Today, From the Pressbox:
A playoff progress report-- Key issues and performances that are swaying each series thus far.... But first a commentary on a pressing issue that's bugging me.
Linesmen need to become anonymous; you are not the show
Have you been noticing a trend that is becoming an epidemic in these playoffs? The faceoff, a play that begins each sequence of play following a whistle stoppage, is becoming the stage for on-ice officials to get quite a bit of face time. The number of false starts and removal of centers who are allegedly not setting up properly is on the rise.
I have been watching this trend since Hockey Night In Canada's Don Cherry shed some light on it earlier this season and revisited it in the last few days. The linesmen and referees are tossing players out of the circle at a record pace. Of course, if any player on the ice is not in the right position, the center can be tossed, but most of the time, in these playoffs, the linesmen are faking the drop, not anticipating the stick positioning and sometimes dropping pucks unfairly, adding to the mystery and intrigue around hockey's most basic play.
Puck possession is a huge issue at this time of year and an experienced center will have a higher success rate against a winger who has to substitute for an offending center, thereby gaining an important edge for his team
Fans are noticing this growing issue and the catcalls aimed at the on-ice officials send a simple message. "Hey ref, you aren't the show, so don't help decide the outcome." JUST DROP THE PUCK.
Now on to what's happening between the playoff teams.
Pittsburgh vs. NY Islanders
Series tied 2-2
Pittsburgh drew first blood with an easy 5-0 win, despite the absence of Captain Sidney Crosby. When he dressed for Game 2, the outcome of this series appeared a formality.
Well, someone forgot to send that memo to the upstart Islanders. They shocked the Pens with a 4-3 road win despite two goals by the Pens' captain. One again, Pittsburgh regained a series lead with a heart wrenching 5-4 OT win in Long Island. However, the pesky Islanders rebounded again in game 4, in yet another high-scoring game, 6-4.
The key aspect that must concern the Penguins is the less than stellar play of goalie Marc Andre Fleury, who has been flopping around his crease like a fish (Penguin?) out of water. He did this last year and it cost the Pens an early exit.
This is now a three-game series and the Pens' goalie really needs to buckle down because a repeat performance of last year's playoff failure could lead to series questions in the off-season about his future there.
Montreal vs. Ottawa
Senators lead - 3-1, after four games
Ottawa stunned Montreal with a third period rally to take Game 1, 4-2. The Canadiens responded with a more indicative effort in taking Game 2 by 3-1 score to tie the series. When the scene shifted to the nation's capital, the Sens bombed the Habs in a fight-filled 6-1 win of Game 3 and they followed that up with late game heroics to erase a 2-0 deficit and earned an eventual 3-2 OT win.
Before this series began, there was significant concern around the ordinary play of their goalie Carey Price. Ottawa' s Craig Anderson came into this series with much better numbers but many pundits still ranked Price as the better of these netminders. Well, Price was exposed in the game 3 shellacking and to make matters worse he was even injured late in Game 4, when he left with an apparent groin injury. That meant backup Peter Budaj had to go in for the extra frame. It took Ottawa less than three minutes to take advantage of the cold relief goalie and Kyle Turris pushed the Canadiens to the brink of an early elimination. The Canadiens have been consistently outmuscled in these games and have not found a good answer to combat the heavy going that the post-season usually brings.
Washington vs. NY Rangers
The Capitals lead 2-1 through three games.
Washington opened the series, apparently willing to try beat the Rangers at their own game. A 3-1 win in Game 1 was followed up by a 1-0 OT triumph as the Capitals out-checked and out-defended the Rangers, with New York's own blueprint for success. Strong goaltending by Braden Holtby and just enough offense allowed the Caps to defend their home ice. The Rangers fired their way back into this series with a hard-fought 4-3 win in Game 3.
This series seems primed to be a lengthy one as the home sides have yet to blink. The top players for the Caps, Mike Green have made their marks already, while the Rangers have relied on their depth forwards to spark their lone win.
We expect that playoff veteran Brad Richards and the dynamic Rick Nash will be heard from before this series ends...Ranger fans better hope so, anyway.
Boston vs. Toronto
Bruins lead 2 games to 1.
Boston opened with a pretty convincing 4-1 win against a nervous looking Leafs squad, which was playing the club's first post-season game in nine years. The young Leafs shocked the B's with a 4-2 road win, but the Bruins returned that serve with a 5-2 win in Toronto.
