The NHL will roll out its major award finalists, beginning today with the Vézina, a nice bit of timing considering how all the major candidates for the award currently playing have been lit up at least once in these playoffs already. Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres) and Ilya Bryzgalov (Phoenix Coyotes) are favoured to win and unless Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames slips in there, the third candidate should be one of Craig Anderson (Colorado), Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils) or Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose Sharks), all of whom have had a nightmare outing by the standards they set this season. Isn't it great? The scores - 7-4, a couple of 6-5s, a couple of 5-3s - are reminiscent of the '80s. In all three games Saturday, teams overcame at least a two-goal deficit to win. The next thing you know, Wayne Gretzky - or maybe Duran Duran - will be making a comeback. The only downside is that while everybody else is loving it - has there ever been a more exciting start to postseason play than the first four nights of competition this year? - it doesn't seem as if the players and coaches are as into it. Collectively, they seem to be preaching the virtues of slowing it down, playing it closer to the vest, and trying to get back to the more traditional button-down style of playoff hockey. Makes no sense. If the idea is to build upon the gains made in non-traditional markets such as Phoenix, Los Angeles, Colorado and Washington this past season, let's see more of the same. Keep this up and all those pithy daily reminders from the NHL about its growth this past season (despite its deep economic challenges) might even ring true.
Just me and my Ovie
Playing in the shadow of Alexander Ovechkin, the Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom may be the most underappreciated superstar in the league. Getting to play in prime time, against the Montreal Canadiens, may change that, based on his exceptional start to their series. The Caps took Backstrom somewhat controversially fourth overall in the 2006 entry draft, permitting the more highly touted Phil Kessel to slide to fifth and making him the fourth-highest drafted Swede ever, behind Mats Sundin and the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik. … Something like this would never happen in Canada, but for the playoffs, the Kings switched their radio broadcasts over KLAC 570 from KTLK 1150, because it has a stronger signal. Not sure if the resulting confusion among loyal listeners would helps or hurts, but the latter is mostly all sports and thus could reach the wider audience the Kings seek as they compete for attention in a saturated sports market.
Coyotes in 'da den
Speaking of Phoenix, by splitting their first two games with Detroit, the Coyotes are guaranteed of at least one more home playoff date, Friday back in Glendale, where every game they host brings the club further out of the red. The Coyotes were among the league leaders in scoring by defencemen this season, one of the reasons for their unexpected success. The Coyotes' three most prolific defenders - Ed Yandle, Ed Jovanovski and Adrian Aucoin - accounted for 30 goals this season. For comparative purposes, consider that the Red Wings' big three (Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall) managed just 25. "All our defencemen have an accountability to play defence, but they have an accountability to play offence too," says coach Dave Tippett. "We expect them to be involved in just about every rush and fortunately, this year, we've capitalized on a lot of those chances. Without a doubt, they have to be part of our scoring by committee."
They said it
"It's inexcusable. We're playing undisciplined and taking a lot of undisciplined penalties," Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler, following Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss, in which the Kings rallied from a two-goal disadvantage to win on a power play in extra time.
By the numbers
Days between home playoff games for the Los Angeles Kings, dating back to Apr. 27, 2002, when they faced the Colorado Avalanche. The Kings play the Vancouver Canucks in Game 3 of their opening round series at the Staples Center tonight.