Monthly Archives: May 2010

Conference finals breakdown

How does this happen?

The top two seeds – San Jose (No. 1) and Chicago (No. 2) – make it through the first two rounds of the Western Conference playoffs.

The bottom two seeds – Philadelphia (No. 7) and Montreal (No. 8) – remain alive in the Eastern Conference.

Either way, on paper it looks like it’s going to be one lopsided Stanley Cup Final.

Don’t tell that to the Flyers or Canadiens.

Here’s a breakdown and picks for the Western and Eastern Conference finals. Both series begin play today.

Western Conference
No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 2 Chicago

San Jose fans have got to be happy seeing what Joe Thornton did against Detroit. After being limited to just three points in the Sharks’ opening-round win over Colorado, Thornton had three goals and five assists in helping oust the Wings in five games.

Blackhawks sniper Jonathan Toews has thrived. Toews leads Chicago with six goals and 14 assists through 12 games.

However, Marian Hossa has been a huge disappointment this postseason for the Blackhawks, with just two goals in 12 games. He does have eight assists.

Chicago had the edge during the regular season, winning three of the four meetings. However, the Sharks have not seen Blackhawks playoff goalie Antti Niemi. Cristobal Huet started every game against San Jose in the regular season.

Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been solid with a .907 save percentage and a 2.43 goals against average.

An interesting stat: San Jose is 5-1 at home in the playoffs; Chicago is 5-1 on the road.

This is the first time San Jose and Chicago have met in the playoffs.

Pick: San Jose in 6.

Eastern Conference
No. 7 Philadelphia vs. No. 8 Montreal

It’s hard to find two hotter teams in the playoffs.

The Flyers are coming off a historic win in Game 7 over the Boston Bruins, becoming just the third team in the NHL to ever come back and win a best-of-seven series after falling behind 3-0. They also climbed out of a 3-0 deficit in the first period before downing the Bruins, 4-3.

Montreal has played more games than any other team this postseason, needing seven games to defeat Washington and then Pittsburgh. Both Game 7 victories came on the road.

The key in this series will come down to goaltending.

Jaroslav Halak is playing himself into a playoff MVP. He leads with a .933 save percentage. When Halak makes 30 or more saves Montreal is 7-1 and 5-0 when he makes at least 35 saves.

On the other hand, Michael Leighton, who was picked up on waivers by Philadelphia in December, is the man for the Flyers after replacing an injured Brian Boucher. He did win the final two games in the series with Boston, but looked less than impressive in Game 7.

As hot as Halak is, so is his teammate Mike Cammalleri. Cammalleri tied a franchise record with seven goals in a series. He had 12 goals in 14 games.

Pick: Montreal in 6.

Datsyuk, Ericsson playing in Germany

Pavel Datsyuk will play for Russia, while Jonathan Ericsson will play for Sweden at the World Hockey Championships in Germany.

“I want to play hockey,” Datsyuk said. “I’m a hockey player. I love my job and I want to play.”

Jimmy Howard turned down an invitation to play for the United States.

“Everything went well for him this year and there’s no guarantees that it’s all going to go well for him next year,” Mike Babcock said. “But the learning curve he’s been through and the adversity he’s been through will help him be a better goalie. He has to get better like everyone else.”

Babcock feels Lidstrom will return

Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom won’t announce his decision on whether he’ll return to the team for a 19th season for a few more weeks.

His coach, Mike Babcock, is certain he knows the answer.

“Nick will be back,” Babcock said Monday at Joe Louis Arena as team members cleaned out their lockers and had a team photo taken. “He’ll be back. I didn’t just meet him. I just think he’ll be back. I’m not one bit concerned about that. He’s got too much good hockey left in him.”

“I think if he believed we didn’t have a chance to win, he might think differently,” Babcock added. “I think he’s like the rest of us that we’ll be right back knocking on the door.”

Pavel Datsyuk also thinks Lidstrom will be back.

“Nick can play more,” Datsyuk said. “I don’t know if he can play like (Chris) Chelios to 47, but he can play for two years more. He has good shape. He’s professional. For how he played, he’s a top five defenseman in the league.”

However, Lidstrom, a six-time Norris Trophy winner, and his wife have just enrolled their oldest son, Kevin, in a hockey school in Sweden for next fall.

Lidstrom said it was done as a precaution just in case he does decide to retire.

“We had to do it to make sure we’re covered at both ends,” said Lidstrom, who said his son would remain in a school in the metro Detroit if he continues his career with the Wings. “If we’re going back he had to have a place to go.

“It’s going to be a lot of different factors,” Lidstrom added. “Family’s going to be part of the decision. How I feel, motivation.”

Lidstrom made $7.45 million last season and would more than likely take less for another one-year deal, which would give the team some flexibility under the salary cap.

“(The passion) doesn’t go away,” Lidstrom said. “I think you’re always going to have that passion within you, whether you retire or are still playing. You’ve got a feel for the game. You’re going to be watching games. You’re probably going to want to be in games, even though you’re 55 or 60.”

Which is another reason why the Wings’ captain is really going to take sometime to decide so he doesn’t end up regretting it.

“That’s part of it, too,” Lidstrom said. “Even when you’re done playing I’m sure you’re going to have moments where you think you wish you were back there playing again. I talked to former players who retired and the years have gone by and they still sometimes have that urge and competitiveness that they want to play again.”

