It certainly seems like this first round of the NHL playoffs is more interesting than the ones in recent memory. Nearly every series it tightly contested, and the ones that everyone predicted would be a sweep are currently sitting at 2-1.
However, it's not the playoffs without a good old fashioned upset. And that seems to be exactly what is happening with the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks. This series was predicted by most "experts" to go at least six games, with the Canucks coming out on top. Instead, the Northwest Division leader has collapsed quicker than any other team so far. As someone who harbors some hatred for the team that routed the Stars on the New Year's Eve game I was at, I can't say I'm too upset about their current position.
Despite the final 5-2 score, the game last night was much closer than it would seem at first glance. It wasn't really until the third period when the Nucks had a meltdown while the Sharks capitalized on every opportunity handed to them. And while the current series record might be surprising, when you stop to look at how they got there, it makes a little more sense.
On some level, it's difficult not to feel sympathy towards a Canucks franchise that's endured the postseason torment the Sharks have, only for even longer. And then a Ryan Kesler dive or Maxim Lapierre crosscheck happens and you feel less guilty about the immense potential for schadenfreude provided by this series. Henrik and Daniel have combined for just four points over three games. Kevin Bieksa has been on the ice for each of the Sharks' last five even-strength goals. And then of course there was the newest goaltending controversy the organization decided to concoct; Roberto Luongo, who was excellent in Games 1 and 2, rode the pine in favor of the body-injured Cory Schneider. Vancouver's woes ran a lot deeper than in net tonight but Schneider certainly wasn't good and it will be fascinating to see if Alain Vigneault goes with the guy who's quite likely the superior goalie right now in Luongo or the guy who's clearly the anointed No. 1 for the next decade in Schneider. It might be one of the last decisions Vigneault makes behind the Canucks' bench.
The goalie controversy has plagued Vancouver all season, and it seems as though last night it really did some damage. It will be interesting to see who they put back in net for Game 4, and if it will even make a difference, as the Sharks hope to finish them off on home ice.
Coming up in today's links: Some updates on the World Championship, notes from around the playoffs, and proof that if you want to score a goal in the NHL, it's going to cost you.
- Mark Stepneski gives us a World Championship update, as Antoine Roussel earns an assist in France's win. [Stars Inside Edge]
- Philip Larsen has finally arrived for the tournament, and will play in Denmark's next game. [IIHF]
- Boston looked a little outmatched against the leafs in Game 2, and need Jagr to return to his scoring ways in order to rebound in Game 3. [NHL]
- If you missed the Senators and Habs game last night, you missed some all out brawls. Personally, I don't care for "line fights" all that much, especially when the game is already 5-1. Every time something like that happens, casual fans come up to me and give the old line of "I watched a fight and a hockey game broke out!" Then I have to try to explain to them the skill and toughness involved. Thankfully I can just show them the goal below instead. [ESPN]
- Here they refer to the brawls as "Old time hockey." Just like a shoulder hit to the head is a hockey play, I suppose. (I promise, I'm not upset about this) [TSN]
- The Islanders went toe to toe with the Pens yesterday, but came up just short after Pittsburgh scored a power play goal in overtime. Now, I don't blame Crosby for falling as easily as he did to get the call. But I do wonder how that gets called as a penalty in overtime of a 1-1 series, when practically nothing else will. [Sports Illustrated]
- Justin Abdelkader was suspended two games for his hit on the Ducks. [Puck Daddy]
- This was the game of the night for me. The Blackhawks caught up to the Wild in the final minutes of the third frame to tie it, but just three minutes into the first OT, the Wild scored a fantastic goal. I'm hoping the series gets interesting from here. [Puck Daddy]
- I forgot to post this over the last few days, but here is the NHL Grab Bag that I love so much. It's a bit of a long read, but the first part dealing with something Don Cherry said is well worth it. [Grantland]
- For your video of the day, we have Senators player Pageau scoring a goal while having his tooth knocked out. If that motion was all it took, no wonder players flail when sticks come near their faces. (There's a little bit of blood in this video if you're squeamish, but it's far from graphic.)