A few thoughts and observations from Day 3 of action in the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs:
The plan tonight: Watch Sharks-Predators (the non-Versus broadcast), then catch Game 2 of Wild-Ducks. Nice to have games spread out tonight. Last night’s four simultaneous broadcasts reaffirmed one thing: Hockey is the worst channel-surfing sport out there. You really have to watch an entire game – if not an entire series – to follow all the subplots and understand which team is carrying play. That’s reason No. 119 why hockey doesn’t rate well in the United States, where what else is on is every bit as important as what you’re watching.
Surprised to learn that Jonathan Cheechoo took part in the morning skate. Even more surprised to see him in the San Jose lineup. It’s all about gamesmanship in the postseason, so you can bet the Sharks were taking a grave, quiet approach to Cheechoo’s injury hoping the league’s disciplinary arm would take action. The NHL didn’t bite. No suspension for Scott Hartnell.
In related news: The Sharks’ human resources department is disavowing any knowledge of employing Bryan Marchment from 1998-2003.
Ron Wilson starts the gritty Ryane Clowe-Marcel Goc-Steve Bernier line. Sending a message? Not really, This was one of San Jose’s best lines in the final month and a natural matchup against Paul Kariya’s unit. Of course, Clowe has to be separated from a Nashville forward before the opening faceoff.
Nashville kills one San Jose power play in the first period and the Sharks fail to gain the zone during a second abbreviated man-advantage situation. Nashville handed San Jose 10 power plays in Game 2 last year, and the loss turned the series.
For the record: 29 percent of the 55 goals scored in the first two full days of playoff hockey were scored via the power play. Probably too high a percentage for old-school hockey fans, but even purists would have to agree these games have more flow than last year’s first-round penalty parades.
Tough first period for Sharks rookie Marc-Edward Vlasic. The defenseman lost a puck battle with Vernon Fiddler on Nashville’s first goal, then got his pocket picked by Peter Forsberg for the Preds’ second tally. Not rookie mistakes, mind you, just a couple of solid plays by Nashville. Welcome to the playoffs, Pickels.
For the second game in a row, Joe Thornton helps a teammate off the ice. This time it’s Steve Bernier, who lay motionless on the ice for several minutes after taking a hit along the boards from Alexander Radulov. No super-slo-mo replays needed on this one. Radulov earned his game misconduct. Too bad, because he was building off his solid Game 1 effort until he took a run at Bernier from behind.
Amazing how often a 5-on-3 power play can turn momentum to the shorthanded team. Nashville kills nearly a full minute with two men down, then scores on a 2-on-1 after the first penalty expires. Of course, 5-on-3s can work in your favor, too. The Predators get one after Clowe and Goc are sent off and Nashville converts to make it 4-1.
Cooler heads prevail until the final minutes, when Clowe instigates a payback bout with Hartnell. In the ensuing scrum, Clowe has to settle for an undercard bout with Jordin Tootoo while Hartnell squares off with Mike Grier. Six fighting majors are handed out. Should be an interesting Game 3 in San Jose Monday.
Nashville’s penalty kill was the story of this game. The Preds never allowed the Sharks to get comfortable in the attacking zone. Thornton had no time to operate and finished the contest with no shots and two giveaways. How ineffective was San Jose’s power play? The Predators limited their opponents to one shot on five power-play chances.
Anaheim and Minnesota get the rough stuff out of the way early, with Derek Boogaard and George Parros mixing it up after Minnesota’s heavy was sent off for kneeing. (Boogaard was actually called for tripping – but trust me, it was a knee). Thirteen penalties in all in the first period.
The Ducks take a 3-1 lead after Ryan Getzlaf embarrasses Martin Skoula before beating Niklas Backstrom for his first career shorthanded goal. I’ll have to amend my prediction that neither team will lead by more than one goal in this series. New prediction: all one-goal games.
Anaheim wins 3-2. It’s another one-goal game, the fifth straight between these two teams. If you’re scoring at home: Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer combine for 55 minutes of ice time.