You might have expected plenty of fireworks and physical play between these tough clubs, but it's been a great platform for the team's respective stars to shine. David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton have led the Bruins, while Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and James Van Riemsdyk have paced the Leafs.
The Bruins have looked most poised at times, looking like they really have control of this series, but the Leafs are not being dominated by the B;'s as they have been in the previous two years...note that Toronto fired 48 shots on Tuukka Rask in the Game 3 loss.
Game 4 on Wednesday is very likely going to determine the length of this set as a Bruins win would give them a commanding 3-1 series lead with two home game left. A Leafs win ties the set at twos and further narrows the gap between these Original Six rivals.
Chicago vs. Minnesota
The Hawks lead 3-1
Chicago eked out a 2-1 OT win in a surprisingly competitive opening game, before cruising to a more expected lopsided 5-2 score in Game 2. The Wild did not roll over, though and instead, stunned the President's Trophy (best regular season record) winning team, with a shocking OT triumph in Game 3. That momentum was wiped away in Chicago's 3-0 whitewash in Game 4.
The Wild have earned a bit of respect as they stole a game here, but with the Game 5 in Chicago, most observers would be floored if the Wild extend this series beyond that game. Secondary scoring from Michael Frolik and Brian Bickell (two goals each) have paced the Hawks. Patrick Kane does lead the team with five assists, but neither he nor captain Jonathan Toews have scored...yet. That will change soon.
This appears to be pretty much a stepping stone issue for the Hawks as expected.
Anaheim vs. Detroit
Series tied 2-2
The Ducks opened with a 3-1 win in Game 1. Next the Wings survived a three-goal comeback to beat Anaheim 5-4 in OT. When the clubs moved to Motown for Game 3, Anaheim responded with a dominant 4-0 score. Undaunted, the experienced Wings battled through adversity to earn a second OT win, this time by a 3-2 score. As the scores indicate, the Ducks were quite superior in their wins, but the Wings are still very much in this series because they just haven't gone away. Clearly they aren't fazed by having to play against the second-seeds from Anaheim.
We thought this would be a close set because of the Wings' pedigree and see no reason to doubt that at this stage. It's their magicians, Datsyuk and Zetterberg against Perry and Getzlaf, aided by the depth of the respective clubs in one of the best series so far. Nick Bonino (2 g, 1 a, for the Ducks) and (Damien Brunner (2g, 2a) are two emerging players for their respective clubs, who have already impacted this set.
Vancouver vs. San Jose
San Jose wins series 4-0
The Sharks planted the first seed of doubt with a 3-1 road win in the opener and doubled that pleasure with a 3-2 OT win, with decisive tally coming from former Canuck, Raffi Torres. The Sharks took the heart out of the Canucks with three-goal third period in a 5-2 home ice win in Game 3. Then the Sharks delivered the "coup de grace" by overturning a 3-2 third period deficit and sealing the series sweep in a 4-3 OT win.
It was worth noting that the last two goals read as follows: Pavelski, from Couture and Thornton, followed by Marleau from Thornton and Boyle. In short, the veteran leadership of the Sharks came through while the Sedin Twins failed to score even one goal between them in this series.
Oddly, they may have complicated their goalie situation, leaning on Roberto Luongo, early on, but reverting to Cory Schneider in the closing game. You'll read about these goalies through much of this offseason. One of them should have been dealt a long time ago. They've messed with Vancouver's window of opportunity, I fear.
This series result is not a surprise.
St Louis vs. Los Angeles
Series tied 2-2
After a pair of 2-1 wins (one in OT) the Blues looked like they had a huge leg up on this set, but the Kings won the next two games at their home rink, too. They pulled off a 1-0 win and followed it up with a 4-3 triumph to square this series, which has easily been the most competitive of all series so far.
While the Blues guessed right in settling on Brian Elliott (1.67 gaa and .935 save pct.) in their goal, he's still only been able to equal Jonathan Quick (1.67 and .941) so far.
There have been no surprises among the top scorers and key skaters for either side as the names Steen, Oshie, Williams, Brown and Kopitar have all made an appearance in the goal scoring columns despite the limited number of tallies in this series.
In the end, it will come down to last year's champs and a team that many people think could be this year's winners likely preparing to duke it out for three more games. This should be the series to watch this week...but we expect a couple of twists of fate in the other remaining matchups. That's what always makes the first round of the NHL playoffs so special.
Paul Bruno has been writing about the fantasy sports scene for several years and is an accredited member of the sports media in Toronto for over 20 years. You are invited to send your feedback and you can follow him on Twitter (statsman22).