A few observations as I fight off the effects of watching Sedin-to-Sedin coverage of Wednesday’s quadruple-overtime opener between Dallas and Vancouver (non-infomercial version).
- If you’re scoring at home, the folks in the MSG Network truck gave us exactly two shots of New York coach Ted Nolan during the first period of Thursday’s Islanders-Sabres telecast. There was almost no mention of his history with Buffalo or his ensuing unofficial banishment from the league.
- With Rick DiPietro cleared to practice, this series really gets under way Saturday. The Sabres may say it doesn’t matter who’s in net, but it makes all the difference.
- The trio of Tim Connolly, Drew Stafford and Adam Mair is probably the most dangerous fourth line in the postseason. It’s almost unfair how deep this Buffalo team is. No team is better equipped to take the free agency hit looming in the offseason.
- You can be too good sometimes. The most dominant shift of the game was pulled off by Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Maxim Afinogenov. They kept nearly constant pressure on the Islanders net for a full minute late in the second period. Trouble was, Roy stayed on the ice too long, and a lazy turnover led to a 2-on-1 and New York’s only goal.
- I already miss the excitement of games from Rexall Place. Even muted by the sound engineers, the electricity of the Edmonton crowds during the playoffs is unmistakable. Only mention that here because the Buffalo fans at HSBC Arena come in a close second.
- Ken Hitchcock belongs behind a bench, and not in a studio.
- Catching up on some light reading, Sharks coach Ron Wilson told the San Jose Mercury News that Scott Hartnell’s hit on Jonathan Cheechoo was a “dangerous play” and that intent to injure, in his eyes, was pretty clear. The view from the other bench: It shouldn’t have been a penalty.
- Personal opinion on the Cheechoo incident: The right call was made on the ice and no further disciplinary action is necessary. When you need multiple looks from a half-dozen angles to determine intent to injure, it’s just not there.
- Wrapping it up: TSN says Cheechoo has a knee sprain and is “very doubtful” for Friday’s rematch: Translated: Rookie Joe Pavelski will be replacing him in the lineup for Game 2.
THIRD STAR OF THE DAY
The last thing Buffalo wanted Thursday was to allow Islanders goalie Wade Dubielewicz to get comfortable in his playoff debut. Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell wouldn’t allow it. Campbell got the scoring started with a laser shot midway through the first period. Campbell kept Dubielewicz busy all night with seven shots, second most on the team. He finished with a career playoff best two goals and an assist.
SECOND STAR OF THE DAY
The Red Wings simply manhandled Calgary Thursday, winning the physical battles and out-shooting the Flames 46-20. In such a one-sided affair it’s hard to single out a clutch performer, but with one backhand flip through Miikka Kiprusoff’s five-hole, Pavel Datsyuk got that 26-game goalless streak off his back. Moments early Kiprusoff had robbed him with a sprawling glove save. Datsyuk insists he wasn’t counting (yeah right), but he has to be relieved to be able to go about his business without all the questions and advice surrounding the streak.
FIRST STAR OF THE DAY
If you saw any highlights of Thursday’s Rangers-Thrashers opener, there’s a good chance you saw the puck on Michael Nylander’s stick. Nylander and linemate Jaromir Jagr were reunited with Marcel Hossa, who had missed the final 16 games of the regular season with a knee injury. The trio was dominant. Nylander touched off the scoring with a backhand, cross-ice pass that hit Jaromir Jagr for a successful one-timer. Nylander added a second assist and later scored a rebound goal that held up as the game-winner. He doesn’t get a ton of credit for it, but Nylander belongs in the best-passer conversation along with Joe Thornton, Marc Savard and Henrik Sedin.
The Calgary Flames never got up off their backsides after facing some early physical play from the Detroit Red Wings. Any number of Flames players qualify for sin-bin occupancy, but the guy I’ll single out is Jarome Iginla, who failed to register a shot, something that happened only three times during the regular season. Not surprisingly, all three of those games came on the road (Calgary’s 13 road wins were fewest among playoff teams) and the Flames were on the losing end of all three decisions. As the lower seed in this series, Calgary does know it has to win away from home, right? Iginla needs to make life harder on Dominik Hasek in Game 2.
Tampa Bay goalie Johan Holmqvist was already having a miserable night when he stopped a Brian Gionta shot with 1:27 left in regulation. What transpired next might have coach John Tortorella contemplating a goalie change for Game 2. It looked like Holmqvist had two options: freeze play for a faceoff or play the puck behind his goal. Instead, as if his catching glove was an air hockey paddle, he pushed the puck toward the right-wing faceoff circle. The Devils recovered possession and sealed the deal with a tic-tac-toe goal from Patrik Elias to Scott Gomez to Gionta. The gaffe put an exclamation point on a poor performance that had already included three soft goals. Tortorella didn’t hesitate to switch goalies in the regular season, and may well turn to Marc Denis before this series is over.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR FRIDAY
Game 2: San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators – There was Alexander Radulov’s eye-opening playoff debut and Patrick Rissmiller’s goat-to-hero transformation in Game 1, but the storyline most likely to carry forward into Friday’s rematch is the injury to Sharks winger Jonathan Cheechoo. The teams have very different opinions on the Scott Hartnell hit that sidelined Cheechoo. An already compelling series just got a lot spicier.
Game 2: Dallas Stars at Vancouver Canucks – How much will these teams have left in the tank after Wednesday’s five-hour series opener? What can Roberto Luongo do as an encore to his 72-save playoff debut? Did ratings on Versus go up or down when they switched to an infomercial in some markets in the waning moments of Game 1? There are no must-win games until you’ve played on home ice, but Dallas desperately needs this one after such an exhausting defeat.
Game 2: Minnesota Wild at Anaheim Ducks – Minnesota allowed the fewest goals in the conference this season and Anaheim was one of six Western teams to surrender fewer than 200 goals. Game 1 went to form as both goalies were outstanding in a 2-1 Ducks win. Niklas Backstrom was superb for Minnesota and Ilya Bryzgalov was sound for Anaheim. Expect another close one as this is one series that could end without either team taking a two-goal lead.
- Jonathan Cheechoo