The season is over. In the wake of a hard fought series against a team that had the Bruins number all season, it’s hard to see how anyone can be devastated. This isn’t the loss to the Flyers after going up three games to none. It’s not a loss to a truly hated team like the Canadiens. It isn’t even loss where there was a complete breakdown and most of the team didn’t show up like in the last playoff tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The top players could have been better. Marchand had one impact game. Krejci as was the case all season showed up when he wanted too. Lucic was limited in impact. But as a whole the top six were not effective, and the defense was lacking in consistent physicality. Denying that Adam McQuaid is both more physical than Corvo, Mottau or Zanon is just silly. He’s also better equipped to deal with hits and drives of the large aggressive forwards of the Capitals.

For that matter, as much as the top nine forwards tried, only Lucic is over 200lbs and aggressive. Rolston is listed at 215lbs but not exactly going to make anyone cower in fear, Jordan Caron is 202lbs and has a bit too much puppy bounce to scare anyone. That’s it for 200lb plus forwards other than Shawn Thornton on the entire roster. The Capitals on the other hand had only two forwards and one defenseman on the whole roster listed below the 200lb mark.

In goal, the series saw Tim Thomas allow one less goal than last years first round series against the Montreal Canadiens. He turned in a more than reasonable 2.23Sv% and 2.14GAA. The issue was at the other end of the ice where shots on goal came from the blueline or the wall. The powerplay was again a wasted two minutes. Only two players had more than one goal. The Bruins, and likely no NHL will ever go anywhere when the top two scorers in a playoff round are Rich Peverley and Andrew Ference. The two are good soldiers, but they should not be leading the army.

Was uneven and curious officiating an issue? Yes. There were calls that should cost people jobs. They were about even in which team they put at a disadvantage, but the Bruins powerplay was worthless and they didn’t capitalize on the chances to put the puck in the net, on the ice at least, it comes down to the teams failure to execute.

There are three game seven’s going on over the next day and a bit. The Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals have been slugging it out from Bunker Hill to Washington Monument. The New Jersey Devils have been avoiding rats and plush toy in their throw down with the Southeast Division champion Florida Panthers from Snooki’s backyard to God’s waiting room. Daniel Alfredsson‘s  Ottawa Senators have been filibustering King Henrik’s attempts to push his team to round two.

But what does it all mean to win or lose:

For the Washington Capitals, to win means they have a chance at still being mostly intact in June, August and October. If they lose, having already shed a coach this season, and barely managed to avoid sullying the reputation of one of the most successful coaches in CHL history, the ramifications could go from top to bottom. General Manager George McFee has to be feeling the heat, and if he goes any new general manager is probably going to excuse the entire coaching staff. The changes however shouldn’t stop there, this team has not escaped the second round in the Ovechkin era, and while goaltending doesn’t appear to be a problem, team character is very much an issue, as is the durability of key players. If I were sitting in the corner office I can honestly say there’s at least five or six guys who would be moved if at all possible, most of them making above the league average.

The Florida Panthers are honestly in the perhaps the second most envious position of all the teams in entering a game seven. No one expected what some have termed a “frankenteam” to even make the playoffs, much less capture the division title. There’s a lot of young home grown players like Gudbransen who haven’t been to the playoffs at all, and this is good seasoning that will stand them in good stead. If they win, great they get to host at least two more games and remind the state of Florida they do have a hockey team a little longer.

The New York Rangers if they lose can thank the Vancouver Canucks for bowing out first and taking the “curse” of the Presidents Trophy off their hands. But, with their defense allowing as few shots as they do, and the offense getting towards the top of the NHL this year, one has to take a look at the crease. Lundqvists numbers in the post season are worse each year than his regular season numbers and that’s just not a winning formula. If they win, it’s what’s expected but also the road get’s easier, of all the teams in remaining, the Rangers have had better success against everyone else in the past regular season than they did the Senators.

For the Ottawa Senators like the Panthers they have a lot of playoff rookies on the roster, and not many folks picked them to make the playoffs. Unlike the Sons of Sunrise, the core of the Senators is older. Daniel Alfredsson is the heart and soul of his team, and while discounting the work of and value of Spezza, Cowen, Anderson and others is a bit silly, he’s the catalyst and no longer young. A win brings them deeper than almost anyone would have predicted a month ago, a loss is one less opportunity for Alfredsson to hoist the Cup for the Senators.

