer was solid in his Team Canada debut. He was postionally sound and was very composed in net. What was a refreshing change in his game is his improvement on rebound control. He has clearly corrected some of his weaknesses displayed earlier this season and made a concerted effort to return in top form this fall.
Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn were both steady on the backend, each logging top four minutes. Phaneuf took three minor penalties, but compensated for his undiscipline by unleashing a cannon from the blueline, which eventually led to Jordan Eberles second goal.
Canada is back in action on Sunday against Cristobal Huet and Team France.
The second round of the playoffs got off to a relatively quiet start, with only one game on the docket. Although it’s far too early to determine whether the second round will be as exciting in the first, it is unlikely than anything can top the level of excitement that was on display night in and night out through the opening round.
What we as fans should come to expect from the second round is a hard hitting, tight checking, defensive style. As evidenced from last night’s game between Nashville and Vancouver, the battle between Pekka Rinne and Roberto Luongo highlighted what was otherwise a relatively uneventful contest.
Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals host division rival Tampa Bay Lightning at the Verizon Center tonight. It will be interesting to see how the Capitals defense reacts to the Lightning attack, led by Hart Trophy nominee Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos. The Caps only had to limit Marian Gaborik, who struggled for the Rangers, and Brandon Dubinsky. It will be up to Mike Green to step up as a leader on the backend and perform when it matters most.
There was a lot at stake last night, with two game sevens on the docket, and several second round berths still up for grabs. With four teams already securing spots in the conference semi-finals, the anticipation leading into last nightâ€™s game was even greater because of the uncertainty.
The Vancouver Canucks came to play in Game 7. Alex Burrows scored early inthe first period to give the Canucks an early one goal lead, which they held well into the third period. Two players on particular – Robero Luongo and Ryan Kesler competed hard and both had strong performances. Kesler was all over the ice and getting to the dirty areas to generate scoring chances. Although he wasn’t as flashy as goaltending counterpart Corey Crawford, Luongo was poised between the pipes and avoided his trend of crumbling under pressure. Unlike the previous three games of the series (all Vancouver losses), the Canucks managed to bring a physical element to the game, out hitting the Blackhawks 37-14 midway through the third.
After last night’s outcome, the second round of the Western Conference playoff picture has been determined. The Eastern Conference wraps up tonight, with Game 7 of the Boston/Montreal and Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay series.
What are your thoughts on the matchups on the West and who which teams will win tonight in the East?
After watching the playoffs from the sidelines for the past few seasons, the Lightning have made the most of their first post season appearance since 2007. Tampa Bay looked shaky in the first two games of the series, but has settled into the series and have given the Penguins all they can handle.
Head coach Guy Boucher, one of the most promising young coaches in recent memory, has had a calming influence on his team. He has prepared his team to overcome back-to-back elimination games and fought back to tie the series at three games apiece. Led by Steve Downie’s game winner and a series of terrific saves from veteran backstopper Dwayne Rolson, the Lighting earned a 4-2 win to force game 7.
With all of their momentum of their side, Tampa looks to secure a spot in the second round when they visit the Pens in a do-or die situation on Wednesday.
It was an interesting turn of events in Chicago – to say the least – prior to Game 6 of Vancouver’s match up with the Blackhawks. With all eyes directed towards the goaltending situation, the answer to the question as to whether or not Roberto Luongo would start was revealed when backup goalie Cory Schneider was the first Canuck to take to the ice. After taking the majority of shots in the warmup while Luongo casually leaned against the boards, it became clear that Alain Vigneault and staff were taking a big risk in not standing by their million dollar man.
The experiment didn’t last long. Luongo came in after Schneider appeared to have injured his right leg from overextension on an attempt to stop Blackhawk forward Michael Frolik’s tying penalty shot goal in the third period of last night’s game. A backhand shot in tight over the right pad of curiously positioned Luongo by Chicago rookie Ben Smith then lifted the Hawks to a thrilling 4-3 OT win. The Hawks became only the third team to force a game 7 after being down 3-to-0 in a series.
