Friday, May 15, 2009
Detroit Red Wings over the Anaheim Ducks (4-3): You have to give major credit for what the Ducks have done this postseason. They knocked off the top seeded San Jose Sharks in the first round in six games. Then came up against the defending champion Red Wings. Despite being significant underdogs the Ducks played the Red Wings tough all series forcing a game 7 match-up. Then in game 7 after going down 2-0 early the Ducks battled back to tie the game 3-3. Unfortunately it wasn't enough, as Detroit's Dan Cleary broke the tie with three minutes remaining to advance the Red Wings to the next round.
The Red Wings showed why they are the defending Champs in this series. The Wings always find a way to win and did so in this series as well. Down 2-1 in the series with game 4 at Anaheim, time to panic? Not for the Red Wings they go out and win 6-3 on the road. Detroit then comes home and goes 3-2 in the series with a 4-1 victory. The Red Wings were never out of it as all three of their losses were by only one goal. Detroit should be the favorite in the Conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Carolina Hurricanes over the Boston Bruins (3-2 in OT): The Bruins dominated the Eastern Conference all season. Boston then swept the Montreal Canadians in the first round, but came up against a hot Hurricanes team in the second round. Boston will be back though as they have a lot of young talent entering the prime of their careers. Regardless of the future the Bruins have to be wondering what happened in this series. Five games this series were decided by two or more goals and didn't offer much in the way of suspense. The two games that came down to a single goal had the same result; a 3-2 overtime victory for the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes so far this postseason have been playing like a team of destiny. No one gave Carolina much consideration for beating the New Jersey Devils in the first round, much less winning the Eastern Conference, but they are now four wins away from that goal. The Hurricanes will now have to face the defending Eastern Conference champs the Pittsburgh Penguins. If the Penguins can take anything from the Hurricanes first two series, is that you can never count them out. Carolina won their first round by scoring two goals on the road in the final 10 seconds to knock off the Devils in game 7. They then scored in the final two minutes of the first overtime to win a second game 7 on the road.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
No playoff series was more highly anticipated than the Penguins vs. the Capitals and the match-up of the NHL's two best players Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin. Crosby and Ovechkin combined for 27 points in the series. Through the first six games the series lived up to the hype, with four games decided in overtime and each team stealing one win on the road. In game seven though the Pittsburgh Penguins went into Washington and showed why they were in the Stanley Cup Finals last season, trouncing the Caps with a 6-2 win.
The Pens got on the scoreboard early and often in the game scoring five of their six goals in the first two periods. The Pens took advantage of a power play mid-way through the first period to get on the board with a Crosby rebound. Eight seconds later Craig Adams put the Pens up 2-0. As the second period began the Caps were still very much in the game. They had gotten early pressure in the 1st period and could get back in the game with a quick score to start the second period. Two goals were scored in the first three minutes of the second period, unfortunately for the Caps they were both for the Pens. The Capitals had to replace their rookie sensation Goalie Simeon Varlamov, who was a big reason why they had advanced as far as they had in the playoffs, for the veteran Jose Theodore.
Varlamov only managed to stop 14-18 shots and didn't have the magic he had earlier in the post season. Though the blame shouldn't fall on him too much. The Caps defense, which had been spotty all series, fell apart in game 7. Also in hindsight one might want to question the coaching decision of having Varlamov start in 13 straight playoff games. Normally its not a huge deal for one goalie to play throughout the playoffs, but Varlamov only played in 6 games scattered throughout the regular season. He wasn't helped by the fact that the Caps defenders let the Penguins out shoot Washington all series. Now you had to start Varlamov in games 6 and 7 with the Caps facing elimination, but the Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau should have considered giving Varlamov a night off. Game 4 would have been the perfect time to rest him, the Caps were up 2-1 in the series and had a home game the next night.