Lidstrom, who just turned 40, will decide before the first day of free agency, which comes July 1.

“I’m sure that’s what Kenny (Holland) wants, too, to be covered, if I decided to not play,” said Lidstrom, who has four sons with his wife Annika. “I’m not sure if I’ve accomplished everything I wanted. I don’t know if I want to say, got everything out of my system yet. That’s one the factors coming into play as well.”

Lidstrom, a four-time Stanley Cup winner and 11-time All-Star, had a slow start to his season, but picked up his play when the Wings made a push for the playoffs in the second half of the season. He continued his strong play in the playoffs.

If Lidstrom retires, his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility would be 2013 and he would assuredly get in and be lauded as one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history.
As for when he retires Lidstrom said, “I’m sure I’ll be involved with youth hockey when I’m done playing.”

McLellan not happy

Former Red Wings assistant and current San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan didn’t hold back his feelings about his team’s performance in Game 4 of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series with the Wings.

“Shame on them if I have to go in there and talk to them,” said McLellan, who doesn’t address his teams after games until the next day. “We’re all disappointed. We weren’t prepared. We got away from our game. We have some work to do.

“Maybe this spanking we got tonight will wake us up,” McLellan added. “We’re in a hell of a series. We’re not out of the woods by any means.”

Game 5 in the series is Saturday night in San Jose.

“We just have to take what we can from this game into the next game,” said Joe Pavelski, who has not scored a goal these last two games after scoring a pair in each of the first two games.

“We were not the same team tonight than we have been for the last six or seven games,” Dan Boyle said. “It was a combination of they played much harder, they played well you have to give them credit. We did a lot of stupid things that we haven’t done in awhile. We were all responsible for that.”

This was the first game in the series the Wings had an advantage on the power play, going 2-for-8, while San Jose went 1-for-5.
“Who’s going to see that coming,” Boys said. “We just made a lot of stupid mistakes that we hadn’t made in a month or so. We made a lot of dumb mistakes and we paid for it.”

The Sharks also had no answer for Johan Franzen, who had four goals and two assists.

“He came to play,” McLellan said. “He’s a huge man. He worked hard. He shot the puck and it went in the net. He can do that.
That’s something we were aware of.

“We have to give credit to the Red Wings,” McLellan added. “We saw that hurricane. It went through our ears, rattled around in there, but didn’t settle in.”

Red Wing milestones from Game 4

The hat trick by Johan Franzen in the first period was scored in 3:26, the second-fastest three goals by a single player in a Stanley Playoff history. The record is held by Tim Kerr of the Philadelphia Flyers who tallied a hat trick in 3:24, on April 13, 1985 vs. the NY Rangers.

The Red Wings scored five goals in the first period. The last time the Red Wings scored five goals in a single period of a Stanley Cup Playoff game was May 5, 1996 in the first period of an 8-3 victory over St. Louis in Game 2 of the Second Round.

The Red Wings scored five goals in 18:50. Not even close to the Stanley Cup Playoff record of 3:36 set by the Montreal Canadiens on March 30, 1944 in an 11-0 victory over Toronto.

The Red Wings scored six unanswered goals in first 23:05 tonight’s game, the second-fastest six unanswered goals to start a game in Stanley Cup Playoff history. The record is 21:19 by the Montreal Canadiens on March 25, 1954 in an 8-1 victory over the Boston Bruins.

The last team to score six goals in less than 23:05 to start a SC Playoff game, unanswered or not, was the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 25, 1989 when they scored six times in the first 17:44 of a 10-7 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

The last time the Red Wings scored six unanswered goals in a Stanley Cup Playoff game was May 1, 2008, when they scored 7 straight in an 8-2 win at Colorado.

The last time the Red Wings scored the first six-plus goals of a Stanley Cup Playoff game was May 31, 2002 in a 7-0 over Colorado.

Stuart should be back for Game 5

Not all the news was good for the Wings Thursday night as they lost defenseman Brad Stuart to a lower body injury midway through the first period after he was checked hard into the boards trying to gain entry to the Sharks’ zone.

However, Detroit coach Mike Babcock said Stuart should be back for Game 5 Saturday night in San Jose.

“The doc checked him out and he’ll be ready to go next game,” Babcock said.

Mike Babcock inserted Mattias Ritola on a forward line with Justin Abdelkader and Kris Draper for Game 4.

“It’s real exciting,” Ritola said as his equipment was being moved from the Black Aces locker room to the main room. “I’ve been waiting for it. It feels great to be in. It’s going to be awesome.”

Ritola took the spot Jason Williams had occupied since Patrick Eaves re-aggravated his elbow injury he suffered in the series with Phoenix.

Babcock also changed up his top two lines to begin the game last night.

Valtteri Filppula moved up to play with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom, while Johan Franzen skated alongside Henrik Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi.

The third line consisted of Dan Cleary, Darren Helm and Drew Miller.

Andreas Lilja was back along the blue line, paired with Jonathan Ericsson. Lilja was a healthy scratch in Game 3, replaced by Brett Lebda to provide more speed on the backend according to Babcock.

Eaves missed his third straight game Thursday due to an elbow injury he suffered in the series with Phoenix.