May 11, 2013 by Sal Ientile
As is always the case there has been some unexpected happenings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far. Teams with high expectations are done, teams with low expectations are still alive and everything between has made this an exciting 1st round.
Josh Harding Called Upon To Stand Tall For The Minnesota Wild.
It didn’t take long for the drama to begin this year. In the pre-game warmups of the first game of the playoffs, 8th seeded Minnesota Wild starting goalie Niklas Backstrom went down with a lower body injury. Backup Josh Harding, recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis was immediately thrust into action against the best team in the NHL through 48 regular season games with no word of warning. And he did himself proud.
Harding stepped in and played respectably for the Wild. It’s been a tough year for the Wild goaltender but he wasn’t about to hang his head low and quit. Given the opportunity to play he accepted the challenge like the pro he is and gave the Wild as much of a chance as they were going to get against a better team like the Hawks.
On May 5, 2013 Josh Harding won his first ever Stanley Cup Playoff game with a superb 25 save performance against some of the best shooters in the league. In the end, the Wild were overwhelmed by Chicago’s depth, skill and experience.
Canucks Swept 4 Straight By San Jose Sharks.
It’s not really a shock that the San Jose Sharks won their first round series against the Vancouver Canucks. The two teams were only separated by 2 points in the final standings after 48 games. The shock is how the Canucks lost. Vancouver failed to win a game and never really looked interested for majority of the series.
It was an intriguing clash between organizations with recent playoff disappointments fresh in the collective memory. Sometimes it’s better for teams with a failed core to fuse youth into depth positions and create a positive vibe. Something the Sharks did better than the Canucks all throughout the season and into the playoffs. Where the Sharks traded away parts that proved incapable of leading to the promise land to open up space for youngsters, the Canucks panicked and acquired vets that never delivered.
What the Canucks do next is hard to say but one thing is for sure. They will do everything in their power to trade one of their goaltenders this summer – probably Roberto Luongo. Where he ends up as a huge mystery at this point.
The Pittsburgh Penguins – A Tale Of Two Teams.
The Pens have become an unpredictable playoff entity in recent years. Failures increasingly replace the belief once widely spread that this organization had multiple Stanley Cup runs in its immediate future. And in their 1st round series against the New York Islanders they have once again been all over the place.
The Penguins won Game 1 and Game 5 by a total score of 9-0, yet have been outscored 14-11 in Games 2,3 and 4 – two of which resulted in losses.
Penguins Cup winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has finally taken a seat on the bench after three straight bad playoffs. His replacement Tomas Vokoun has an opportunity to step up and give the Penguins the goaltending they’ll need to go far in the playoffs. If he runs with the chance who knows what that means for the Penguins franchise starter Fleury going forward.
There is a sense that if the Penguins are to go far, even win the Stanley Cup this year, it will have to be Fleury who gets back in there at some point and regains the form that saw him play regular minutes in Cup Finals past.
What Happened To The Montreal Canadiens?
No one expected the Habs to finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference this season – but they did. And no one expected them to look like a 13 seed in the 1st round against the Ottawa Senators – but they did.
It all kind of fell apart for the Canadiens who were in good shape tied 1-1 after two games. In Game 3 they trailed and lost their cool, running around causing fights and taking dumb penalties. That was it for them in hindsight.
In Game 4 the Habs let a 2-0 3rd period lead slip away. They lost that game in OT, but they lost something even more valuable that night. Canadiens starting goaltender Carey Price left the game late and did not return to the series. By the time Game 5 rolled around the Habs were cooked. Too many key injuries, too many bad penalties, too much talking between games, and not enough winning hockey games.
It’s not as bad as it seems though. The Habs are rebuilding and it was some of their young players that really looked great at times throughout the series. Most notably Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher played very well for the Canadiens. They can only improve from here.