Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
What you saw last night was not, unlike the prior three games, an accident. That was the honest-injun real-deal no-joke Best Team in Hockey.
The Bruins would tell you that they're not sure what happened in those last three games, or give you the identities of those guys on the ice that couldn't hit or shoot or skate for Games 2-4, but they definitely were not the Boston Bruins.
There were, to keep it a little simple, three reasons the Bruins dominated the 'Canes as thoroughly as they did in Game 1's 4-1 win, and they all sprout from No. 1.
(Coming Up: John Franzen turns into Ovechkin; the glory of playoff hate; the Sedins' crushing disappointment; Ryan Getzlaf's(notes) sick game; Evgeni Malkin(notes) proves doubters wrong; and a very upset San Jose Sharks fan meets a piano-playing cat.)
He still looked fairly disinterested until the power play shift that led to Mark Recchi's(notes) opening goal. After that, he hit everything in sight, shot the puck at will and generally helped lock down the defensive zone like any good Norris candidate should.
The Bruins' D followed suit and limited Carolina to 19 shots (!). Also, as someone who watched about 90 percent of the Bruins' games, it's hard to remember a night where Chara played well and the rest of the team didn't follow his example.
Second is the result of the first. The Bruins set a dominant physical tone that the Hurricanes seemed unable to match thanks to roughly one trillion big hits in the first period and a half that sent the Hurricanes scattering any time a big-bodied Bruin forward wandered into a scrum in the corners. The Bruins simply ruled the boards with a despotic ferocity in a way that they had not in the previous three games. And a lot of credit for that has to go to Claude Julien and his extremely prudent decision to move away from soft hands (such as those of the scratched Blake Wheeler(notes)) and toward balled fists (like Shawn Thornton(notes), who sat in the press box in Game 4 in hopes of sparking the offense, but handed Timmy Conboy his lunch in a third-period scrap last night).
A renewed focus like that going into Tuesday is bad news for the Hurricanes' forwards; incidentally, someone should remind the Hurricanes' coaching staff to put out a missing persons report on Eric Staal(notes), who finished a minus-3 and disappeared completely after Chara put him on his wallet twice in the first period.
Third is that, because of the space afforded them by the physical game, the Bruins actually put the puck on net and, what do you know, it went in. They poured 40 shots at a relatively helpless Cam Ward(notes) and the Carolina defense, which blocked 51 shot attempts in the previous three games, only got in the way of five tries, and even then did so half-heartedly. No coincidence, by the way, that the last game in which Phil Kessel(notes) picked up a point (two, actually) was Game 1.
So rattled were the 'Canes, who looked very much the sixth seed, by the Bruins' ability to make relative peace in their own zone through superior firepower, that they resorted to good ol' fashioned guerilla warfare tactics in the latter stages of the game or, to put a finer point on it, cheap-shottery.
Witness Jussi Jokinen's(notes) two-handed slash to the back of Zdeno Chara's ankle late in the second period, or Scott Walker's(notes) third-man-in instigator gloves-off sucker punch on Aaron Ward(notes) in the third (which should, by rights, earn him an alarmingly long suspension) to see just the kind of lame pro wrestling tactics that were employed by the Hurricanes as the game slipped farther and farther from their weak grasp. All that was missing was Tuomo Ruutu(notes) throwing a handful of salt in Patrice Bergeron's(notes) eyes before hitting him with a championship belt.
But regardless of the low-rent sideshow antics in the waning minutes, this was as dominant a victory as the Bruins have churned out in these playoffs, and if they play with roughly the same level of intensity and smashmouth aggression down in Raleigh tomorrow night, there's no way they don't take this series.
(At least this is what I'm telling myself, because I picked Boston to win the Cup.)
What We Learned
(WWL will, for the remainder of the postseason, only cover the teams still playing hockey. Any news of note involving the other teams will be dealt with below in Loserwatch ‘09.)
Anaheim Ducks: Boy did the Ducks look awful in the first period yesterday. Outshot 14-3, and lucky it was still scoreless. So Randy Carlyle juggled his lines and split up Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry(notes), who had combined for four goals and 10 assists before Getzlaf got too sick to continue in Game 4. How'd that work out?
