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Blue Line Buzz: Early Playoff Reactions

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

-There's always something exciting about playoff hockey beginning, but CBC nailed it with their opening montage on Wednesday night prior to Game 1 of the Boston-Toronto series. Get excited folks.

-It's still surprising to see Toronto tying up its series with Boston considering how much better of an all-around team Boston is. The Bruins can cycle the puck, play with a nasty edge that few teams can match and have the league's best defensemen in Zdeno Chara, a man who can singlehandedly shut down the opposition and force them to alter its game plan. (Where's Phil Kessel lining up?)  However, the Leafs rolled to a 4-2 win on Saturday in Game 2 with the series heading back to Toronto on Monday, getting two goals from Joffrey Baratheon Lupul, but it was James van Riemdsyk's Datsykuian-like dangle that may be the goal of the playoffs so far. Off a tremendous feed from Mikhail Grabovski, JVR patiently stick-handled in front of Tuukka Rask and slotted the puck off Rask's skate while falling down.

Odds are Toronto will win maybe a game more in the series, but Boston will need to shut them down soon. The Leafs have been statistically one of the league's luckiest teams all season in terms of getting outshot, committing turnovers and puck possession numbers. Boston boasts one of the strongest groups of centers in the league, not to mention players that should have been Leafs in Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. (All Phil Kessel's fault.) Boston will still win this series, but the media circus in Toronto should the Buds drop Game 3 will be entertaining.

-Don Cherry. Yes, Don Cherry, talked about Evgeni Malkin on Coach's Corner when Geno committed a turnover and coasted over to his bench, prompting Cherry to call Malkin "a lazy hockey player."  This was a close second to him trying to pronounce Roberto Luongo's name when blasting the Canucks' forwards for not supporting their netminder enough. The winning goal on Friday evening by Raffi Torres and the Sharks could not be pinned on Luongo, but he got quite a lot of flack for the game's tying goal with 55 seconds remaining by Patrick Marleau. However, Luongo had little to do with the Canucks failing to convert an empty-net scoring chance.

Corey Schneider is starting in Sunday's Game 3, because goaltending has been the primary issue for Vancouver, not that they've scored three goals in two games and the twins have just an assist apiece.

-You have to love seeing the crazy atmospheres at barns that have not hosted playoff hockey over the last few seasons, namely Nassau Coliseum and Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Being a Devils fan, I've grown accustom to seeing the Coliseum, home of the Islanders, over the years but there was something odd about it being packed to the rafters and hearing it as loud as it was today. The Islanders gave a great effort in the overtime loss, alas Brian Strait can not contain Sidney Crosby, as Sid drew a penalty that led to Chris Kunitz's winning goal.

Say what you want about Crosby, the guy is the hardest-working player on the ice most shifts and one of the best skaters in the NHL. He's also one of the most scrutinized and the cries of diving from his detractors were loud on Twitter when he went down after Strait impeded him. Crosby hasn't missed a step since returning from his broken jaw with two goals and three assists in Games 2 and 3 of that Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

-As predicted, St. Louis' series against Los Angeles has been an ugly, bruising and low-scoring series. Saturday evening's game-winning goal from Slava Voynov was emblematic of the series' grinding play; a wrist shot from about 10 feet away that found its way through six or seven players hovering around Blues' twinetender Brian Elliott.

The series has been an entertaining low-scoring tilt but it's been punctuated by some nasty hits, including Jeff Carter cross-checking Barrett Jackman in the throat. It was a gutless hit by a player who decides when he wishes to assert himself, a player whose petulancy and selfishness resulted in him playing poorly enough in Columbus last season to get exactly what he wanted: a trade. Carter isn't nearly the all-around player Mike Richards is.

-The Sun news conglomerate in Canada certainly has earned a reputation for sensationalistic New York Post styles of reporting, but Friday's cover of Lars Eller bleeding on the ice accompanied by the headline "Sens Draw First Blood" is rather reprehensible. Ottawa's defensemen Eric Gryba was suspended two games for his hit on Eller, but, it's been Eller's teammate Rafael Diaz who's getting run through the media's ringer for his lead pass to Eller. The hit wasn't as bad a Rene Bourque's blatant elbow on Cory Conacher from Sunday's 6-1 drubbing of Montreal, a game that resembled the end of Slap Shot more than a hockey game at points in the third period, complete with a line brawl when the Habs saw the game was out of hand.

Montreal's being outplayed in this series as Ottawa took a 2-1 lead on Sunday. Honestly, it's been an entertaining series with P.K. Subban talking and Erik Karlsson simply playing outstanding hockey.

-Despite NBC Sports being a lightning rod for criticism from American hockey fans, mainly for its use of analysts Pierre McGuire, Keith Jones, Jeremy Roenick and Mike Milbury (wonder if he is signed for 15 years at NBC Sports?), their coverage has been solid. NBC/Comcast's use of the CBC feeds for the Boston-Toronto, Montreal-Ottawa series is a plus as we get to hear Bob Cole and Jim Hughson plus piggybacking the Comcast Bay Area feed for the San Jose-Vancouver series gives fans Randy Hahn and Drew Ramenda calling games, a definite bonus.

-It's too early to tell who this season's playoff breakout stars are going to be, but Montreal's Brendan Gallagher is furthering his reputation as a gritty, all-around player with two goals in the first two games of the series. He's likely in line for a Calder Trophy nod and has been throwing his body around.

Erik Karlsson has five points over three games while Mike Green had a rocket of an overtime winner in Saturday's Game 2 victory over the Rangers, giving the Caps a 2-0 series lead. Ottawa's Marc Methot has three points through three games and Boston's Johnny Boychuk has two goals through two contests heading into Monday's Game 3.

Several of these are not uncommon names to see near the top of the defensemen scoring list, but someone is going to emerge and transcend expectations. This player is not to be overvalued heading into next season's drafts, not that Bryce Salvador of the Devils was on people's radars this season, but the Devils' captain had 14 points in 24 playoff contests last year.

Who's your take to break out in the postseason and enter the collective hockey consciousness?

Questions, comments and suggestions for future articles are welcomed, contact Blue Line Buzz.

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