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Friday, May 11, 2012

NHL Roundup: Playoff storylines, Gainey returns, Robinson and more

With a few days off from the grueling playoff schedule, NHL fans got a little breather from the grinding intensity.

And what intensity it has been so far!

Incredible goals, scintillating goaltending, buzzer-beating game savers, crushing body-checks, and overtimes, overtimes, overtimes.

All in all, it has made for some of the most entertaining and exciting playoff hockey in a recent memory. On top of it all, most of the underdogs have made it through to the final four (New Jersey, Phoenix, Los Angeles).

Saturday night will see the finale of what has been a well-fought, evenly contested Rangers-Caps series, with the winner advancing to the conference finals. If things play out the way they have in the other three series, you can expect to see the Caps facing off against the Devils in Round 3.

But the Rangers will surely have a word or two to say about that first, hosting Game 7 in their own barn.

Who gets the momentum?

Like every year in the playoffs, from game to game and series to series, the margin of victory is often razor thing. Moreover, a small mistake, a critical hit, or a back-breaking save can often turn the tide one way or another. These pivotal moments are what make playoff hockey so intense.

It really is a game of inches and entire series have been lost in such critical moments.

For me, there have so far been two pivotal points that stand out in the second round. The first was Caps' forward, Joel Ward, taking a brain-dead penalty in Game 5 with his team leading by a goal and time running out.

With Caps on the verge of taking a 3-2 series lead back to Washington, Rangers' forward, Brad Richards, potted the equalizer with six seconds to play. That set the stage for Marc Staal to unload a slapper, with Ward still sitting in the penalty box, for the OT winner.

To be honest, I thought that was the Caps' chance and that New York would roll over them in Game 6. But this isn't Bruce Boudreau's team anymore.

The Dale Hunter coached Caps have become a resilient, never-quit bunch, and they took Game 6, forcing a decisive Game 7 on Saturday.

So the question becomes, did the Ward penalty become the rallying point for the Rangers, with the Caps letting their chance to win slip away? Or, will it end up being the spark the Caps needed to get over the hump?

We'll find out Saturday night.

Where's the leadership?

On the Flyer-Devils front, there is no question that the Flyers had a tough time dealing with the Devils all series. And the fact that Jersey dismantled Philly in five games speaks to that point.

But in a lot of ways, it really seemed like the Flyers became frustrated by the Devils, the same way the Pens did against Philly in the first round.

In the now famous game where Sidney Crosby and co. lost their minds and decided to brawl with the Flyers rather than playing hockey, we saw evidence of poor leadership.

Now I'm sure to take some shots for that comment, but hear me out.

I loved Crosby's passion, his desire to win and his engagement in the match. However, losing his cool the way he did set the stage for his teammates to follow him down that road. While emotion is important in hockey, if it goes unchecked it will usually lead to a loss.

Controlled emotion is where it's all.

After the meltdown, the Pens were off their game and the Flyers had them right where they wanted.

Fast forward to the Jersey series, and the Flyers, led by Claude Giroux, in a lot of ways fell into the same trap.

The pivotal moment, for me, was Claude Giroux's ill-advised shoulder to the head of Danius Zubrus—the play resulted in a one-game suspension for Giroux, who missed the fifth and final game of the series.

Giroux was frustrated with what he perceived to be a missed call by the refs, and, acting on pure emotion, lashed out. Not only did his act hurt the Flyers in that game, but it also meant that were without the services of their best player the follwing game—an elimination game.

That, to me, is not weak leadership.

The playoffs are a time for selflessness. It's a time when the winners are usually the ones who suck it up and roll with the punches, rather than lashing out and reacting.

Now I'm not saying the Flyers would have won the series if Giroux hadn't made that hit, but simply that, as a leader, you have to know better than to retaliate in the playoffs. I guess Giroux will have all summer to learn that lesson.

On the Habs front

According to a story on TSN, Devils' assistant coach and former Hab hall of fame defenseman, Larry Robinson, would welcome a return to the Habs in some capacity.

Robinson's agent, speaking to La Presse, said they have reached out to the Montreal twice in the past, and have been turned down both times—a fact that I find reprehensible.

So now, with a new sheriff in town (Marc Bergevin), will he turn to Robinson to come on board in some capacity? How would you feel about Robinson running the Habs defense next season? How much better would a player like P.K. Subban be playing under Robinson as a defensive coach?

Also, with up and coming stud defensive prospects like Nathan Beaulieu and Jared Tinordi, perhaps the timing is perfect to make such a move.

Either way, no conversations have taken place yet. Robinson's contract with the Devils expires on July 1st and, until then, the Habs would need Jersey's permission to speak with him. We'll see where this story leads but it is enticing to say the least.

On another (sorta) Habs front, former Habs GM and then special advisor, Bob Gainey, was hired by the Dallas Stars yesterday. He will act in mostly the same role he did in Montreal, working as a special advisor to GM Joe Nieuwendyk.

So does this mean the Stars will suddenly have interest in trading for Scott Gomez?

I keed, I keed!

---
Kamal is a freelance writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, and Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com. Kamal is also a regular on-air contributor on TSN 990, CJAD, and LiveSport New Zealand.

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(Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

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