Allan Maki shares his opinion on the previous night’s NHL action and looks at the early news of the day Monday through Friday during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
For Peter Budaj of the Montreal Canadiens, it proved to be a grim evening. For Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild, it was the end of an unexpected run. For Tomas Vokoun of the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was one for the archives.
On a Thursday night in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the prevailing storyline was backup goalies being thrust into the starter’s role with their teams desperately needing a victory. For Budaj, a win would have been a career first in the postseason and extended Montreal’s series against the Ottawa Senators. For Harding, a win would have been his second and extended Minnesota’s series against the Chicago Blackhawks. For Vokoun, winning the fourth postseason game of his career would have given Pittsburgh a 3-2 series lead over the New York Islanders.
It was not to be for Budaj. After Carey Price injured himself late in regulation time of Game 4, Budaj came off the bench to surrender the winning goal in overtime. With Price unable to go Thursday, Budaj was back in the net. He gave up two goals on Ottawa’s first six shots. He had a short-handed goal scored against him on a deflection. Another came on a screen. Still more came. In the end, Montreal fans were leaving the Bell Centre well before the 6-1 score became final.
It wasn’t all Budaj’s fault but he didn’t make a save that mattered and that’s what everyone will remember.
It wasn’t to be for Harding, either. After Niklas Backstrom injured himself in the warm-ups of Game 1, Harding came off the bench to face Chicago, the NHL’s top team. Just standing in the net after being diagnosed last fall with Multiple Sclerosis made for a remarkable performance. Then he strained a leg in Game 4 and returned to the action Thursday only to give up a first-period goal and two more in the second until he was pulled for Darcy Kuemper.
Chicago took it in a breeze but sometimes you can win for losing. Harding earned a lot of fans for his efforts.
For Vokoun, it was all good from start to finish. In his first playoff appearance in six years, the 36-year-old Czech, handed the No.1 assignment ahead of Marc-Andre Fleury, made 31 saves in a 4-0 victory, the second shutout of his postseason career.
Funny thing about Vokoun. He’s the only goalie to have 300 wins in the regular season and less than five in the playoffs. The way he looked against the Islanders, he may get a chance to add to his postseason count. If he does, it could make for another compelling saga.
Pushing the reset button
Armed with the five-year contract extension he received last year, Mike Gillis was never going to be pushed out as the Vancouver Canucks’ president and general manager. But, honestly, can he be trusted with the “reset” of the organization?
Listening to his season-ending review Thursday, it sounded as if the Canucks were cruising along the last couple of years, doing fine, when all of a sudden everything changed. The top teams all got bigger and stronger. Even eighth-place teams were able to grind opponents in the corners and down low. It was, “So long, skill. Hello, dump and chase.” And it all blew past the Canucks as if they were standing as still.
Not only that, the Canucks had injuries, didn’t get many breaks in the playoffs and, well, it was just one “messed up season,” which was meant to explain why the team lost 10 of its last 11 playoff games, including its recent four-and-out flop show against the San Jose Sharks.
Okay, let’s say all of that is true. Then where was Gillis when those changes were occurring? What were his recalibrations? Zack Kassian looked like a smart acquisition then didn’t. David Booth didn’t work out. Neither did Derek Roy or Jason Garrison. Goalie Roberto Luongo was supposed to be traded, and was well on his way out, according to Gillis, until the lockout happened. For the record, Gillis’s drafting record hasn’t been sterling, either.
Head coach Alain Vigneault appears destined to take the fall for the Canucks’ playoff failings, and that unfortunately happens in pro sports. The big issue is leaving Gillis in charge and having the confidence in him to remake this team “in mid-stream,” which he stated was hard to do.
Should we feel better because now he’s more tuned in, aware of the changing times? That he got caught so flatfooted the first time doesn’t inspire a great deal of faith.
Sidney Crosby’s second-period goal Thursday was a cavalcade of splendour. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain took a pass, cut between New York Islanders’ defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky and Thomas Hickey, pulled away, put the puck on his forehand and snapped a shot that beat goalie Evgeni Nabokov on the stick side. It was rather reminiscent of Mario Lemieux’s split-the-defence goal he scored (on a backhand) against the Minnesota North Stars in Game 2 of the 1991 Stanley Cup final.
Just wondering how good Crosby would be against the Islanders if: he wasn’t wearing a shield to protect his broken jaw (it kept him out of Game 1); he didn’t take a shot in the throat area in Game 3; he didn’t take a puck off his foot in Game 5.
He might really be something then instead of just … brilliant.
Last Take 2.0
Two things we’ve yet to see in the playoffs:
A penalty by San Jose Sharks’ Raffi Torres and a post-game media blow-up by New York Rangers’ coach John Tortorella. Yeah, it’s still early.