The Boston Bruins honestly have the least pressure. They won last year, they came within just a couple points of last years points total, and they won the division and took the series the distance despite injuries severely degrading the reliability of the defense and key offensive players being both out and walking wounded. If they win, it’s expected and no one in the city will complain, but it’s not going to turn into a case where hubris will immediately take over. If the do lose, well, there’s always next year, given some of the players signed in Juniors and out of college, don’t be surprised if the second tier players on the team are a bit different next year.

The New Jersey Devils have an amazing threesome of top forwards, Parise, Kovalchuk, Elias, and some good support in the other nine. Unfortunately it won’t be they who decide the game. Martin Brodeur could have retired last year, two years ago or possibly five and still be known as one of the greatest goaltenders ever. What remains to be seen is if he can get his team over the first round hurdle won last time. If he does, reputation takes over and players who face him for the rest of the year will remember exactly what it is to face a goalie who’s that damn good. If they don’t get it done, MB30 has likely played his last game in the NHL, and lost his last home game. If the team goes forward, the chances that Parise is retained this summer have to go up, and in the wake of the likely departure of Brodeur, the team will need a legitimate home grown hero.

Back in October I highlighted three players, all aging, all right wings, all stand up guys as players to watch. Of the three, two are still playing. Jarome Iginla, perhaps the best known of the three has been deprived of the post season again.

If Daniel Alfredsson plays his last game in the NHL in game seven of his Ottawa Senators series with eastern conference champions the New York Rangers, he’ll have to say it was a pretty good year. Not many picked the team to even make the playoffs. The Senators not only made the playoffs, they menaced the defending, and mostly intact, Stanley Cup champions throughout the year for the division lead.

At thirty and a lot the Senators Captain put up his best goal total since the 2007-2008 season. He was selected as All Star captain. In that All Star weekend he got to play with a number of his regular season teammates, countrymen Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and do so in his own barn. If he and his squad can clinch a second round berth there’s no reason he can’t hit the fifty post season goal total he stands just four away from. For that matter the eleven points to get him to one hundred career post season points isn’t out of reach,

When the original Winnipeg Jets uprooted and absconded to the infernal regions of the desert southwest they took with them a future icon. It’s doubtful many people tabbed the then sophomore Shane Doan to be the teams captain in years to come. It’s also doubtful that even the harshest critics of sunbelt expansion expected there to be anywhere near the angst, drama, confusion and financial turmoil that would haunt the team seemingly from day one.

Through ownership problems that span a decade (and counting) one thing has remained constant for the desert dogs and their fans. Shane Doan. Captain, consistently the hardest working man on the team and a leader in all ways. No one has been more dedicated to the Phoenix Coyotes or their fans. Free agents didn’t sign there because of the drama that contributes to historical low attendance, some players even refused to sign there after being drafted. Year after year when speculation turned to someone wanting to bring the Halkirk native to another city he quietly demurred and went back to community work between workouts and games.

Today, one of these three captains is assured of seeing the second round for the first time in his career. One of these icons has to win one more to join them, The third is likely weighing if he stays in the only city he’s ever known another year with a team that has more questions than answers.

20: The officials healthcare plan doesn’t include vision.

10: Owners know it’s cheaper to lean on Bettman to have calls made to favor their team than it is to pay good teams.

9: European soccer leagues have too high a standard for diving.

8: Kerry Fraser is their idol.

7: Those who can do, those who can’t officiate.

6: The NHL is trying to take the pressure off of NBA officials as the worst in sports.

5: A league that only has five national advertisers can’t be too picky about the people left over from Wal-Mart’s job fairs.

4: #NHLOfficials are more concerned with saving their backsides than calling a good game.

3: Accountability is soooo overrated.

2: If they aren’t seen on tv more times a period than the goalie how will they ever get their big Hollywood break?

1: Hello, my name is Tim Peel.

Roberto Luongo has had an arresting two plus years. Sliding into the crease in relief at the Olympics, two Presidents Trophy’s, and a Stanley Cup final appearance in which he shutout his opponent twice, held them to two goals once, and saw the team in front of him score just eight goals in a series that went seven. The list of players who can be blamed for that defeat ahead of Luongo is about twenty players long, including Rome for waking the Bruins up and both Sedin twins for being entirely useless for all seven games.

This season, it’s all on him. His usual slow start in October had the Canucks mired low in tenth in the west on November first. From then on it was a solid performance through the regular season. In most NHL seasons five shutouts and a .919sv% are enough to have your name in the Vezina conversation. This year there were quite a few goaltenders having better years in the regular season.

