M*A*S*H*ing up the Conference Finals
By Bryan Thiel
One away. That’s how close I was. If Philadelphia wasn’t playing Monopoly with God and swapping him Park Place in exchange for that massive comeback so the big guy could put hotels on Boardwalk, I’d be 4-0.
Now I’m 3-1. How well did that turn out for Boston? Or Washington?
Father Mulcahy: If it makes you feel any better my son, we only went two for two.
Hawkeye: Well most of the blame on that one falls to Frank.
Frank: What? Why is it MY fault? What did I do?
Margaret: Oh when is it NOT your fault Frank?
Margaret: But nothing Frank.
Hawkeye: Yeah Ferret face. But nothing!
Father Mulcahy: I think what the group means to say, is that despite our having Philadelphia winning in seven, you still have a very impressive showing.
BT: Thank you father. Although it’s little solace based on the fact that I make your picks for you and I’m actually having this conversation with myself.
1. San Jose Sharks vs. 2. Chicago Blackhawks
It’s funny isn’t it? While the Eastern Conference threw the playoff blueprint to the ground, trampled it, spit on it, and then lined the bottom of a birdcage with it, the West has gone according to plan.
Just…no one ever thought the San Jose Sharks would be part of that plan.
A team that has been to the conference finals just once pre-lockout and lost to a momentum-drive Calgary Flames squad in six, it’s hard to keep looking at the Sharks as underdogs.
While the ‘Hawks did make it this far last year, the ball is in San Jose’s court.
They’ve dealt with pressure far more often over the past decade of playoffs, and have never risen to the occasion. Now it seems they’ve taken all the negatives to heart, and are finally driving to that ultimate goal.
Joe Pavelski’s performance (9 goals and 6 assists in 11 games) has taken heat off of the perennial whipping boy Joe Thornton. And while outside of a putrid performance in game five against Detroit, Evgeni Nabokov was a whole lot busier in the second round, but stood tall.
Hawkeye: Hear that Radar? Standing tall. You could learn something.
Radar: Cap’n Pierce, I’ve trying to stand tall this entire time.
Hawkeye: You may want to get a bigger box then.
BT: For the Blackhawks, they almost resemble the Pittsburgh Penguins of the last two years. In the 2008 Stanley Cup final, Pittsburgh lost to Detroit. It was said that you need to get there and lose to know what it takes to win.
If you watched hockey at all last year, you’d know that they found out what it took.
For the ‘Hawks it’s much of the same. They were at this point last year, facing off against Detroit in a Western Conference final not many gave them a shot in. While Chicago did get down big in games one and four (losing 5-2 and 6-1) they played the other three close, all of which went to overtime.
Despite the ball being in San Jose’s court, Chicago won’t be sitting back and allowing the play to come to them.
While San Jose has that vaunted ‘Big Three’, Chicago has their own offensive behemoth in Jonathan Toews, the Patricks Kane and Sharp, and Marian Hossa.
Although Chicago has that young, puck-moving defence led by Duncan Keith alongside Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell, San Jose’s is ripe with experience as both Rob Blake and Dan Boyle have plenty of NHL experience and cup rings to back it up. The Sharks also have Niclas Wallin who could probably figure out a way to score an overtime winner from the press box if he had to.
The matchup will come down to Antti Niemi and Nabokov. Who can handle the long run more?
With Niemi playing in 39 games this regular season and 12 in the playoffs, he’s at 51—three away from the personal high he set in the Finnish Elite League. Nabokov hasn’t played in fewer than 51 regular season games since 2006/07 (50).
Long-season experience doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it certainly helps.
Col. Potter: I’ll tell you something boy. Experience is the be-all, end-all. If I didn’t have experience, Pierce and Honeycutt wouldn’t listen to me—
Col. Potter: Experience gets things done. Experience knows. How do you think I fixed their still?
Hawkeye: He’s right you know.
BJ: It’s true. We’d never get this drunk if it wasn’t for him.
BT says: San Jose in Seven
M*A*S*H predicts: San Jose in Five
7. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 8. Montreal Canadiens
It’s kind of ironic that in the Western Conference is one versus two while the Eastern is seven versus eight.
For those out there that stand by the “momentum” argument, I’d like to see them wiggle their way out of this one: The Montreal Canadiens came back from a 3-1 hole against the most powerful offensive team in the league. Granted they were helped by Thomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin who were about as effective as someone just off a Minnesota Vikings boat party, but they did it.
They then took down the defending Stanley Cup champions, chasing Marc-Andre Fleury from the net, with a definitive 5-2 win on the road.
Philadelphia pulled a major-league level Windsor Spitfires comeback over the Boston Bruins. I don’t think Winchester is going to be too vocal during this preview.
Winchester: You’re right. I’m not. Now if you please, I’d like to return to my records. The only cure is a good class of wine and a crisp sonata.
BT: The main thing I see in the Flyers’ favour, is they’re able to pedal two goalies successfully these playoffs.
Everyone always looks at the number 16. That’s the number of wins a goalie needs to win to get a cup ring.
Teams that have relied upon a goalie carousel throughout the season aren’t afforded that opportunity during the playoffs: It’s usually one or the other, and if they change that thinking it doesn’t work.
But the Flyers only need 10 (now eight) wins out of Michael Leighton. They got six out of Brian Boucher before he was injured, so not only did he cut down Leighton’s workload, but his injury means there’s no controversy about who starts.
So the award for Most Beneficial Playoff Injury for 2010 goes to Brian Boucher.
With that one out of the way though, both teams are featuring injuries to key players.
While Simon Gagne has been playing through his, Jeff Carter hasn’t been afforded that ability, while on the Montreal side of things, it’s Hal Gill with the “play through it” mentality, while Andrei Markov is nearing that stage, skating on a torn ACL.
As far as the on-ice matchup—
Hawkeye: Do you think Winchester is going to be mad?
BT: About what?
Hawkeye: Well…the infirmary’s roof was looking a little thin. So we re-shingled it.
BT: Which is a bad thing?
Hawkeye: Well….we used his records.
BT: I think he figured it out.
Getting back to the matchup, Philadelphia poses more of a problem to Montreal than Boston would have, as the Flyers have a better offense. Like we said though, Montreal’s already dealt with the two best offenses in the league though, so who knows what kind of an impact Philly’s will have.
The Habs also have the biggest weapon in the playoffs in Jaroslav Halak, but then again Philly also ousted everyone’s favourite, Martin Brodeur, in the first round.
What it comes down to is simple:
Philly has scored at least four goals five times during the playoffs. Four of those games coming in round two. Montreal has held opponents to three or fewer in 10 out of 14 games.
Philadelphia has proven that they can win a 2-1 game, but Montreal has scored five goals and won just once in the playoffs. I think they’ll have to do that twice in this series to go to the cup final.
The way these playoffs have gone for them though, I think they can.
BT says: Montreal in six
M*A*S*H predicts Philly in seven (except for Winchester who says MTL in four)