Posted by E.J. Hradek
Here are five things I noticed during our second wild weekend of playoff hockey:
1. For my money, Saturday night's Ducks-Sharks Game 5 battle was the best game of the weekend. The Presidents' Trophy-winning Sharks avoided another early playoff departure (at least for now) with a 3-2 overtime win over the visiting Ducks. San Jose's star center Joe Thornton bounced back from a disappointing Game 4 performance, recording the first three-point playoff game of his career. Jumbo Joe scored the first goal and assisted on the other two. He also finished with five shots and won 11 of 18 faceoffs in 20 minutes, 1 second of ice time.
Thornton played a strong game. Still, I can't help thinking he could take it to another level. I guess that's the curse of being so physically gifted; we all expect more.
If the Sharks are to force a Game 7, Thornton probably will have to find that next gear. He'll likely again go head-to-head against Ducks star pivot Ryan Getzlaf. In Game 5, at the start of the third period, Thornton appeared to physically challenge Getzlaf, who seemed to decline the offer coolly. In Game 6, you'll want to keep a very close eye on their critical matchup.
2. The home team has won each of the first five games in the Western Conference quarterfinals series between the Blackhawks and Flames. On Monday night, Calgary hopes that trend remains the same. If not, the banged-up Flames will make their fourth consecutive first-round exit. That result probably won't be good news for coach Mike Keenan, who could be shown the door.
The Flames will need a better effort from star captain Jarome Iginla, who didn't get much done during a 5-1 Game 5 loss in Chicago on Saturday. The 31-year-old power forward managed just one shot in 16 minutes, 38 seconds of ice time. He finished a very uncharacteristic minus-3, too. Meanwhile, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff will seek his own bounce-back. The club's ace netminder didn't appear too pleased Saturday evening when he was hooked by Keenan after surrendering four goals in 26 minutes, 14 seconds. Kiprusoff has been inconsistent throughout the series. He simply must be better Monday.
3. You Sidney Crosby bashers out there might not like it, but the Penguins' star captain was brilliant in leading his club to a first-round series win over the Flyers. In the decisive Game 6, Crosby netted the tying goal late in the second period, batting a puck out of the air and past Philly goalie Martin Biron. I wasn't so much impressed by the show of hand-eye coordination (although it was pretty, pretty good) as I was by the fact that Crosby had the sense to stop at the far post, thus being in position to make the play. Now, you might think that's a simple thing, but I can tell you many guys would have flown right past that spot.
Crosby also has been razor-sharp in the faceoff circle. On Saturday afternoon, he won 20 of 33 draws. That's a 61 percent success rate. Through all six games of the series, he was a shade better, winning 63.5 of his faceoffs. That's the second-best number in the first round. (Montreal's Tomas Plekanec won 66.7 percent of faceoffs in the Bruins-Habs four-game series.) When Crosby came into the league, he wasn't much of a faceoff man. But that's the thing about him: He continues to work hard to improve. I don't know how you can't like that about a player.
4. If you're a Devils or Hurricanes fan, you're probably near the end of your rope. This series, which is tied at 3, has been terrific. There have been an overtime game, a game that was decided on a somewhat controversial goal with just two-tenths of a second remaining in regulation and yet another that featured a goaltending duel (between Martin Brodeur and Cam Ward) for the ages. In Game 6, facing elimination, the Hurricanes stormed to a 4-0 win over the visiting Devils. Carolina coach Paul Maurice struck gold with some subtle line changes. Maurice moved grinder Chad LaRose onto the club's top trio with star pivot Eric Staal and right winger Ray Whitney. The new unit clicked and produced the first three goals of the game. I expect we'll see those players together again Tuesday night in Newark, N.J., when this wildly entertaining series comes to its dramatic conclusion.
5. After getting booed out of Madison Square Garden during his three-plus seasons as a Ranger, Capitals defenseman Tom Poti got a little revenge on a warm New York Sunday. The former Boston University star scored a goal and added three assists in the club's series-tying 5-3 win over the Rangers. In a postgame television interview with NBC, Poti was quick to say how nice it was to score a goal at MSG. I'm sure it was, Tom. As he skated off the ice, Poti mockingly put his hand to his ear, listening to the sound of silence. I would imagine it sounded pretty darn good. Hey, Poti is no All-Star, but during his stay with the Rangers, fans unfairly blamed him for every problem within the organization. On Sunday, if for just one day, he got the last laugh.