THIRD STAR OF THE DAY
I’ve mentioned this before, but it gets harder to believe by the day that Ducks general manager Brian Burke once had to essentially apologize to Anaheim fans for the financially motivated deal that sent Sergei Fedorov to Columbus. One of the assets acquired that day was defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who scored two power-play goals for the home team in Friday’s 3-1 win. He generally takes a backseat offensively to Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer when both are in the lineup, but Friday he was a dominant factor on both ends of the ice.
SECOND STAR OF THE DAY
There are two ways to look at the goal scored by Dallas’ Jeff Halpern in the opening minute of Friday’s Game 2. Defeatists will say it came 24 seconds too late. The reality is that the early lead had to take some pressure off Dallas’ Marty Turco, who fell one save short of winning that epic overtime game 40 hours earlier. Turco went on to make 35 stops to record his first shutout in 23 career playoff games. He’s now stopped 68 of the last 69 shots he’s faced in the series.
FIRST STAR OF THE DAY
Anyone draft J.P. Dumont in their playoff pools? Nashville’s forward scored two goals for his second straight game and gave the Predators solid minutes in all situations, including the aforementioned penalty kill. Dumont’s second goal, a slapper off a 2-on-1 that beat Evgeni Nabokov high on the glove side, turned the game dramatically in Nashville’s favor midway through the second period.
San Jose leaned heavily on its power-play during the regular season, but is now just 1-for-13 with the man advantage in the quarterfinals against the Predators. Joe Thornton failed to get the puck over Ryan Suter’s stick with Tomas Vokoun out of position during the Radulov major and it was Jumbo Joe’s off-target crossing pass to Patrick Marleau that set Dumont on his way to the game-changing shorthanded goal. In a physical series, it’s critical for the Sharks to sort out their special teams problems on their home ice.
Radulov and the Predators dodged a bullet on the ice when they killed off his five-minute major for checking from behind. He may not be so lucky when the league decides on a possible suspension. Unlike Wednesday’s bang-bang, knee-to-knee hit involving Hartnell and Cheechoo, Radulov had time to size up the situation before hitting Bernier. Radulov had to zig-zag to reach Bernier, but still left his feet to deliver the hit despite the fact that Bernier had his back to him and was engaged with another Nashville player. With Steve Sullivan already out, the Predators don’t have the luxury of losing players, particularly when it’s their most dominant forward over the first four periods of this series.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR FRIDAY
Game 2: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators – Pittsburgh needs better efforts from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was shaky early in Game 1, and rookie of the year favorite Evgeni Malkin, who was a no-show with zero shots and just two wins in 18 faceoff attempts Wednesday. After the Game 1 loss Pens coach Michel Therrien hinted that playing Malkin and Sidney Crosby together was a possibility.
Game 2: New York Rangers at Atlanta Thrashers – Goalie change No. 1: Atlanta is going with Johan Hedberg in Game 2 against the Rangers. Playoff first-timer Kari Lehtonen wasn’t terrible in Game 1, but in the playoffs you need that “extra save” and it appears Bob Hartley thinks Hedberg, a veteran of 20 playoff starts with Pittsburgh and Vancouver, is the guy that can get that key stop.
Game 2: Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils – Coach John Tortorella wants a goalie change, too, but in this case he wants the “real” Johan Holmqvist to show up for Game 2 against the Devils. He didn’t think Holmqvist was himself in Game 1, but won’t turn to Marc Denis after the costly Holmqvist turnover late in regulation Thursday.
Game 2: New York Islanders at Buffalo Sabres – Goalie change No. 2 (maybe): Rick DiPietro is close to returning to the Islanders lineup after practicing Friday. Rookie Wade Dubielewicz wasn’t the reason the Islanders lost Game 1. Buffalo’s domination took care of that. But after taking it on the chin as soundly as they did Thursday, the Islanders could use the emotional lift that comes with having “their guy” between the pipes.