The most frustrating part of last night’s loss for the Canucks is that they played remarkably better than the previous two games in which they were outscored by a 12-2 mark. If the Blackhawks manage to pull this off, the status of the future of President’s Trophy winners, most notably in net and that of Roberto Luongo, will be in serious doubt. It’s tough to call into question the core of a team that’s such a regular season juggernaut, but if the Canucks can’t get it done when it matters with this group this year (with a 3-0 lead in this series to boot), when can they?
Nathan Horton’s goal at 9:03 of the second overtime period capped off what was arguably the most exciting contest of the playoffs through the opening week-and-a-half. Both teams traded quality scoring chances throughout the game, but the goaltending battle between Tim Thomas and Carey Price highlighted an intense, as-tight-as-it-gets battle. In particular, the Canadiens’ darkhorse up front is David Deharnais, a 5-foot-8 speedster who created several excellent scores chances for his team and showed strong outside speed. After winning the first two games of the series, Montreal now heads back home down 3-2 with all the momentum shifted Boston’s way. Only time will tell if the Canadiens can thrive with the pressure on and force a game seven back in Beantown.
In afternoon action, the Capitals, as expected, pulled out a 3-1 win over the Rangers and became the second team (following the Red Wings) to secure a birth in the second round. Washington was firing on all cylinders, with a balanced attack and stable presence in net fromÂ ripe 20-year-old Michal Neuvirth. While it’s important to note that this was the Caps’ first post-lockout playoff series win in less than seven games, one series is three less than the goal for a Capitals team who won’t settle for anything short of the Cup and must do some serious damage to buck their post-season underachievers label. Post-lockout, the Capitals have not beat a team other than the Rangers in the playoffs.
Links after the jump.
It was another exciting night on the ice yesterday, with both games being decided in extra minutes. The Sabres lit up the Flyers’ Brian Boucher in the first period with three unanswered goals scored by Tyler Ennis, Thomas Vanek and Marc Andre Gragnani, forcing the Flyers to switch to their third goalie of the series in Michael Leighton. The Flyers mounted an impressive comeback to even the score at three late in the third, but the speedy Ennis wrapped up the game for Buffalo with his second of the contest and third point of the playoffs. It’s safe to say that most people wouldn’t have projected Buffalo to have a 3-2 series lead, with an opportunity to close out the series at home for game six. It’s not over but the Flyers continue to receive the painful reminder that playoff success hinges on strong, timely goaltending.
Despite the loss, the Ducks grabbed all the attention from last night’s game after Bobby Ryan scored an outstanding goal by undressingÂ a stickless David Legwand (x2) and beating Pekka Rinne up high on the back hand. Ryan’s goal is, without question, a strong goal of the year candidate. He could not be able to pull that off nine times out of 10. Jerred Smithson scored the overtime winner for Nashville to lift them to a 3-2 series lead. It was the Predators first victory in a game five in franchise history and the first time that the team has won a playoff game in overtime.
Links after the jump.
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After scoring a combined 12 goals in the first three games of the series, the Bruins and Canadiens exploded with a nine-goal output in Boston’s 5-4 win last night. A two-goal performance by Michael Ryder, including the overtime winner, along with a balanced Boston attack helped theÂ black and yellow crawl back from a second period deficit to defeat les Habitants and even the series with back-to-back wins in the Bell Centre.
On the west coast, the Canucks had a defensive meltdown, allowing three goals in the opening frame and four through the first half of the game. Roberto Luongo surrendered four goals on 12 shots before getting the yank, in favour of backup Cory Schnieder, who started the second period. Marian Hossa sniped a pair of goals on Luongo, including a breakway marker late in the first. Duncan Keith silenced the Canucks Army in attendance at the Rogers Arena withÂ a four-point performance from the backend.
Two series that looked all but in the bag are now game on as Canada’s remaining teams are anything but safe.
Links after the jump.
