First round cheers and jeers


We’ve got just a few days remaining in the first round, but a number of teams are already looking forward to next season. Four series finished in five games or less; however, half of those teams should be proud of their season. The other half, well, not so much.

New York Islanders
Do players love playing for Ted Nolan or what? After scrapping into eighth place in a dramatic shootout win, the Islanders played the Sabres tough — much tougher, in fact, than Lindy Ruff and company would have liked. While many expected the Sabres to win the majority of the games, almost all hockey pundits expected Buffalo to simply steamroll the Islanders. It looked like that when you check out the final series score, but it simply doesn’t tell the tale of how hard the Islanders fought.

The Islanders were in every game, plain and simple. They had some video reviews go against their way, and if those had been different, along with a few bounces such as Ryan Miller‘s ridiculous “panic” (as Miller called it) stick save on Miroslav Satan during the dying seconds of Game 5, we’d have a different series. Islanders fans, be proud of our team. I personally wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan Smyth saw enough to re-sign on Long Island and be named captain.

Pittsburgh Penguins
You have to lose to win. It’s a simple, overused cliche, but it’s been touted by nearly every champion in every sport in the history of time. The Penguins were overwhelmed by the speed and pace of the playoffs to start off, and never got into a full groove. It didn’t help things that Ottawa finally decided to shed the scars of past failures to play a physical, tough defensive game. Still, the bottom line is that while Sidney Crosby didn’t disappoint, Evgeni Malkin did. The whole series was an immense learning experience for a young Penguin team that came way farther than anyone could have dreamed of considering last season’s disaster finish.

Where do the Penguins go from here? Well, there’s nowhere to go but up. Crosby, scary as it sounds, will only get better. Malkin will get tougher.Jordan Staal will get faster and more consistent. Things are just beginning for the Penguins; Pittsburgh fans, enjoy the ride.

Atlanta Thrashers
Two big deals near the trade deadline amounted to a nice regular season win streak and a lot of lost draft picks. On paper, it’s really hard to say the New York Rangers are a better team. On the ice, well, teamwork was a big focus of the Rangers/Thrashers series. The Rangers had it, from puck possession to passing to stick-to-it intangibles. The Thrashers were exposed as a series of extremely talented parts with no glue to hold them together.

Ilya Kovalchuk came off as misdirected and selfish. Marian Hossa just plain disappeared. Kari Lehtonen had some great saves, but was the victim of an apathetic defense. The Thrashers need a leader in the locker room, a Mark Messier-type to rally the troops and get them to work together. That includes behind the bench, where the abrasive Bob Hartley may be looking for a new job in a few weeks.

Nashville Predators
On paper, the Predators and Sharks were matched up pretty evenly — scoring, skill, speed, even size, as Nashville upgraded in that department compared to the diminuitive squad of last season. However, one thing caused the Predators to lose the series: smarts, or to put it more exactly, Nashville’s lack of it. How do you lose an extremely close series? Simple — go to the penalty box a LOT.

Let’s examine the logic here. Even if you’re facing a cold power play, the very fact that you keep taking penalties means that your penalty killers are on the ice, not your best players. That wears down your defense and your best defensive forwards; when you’re facing one of the best offenses in the league, that’s not a good idea. And that cold power play has to score eventually, just as the Sharks did on an extremely selfish crotch-spear by Scott Nichol on Christian Ehrhoff that sparked a five-minute major (Nichol claimed that Ehrhoff “fell” on his stick…Scott, you might want to check out the magic of Tivo to verify that). Predators fans have to be extremely disappointed because their team was in position for a long series, only to have their team throw it away on a few stupid plays. Blame coach Barry Trotz? Not necessarily, as he preached discipline to his squad. Still, someone has to play the fall guy for such a disaster end to the season.


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