Getzlaf skated most of the second half of the game between wingers Teemu Selanne(notes) and Erik Christensen(notes), while Perry played with rookie Bobby Ryan(notes) and center Petteri Nokelainen(notes). Earlier, Carlyle had flip-flopped second-line center Andrew Ebbett(notes) and Christensen, who had begun the game playing left wing on the fourth line.
I have the key to solving the Ducks' problems though: Cold-Eeze. Get Getzlaf back healthy and the whole series turns back around again. He's been that dominant.
Boston Bruins: Here's something that we, as hockey fans, should want to see more of: The liberal use of the word "hate."
Hate might not have been the right word selection when Bruins netminder Tim Thomas(notes) talked last week about trying to develop an intense rivalry with the Carolina Hurricanes during their Eastern Conference semifinal series. The type of rivalry that isn't inherent like in a series between the Bruins and Canadiens.
But after a night in which these two teams combined for 27 infractions for 83 penalty minutes, including 19 infractions in a chippy third period, maybe hate isn't too strong a word.
"When I say hate, I mean a healthy competition-type of hate, not the terrible hate," explained Thomas. "It's definitely building. Not for me, I'm a goalie. But to have stuff done to you, you want to retaliate, but you can't. That's playoff hockey. That's just hockey, period. You have to leave it in the hands of the referees."
Awesome. After last night, let's hope it's really beginning to boil over into that "terrible hate." If Scott Walker weren't automatically suspended one game, it'd sure be nice to see him go with Shawn Thornton or, if Ward does in fact have a broken orbital bone and can't go tomorrow, Sheriff Shane Hnidy(notes).
Carolina Hurricanes: Watch, now, as Jussi Jokinen lumberjacks Zdeno Chara in the ankle and then accuses him of diving. Classy move.
The only moment of tension: and it was brief: in the locker room came when Jussi Jokinen was asked by a Boston area reporter about the injury to Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara in the last half-minute of the second period. Chara, hit on the back of the foot by Jokinen's stick, dropped to the ice in apparent agony and was helped to the bench as Boston fans booed.
Chara returned to play in the third period and was one of the game's three stars.
"You saw what happened," Jokinen said. "He laid there five minutes and played the next shift."
As for Chara, he said little about the play, noting, "We're going to let the league and referees do comments on that."
What Mr. Jokinen fails to note, of course, is that there was a full intermission between Chara's shifts and he wasn't even on the bench for the start of the third period. But yeah, other than that, Chara's a big faker. Emphasis on "big" and all that lolol. And just when I was starting to like Jokinen.
Chicago Blackhawks: Obviously the guy that had the biggest impact on Saturday's game was the guy that scored twice, Dustin Byfuglien(notes). And really, he's been the best player on the ice this series. There was a brilliant fanpost over at Second City Hockey (I can't link to the post itself because of its regular use of poop-words), but it perfectly encapsulated everything Byfuglien has become in this series.
Big Buff played most of the regular season with a grin on his face. Now, in the postseason, he's out there every shift grimacing and panting with an ungainly concentration winding up his features, and there is absolutely no mirth in him at all, not even when he scores. Slowly, he's learning what it means to labor. I kind of want to post every single [Gretzky'ing] newspaper article written in the past week that has called him overweight and unmotivated, every single quote from a Vancouver player denying his impact on the game, every single doubtful post from Blackhawks fans. Tonight was worth enduring all of that.
I watched a decent number of Blackhawks games during the regular season and suffered through their curb-stomping of the Calgary Flames in the first round; and while Byfuglien was an occasional threat to take over a shift here and there, he was too wild to have a regular positive influence.
I don't know what's gotten into him in the space of the week and a half or whatever since the Calgary series, but he's completely different now. His game would border on stoicism if it wasn't so, well, mean. Big Buff is getting his hands dirty with a kind of atypical precision and giving the Canucks a hell of a time because of it. The Hawks are coming out of this series despite Jonathan Toews'(notes) understandable, flu-related non-impact, and it's all down to Byfuglien.
Detroit Red Wings: Speaking of dominant performances in the Detroit/Anaheim series, is there any stopping Johan Franzen(notes) at all? On TSN, they said that Franzen has scored 20 goals in his last 25 playoff games, including Detroit's icebreaker today. He's just a machine.
But the Wings don't win without Franzen. There is something about this mule of a man, something about his calm, his strength, his decision-making, his aim, something about his playoff excellence that even has Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle giving him compliments, and Carlyle seems to grouch about everything.
