The only thing worse than one round of postseason hockey for the club you follow is no qualification at all. With the Buffalo Sabres exiting right beside Thomas Vanek when he left Game 2 injured, a lot has happened and I need to spill out my analysis/thoughts. So, I introduce this new feature called 'Thoughts And Musings' , which I'll hope to share weekly to prevent the pen's ink from drying up and creating a means of conversation
We're Going Sweeping, Yeah!
History has been kind to the Montreal Canadiens, but they're in a deep hole now that no NHL club has ever dug itself out of. Winning two series in seven games has resulted in a Conference-Final dismissal for every team that's been there and the previous two, Carolina in 2009 and Minnesota in 2003, were swept without mercy. While this postseason has been remarkably unpredictable, the Canadiens are doing the opposite of what brought them here: outshooting their opposition and making Jaroslav Halak bored. The client has faced 37 shots in the first two matches combined with Philadelphia which is well below what he prefers; the Slovakian is 10-0-1 this year (regular season and playoffs together) when seeing 40 shots or above.
What do you do if you're in Jacques Martin's shoes? They could let the Flyers outshoot them in the first period and see how that goes, but is he actually going to advise it? A quick goal is their preference and then, Halak can start his one-man show while his teammates execute their defensive system. Last year, Carolina was out of gas at this stage and seven years ago, Minnesota was stymied by Jean-Sebastian Giguere. Actually, that's an understatement because Giguere allowed one goal in that four-game series; in the fourth contest to be exact. He earned three consecutive shut-outs prior to finally getting beaten, and Michael Leighton's riding back-to-back clean sheets. Montreal's first period display will decide their fate, as a goal will spark reactions from Les Habitants. The quicker, the better.
He Looks Familiar
Daniel Briere isn't back in Buffalo as a player, visitor, patient or vacationer - got ya. His play, 18 points in 14 postseason games, has mirrored the production he created with the Sabres. You know, the person who recorded 230 points in 225 regular season games and the same individual who collected 34 points in as many playoff matches.
During the past three years in Philadelphia, Briere's consistency and health issues haven't justified the bundle of money he receives on a yearly basis. He hasn't reached the height of the 95-point campaign from 2007 - his first-class ticket to a humongous contract - but his postseason numbers don't lie: he's up to 75 points in 77 games and one of the hottest scorers for the time being. Shifty and able to break free from tight areas with the puck, the 32-year-old is wiping his rear end with the thoughts of all the critics who love to point the finger at his salary. All is forgiven with a Stanley Cup win.
Dave Bolland, who missed 41 regular season games because of back surgery, has really developed quite a nose for agitating in the playoffs. His third line of himself, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd was assigned to shut down the Sedin unit for Vancouver, and they succeeded to the point where Bolland suckered Daniel into meaningless penalties. In the Conference Final, the former London Knight is going toe-to-toe with Joe Thornton's line and tempers are flaring again. No. 19 took a whack at Bolland's wrist in the face-off circle and took a two-minute time-out for his decision.
His line, the best third unit in the league, represents Chicago's incredible depth, building a squad whose quest for power is becoming realized. Defensively responsible, each of these men can score upwards of 20 goals in a healthy campaign - Ladd really outdid himself with this tally in Game 2 - and clean up messes in their own end. The Blackhawks don't waste time, as they reached the round of four in their first postseason appearance in seven years (six seasons because of the lock-out) in 2009, and now have the strength in numbers to go all the way. My hat goes off to head coach Joel Quenneville, the city of Chicago and Marian Hossa who is overdue for a ring - these are the Stanley Cup champions of 2010.