It’s midway through the second round (or “division finals”) of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Here’s a few points that caught my eye so far.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a defenseman with the postseason flash and dash like Montreal’s P.K. Subban. In the Canadiens divisional final against arch-rival Boston Bruins, Subban has three-straight multi-point games powering the Habs to a 2-1 series lead. The last Canadiens defensemen to do that were Larry Robinson and J.C. Tremblay. The Bruins don’t appear to have any answer for Subban. If they don’t find a solution soon, they could be in trouble. With all due respect to Carey Price, Subban’s become the Canadiens playoff MVP thus far.
Speaking of the Bruins, what is it about the Montreal Canadiens that seems to rattle goaltender Tuuka Rask so much? Rask is a Vezina finalist this season. He posted superior numbers to Montreal’s Carey Price, yet the latter is clearly the better of the two thus far in their divisional final. Rask hasn’t been bad, and there wasn’t a goalie in the world that was stopping Subban’s breakaway goal in Game 3. So far, Rask has failed to play up to the level which earned him that Vezina nomination. The Habs seem to be in his head, and he’ll have to step up if the Bruins are going to win this series.
So, how much is it worth the Los Angeles Kings to re-sign Marian Gaborik? Acquired at the trade deadline, Gaborik’s been a godsend to what had been an anemic Kings offense. Teamed with top center Anze Kopitar, Gaborik collected 16 points in 19 regular-season games, and had six goals and nine points in nine playoff games so far. Given his age (32) and injury history, Gaborik won’t get $7 million per season again, but maybe the Kings re-sign him to a short-term deal around $5.75 million per? If he enjoys playing in LA, he might take it.
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury received his share of criticism when his club struggled to eliminate the Columbus Blue Jackets in their division semifinal. He gave up a couple of soft goals, especially in Game Four when a bad bounce led to the Blue Jackets game-tying goal, then seemed handcuffed by Nick Foligno’s long-shot winner in overtime. Against the Rangers in the division final, however, Fleury’s been solid, posting back-to-back shutouts as the Penguins took a 2-1 series lead. That won’t entirely ease the rattled nerves of Penguins fans, though they’re likely soothed more by the Penguins going up 3-1 with a chance to close out on Friday in Game 5. For the time being, Fleury’s critics have been muted.
If you look up “snakebit” in the dictionary, there’s a picture of New York Rangers’ winger Rick Nash. OK, I exaggerate, but only about his picture being in the dictionary. Nash, brought in by the Rangers two years ago to address their lack of playoff production, has so far been a giant bust. In 23 playoff games stretching back to last season, Nash has a grand total of one playoff goal. He’s yet to tally in this year’s playoffs. It’s not for lack of trying. Last season he was hampered by injury, and he’s generate numerous scoring chances this season. For whatever reason, he’s not cashing in. He’s not the only reason the Blueshirts are on the brink of elimination against the Penguins, but he’s certainly a contributing factor.
The Minnesota Wild are like two different teams at home and on the road in this year’s playoffs. On the road, they’ve won only once, that being their series-clinching overtime winner against Colorado. At home, they’re unbeaten. While that suggests a long series against the Chicago Blackhawks, they won’t get much further in the postseason unless they can start winning more often on the road. In the meantime, I give them kudos for making do with their musical goalies this season. Despite injuries and illness sidelining their regular tandem of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, rookie Darcy Keumper (who’s also now nursing an injury) and trade deadline pickup Ilya Bryzgalov are keeping them going.
Players I wish were still playing in this year’s postseason: Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and Columbus’ Ryan Johansen. I was very impressed by the play of these youngsters in the divisional semifinals. Looking forward to much more from these two down the road.
I realize it’s still early in the postseason, but the Chicago Blackhawks so far look like they could play themselves into another Stanley Cup Final appearance. Granted, they had their hands full with the St. Louis Blues, at least in the early going of that opening-round series. And the Wild have served notice they’re not going to just roll over. All in all, though, the defending Stanley Cup champions are looking pretty good right now. All their best players – Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, Corey Crawford – are stepping it up. They’ve got the look of a repeat Cup champion about them. Of course, there’s still a lot of playoff hockey remaining and nothing is certain, but the ‘Hawks are going to be very tough to knock off.