Going down by three goals heading into the third period of a hockey goal is usually the surefire recipe for failure. Not on this night. Similar to the San Jose/Los Angeles bout on Tuesday, a big lead seemingly blew away in the wind as the Capitals fought back to tie the game 3-3 with the Rangers to force overtime.
The Capitals had to be more than a little anxious given their recently rocky playoff history but this comeback and the character it exemplified could be a crowning moment for the Capitals in their quest to get over the post-season hump.
The first week of the NHL playoffs has been filled with several exciting showcases, but there is nothing better than witnessing the heart and soul exuded by players every shift in a game that goes to multiple overtime periods. Last night we were lucky enough to witness two double OT affairs unfolding simultaneously on different networks; the first time two games have lasted that long on the same night since 2003.
Links after the jump
Just when they thought they had overcome their woes against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Vancouver Canucks received a 7-2 butt kicking and suddenly don’t feel so comfortable with a 3-1 lead in the series. History indicates that teams rarely come back to win a series after being down by two games, but weirder things have happened (think Philly vs. Boston last spring).
David Bolland reinforced his former status as a playoff warrior, with a goal and three assists on the night, along with timely face-off wins and strong defensive play. If the Hawks are able to continue to expose Roberto Luongo’s weaknesses and take some confidence from last night into game 5 on Thursday, they could make a series of this yet. Especially if they can get the Canucks rattled, off their game and continuing to want to punch Stalberg in his perfect complexion.
Links after the jump.
It appears that the Vancouver Canucks have solved the Chicago Blackhawks – who are sorely missing the offensive depth and Byfuglien factor of last season’s Championship roster – and put an end to the ‘Blackhawk curse’ experienced by the organization for the better part of the last three seasons.
A late goal by Mikael Samuelsson sealed the deal and now puts the Canucks up 3-0 in the series with a chance to finish off the Blackhawks on Tuesday in Chicago. Heading into the post season people around the hockey world felt that Vancouver would have the ability to make it all the way to the finals if they can overcome the Hawks.
There are still 13 more wins needed to hoist the silver, but the President’s Trophy winners definitely still hold front runner status after a dominant first round performance.
Links after the jump.
Photo Credit: Frank Gunn/Associated Press
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, the LeafsÂ aren’t participating in the post season for the sixth consecutive season, but the playoffs began with Vancouver, Washington and Detroit getting the starts they were expecting while Nashville and Pittsburgh took the game one edge in the 4 v. 5 matchups.
Let’s hope tonight’s action onlyÂ buildsÂ on yesterday’s excitement. There are three games on the docket, with Montreal/Boston, Buffalo/Philadelphia and Los Angeles/San Jose getting underway tonight. What game are you most looking forward to watching?
As far as the Leafs’ post-season goes, thirteen Leafs will represent their respective nations at the World Hockey Championships in Slovakia later this month. Carl Gunnarsson will wear the Three Crowns for Sweden while the Marlies’ Marcel Mueller and Korbinian Holzer will feature for Team Germany. After news Mike Brown will represent Team USA, another pleasantly surprising addition has been in announced in the Marlies’ 20-year-old defenceman Jake Gardiner, who in his ten games with the team to close out the season impressed observers with his speed and puck skills.
With Phaneuf, Schenn, MacArthur and Reimer (Canada), Mikhail Grabovski (Belarus), Nikolai Kulemin (Russia), and Juraj Mikus (Slovakia) also committed, that takes the Leaf count to 13. It’s not the type of tournament they would ideally be playing in at this time of year but with quite a strong Leaf contingent, there’s worse consolation prizes.
Photo Credit: Mark Blinch/Reuters
In his annual end-of-season media address, Brian Burke touched on a number of topics from this past season and discussed the game plan going forward asÂ Leafs managementÂ prepares for what should be a busy summer on the transaction front.
Burke opened yesterday’s press conference by highlighting the team’s bright spots, most notably the bounceback performance of Dion Phaneuf after suffering a career threatening leg injury in mid-November. Burke also praised Phil Kessel for his commitment to becoming a ’200-foot player’ and involving himself in all situations, both offensive and defensive. While it’s clear that he still has room for improvement in his consistency, Kessel made major strides in his second go-around as a Leaf, scoring 32 goals and 32 assists for 64 points, while playing in all 82 games.
