Thursday, April 30, 2009

Welcome to the Hype Machine

You wonder if Eric Staal is getting a thank-you note from the NHL after setting up perhaps the most dynamic conference semifinal in league history. After all, while Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux dominated their era on the ice, because "The Great One" played out in the Campbell Conference and "Le Manifique" played in the Wales, the two never met on playoff ice, having to live through comparisons on parallel points and playoff successes.

Now, the NHL finds itself with a public relations gold mine with the two players that most hockey-avoiding outlets can wrap themselves around, a great storyline of two of the game's biggest names going head-to-head in a seven-game set.

Of course, while on the surface the story is the battle of the two superstars, the fact is these are two loaded teams that play a similar style and a pair of teams that can play a very entertaining brand of hockey.

On the Pittsburgh side, while Crosby certainly gets the bulk of the ink for his play, he's paired with a player that earned a Hart Trophy nomination over him, as Evgeni Malkin has really developed into a great player in his own right.

But he's a bit quieter than his Russian counterpart in demeanor, but certainly has surpassed him on the ice. Malkin was the real driving force behind the Pens' playoff push last year until he was hurt in the Eastern finals, and this year had more points than his teammate in both the regular season and the first round of the playoffs.

The Penguins also got a booster shot after a sub-par first half of the season when they acquired Bill Guerin from the Islanders and when Sergei Gonchar returned from an injury, as both those players are right after the two stars in the Pens' first round scoring. While Pittsburgh struggled when they underwent some major losses in the offseason with Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa departing, the acquisition of some good depth meant there was more room for their two top players and they were able to finish with a nice run into the postseason.

On the Washington side, of course, while Ovechkin is the straw that stirs the drink, there is a lot more there that can hurt an opponent. Alexander Semin actually scored more points against the Penguins than his Hart-nominated teammate, and Mike Green had a tremendous campaign as a puck-moving defenseman, not to mention last year's Calder Trophy runner-up, Nicklas Backstrom.

But despite all that, even ESPN, who has treated hockey like the Swine Flu since losing the rights to the league after the lockout, even led yesterday's SportsCenter with hockey - on an off day.

Heck, NBC even offered to one-up its coverage of the Kentucky Derby for one period of playoff overtime should the two need extra time on Saturday, something they didn't extend to the eventual deciding game of the Eastern Conference back in 2007 after Ottawa eliminated Buffalo... with the game having been shifted to Versus.

The league even pushed back the series until Saturday to first drop the puck on national television - which probably isn't a bad thing for the Caps since it allows them to get a couple of days off after a tough Game 7 against the Rangers, while the Pens have been idle since finishing the Flyers last Saturday.

But either way, get ready for over a week of breathless analysis of this series from the media that normally might just overlook the playoffs.


  1. WHO IS HOT...
    So who was hot during the first round of the 2009 Stanley Cup? It’s the question of your test. Let me just mention such names as Alex Semin and Eugene Malikin, Ray Whitney and Roberto Luongo, Bobby Ryan and Sergey Gonchar, Marian Hossa and Henrik Lundqvist etc, etc... But my choice is coming to the Caps youngster Simeon Varlamov. The Washington goaltender is the main reason for Caps comeback from 1-3 deficit against New York Rangers. Now everyone can understand why Bruce Boudreau has his goalies switched after just the first game when Jose Theodore did not play well enough. “The team has great confidence in this kid” he said to the media. And next 6 games have proved he was right. I think he is the one who kept Washington alive during the game 7 first period when he played literally alone against much better played Rangers. It supposed to be tremendously difficult to step up after the home defeat and to play like this kid did. 21 years old, without playoffs experience with close to nothing NHL games played...WOW!

    And what is it about the “hottest” team? Can I give you two of them? Thank you. These are Ducks and Hurricanes. Ducks dominated against the President Trophy winner San Jose Sharks. They have my prediction beaten completely (I said 4-0 to Sharks). Yes, I am ashamed, but not me only. It’s not so easy task now to predict Detroit vs. Anaheim result. Isn’t it?
    Hurricanes have shown unbelievable spirit even for playoffs. The game winning goal they scored 0.2 sec to play and unprecedented comeback during last 80 seconds of game 7 is still beyond of my believe. And on the top of all – it was done against the Devils and Martin Brodeur! Enough, no more coments...

  2. ...AND WHO IS NOT...
    It’s pretty long list of individuals who are, in my opinion, underachieved, underplayed, underworked etc. Significant stronger performance was expected by such players as Caps Mike Green, Sharks Patrick Marleau and Eugene Nabokov, Columbus Rick Nash etc. But for me this unpleasant number 1 position of this round is belonged to San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thornton. He finished the regulations with +16 and 18.0% goals/shots numbers. Now, look his playoffs stats: -3 and 5.9% accordingly. It says a lot. He was able to shake his team and has shown some lack of leadership abilities.

    So which team has brought the main disappointment to us? The answer is closed to the previous paragraph. San Jose Sharks. President Trophy winner was completely overplayed by Conference 8 placed team in contrary to the most predictions, my own included. The Sharks official website has posted the pool “Is this the toughest playoff loss in Sharks history?” The 86% of the Sharks fans answered “Yes”. I don’t think whatever has to be added to it.