Both my second year of university and the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are now in the books. Even though I can’t say the same for my exams, I can’t complain at all about the action we saw in round one. There were nine overtime games, three game sevens, and the Sens got a good old-fashioned ass whooping. There were some great performances and some unlikely heroes, and also some disappointments. To recap the first round, I have put together a list of the “Top 10 Ups” and the “Top 10 Downs” from round one.
Top 10 Ups
10. Owen Nolan and Cujo: The Flames lasted a lot longer than most expected in the first round. This was a great series and both teams were equally deserving of a round two birth. Iginla and Phaneuf carried the team as expected but an unlikely pair of former Leafs played crucial roles in keeping the Flames alive. Owen Nolan had two game winners and recorded points on the three final goals in a crucial Game 3 comeback. Cujo came in to relieve Kiprusoff in the same game and stopped all 22 shots he faced. What awesome and unexpected performances by two former Leafs (obviously).
9. Jeremy Roenick: This guy has had nine concussions and has no real reason to be seriously risking his health by busting his ass on every shift. It just shows how some players have a true passion for the game and JR played with some serious heart in the first round. He also chipped in with some timely goals. I would love to see JR hoist that cup. He’s always been a “love him or hate him” type, but I definitely love him.
8. Daniel Briere and Mike Richards: What a tandem these guys were in the first round. After a relatively quiet regular season, Briere exploded out of the gate. He played a big role in each of the Flyers four victories and is the current playoff scoring leader. He sure won back the fans in Philly. I watched Richards play a lot in junior, especially with Team Canada, but I hadn’t really had the chance to watch him play much in the last couple of years. Richards was amazing to watch in the first round. He did it all at both ends of the ice. Now I understand his huge contract.
7. Stephane Robidas: Robidas has already received a few shout-outs on the ODC but you can’t say enough about his performance in the first round. After taking a puck in the face and breaking his nose, Robidas put on the full cage for Game 6 and played like a champ. Not only was he logging serious minutes but he scored the game tying goal early in the third and then promptly did all the work on the winning goal that came later the same shift. With injuries on the blueline, the Stars needed someone to step up and fill the void left by Zubov and they got all of that and more from Robidas. What a series for the Stars.
6. Phil Kessel: Kessel already got a shout-out in Gary Roberts Wednesday but once again, some performances can’t go unmentioned. He turned a lot of heads in the first round and clearly deserves to be regarded as one of the game’s best young talents.
5. Jose Theodore: He’s back. After seemingly taking a few years off following his MVP season in 2001-2002, Theodore has clearly found his groove in Colorado. Key off-season acquisitions, a great young group of forwards, and some timely blasts from the past additions at the deadline certainly help, but as we’ve seen many times, teams don’t win in the playoffs without solid goaltending. Theodore was stellar in round one. I can’t wait to watch the Wings-Avs series. It’s going to be a classic.
4. Alex Kovalev: It’s truly a shame that Kovalev doesn’t try on a more regular basis. He has shown moments of brilliance throughout his career and has proven that he is one of the most skilled players in the world…when he wants to be. Right now he’s bringing it all to the table and he has been amazing to watch.
3. The Caps’ Young Guns: All the talk in Washington is about Ovechkin (and deservedly so). But if the first round proved anything, it’s that there are a lot of special young players on that Washington team. Alex Semin’s poise and puck control in traffic was incredible, and Nicklas Backstrom stuck it to all his critics who say he’s “too soft”. Semin and Backstrom were amazing in the first round. If you didn’t see this insane passing play in game six, check it out. Believe it or not, it doesn’t stop there. Mike Green is one of the most offensively gifted defensemen the game has seen in years. But he also kills penalties! He’s a great skater, has incredible vision, confidence, and patience on the ice, and is well on his way to becoming a Norris Trophy candidate in the near future. On top of everything, they seem to have found a goalie for the future. This team is going to be scary.
2. Chris Osgood: I am officially adding him to my list of the league’s most underrated players. Osgood has been incredibly solid all year and in the playoffs and I don’t buy any of this talk about the Wings goaltending problems. Osgood might be old but he continues to prove he can play with the best of them in crunch time. The Avs series is going to bring out the best in him. So, everyone stop talking about Detroit’s goaltending problems when they don’t have any.
1. Tom Renney: What a job Renney has done bringing this Rangers team together. They certainly have a ton of individual talent, but more importantly, they are an incredible team. They are one of the best defensive teams in the league, they wear teams down, and Sean Avery is just pissing everyone off. The Penguins will be a really tough test, but I will not be the least bit surprised if the Rangers end up winning the East.