The playoffs started and it was October all over. Two games, two losses. The problem wasn’t necessarily that Luongo played poorly. Either performance was better than anything seen before the final game of the Penguins-Flyers series. The insurmountable issue in the first round this year was the same one he ran into in the Stanley Cup finals a spring ago: he was dueling with the best goalie on the planet. He didn’t have to be the above average goalie he is most of the time, he had to be not merely elite but the best. He lost last years goaltending duel in the finals to the Conn-Smythe winner who also picked up the Vezina. He lost his starting position, perhaps fairly, to Corey Schneider who also failed to out match Jonathan Quick.

The problem with Luongo isn’t his athleticism. The problem for Luongo, at least on the ice, isn’t even his decision making. Luongo’s problem is that his confidence has two setting: world beating and kicked spaniel. How does he change that? While it’s likely at his age that he doesn’t especially in the cauldron that is the Vancouver hockey market, it is possible. The change might even be for the good.

In his shoes after I clean my locker out, I call my agent and tell him to do two things: 1: I’m not willing to discuss a trade until training camp. 2 Find me a  trainer and motivational coach. Then I ask the other half to pick a place to spend two weeks where they don’t speak English or at least don’t play hockey to go for a long vacation. When the beach time is over I spend the rest of the summer getting in the best shape of my life, learning the tendencies of as many players as I can and making sure when I walk into camp and take the ice there’s no question in my own mind I have the goods to succeed.

The first and most important person Luongo has to convince he can be better is himself. You can see in interviews or hear it on the radio when he has his swagger. It’s equally easy to see when he doesn’t. He needs to take a page form the book of Dan Girardi, Tim Thomas, and Martin St Louis and not just convince people you can play, but leave them knowing they don’t have anyone better to fill the position.

Today is both a beginning and an ending for several teams. The opportunity to advance, and the opportunity to extend are two ends of the same rope.

The Pittsburgh Penguins entered action against the Philadelphia Flyers at noon today. They needed more from the backend. Goaltending was not a duel of excellence but a competition to be less execrable. The defenses only prime time performances for either team in this series were in passing the puck to the eventual goalscorer. Entering action today the “experts” favorite to win the Cup had their backs to the wall for the third straight game. Twice they rose to the occasion and struck back at their cross state and divisional rival striking the net seemingly at will. Today their knees struck the ground and they surrendered.

The Washington Capitals had the chance to play to the level everyone expected of them at the start of the hockey year. They signed a solid goaltender. The brought in gamers like Brouwer and Ward to get the right mix of attitude in the room and on the bench. They were all set to win the east, and potentially the Presidents Trophy. They barely scraped their way into the playoffs costing a coach his job on the way. When they jumped ahead in the series fans and admirers were ready to anoint them top dogs again. They let their foot off the snake. They never held a lead, they took a few silly penalties and missed on a few good shots. They made poor plays giving up odd man rushes and failed to clear the puck from the net mouth.

When two teams with championship pedigrees stepped up to the line today, one grabbed hold and climbed back to even ground, the other team let go of the rope and fell into the abyss of “there’s always next year”.

In the past decade there have been two constants in the NHL’s western conference. The first was a Red Wings team that was feared across the NHL for its smooth play and utter dominance.  The second was the danger and dynamic play of the San Jose Sharks. Last season the Sharks were a scary team with everything going for them but health.

The Detroit Red Wings peaked a few years back with a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup finals. The next year they were beaten in the finals by the Penguins. Since then they have lost players like Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios. Zetterberg and Datsyuk have taken a step backwards. And the formerly reliable Nicklas Lidstrom turned in the lowest regular season point total of his career. Worse he was held without a single point in the playoffs for the first time in his career as his team was casually brushed aside by the Nashville Predators.

Joe Thornton has face a lot of criticism over the last few years. Some of it was earned, some of it was not. In the last three seasons, he hasn’t been the problem. Injuries hobbled and blinded the San Jose Sharks last year and they still played eighteen playoff games. This year after yet another year of management shuffling players around in an effort to be seen doing something.  How good that something is can be measured in the year over year performance and number of Stanley Cup appearances by the team.

For the Red Wings who are left without an heir to Lidstrom, they face the very real possibility of being shellacked in their own city at the Winter Classic, with not much in the draft pool. The Sharks have a few pieces they can move, but is their management competent to do it well? Joe Thornton’s seven million dollar contract is no longer the huge albatross it was in the early post lockout seasons. A team that needs a number one or number two center to put them over the top, he’s a viable option. Marleau and one or two other members of the old guard are still potent but the window has closed, the torch has been passed and the light of ascendance shines in other cities.

Good News Bad News For Both the Bruins and Capitals

Item 1: The Bruins solved Holtby.

Item 2: The Capitals won anyways.

