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BOSTON (CBS) — By this time Thursday morning, we could possibly know the final four of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Sunday afternoon, riding on the flexible, athletic legs of Jonathan Quick, the Los Angeles Kings swept away the second seed in the West, the St. Louis Blues. The No. 1 seed Vancouver Canucks were the first victim of the No. 8 seed Kings, losing in five games.
Los Angeles struggled just to make the playoff because just about no one could put the puck in the net during the last month of the season. But Quick literally put them on his back, and since the playoffs began, the Kings have scored with proficiency while still getting the goaltending that most Conn Smythe Trophy winners provide. (See: Tim Thomas, 2012.)
In the meantime, what happened to the Blues? They’ve had major defensive lapses, they are now the ones that can’t ruffle the twine and with Jaroslav Halak hurt and out for the series, Brian Elliott has not provided the quality goaltending that both gave the Blues during the regular season.
There’s no surprise that the Kings finished off the Blues on Sunday afternoon. For L.A., the key is to change nothing, and with the leaders being leaders, i.e. Mike Richards and Dustin Penner, Darryl Sutter’s group should have some time off after earning a bid in the Western Conference finals.
There is a somewhat stunning development in the other series out West. After winning the first two games in Phoenix, the Coyotes went to Nashville and snagged one from the Predators, sending them reeling back to the desert in what could be their swan song. Timing and goaltending have been the keys to this series. Mike Smith has been sensational when he stays in his net and doesn’t go for afternoon stroll. Pekka Rinne also has been good, but not good enough. A little shaky in the first two games, Rinne has been outstanding but still suffered a 1-0 loss in Game 4on a goal deflected in by his own player.
After dismissing Detroit in pretty convincing fashion, this is not what the Predators or their fans expected. Look for Barry Trotz to re-insert his malcontents, Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, for Game 5 and hope for the best, which may not be enough as Phoenix looks to advance to the third round for the first time in franchise history.
In New Jersey, happy birthday, Martin Brodeur. Forty trips around the sun and you still know how stop the puck in the biggest games of the year on the biggest stage. You just may take your team past that space-shot who plays the same position 200 feet away. The Devils took a stranglehold on the series with the Philadelphia Flyers with a win Sunday night in New Jersey. The enigma/space-shot Ilya Bryzgalov has been inconsistent in the Flyers’ net, making a great save, then giving up an easy goal. That won’t win you a playoff series, let alone a championship. That’s especially true when Brodeur turns back the clock and thinks he is playing in 1995, 2000 or 2003. Philly needs the good Bryzgalov and not the bad Bryz-GOAL-ov to get back into this series as it heads back to the City of Brotherly Love. They may not be so loving with the Flyers down 3-1.
Wrapping this up and continuing on with the netminding theme, we come to the New York Ranger and the Washington Capitals. We know about the King, Vezina nominee Henrik Lundqvist, and how solid he has been throughout the season and now in the playoffs, but who knew 22-year-old Braden Holtby would continue the sensational play in the second round that he exhibited in dispatching the Boston Bruins in a tightly fought seven-game series in the first round?
Holtby has matched Lundqvist in goal in what has become a fascinating series with each team blocking shots and both teams’ top players coming up with big goals when needed. When the Bruins were eliminated, I wanted to root for the Rangers. I like their work ethic. Being a goalie, I love Lundqvist, and what could be better than Boston College alumni Brian Boyle and recent BC national champion Chris Kreider winning the Stanley Cup after witnessing what we all witnessed June 15, 2011?.
What I really don’t like about the Rangers is the pompous ass of a coach, also from Boston, John Tortorella. Confrontation is his No. 1 agenda. I’m not sure the National Hockey League always wants to see one of their coaches of a high profile team constantly acting like a detestable child at virtually every press conference after each game. Tortorella needs to grow up and suck it up and quit acting like he is hiding state secrets if the media asks something he doesn’t like.
I believe this Rangers-Capitals series will go the distance, and right now I have no clue which team will blink. But because there is nothing like playoff hockey, it’ll be so much fun to watch!