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Not so quiet on the Western Front

Posted By Mika Oehling On May 22 2010 @ 11:46 am In NHL | No Comments

The End is Near

It may be too early to say that it’s over for the San Jose Sharks, but I think that most people would agree that it’s over for the San Jose Sharks. Facing a 3-0 hole in their series with the Chicago Blackhawks after having beaten the one and only Detroit Red Wings, you have to wonder what it’s going to take for San Jose to come up with a win.

The worst part about last night’s loss to Chicago was probably the fact that they played some of their best hockey yet in this series and they still lost. You got the feeling that they were putting out all the stops on this one and that there was a real sense of urgency that hadn’t been there before. But that was after the feeling of lockjaw passed.

This is the strange thing about this match up: they’re pretty evenly matched on paper. A lot of the game actually occurs in the neutral zone and in the corners, but a small percentage occurs right in front of the net. So this leads to a lot of cycling, a lot of attempts at the cross seam pass, a lot of turnovers, but very few shots on goal. So while those net scrimmages make great highlight reels, the majority of the game is this never ending cycling back and forth and exchanges of bad turnovers in the neutral zone.

This makes the game interesting for goalies. On the one hand, they must experience severe boredom while watching the constant cycling far away from them. On the other hand, they must experience total anxiety when those bad turnovers translate into chances. It seems like everything is under control and that the play is being moved up the line, and then, out of nowhere, the whole play turns and veers suddenly and angrily in your direction. Bad time to be thinking about post-game activities on both ends.

What I don’t understand about the goaltending in this game is how it can go from so bad to so good. The first period had both goaltenders looking shaky, with soft blocks and juicy rebounds. Niemi even looked vulnerable on a couple of the Shark rushes, with mad scrambles in the blue paint and if it hadn’t been for more alert defensemen, those goals should have gone in.

The disallowed first goal for the Sharks really did take the wind out of their sails. Sure, they came back to score the first goal of the game, but that one goal would have made all of the difference and might have prevented the overtime loss on a fluky shot by Byfuglien on a totally surprised Nabokov.

Both goaltenders were incredible in the third period. You could tell that this is where the real fight began. But you have to wonder what was happening in the first period, when both of them seemed to be suffering from playoffs jitters. They were a mess, particularly Nabokov. Granted, he had way more to do than Niemi, as most of the first period action was on his end, but he was fighting for his life against that puck.

Thornton’s trash talking hasn’t advanced the team any and Bolland is having the last laugh on him today. Heatley may be playing injured, and while that may be a sign of the noble warrior, it doesn’t help the team if he’s useless on the ice. And how about Pavelski? You couldn’t shut this guy down with a freight train during their series with Detroit and now, he’s so quiet, you have to wonder if he’s in awe of this Chicago team.

Chicago is an impressive all around team and EA Sports slated them to win the Cup this year. While EA Sports has a bad habit of getting it wrong, slating San Jose to win for the past couple of years while they got eliminated in the first round, this may be their year to get it right. Chicago’s fast, persistent and they play a pretty smart game. They seem very aware of what’s happening all over the ice and they have a Captain with good hockey sense and a great shot. Proclaimed as having the numerical supremacy over a certain Sidney Crosby, Johnathon Toews is THE major factor for Chicago’s success. Numerical supremacy aside, though, he has to win the Cup to take over Sid the Kid, and even that may not be enough for those who already see Sidney as the Greatest Player in the NHL.

What it comes down to in this series is the compete level. San Jose just didn’t compete hard enough in this series and they let themselves fall too far behind. It may be too little, too late for them and Chicago will not back down, especially not with a 3-0 game stranglehold over San Jose.

The West hasn’t been won yet, but it’s irresistible to not look ahead and think to what a match up with either Montreal or Philadelphia would produce. Both teams have played a pretty scrappy game to date, but it’s hard to imagine that either of them can slow down the Blackhawks. Some will argue that Phillly plays a more Western style game, which is much more physical and gritty. Others will say that Montreal is the team of destiny and that Chicago’s bad omens will work against them (don’t forget the mural with Toews and the Cup and the Maid Marion factor).

Can it be said that Philly and Montreal are in the same class as the Chicago Blackhawks if they come head to head in a Stanley Cup playoffs? Maybe, but it’s going to take everything they’ve got to pull it off.

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