So we’re now part way through the final round before the incomparable Stanley Cup Finals. As any hockey fan can attest, there is perhaps no better hockey than the hockey we get the chance to watch during the Finals, and it’s that much better when our team is there. While it’s been nearly two decades since I’ve had the pleasure of watching my team fight it out, this year we certainly have some… worthy contenders.
In the East we’ve got perhaps the biggest example of underdog heaven I’ve ever had the chance to witness. After 82 games of hockey to determine appropriate seeds, and presumably sort the standings fairly effectively, seeds #7 and #8 are in the Final. Even with the blind optimism of fans, here’s certainly no way that any Flyers fan was expecting that they’d managed to get home ice advantage in the Eastern Conference final. Yet that’s precisely what happened. After combining to upset every team from seeds 1-6, the East has nominated the Canadians and the Flyers to fight it out for Eastern Conference supremacy.
While the Canadians have staked their claim as the “story of the playoffs” by upsetting both the President’s Trophy, and Cup-favorite Washington Capitals, and the defending Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in rounds 1 and 2. They’ve been lead by none other than the stunningly impressive Halak in goal, and Kings alumni Michael Cammalleri on offense. The rest of the team has put together a surprisingly strong performance as well. With defenders (and forwards) dropping to block shots, forwards providing strong back checking, and let’s be honest, a little luck, the Canadians have been rolling through these playoffs. Indeed after taking out the Capitals and the Penguins, there were probably few out there willing to bet against the pesky Canadians.
The Flyers have taken a somewhat less impressive approach, at least through the first round and a half. Beating the Devils handily in round 1, in what seemed like a formality, they were arguably the “underdog” that was the most frequently picked to upset the favorite. The Flyers had dominated the Devils through the regular season, and continued that dominance through round 1. For the first three games of Round 2, it looked like the fairy tale was over. Down 3-0 and with only two other teams in the history of the NHL successfully coming back from that series deficit, it looked all but over. However the Flyers dug deep. With some impressive team defense, strong play in goal from Leighton and some timely goals they overcame that deficit and put themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals.
So who will win the series? Well after 2 games it certainly looks like it’s heading the Flyers way… While the Canadians still have yet to lose at home in this series, they’ll need to bounce back strong with a win in Montreal. Chances are good the Flyers are not going to want to become the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit AND be come back against from a 3-0 deficit. If the Flyers grab game 3 in Montreal, the Canadian fans had better start packing their golf clubs, because it’s all over.
Surprisingly the Western Conference has gone almost exactly the opposite way. Although most experts thought that the West had the most parity (and it does, let’s not kid ourselves), the two teams that ended up in the Western Conference Final are the San Jose Sharks (seeded #1) and the Chicago Blackhawks (seeded #2). The two teams dispatched their first and second round opponents with relative ease. While the Canadians and Flyers have combined to play in three game 7′s in these playoffs, the Sharks and Blackhawks have yet to see even one.
The Sharks started the playoffs off with a bit of a stumble that had to have all of their die-hard fans, and anyone who has watched San Jose’s implosion the last several years cringe just a bit. They lost game 1 and game 3 against a young Colorado Avalanche team, and were in an ominous 2-1 series hole before storming back and winning the next three consecutive games and closing the series out in resounding fashion. In the next round they faced off against their famous opponents, the Detroit Red Wings. Outside of a game 4 whipping, they dispatched the Red Wings with relative ease and moved on to the Conference Final to await the winner of the Blackhawks-Canucks series.
As luck would have it (unless you’re a Vancouver fan), the Blackhawks managed to defeat the Canucks in the same amount of games as last year. After a first round that mirrored the Sharks (lose game 1, win game 2, lose game 3 and rattle off three straight to close out the series), the Blackhawks picked apart the Predators and moved on to the Canucks. Strong play by the incredibly high powered offense, and more surprisingly Dustin Byfuglien pushed them over the top and into the Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks.
While Joe Pavelski and his line have been key in getting the Sharks to this point, they have been noticeably absent as the Blackhawks have jumped out to a 2 games to 0 lead in the Conference Final. The Sharks will need some legit performances if they’re going to have any chance of regaining some momentum in this series. Unlike the Flyers, the Blackhawks won the first two games AWAY from home, so they return to the Windy City looking to close out a sweep of the Sharks. While I think a sweep is unlikely, it does seem probable that they’ll manage to win at least one game at home. If that happens, the Sharks are in trouble. Frankly, they’re in trouble now. It’s not mortal danger, yet, but I have to think that only one team will come back from a 3-0 series deficit this playoffs. It’s win or you’re out time for the Sharks now.
Tags: Chicago Blackhawks Colorado Avalanche Detroit Red Wings Dustin Byfuglien Jaroslav Halak Joe Pavelski Michael Cammalleri Michael Leighton Montreal Canadians Nashville Predators New Jersey Devils NHL Playoffs Philadelphia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins San Jose Sharks Vancouver Canucks Washington Capitals