Top 10 Downs
10. Marian Gaborik: It was obvious that the Wild were going to rely heavily on their defense and special teams to keep them in this series. But in order to have a chance, they needed a substantial offensive contribution from Gaborik to complement their defensive consistency. There were many chances throughout the series for Gaborik to come up big, including three overtime games, but the spark never came. Minnesota definitely pumped a lot of shots at Jose Theodore, and no one can take anything away from the way the Avs played throughout the series, but it was definitely a disappointing performance from one of the game’s most exciting offensive threats and likely prevented this series from being a very different story.
9. The Ottawa Senators: This is a different type of disappointment because I am definitely pleased that Pittsburgh made fools of the Sens and got some redemption from last year’s playoffs. From the perspective of a Senators fan, there has to be obvious disappointment. In a way, the Sens had nothing to lose going into the playoffs because of key late season injuries and the fact that the team was such a visible mess. Heatley and Spezza are two of the most talented players in the world and they could have taken it upon themselves to prevent total embarrassment. Over the course of the four games, they combined for zero goals, two assists, and were minus nine. Besides a small glimpse of hope in game two, Ottawa seemed completely out of sync and disorganized. Maybe Heatley and Spezza just wanted to go home early and play for Team Canada.
8. Numbers on the front of jerseys: What is this, football? There are a lot of things the NHL could learn from leagues like the NFL and the NBA, but who decided to put numbers on the crest of some of the new jerseys? I know this isn’t particularly relevant to the playoffs, but get rid of the numbers on the front of the jerseys!
7. Washington Capitals losing: I watched almost every minute of this series and it was some of the most entertaining hockey I have seen in a long time. It was definitely fitting that this series went to overtime in game seven and each team was equally deserving of winning. From the league’s perspective, however, it is extremely unfortunate that the Caps did not pull through. A Washington victory would have set up a Pittsburgh-Washington match-up that would have had more “league saving” potential than we’ve seen in a long time. Even though you wouldn’t know it based on the energy in the buildings, hockey continues to struggle in the U.S. and a Crosby-Ovechkin series would turn on a lot of TV’s. The NHL is in desperate need of an exciting, attention-grabbing match-up and it’s too bad that the Caps came up just one goal short. The good news is that both the Caps and Pens are incredible young teams and there will be plenty more similar opportunities in the near future.
6. MLSE: The media nonsense surrounding Brian Burke and the Leafs’ vacant GM position has been completely ridiculous. Without any basis whatsoever, the Toronto media turned Burke into the leading candidate for the job. It took a few repetitive press conferences and talks of a contract extension with the Ducks to quiet down the garbage in the media. I guess there’s nothing better to talk about these days in Toronto.
5. The Ducks: Well, that was unexpected. Dallas looked to be going in the wrong direction heading into the playoffs and the Ducks seemed to be just getting it together. The Stars dominated almost all aspects of this series and sent the defending champs home early. Dallas looks amazing right now and I think they have a great shot of taking down San Jose in round two.
4. Officiating inconsistency: The game is called properly in the first period, calls in the second depend heavily on the situation in the game, almost everything is let go in the third, and only plays that prevent realistic scoring opportunities are called in overtime. I understand the idea of “letting them play” in the third period and overtime, but the officiating throughout the playoffs had been incredibly inconsistent. Tom Poti’s tripping penalty that led to the Flyers’ goal in overtime of game seven was a weak make-up call for a missed trip earlier in the overtime. If you’re going to call it, then call it. If not, then let it go. But don’t leave the players guessing when there’s so much on the line.
3. Sean Avery: What he did in Brodeur’s face was completely unsportsmanlike. The league dealt with the situation appropriately.
2. Sean Avery’s critics: In round one, Avery accomplished exactly what he set out to do and more. His responsibility was to throw the best goalie in the world off his game and he did so to perfection. The league adjusted the rulebook to prevent the specific conduct Avery displayed (and got away with) in Brodeur’s crease. Some have said that Avery is a jerk, but he’s also very clever. He threw off the best goalie in the game, changed the rulebook, and he’s averaging a point a game in the playoffs! On top of all that, he is getting all of the attention in the media heading into a round two series with the Pens. Even if you hate him, you have to give the guy some credit.
1. Martin Brodeur: There is no question that Marty Brodeur is one of the best goalies of all time. He has done it all and won it all. In round one, however, Brodeur showed some serious weakness. He started off with a shaky game one and then he let Avery get to him. Regardless of what Avery was doing or saying, as a world-class goaltender you can’t let a guy get to you in the playoffs. Avery got to Brodeur, who wasn’t ever himself in the series. He let his teammates down and the Devils never stood a chance.
This article has been submitted by Ian Cass.