NHL Playoffs: Week One Review



Upsets in the making: In both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference, the two teams most widely expected to make the finals are on the brink of elimination. 10 of 16 nhl. com analysts picked the Pittsburgh Penguins to not only beat the Philadelphia Flyers in round one, but to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals. Meanwhile, six of 16 analysts picked the Vancouver Canucks to represent the West. Now both teams are just one win away from being swept by the Flyers and L.A. Kings, respectively – hardly something senior analyst E.J. Hradek and company saw coming.

For the Penguins, their struggles can be seen all over the ice. They’ve given up an average of just under seven goals a game, and have allowed six power-play goals and three shorthanded goals during that span. Perhaps most troubling is the poor play of regular-season MVP shoe-in Ev-geni Malkin (just four assists on the Penguins’ 12 goals) and star goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (6.34 GAA and .800 save percentage). It’s safe to say that with Philly riding the talents of playoff scor-ing leader Claude Giroux, Fleury and Malkin need to get going in a big way if the Penguins want to avoid a sweep.

In Vancouver, many of the same issues are seen. Unlike Fleury, Canucks goalie Roberto Lu-ongo has already seen his reign as starting goalie for this post-season come to an end, as back-up Corey Schneider replaced the struggling Cana-dian. After two games, Luongo has managed to stop just 89 percent of pucks shot his way, result-ing in an abysmal 3.59 GAA. Meanwhile, Los Angeles is not making it any easier on last year’s Western Conference winners. Goalie Jonathan Quick is playing out of his mind – something I said would be necessary for a Kings upset last week – and offensive stars Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar are finally putting the puck in the net with some frequency. If the city of Vancouver rioted hard after last season’s Stan-ley Cup Final, I’d hate to see what will happen if L.A. can complete the embarrassment of the Canucks and win in four.

Goaltending at its finest: If you’re a fan of goals, then aside from the Pittsburgh-Philadel-phia series, this year’s postseason might not be for you. In the L.A.-Vancouver, New York-Ottawa and especially Boston-Washington series, ex-quisite playoff goaltending has been on display courtesy of Quick, Henrik Lundqvist, Craig Anderson, Tim Thomas and Braden Holtby. No playoffs in recent memory can compare to what we’ve seen so far. Seven goalies have allowed un-der two goals a game, six have stopped over 94 percent of the shots they’ve faced and three have authored shutouts so far.

The best part of the action, in my opinion, has to be the emergence of 22 year-old Braden Holtby and the continued excellence of the 26 year-old Quick. Holtby, Washington’s third string goalie who spent nearly all of the regular season in minor league Hershey, PA, has been thrust into the fire of playoff hockey after top two starters Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun both went down to injury before game 1 even started. The Capitals 2008 fourth round pick has not missed a beat, allowing just one goal in each of the first two games before being cracked for four somewhat unlucky goals in game three.

Meanwhile, Quick has surprised no one, but still, his play is beyond amazing. For a 26 year-old starting for just his third season, he has been simply magnificent, authoring 10 shutouts in the regular season before winning his first three play-off games and allowing an average of just 1.33 goals per game.

Busy Shanahan: Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan has been a busy man this April, thanks to the flaring tempers that come with playoff hockey. An incredible 11 players have had sus-pensions and/or fines handed out to them by Shanahan, including (in order of occurrence) Vancouver’s Byron Bitz, Nashville’s Shea We-ber, Ottawa’s Matt Carkner, New York’s Carl Hagelin, Ottawa’s Zenon Konopka, Pittsburgh’s Craig Adams, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Asham, Pitts-burgh’s James Neal, Chicago’s Andrew Shaw, Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom and Phoneix’s Raffi Torres.

It’s easy to look at all the suspensions and shake your head at the state to which the game has digressed in terms of players’ respect for one another, but on the whole, all these incidences are essentially an indication of the intensity of playoff hockey. You never want to see injuries result from plays like the one Raffi Torres made Tuesday night in Chicago against Marian Hossa, and discipline is certainly necessary. But the im-portant thing to see is that come April and May, NHL teams flat out hate each other after one or two games.

Nicklas Backstrom is not a fighter (he aver-ages less than 50 penalty minutes per 82 games), and yet when Washington fell just short of a comeback at home against the Bruins Monday, the 24 year-old baby-faced Swede cross-checked a Bruin in frustration. Similarly, Carl Hage-lin had just 24 penalty minutes in 64 regular season games for New York, but in the second period of game 2, the situation made him reck-less, resulting in an elbow to the head of Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson and a suspension.

We never like to see players harm other play-ers. The positive that can be taken out of the 11 disciplinary actions handed down by Shanahan though is this: in playoff hockey, no love is ever lost, no player is ever apathetic and fights, dirty play and anger are bound to happen.

Contact Ben Glassman at

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