April 11, 2007

Opening Night Jitters & A West Coast Marathon

Marc-Andre Fleury overcame a serious case of stage fright but an even more serious case of a Senators onslaught proved too much for the young Penguins in a 6-3 loss to Ottawa.

Fleury's inexperience was a topic of concern entering his first NHL playoffs. The Penguins did their best to dismiss any such discussion by reminding everyone that goalies like Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden, Ron Hextall and Cam Ward did pretty well in their first playoffs.

If Fleury can play the rest of the series like he did for much the final 50 minutes of this game, goaltending will be the least of their concerns. Unfortunately the Pens have no shortage of other concerns either.

Sidney Crosby, in his first NHL playoff game too, was quiet, though he scored 1 goal, had another disallowed and was dominant on faceoffs. Evgeny Malkin looked really lost, and was 2 for 18 in the faceoff circle. Jordan Staal scored a lucky goal, otherwise was a non-factor.

Anaheim pulled out a 2-1 victory over Minnesota, thanks to a late goal from the lanky Dustin Penner. Penner had a great post-season last year, and the Ducks need him, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to up their games this post season.

The San Jose Sharks squeaked out a 5-4 victory in double over time. Goalie Evgeny Nabokov gets my nightly Legendary Performer of the Night Award for pulling out a win despite playing with a heavy heart. The Sharks lost sharp shooter Jonathan Cheechoo in the game. His injury status is uncertain.

Speaking of injuries: In one of the strangest injuries I've heard of in a long, long time, Brent Sopel missed Vancouver's opening game after hurting his back while picking up a fallen cracker at home. He is listed as day to day.

I guess we can't accuse the Canucks of not following the NHL's recent promise to be more forthcoming with injury information, now can we?

The Canucks and Stars opened the playoffs with a marathon 4 period overtime game, with the Vancouver Canucks coming out victorious 5 -4 thanks to Henrik Sedin's goal. The Canucks didn't look great in this game, though they dodged several bullets with fortuitous bounces. The Sedin Twins were not a factor until the third OT, then they took over. Kevin Bieksa played a ton but was almost too much of a keener at times, trying to do too much in his first NHL playoff contest. Markus Naslund, Jeff Cowan, Taylor Pyatt and Willie Mitchell looked good.

The story of the game was of course Roberto Luongo, who never played a post season match entering the night, and by the next morning he had played in more than 2. He looked human at times early in the game, not challenging the shooter as much as he normally would. He settled down as the game went on, extending the affair well into the night. Luongo made 72 saves, breaking Kirk McLean's record from game one of the 1994 Stanley Cup finals.

Dallas impressed me greatly, more often pressing the affair and looking like the fresher team until the third overtime. Mind you, the Canucks lost 2 forwards in the game, Matt Cooke and Alex Burrows, due to injury, with surprise returnee Ryan Kesler also injured but staying in the game. The Stars were relentless in their pressure forecheck. Sergei Zubov was a force, with over 50 minutes played!

I feel sorry for the Stars, as the team that loses these heartbreakers rarely win the series. I don't have the statistical proof to back that up at this late hour. It is more of an impression I've had from past marathons.

The game was the longest in Canucks history, and the 6th longest game in NHL history.

Speaking of Canucks history, the Canucks marked the 25th anniversary of their 1982 Cinderella run through the NHL playoffs by welcoming back many members of the team. Darcy Rota, Doug Halword, Garth Butcher, Richard Brodeur, Rick Lanz, Stan Smyl, Harold Snepsts, Tiger Williams and Hall of Fame play by play announcer Jim Robson were all honored prior to the broadcast.

All in all, it was a great opening night of the 2007 NHL playoffs, and a great night to be a Canucks fan!

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