Photo Credit: MapleLeafs.com
The Leafs second half surge was in large partÂ the result of unexpected play from several Toronto Marlie callups in James Reimer, Keith Aulie, Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb. Looking to take his first step towards graduation, Joe Colborne has been recalled from the farm while he was in the midst of an impressive 18-game stint with the Marlies, scoring eight goals and adding seven assists. If Colborne manages to perform half as good as he did in his debut with the Marlies – a two-goal performance – the Leafs would be ecstatic. Expectations in check, it’s a one-game wetting of the feet that we shouldn’t read too far into either way.
Same goes for 23-year old college senior Matt Frattin, who signed a two-year entry level contract with the Leafs on Friday and will join Colborne in making his Leafs and NHL debut. The product of North Dakota won’t play a top six role, but will form an intriguing third line alongside Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri.
Photo Credit: The Canadian Press via Marlies.ca
It was a relatively uneventful off day for the Leafs, with the only noteworthy news being the report from AM640 that J.S. Giguere will undergo a sports hernia surgery this summer. The teamÂ is back onÂ the ice todayÂ to prepare for tomorrow’s game when theyÂ play host to the Montreal Canadiens.Â Just like the Leafs final gameÂ one year ago, they will be playing for pride and would like nothing more than to finish off their season series with Montreal by defeating their original six rivals in front of theÂ hometown fans at the Air Canada Centre.
There are only tenÂ returningÂ Leaf players from the team that defeated MontrealÂ 4-3 in overtime onÂ April 10th ofÂ last year. Among those players includes a strongÂ trioÂ of defenseman in Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek. Up front,Â Tyler Bozak,Â Tim Brent, Mikhail Grabovski, Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin and Fredrik Sjostrom were all members of last year’s team. One key player in last season’s finale against the Canadiens was Christian Hanson, who scored two goals and added an assist in the win. Fellow Marlies teammate and recently acquired centre Joe Colborne is expected to be recalled by the Leafs prior to the game, so he can get a taste of NHL action before heading into the off season.
Colborne has had an impressive stint since joining the Marlies, exhibiting a real scoring touch with eight goals, seven assists and 15 points in 19 games. If Leafs brass decides to bring him up, he could be sampled in various spots in the lineup, perhaps spending some time centering Kessel or Marlie teammate Nazem Kadri. It should be a nice taste of NHL action at the very least and at most his first step in making the case for full-time NHL duty as early as this fall.
Photo Credit: Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images
Despite a late third period rally with quick goals by Phil Kessel and linemate Tyler Bozak, the Leafs weren’t able to mount a comeback over the Devils in their final road game of the season. The Leafs looked a team understandably disheartened by the realization they were no longer playing meaningful hockey. Hopefully the final game against an arch rival on Saturday provides a better send off in front of the home crowd.
James Reimer had a strong start to the night, with several impressive stops through the opening frame, but appeared to show signs of fatigue after surrendering three straight goals, including aÂ snipe byÂ Ilya Kovalchuk on the powerplay. Reimer was replaced by Giguere to open the third period, who fared much better in his first appearance in several weeks.
As the Leafs prepare for their final game of the regular season on Saturday against Montreal, Ron Wilson and the rest of the coaching staff will evaluate the roster and likely recall a forward from the Toronto Marlies. All signs point to Joe Colborne, who wasÂ expected toÂ replace Armstrong in the lineup after he went down toÂ injury, but was sidelined with a head injury of his own. It will be an excellent stage to audition for a full time spot on the Leafs next season.
The Marlies will get a new arrival of their own in near-50-goal-man Greg McKegg after the elimination of his Erie Otters from the OHL playoffs was followed quickly by a three year entry level contract with the Maple Leafs. McKegg is eligible to play out the season in the AHL given his junior season is finished but as an 18-year-old he cannot play there until the same juncture next season.
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