First round finishes

I didn't get to watch as much as I'd've liked, last night.  I watched the second and third periods of the Flyers and Rangers, and most of the first period of the Avs and Wild.

So I saw everything that mattered of the former game, and very little of the latter.  And missed all of the Kings and Sharks, which was actually the series I most wanted to watch.

The Rangers got off to a quick start (well, relative to my watching) as they got a power play in less than forty seconds.  They didn't score on it, but did threaten quite a bit, and managed to score shortly after it ended.  Zuccarello tossed the puck toward the front of the net from the half wall, and found Carcillo's stick as he deflected it into the net.

The Rangers kept the upper hand through the rest of the period (including an impressive flurry right before time expired), but only managed one more goal, eight and a half minutes after the first.

In the third, it was clear that the Rangers were in lead-protect mode, and were mostly focused on keeping the Flyers out.  I'm not at all a fan of that kind of "prevent defense" mentality; it focuses on preventing very small percentage plays, and concedes a lot of larger percentage plays (larger in aggregate, not individually).  And overall, it works out much worse.

But it worked out ok, as the Rangers were able to keep the Flyers to only one goal in the third.

So the Rangers will face the Pens, which should be an interesting series.

The timing worked out pretty well, as I flipped over to the Wild/Avs game just at the opening faceoff.  And it started out very well for the Avs, as they got a power play goal in the third minute.  Things were looking pretty good for them until a mystery tripping penalty call was made on Wilson a minute later.

Minnesota didn't score, but they definitely seized the better of the play for the next several minutes, and Koivu put one in about five minutes later.  Things looked up again for the Avs when, several minutes later, McGinn got it past Kuemper to restore their lead.

Unfortunately, that was about when I had to turn the game off, so I missed the Wild coming back and winning in overtime.  Very disappointing.

I've already seen some people blaming Varly for "failing to hold the lead", but that's some terrible "analysis".  It isn't any easier to hold a lead (from a goalie's perspective, anyway) than it is to build one.  It's frustrating, but no goalie will ever be so predictable as to not give up a lead.  Sometimes he'll make the save, sometimes he won't; whether the team is ahead, tied, or behind has no bearing on that question.

I'll go out on a limb and say that the better team won.  Possessionally, the Wild were much better than the Avs this season, despite their respective records.  So the Wild should have been favored (I don't really know if they were, generally), coming in.  Much of the difference in records comes from Varly playing considerably over his head (ie: more than an entire percentage point better than his career average), to the tune of twenty goals over the season.  And there was no reason to expect that to continue in the playoffs (it was possible, but equally possible that he'd play significantly worse than his career numbers).

Oh, and on another goalie note, I was amused to see that a) another goalie was pulled (I believe that makes twelve for the playoffs, so far), and that b) the team pulling the goalie actually won (I think that's a first for the season).  It's a bit of a sign that, in the thirteen minutes and change that Bryz played, he only needed to stop one shot on goal.  That's some domination.

Anyway, I was a little disappointed, both because I like Varly (domestic violence aside) and because I used to enjoy watching the Avs play (haven't had that opportunity in a long time).

Which brings us to the last game, the Kings/Sharks game that I entirely missed.  I saw a bunch of tweets yesterday that the Sharks were going to fold like a cheap suit, and it would be easy to say that that's what happened.  But possession numbers show that the game was very close from start to finish, and the difference really comes down to goaltending.

Quick stopped 39 of 40, while Niemi only stopped 25 of 28 (two empty net goals gave the final score).

That actually makes it look like the Sharks had a big edge in possession, but they really didn't, as their lead in Fenwick only came in the last five minutes or so, with LA focused on maintaining their lead (which is to say that you'd expect a large shot lead in that situation).  In fact, 5v5 close Fenwick was dead even in the game.

I wonder how extreme the overreaction will be from Sharks fans and management.  Well, actually, given the ages of the key players, there might not be such a thing as an overreaction.  But if you were just to evaluate expectations, without accounting for age-related decline, you'd say they were merely unlucky (or "Caps West").

Anyway, all of that leaves us with an all-LA series and a very North-South (Chicago/Minnesota) series in the West.  And a small grundge match (Rangers/Penguins) and a large one (Bruins/Habs) in the East.  I feel pretty comfortable picking Chicago, LA, and Boston to win their series; I'd give a small edge to the Pens in theirs, but wouldn't go so far as to say I'm comfortable picking them to win (especially given the odds of Fleury remembering that he's a pretty terrible playoff goalie).

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