Second-round highs and lows (so far)
And then there were four; or at least soon there will be four. And as the second round of the NHL playoffs reaches the end, here's a look at some highs and lows from the Group of Eight.
Holy Offense, Batman
Whether you're a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins or not, watching their high-octane offense go high against the Ottawa Senators was a sight to behold for anyone who likes to see creative hockey played at its best.
The Penguins have scored at least four goals in nine of 11 postseason games and scored 22 times in five games against the Senators, prompting Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean to quip after Game 5 that he hoped the Penguins wouldn't bill the Senators for the clinic they just put on.
The Penguins power play is the top-ranked unit in the postseason and seven players have scored with the man advantage. Perhaps most impressive, after being stunned in a Game 3 double overtime loss in which they gave up the tying goal in the last minute while on the power play, the Penguins responded by whipping the Senators 7-3 and 6-2 to close out the series.
The Krug Factor
When the Boston Bruins started their second-round series against the New York Rangers, one Eastern Conference scout said he didn't think the Bruins had a chance without defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who was injured late in the first round against Toronto and returned only for Game 5 against New York.
The Bruins were also without Andrew Ference and still managed to whip the Rangers in five games in large part because of the play of unheralded, untested youngsters on the back end Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski.
But it's the diminutive Krug (listed as 5-foot-9, 180 pounds) who has captured the imagination of fans as he's come out of nowhere to score four goals and add an assist in the first five postseason games of his career. The Royal Oak, Mich., native has scored three goals on the power play and was a key contributor to the Bruins' advancement to the Eastern Conference finals for the second time in the past three seasons.
Quick For President (Or Conn Smythe Again)
The reality is that for long stretches of the dynamic San Jose Sharks-Los Angeles Kings series, the Sharks have been the better team. They have pushed the pace and enjoyed a wide margin in terms of shots and scoring chances.
And yet? Well, as of Sunday afternoon, the Kings were one win away from heading back to the Western Conference finals.
You don't have to look too far to identify the catalyst to that achievement, just glance at the Los Angeles Kings goal, where Jonathan Quick has been outstanding. Twice in the first five games of the series, he shut out the Sharks. He helped steal the first two games at home for the Kings and then rebounded after the Sharks evened the series with his second shutout in a crucial Game 5 win at Staples Center.
Through the first five games, Quick has stopped all but seven of the 153 shots the Sharks have pounded at him. Pretty routine stuff, though, for a guy who has proved he's at his best with the money on the table.
Red Wing Rising
It's such a cliché, but the Detroit Red Wings are the perfect example of the power of the collective.
After looking worn out in losing the first game of their second-round series with the powerful Chicago Blackhawks, the Wings battened down the hatches and won three straight. It marked the first time the Blackhawks had lost three in a row all season.
The Wings did it with timely scoring from up and down the lineup; they did it by frustrating the Blackhawks' stars with relentless checking and by getting great goaltending from Jimmy Howard. Although the Blackhawks staved off elimination in Game 5, they still have an uphill battle against a Detroit team that was supposed to have been too fatigued after a first-round win over Anaheim to give the Blackhawks much competition.
Brother, Where Art Thou? (An Ode To Rick Nash)
Nash, acquired in the offseason in the hopes of taking the Rangers that extra step toward a championship, was a huge disappointment during the playoffs, scoring just once and adding four assists in 12 games.
Against Boston, Nash scored his lone goal and added an assist in five games. He had zero power-play points against the Bruins while averaging just four shots a game in the five-game loss.
In short, the Rangers paid too much in terms of assets to acquire Nash and are paying him too much money for that kind of production or, well, lack thereof.
Brother, Where Art Thou? (An Ode To Brad Richards)
We've known Brad Richards a long time and if there is a more proud, competitive player in the league, we're not sure who it might be.
That said, this season, from the get-go, was a difficult one for Richards and it ended in an embarrassing fashion as Rangers head coach John Tortorella made the former playoff MVP a healthy scratch for the final two games of the Boston series.
In all, Richards had one goal and 18 shots in 10 postseason games. His benching now produces the likelihood he will be bought out just two years after signing a nine-year, $60 million pact with the Rangers.
Raffi, Raffi, Raffi
Now, there was a lot of debate about the legality of the hit, but the fact Torres is a serial predator who a year ago was suspended 25 games (later reduced to 21) for sending Marian Hossa to the hospital with a first-round hit, made supplemental discipline a foregone conclusion.
While a player like Matt Cooke, with whom Torres shares some common history of dangerous play, has remade himself, Torres seems not to have learned those lessons.
GM Doug Wilson's press release moaning about the suspension earned him a $100,000 fine and helps explain why the NHL still struggles to eliminate dangerous hits and dangerous players from the game.
And finally, as always, the decision to suspend Torres for the balance of the series strikes us as yet another attempt by the NHL's office of player safety to find the easiest route.
If this was a dangerous hit (and it was) and Torres is a serial offender (and he is), then why not toss him for the playoffs, as was the case a year ago?
After a season in which Jonathan Toews was in the thick of Hart Trophy discussion as the league's most valuable player, the Chicago captain has struggled to find his playoff mojo.
Through the first five games against the pesky Detroit Red Wings, Toews had just one goal and one assist and delivered just 17 shots. More telling, Toews has at times seemed visibly frustrated by the vigorous -- Blackhawks fans would suggest illegal -- checking the Wings have employed on the Blackhawk captain.
In Game 4, a 2-0 loss, Toews uncharacteristically took three minor penalties. He did score his first goal of the postseason on the power play in Game 5's must-win at home, but he knows he'll have to do more if the Blackhawks are going to make good on a regular season that saw them finish with the best record in hockey.
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