The Western Conference second round is over. The Chicago Blackhawks have managed to polish off the Vancouver Canucks for the second year in a row and it's an all too familiar song for poor Luongo. The captain was clearly disappointed and surprised by their game 6 loss and was at a loss to explain how it all happened.
But maybe there's nothing to explain. When you add it all up, there's plenty of good reasons to think that this was a good match up with a possibility of a win on either side. There are stats to show the best players and good regular season play by supporting members of the team. There are the stars whose names are regularly shouted out on sports shows. There are coaches with great records.
The stats only tell one side of the story, though, and anything can happen in the playoffs. Look at what's happening right now. Montreal is the 8th seeded team that barely squeaked into a playoff spot at all and they're on their way to shutting down the two greatest players of their generation. Philadelphia looked down and out when Boston took a dominating 3-0 lead over them in their series, and they've managed to claw their way back to force a game 6. And Detroit looked unbeatable on paper, but San Jose managed to overcome their own bad history to eliminate them.
When Chicago and Vancouver faced off this year, Vancouver was hoping to do the same. They were hoping to mount a comeback against the team that ousted them and redeem themselves. While the series started great, luck, that tricky little thing that doesn't seem to know what it wants to do, was against them.
The Vancouver Canucks are a battle weary team with plenty of playoff casualties. Sami Salo, Mitchell and Edler were all down and out. The Sedins weren't playing up to their billing and they took some slow walks off the ice themselves. O'Brien was battered and bruised several times, and somehow, managed to keep going, even when he probably shouldn't have. And there were even rumours that Bieksa was playing injured.
The Sami Salo injury was unbdoubtedly the worst, not just because he's such a big factor in Canuck victories, but also because of the painful nature of his injury. We've all heard of groin injuries, but this, well, this is another category of injury altogether. You have to admire the guy from coming back to play in game 6 after such a drastic low blow, pardon the pun. It really shows that he has...oh, well, maybe not. We admire the guy. Enough said.
When you add up injuries, bad bounces, and confidence issues, you can see what happened to the Canucks in this series. Not to take anything away from Chicago, whose star players lived up to their billing (Toews, Kane, Sharp and Ugli there), but I think it's fair to say that they didn't have the same things to contend with in this series. So don't explain, Lou. Sometimes, it's just not your year.
Looking ahead, a fully functional and healthy Chicago team will take on a well-rested and confident San Jose. This should be a great match up to watch. San Jose has been itching to get deeper into the playoffs ever since EA Sports slated them to win the Cup two years in a row- when they were eliminated in the first round, both years.
San Jose has shaken off the bad joujou of years past when they passed on the President's trophy to Washington, albeit not intentionally (as far as we know). Taking out Detroit was in itself an incredible feat. Can they do it again against a young and dynamic offensive team like Chicago?
Chicago, on its end, has some joujou issues (say it outloud, you know you love to say it). There's that mural that they painted in the city which shows Toews with the Cup, something you should never do before it actually happens. There's also the Maid Marion factor, as Hossa has twice been on the second best team in the Stanley Cup finals, playing for Pittsburgh in the year that they lost to Detroit and playing for Detroit in the year that they lost to Pittsburgh. If that's not a bad case of "I'm dumping you for a winner" gone wrong, we don't know what is.
Luck was with Chicago in its series against Vancouver. Will it continue?
The Bitter End
The Eastern Final is turning into a nailbiting, edge of seat, hairpulling, aggravating and exciting affair. There is no clear favourite in either series.
Philadelphia has battled back hard, but their goaltending may be an issue for them in their game 6 tonight. Having lost one starter to surgery, another to injury, bouncing back with Boucher as back up and then losing him to injury, it would be an understatement to say that the Flyers have an unstable goaltending situation.
Boston, on the other hand, has had no such issue with Tukka Rask. They are a gritty, solid team, but they are not an offensive powerhouse. Even if they take out Philadelphia tonight, there are serious doubts as to whether or not they will go any further. For a team that has won most of its games by one point, they are a team that doesn't give a lot of goals away, but doesn't take them either. If Boston wins their series, the more dominant offensive team in the next round will likely take them out.
Who that dominant offensive team will be is anyone's best guess. Montreal and Pittsburgh have been duking it out and Montreal simply won't go away. Montreal has played it safe with the media, not bragging about their achievements, but obviously a proud underdog. Their goaltending has been incredible and their defense has been tight. Cammaleri is the next best thing to poutine in Montreal right now and is racking up points in every game.
Pittsburgh should have been the dominant force in this series, and many predicted a sweep. How hard could it be, after all, with such a talented and strong defending Cup champion team to take on an 8th seed with injuries? Pretty hard, actually.
Maybe the hockey gods are telling Sidney Crosby that he's won enough for one year. He does have an Olympic gold medal, a Stanley Cup ring from last year as the youngest Captain to ever lead his team to the Cup, a Rocket Richard trophy and possibly more hardware still coming to him in the NHL Awards in Vegas. Maybe they want him to just take a little vacation, spend some time on some obnoxiously priced beach where all the women look like they're out of Maxim magazine and chillax a bit(the hockey gods are all men, it seems).
And maybe this is just loser talk. Sid doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who wants to bugger off on an extended vacation with sunscreen. This man likes to win. It seems to be the thing that he's made to do. He wouldn't be much of a Captain if he went out there with resignation and palm trees in his eyes. He has to rally his men and he has to rally hard tonight. There are no excuses for laziness or lapses tonight, especially not on home ice.
This will be a fight to the bitter end. People talk of seventh heaven games like they're some sort of happy, fluffy as clouds, feel-good event. But real hockey fans know that seventh heaven is the name of a spa and the elimination game is an all-out war where someone will have to be the loser.
I love the playoffs.