Saturday, April 11, 2009

Interesting Games To Come

Eastern Playoff Match-ups In The Balance

The Candiens snuck in the back door of the playoffs, but only after storming right up to the house a week ago. And they'll now be starting the postseason as the coldest and least sexy option for pundits.

Out two potential opponents are reasonably hot after having cooled spells of their own pass behind them. New Jersay, also cold, has mystique, experience and the best goalie of time on their side and the three teams from 4 to 6 in the conference are the hottest of them all.

One silver lining for the Canadiens in this whole race is that they won't be facing any of those three, though perhaps they might relish playing one of the Pennsylvania two based on record and goaltenders. They, of course, can't play the Devils no matter how much the Devils would like an elixir for their recent levelling off. It's down the Boston or Washington.

The way the papers have been writing it, you'd think the choice were up to us fans. Of course, it isn't; and thanks to the Canadiens recent disdain for winning, the choice has nothing to do with them either. No, because the New York Rangers sorted their own fate by beating the Flyers, the Canadiens position is up to the Rangers now.

That on its own would offer little to no intrigue at all. What does spice it up, however, is the log jam from 4th to 6th. One of those teams will be starting on home ice, one of them will play the Devils (is that a good or bad thing at this point?) and two will play each other. And, due to the way the last games fell, the last game for each team will be matchups between the bottom six seeds in the conference.

The reason I feel these two days (The Flyers and Rangers ply tomorrow) could get a bit interesting is because this is the one time of year that teams feel justified and able to throw a game for their own gain. Last season, the Penguins properly recognised that Ottawa Senators (a spent force) would be a better opponent than the Boston Bruins. Their decision to bench their best players (generally rest through the game) and subsequent loss meant that the Canadiens won, they got an easy first round and were refreshed enough to plough through everyone until Detroit. In other words, their thinking was sound and their strategy correct. This season, I can't help but think the same will play out.

Game 1: Carolina vs. New Jersey
This game has playoff pedigree and it could be the first round match-up. It also pits the hottest playoff team vs. the coldest. Carolina has owned New Jersey thus far. but they have handled the other teams as well. In a world where games could be fixed, neither team wants to win here. If New Jersey conspire to lose, they can be sure not to face Carolina. Carolina might not be so compliant as they might well want to face the team they've beaten most.

Game 2: Philadelphia vs. Islanders
This game should be interesting, because if Philly win they will put themselves in the driver's seat for determinging their own fate. They lose the tie breaks to both Pittsburgh and Carolina so would be 6th right now without a game in hand. They could guarantee themselves 6th with two losses. But do they want to play the Devils? Their records against potential opponents seems to suggest that the Devils would be a good bet. They beat Carolina handily, but all games were complete before Carolina turned it around via Cole, Brind'amour and Ward.

The Islanders have nothing to win or lose in this one. They are last in the NHL come what may. I can't see them not trying to win really. Not being able to win, I can see that...

Game 3: Pittsburgh vs. Montreal
This is the game where neither team holds their own fate. However, because games 1 and 2 are in the afternoon, Pittsburgh will have a clear idea of what they might be able to do. Depending on who comes out of that Carolina game on top, and whether or not Philly decides to gamble with positioning, Pittsburgh could have options.

Personally, I think Pittsburgh would take Philadelphia if they could. It offers the worse defence and the worse goalie. The series would be offensive and energetic, just what they seek. And they have the better guns. If Pittsburgh want to face Philly, they'll have to win. But, if Carolina win, will Pittsburgh prefer the hot Hurricanes or the cold Devils. They didn't particularly separate themselves or stumble against either, so that would be a matter for them to decide. If I were them, I'd be avoiding Carolina...

Game 4: Rangers vs. Philadelphia
Now all is known. The Rangers will be in position to choose Washington or Boston. The Flyers might be in position to choose to. Anything's possible here. And this will be the one that decides Montreal's fate if the Habs get a point tonight.

A lid on the Schneider affair...
I haven't been watching RDS on television this holiday weekend, but I thought I'd note they hadn't apologised for their errant reports, at least online. Not that I expected them to. Pat Hickey almost does here:
You can't believe everything you read.

That was Mathieu Schneider's message last night after he made a dramatic return to the Canadiens lineup.

He said fans in Montreal got the message he was through for the season from the media, but the Canadiens and Schneider have to share some of the blame because they kept everyone in the dark about the nature of his shoulder injury.

But absolves himself from taking the bait because the Habs were so darned secretive.

Now rumblings about Markov too. Again good news. And, once again, in almost total contradiction of reports presented to us as fact...

I guess if there's one thing you must believe from what the media has aired and printed over the past two months on the Habs, nothing rings truer than Mathieu Schneider's words. I'd only add the caveat: "You can't believe most of what you hear either."

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