Overall I think the best team won the series. The Penguins dominated the series in terms of shots and tempo. They were consistently putting pressure on the Capitals, and were only put in the situation of a 7th game due too the stellar performances of Ovechkin and Varlamov. I think the experience of the Penguins was a big difference in this series. They were never out of any game and never showed signs of pressing. Pittsburgh now advances to the Conference Finals to take on the winner of the Boston vs. Carolina. Overall the Capitals should feel good about their playoff performance. They proved that they were among the best teams in the NHL and found their goalie of the future in Varlamov. They will be back and will likely have a chance for a rematch again in the postseason.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
With the Lakers 118-78 point win last night to give them a 3-2 lead on the Rockets in the series, L.A. is back in control. The Lakers were the favorite by many throughout the season and going into the playoffs were widely considered the team to beat. Right now I question whether the Lakers are really as good as everyone thinks they are. I am skeptical that they can even make the NBA Finals at this point.
I will admit there is a lot to like about this Lakers team. They have the best coach in the league in Phil Jackson. They have one of the league's best players in Kobe Bryant. They have a budding young star in center Andrew Bynum. They have two other second-tier stars in Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and a solid point guard in Derek Fisher. The Lakers also have a fairly strong bench of solid role players. L.A. had the NBA's second best record and was tops in the tougher Western Conference. The Lakers have plenty of experience, losing in the Finals last year and Kobe and Fisher have won championships in the past. Despite all of that I don't think this is a championship caliber team. For one major reason they don't always play like a team.
I think they will fall to the Nuggets in the Conference Finals for that reason. To often the L.A. Lakers become the Kobe show and he takes over the game. I just don't think that mentality will work against a Denver team that has been playing the best basketball they've ever played. With the addition of Chauncey Billups the Nuggets have been playing together as a team and have been leaving their opponents in the rear-view mirror. I think the same thing could happen during a 7 game series. The Lakers can be taken out of their element if you stop Kobe. And right now Kobe is pressing more than usual because of deficiencies in their interior game. Bynum hasn't been the same since coming back from his injury and that has made the Lakers a bit soft inside. The Rockets exploited this weakness and the team's reliance on Kobe in game 4 by handing L.A. an embarrassing loss. They did this without their two star players Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. Houston did it by playing with a team first mentality and it showed a weak spot in the Lakers game plan. I think that the Nuggets style will expand on that weakness and knock the Lakers out of the playoffs. The Lakers are a great team and fun to watch, but I don't think they have what it takes to win the title.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
The Cleveland Cavaliers are now 8-0 in the playoffs and are well on their way to redeeming themselves for getting swept in the Finals two years ago. Cleveland has won each of their games by double digits, with an average of 16.75 points. The Cavs haven't even had a team give them a run so far in the post-season Its no surprise that Cleveland is in the Conference Finals, after they led the NBA with a 66-16 record. The Cavs are led by the league's MVP and the deepest bench in the league.
LeBron James right now is the best player in the NBA, and not just because he was named the league's Most Valuable Player this season. He does everything for the Cavaliers, leading them in points, rebounds and assists. LeBron's greatest asset to the Cavs might be how he helps the rest of his team. If you compare Cleveland's roster to that of the other playoff teams, you'll see that just about every other team has a better lineup on paper. On the court though is a different story as the Cav's performance has shown who truly has the best lineup. They might not have the name recognition but Cleveland has a tremendous blance of offense and defense. They can score from the perimeter and inside with equal ability. Guards Mo Williams and Delonte West give the Cav's and LeBron options on the perimeter. Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas and forward Anderson Varejao help out inside and are quality rebounders. Off the bench guard Daniel Gibson, guard/forward Wally Szczerbiak, forward Joe Smith, and center Ben Wallace give the Cavs quality minutes. While none are great players many of them would be starting on plenty of other teams in the league. Smith and Wallace are both veterans that help the Cavs off the court as much as they do on it. Combined this group is the perfect compliment to LeBron and he is to them as well. The Cav's play together as a team and that is the true key to their success. While LeBron may be the poster boy he has built up the players around them and turned them into the best team in the league.
I don't think they'll go undefeated on this playoff run but I think they will be NBA champions when its all said and done. They are too dominate at home and play too well together that they will overcome whatever teams they face in the Conference and NBA Finals.