"Pretty good shots," he said of Franzen.
Uh, yeah. Pretty good.
Franzen has only been held off the score sheet once in the postseason, that being (not coincidentally) the Game 3 loss. He has also scored a goal in all but three games: the aforementioned loss to Anaheim, and in back-to-back games against Columbus. In the two games against the Jackets, though, he still had three assists. Since the beginning of last year's playoffs, he's gone 20-11-31 in 25 postseason games, which is ridiculous. If Mike Babcock can convince him that games in October count the same as the games now, Detroit's got another Ovechkin on its hands.
Pittsburgh Penguins: I'm glad all the fretting over whether or not Evgeni Malkin was breaking down like he did in the Cup finals last year can be put to rest. He was playing in top-form once again on Saturday night, and that's two very, very strong games for him in three tries. And obviously Malkin, even at something like 80 percent, is still better than most very good players at 110.
[quote] Malkin had six shots, more than anyone on the team except Fedotenko (and a lot of Fedotenko's 10 shots were set up by No. 71). Fittingly, Malkin also led the Penguins in ice time (22:59), which is something Gonchar: his former landlord: did on a nightly basis.
All the Penguins seemed as inspired as Malkin, in terms of their feelings toward Gonchar, a quiet leader who is revered in the dressing room.
"(Winning) is the only way we can kind of ease his pain," Crosby said.
Malkin's teammates saw the determination in his eyes.
"You know what, there are at least three guys in this series who can take it upon themselves to change a game," said Penguins defenseman Philippe Boucher(notes), who returned to the lineup and acquitted himself nicely in 13 minutes. "Sid came close to ending it, too. It's something to see when one of those guys decides, 'OK, I'm going to end it.' "
On Saturday he not only scored the game-winner (though even Sid Crosby admitted it was a lucky bounce), he also drew the penalty that led to the power play that in turn led to the goal.
Vancouver Canucks: After both had a very good opening series against St. Louis, combining for nine points in four games, and then seven in the first three games of the Chicago series, the Sedins have been pretty much invisible (apparently) for two whole games, scoring just one point between them. So what's the problem?
This was supposed to be the playoffs the Sedin brothers showed they can be difference-makers when it's all on the line.
They were just that in the Vancouver Canucks' opening round series against St. Louis, but in the current series with the Chicago Blackhawks, they haven't been the factor they need to be.
They've had plenty of company among the Canucks forward ranks, but an inability to score even-strength goals against the Blackhawks has Vancouver on the brink of elimination, as they dropped a 4-2 decision in Game 5 on Saturday night to go down 3-2 in the best of seven Western Conference semi-final.
That's right, folks, it's time for Vancouver's annual Blame the Sedins for Everything campaign. And this year, as an added bonus, it's just in time to see the team get bounced from the playoffs and help chase the twins out of town. Daniel only had FIVE shots on Saturday? Boooooo. Henrik only had an assist? What a stiff. I understand that it's important for any major newspaper to alienate its city's best players (works in Boston and New York all the time), but maybe, just maybe, it's because the Sedins are going up against the best D-corps in the playoffs so far? Could be? Perhaps?
Washington Capitals: Really good story on Sergei Fedorov(notes) in Sunday morning's National Post about his importance to the Russian players and game. People forget, I think, that when Fedorov came over to North America, nobody had ever done so. And certainly none that did so in the following few years had the impact on the sport he did.
It has been a long road to this place. Fedorov was the first Russian player to defect to the National Hockey League, in Seattle on a national team trip in 1990; 19 years, one Hart Trophy, three Stanley Cups and one disputed marriage to Anna Kournikova later, he has now lived in the United States for almost as long as he lived in the former Soviet Union. To other Russians, Fedorov is a significant figure.
Just go read the whole thing. It's very good.
(News and notes from some of the teams that couldn't be bothered to make or stay in the playoffs.)
We're No. 4! We're No. 4! ... The Hockey Writers: "Why yes, John Tavares(notes) COULD come to Toronto." ... Apparently no one should want the Coyotes to move. I'm not sure why. ... Real interesting look at the impact of shift length on players. ... Nik Zherdev seems to have broken his hand at the World Championships. ... Matchsticks and Gasoline is reviewing the Flames season. One imagines it will not be extraordinarily effusive in its praise.
Play of the Weekend