Who do you like?
As the second round of the playoffs ends tonight with a win for either Boston or Philadelphia, the third round is starting to the take shape in the Western Conference. And since stats haven't been particularly helpful in making predictions so far, the question is not so much "who do you think will win?" but "who do you like?"
Not a lot of sports fans like to talk about their feelings, but we all have feelings about games, players and series. We all get that uneasy feeling when a player goes down or when we see the momentum shift in a game in the opposite team's favour. We all get that good feeling when the calls and bounces are working right for our team, or when we see them address the media with confidence in their eyes. So, love for specific teams aside, we still have feelings about how things will play out.
In terms of who I like: I like Boston to win their series against Philadelphia and move on to a date with Montreal. Boston did lose its dominance over Philadelphia and may have just lost its confidence. When Boston was up 3 games in this series and looking at a sweep, nobody would have criticized Boston. Now that Philadelphia's clawed its way out of the ditch to be a real contender, criticism abounds.
I like Boston, but I don't have a real feeling about this series. If Rask is up to task, all will be well. If Lucic and Savard can combine for some stellar goals, all will be well. But the Flyers are a tricky team and they've managed to find ways to win in this series when everyone counted them out. And since it's been a year of the underdog so far, it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see Philadelphia added to that roster.
In the Chicago and San Jose series, I like San Jose. Not that it wouldn't be great to see Chicago move ahead with their great repertoire of talent or to have the EA Sports guys actually get it right for once. But I like San Jose because they've had to fight so hard to get here after a couple of seasons of dominance followed by devastating post-season burnout. It's probably been emotionally draining for the players themselves, trying to explain to media, fans and to themselves why they rocked the regular season only to be lights off when it really mattered. It would be great to see them redeem themselves this year with a big win.
David vs. Chara
The one thing about the Boston-Montreal possibility that makes me laugh is the thought of the small, but gritty Habs having to play defense on Chara. The logical choice would be to get Markov or Moen on Chara during this series, but even though these guys are NHL standard size, Chara is Chara.
The Habs have managed to shut down larger than life players before, though, in Ovechkin and Crosby, so maybe they have it in them to shut down the big man too. Although it should be noted that it's the performance of Ovechkin and Crosby that make them big, and neither one is as big as Chara. This man is 7 foot 1 on skates and when he wears the cage mask, he's like this scary Hannibal Hulk. It makes you want to watch the series with one eye covered.
All jokes aside on this one, I don't have a feeling about the Montreal-Boston series simply because stats don't help, history doesn't help, and the Habs are on a streak where seemingly everything is possible. In terms of momentum, Habs are definitely advantaged in this match up. Boston will have been so beat after taking down Philadelphia in a grueling, longer than it should have been, series, that they may not have what it takes to burst the Montreal bubble.
Double the Momentum, Double the Fun
If Philadelphia makes it through for a date with destiny in Montreal, this series may be more interesting to watch. After making a historic comeback, the Flyers will have earned an underdog label that will rival most teams. Their label, though, cannot even begin to compare with Montreal's, who took out both Washington and Pittsburgh to get where they are today. Both teams will be riding a wave of momentum based on the 'nobody said we could do it, but we did' spirit that makes sports movies so great. Both teams will be confident and happy to be where they are.
The one thing that both teams will have working against them will be the raised expectations of their respective fan bases. We all know how hard it is to play in Montreal, and the last thing that the teams needs is for the fans to turn on them in the case of a loss. Philadelphia fans are also prone to this type of violent reaction, so there will not be a clear home ice advantage for either team.
But with so much working for these teams, coming off spectacular series wins, it will be a great contest to see them go. It doesn't look right now like anyone can break Montreal's euphoria. Philadelphia plays a gritty game and their goaltender is looking good. Montreal has played tight, smart defense and their goaltending has been spectacular. Both teams play a similar style of low-scoring games with a lot of sneaky players getting in on the quiet spots to pot goals.
My feeling says excitement for this series and some pretty evenly-matched games. A few one point deciding nail biters and maybe even some overtime scraps. And more glory for Halak.
As an Ottawa fan, I have a message for Brian Murray. I'm sure that he knows already what I want to say because others have probably said the same thing. Mr. Murray, we need to make some changes. We need to go out and look for those puck moving defensemen that we're always talking about as if they're mythical wilderbeasts from some parallel universe. And we need to start this all off with a call to Vancouver.
The Vancouver Canucks have cleared out their locker rooms and some of those players will not be back. Many of the Canucks are going to become free agents or unrestricted free agents this year, and they have what we want. There will surely be a scramble in Vancouver's management to keep the assets that they have, particularly within their beaten and bruised, but strong, defensive core. But they won't be able to hold onto everyone, so let's start making some offers.
The question in this situation, though, is as follows: do we have anything that Vancouver wants? Where does this team need help?
The Canucks have a diverse and well-balanced team. They're not lacking for much, to be honest, except for a really disciplined veteran who can coach them to a Cup or an offensive powerhouse to complement (not take over) the Sedins.
Two candidates come to mind: Kovalev for the experienced veteran and Spezza for the offensive aid. Kovalev is known to be good leader of men and he helps make things happen on the ice, even when he's not on the scoreboard. He has consistent play but inconsistent goal scoring. No matter. Consistent play is good enough to advance well into the post-season; too bad he was injured when it was Ottawa's turn.
Spezza is a high-risk player, but he needs good linemates to make him better. Who would be better for him than the Sedins? Let's face it, Spezza hasn't been the same since Heatley left town and he still needs someone to help him out. He needs to be on a star line in order to be effective. And when he's effective, he's really effective.
A match up with the Sedins would elevate all of their games. As long as he doesn't try blind back passes with them too often. The Sedins have twin power and intuitively 'know' where the other one is. Spezza will have to be reminded that he does not share this.
And keep Cory Clouston. And Alfie. Just give the Captain whatever he asks for. He belongs to the city of Ottawa now.