Today is the day. By the time the last and most enduring hockey fan has wound down and gone to bed, we’ll know who managed cowboy up and get’erdone, and who more greatly resembles the Joe Thornton of Playoffs Past. The three different series will be played in two nations but the lingua franca of the street is success at any cost.
In the Bell Centre, we’ll see the Boston Bruins face down their rivals and personal demons when they take on the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs jumped out to a two game lead in this series and looked like they would dominate it the way they did the regular season series. Then came game three right in the Bell Centre where tonights game will be played. The Bruins took a 2-0 lead in the first, and maintained their lead the rest of the night for a 4-2 win. The next game was a much closer affair that featured both amazingly good, and amazingly bad goaltending in each cage. Michael Ryder opened and closed the scoring with the type of goals that will always make highlight reels.
Then the teams returned to the Garden. Boston has had a well covered weak performance at home all season. Despite the momentum of two wins up north, no one was certain what would happen. It took almost three quarter of regulation for someone to find the back of the net as both Thomas and Price shined in net and performed at the level their fans hoped they would. Halpern would tie the score ten minutes later. What followed capped off the best game of hockey I’ve seen since the first match between the USA and Canada at the Vancouver Olympics. Regulation was not enough. A single overtime, was not enough. The game took over Twitter, Facebook and other social media. In double overtime in front of millions of fans, Nathan Horton proved he had the chops to get it done in the playoffs.
Vancouver is the Presidents Trophy winner, The Chicago Blackhawks, despite being the defending champions squeaked into the playoffs when the Minnesota Wild failed to qualify on the last day. The Canucks started the playoffs out with a blast, shutting out the Blackhawks in game one, and winning games two and three without the need for overtime. No one has seen that team since. In game four Chicago would fill the score sheet with seven goals and six different goal scorers. Game five was as five nothing pasting that saw Hossa and Keith draw blood twice and Kane light the lamp. Game six was at least a better showing, the game went to overtime, but they coughed up a lead after the first period.
The two versus seven matchup in the east couldn’t have greater contrasts if you’d designed them in from the ground up. While both teams have their superstar leaders, Miller and Pronger, that’s about all they have in common. The Sabres are as blue collar as teams get in the current NHL.The well traveled Mike Greier is just as heavily relied upon as rising defenseman Tyler Myers. The Flyers were among the elite in scoring with six players who had twenty or more goals. The Sabres were more towards the middle of the pack with just four. Pronger is known as an abrasive, sometimes dirty and physically imposing figure. Miller has always been more contained, cool and focused.
The series has swung back and forth between the two teams with Philadelphia picking up games two and three between to 1-0 shutouts, games five and six were both split in overtime and tonight we find out which team has the stones to advance.
While the Boston-Montreal series is only at game six, in this case momentum wears a spoked-B. The Bruins will need leading scorer Patrice Bergeron to continue his dominance, and the Canadiens will need Mike Cammalleri to assert himself and be accountable defensively in order to succeed. The Buffalo-Philadelphia series will be won by whichever team puts in a complete game effort tonight. The question in the Vancouver-Chicago matchup is if the Wonder Twins and Ryan Kesler can snap out of their funks and rise to the occasion or if they will continue to be out scored by the likes of David Bolland and Corey Crawford. Whichever way each game goes, there is zero chance of it being boring.