***

With Raffi Torres gone for the foreseeable future it will be interesting to see if the much discussed penalty free buyout is included in the next CBA if the Coyotes or whoever they are and wherever they are by next fall, decide to use this on him. His contract isn’t outrageous unless of you believe he shouldn’t have one at all, so it is possible a buyer would decide to bury him in the AHL if he didn’t change his game.

***

Missing defensemen are becoming more common. The Florida Panthers are playing without Jason Garrison. The Philadelphia Flyers are definitely missing the services of Grossman. The Boston Bruins will very likely not put Corvo on the ice next game after he blocked a shot earlier today.  Hal Gill hasn’t played in a while for the Nashville Predators.

***

The Florida Panthers series against the New Jersey Devils has to be the most entertaining series in the opening round. The tempo has been solid, the play tight. There’s been offense, there’s been defense and lots of drama. You might not be used to seeing half of one roster on TV and in arena advertisements a few dozen times on your way to your seat, but hot damn the actions been good.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins on the other hand have been painful to watch. The sloppiest hockey the NHL has seen since the preseason following the lockout. Stupid penalties by players who should know better, and goaltending who’s most consistent well executed play is digging the puck out of the back of the net.

***

For those who missed it, the NHL network is playing OHL games midday you can get a look at top prospects like Cody Ceci in action.

***

How good it is for the NHL as a whole and the teams individually for both the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes to win their first division titles can’t be understated. Florida will probably not ever produce NHL superstars at the rate that Ontario does, but there is a big enough population there so that even if only 1% of teens reach the USHL, division one college or CHL level hockey, that is still a very large number of young men. Arizona isn’t a small state either and it could if the Coyotes stay and are successful match Saskatchewan or Newfoundland. Between the two states you’ve got a population almost equal to all of Canada which is why they ar ethere in the first place: advertising and tv money if nothing else.

The Bruins line shuffling begins. There are a couple reasons this may have happened it could be message sending, it could be trying to spread the offense out over the four lines. It almost doesn’t matter. The meager scoring we’ve seen so far is not acceptable. It needs to change if the team isn’t going to be golfing by May first.

Lucic-Krejci-Rolston

The pluses of this line are pretty evident, heavy bodied wall warriors and a slick passer. The problem is that this line is probably the slowest possible combination of forwards on the team. They won’t make a lot of defensive mistakes most games, but they have very little change of recovery if they make a bad turnover in open ice.

Paille-Bergeron-Peverley.

Adding Paille to this pairing gives them size no one normally in the top six can except Lucic, and gives up nothing in the way of speed or defensive responsibility. As long as this line stays together expect to see Ovechkin and Semin pulled off the ice when they step out. Paille is a step down in offense for the most part but between the three they have a good matrix for creating turnovers and giving the Capitals defense fits if they get the puck and can skate free.

Pouliot-Kelly-Seguin

With the absence of threat from Seguin, and most of the other top six this is a logical move. He’s never been even average defensively, and if he’s facing second and third pairing defenseman as is probably the expectation, he’ll have a better chance of contributing offensively. Kelly and Pouliot as a pairing have solid chemistry and have seen a lot of linemates this season and when they are firing on all cylinders provide good two way punch.

Marchand-Campbell-Thornton

I feel like some Ine Kimozy should be playing for this line. One part of the line shakeup is clearly moving the offense around. This line should start off with better chemistry than most given that the three played together a good number of games last season. Even if Marchand doesn’t do the scoring on this line, his speed and terrier mentality will open up the ice for his linemates. Neither Campbell or Thornton has ever been a twenty or thirty goal man, but in the playoffs getting four or five goals across the second season can be the difference between standing on the podium or sitting on the couch.

***

A certain chowderhead in the local media, probably more than one, but regardless, is at it again. Peverley who is the last I heard a forward said the offense isn’t getting good chances in close and doing the dirty work. Claude Julien who happens to be a Jack Adams Award winner said the team isn’t doing the little things in front of the net needed to score. Said chowderhead’s favorite whipping boy said the exact same thing, Now said chowderhead’s favorite whipping boy is a goalie. By definition, he’s more familiar with what makes an offense effective than any other individual. It’s a goalies job to examine every part of every offense every shift. Because everytime he fails to track the puck he’s giving up a goal. Somehow the chowderhead interprets an expert analysis by someone who has been part of a winning team and who beats even good offenses at a higher level than anyone else on a regular basis is stabbing people in the back. Again, the same words and meaning as another player on the team, and the award winning coach but somehow he’s wrong.

Is someone viewing a person’s words as poisonous simply for being on the ‘wrong’ side of a political line?