“Nature vs. nurture, Lodge – Nature always wins” Photo from espn.com (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)
The Balance in the Bank:
Final Score: Ottawa wins 5-2 (6-2 if you see the replay of Spezza’s breakaway goal that was never reviewed)
Ottawa goals: Spezza (2) on a great cutback move off a pass from Heaters, Phillips (1) with a great snap shot that had the OLN crew wondering why he wasn’t a 50-goal scorer, Heatley (2, pp) on the same tic-tac-toe play on the man advantage where he just puts his stick beside the post and the puck finds it for a beauty, Havlat (5) who is for some reason left alone in the slot for a wrist shot short side, Neil (1) coming out of the penalty box on a breakaway and knocking in his own rebound – his way of stickin’ it to the man,
Making Sens(e): Emery, Havlat, Schaefer, Heatley, Spezza
Not much Sens(e): Smolinski wasn’t great – he simply doesn’t mesh well with Alfie, and Chara wasn’t outstanding.
It was over when: Heatley and Havlat scored 40 seconds apart to put the proverbial fork into these guys – they’re done.
It was definitely over when: Neil gave a nice F-U to the kind folks at Coach’s Corner with a breakaway goal to ice it in the third.
Message in a Molson bottle: Sometimes, skill just takes over. As it is beginning to show in the series, sometimes physicality and experience just don’t make up for a blatant disadvantage in talent. Solid game that had us in a slight trap in the final 20 minutes and just suffocating the Lightning to the point that their big three became invisible. Meanwhile, Havlat continues to lock up the Conn Smythe and Spezza and Heatley race to the stick rack and continue picking up points. As Coach Murray says, if Emery is our weak link, then I like our chances.
1st Courtesy Boxscore: http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/boxscore?gid=2006042720
2nd Courtesy Boxscore: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/boxscore?gameId=260427020\
Grab a Timmy’s double-double and listen to what really happened:
1st period – What are playoff jitters?
If you ask people like Spezza, Heatley, and Emery, they probably wouldn’t have an answer for you. Through the first four games, Spezza is making Jacques look like someone that took his skill for granted, Heatley is making John Muckler look like a genius, and Emery is begging the question of John Tortorella, “who did you say was the weak link in Ottawa?” Spezza and Heatley are carrying their chemistry over from the regular season and the fact that they are doing it without having Alfredsson on their line is a good thing because it lets us put our captain on a “third” line with mooks and still have the potential to score. Don’t look now, but the three leading scorers in the playoffs are Spezza, Heatley, and Havlat. Granted we’ve been playing against the worst goalies out of the 16 playoff teams, it is still great to exonerate any playoff jitters now against a weaker opponent and a weaker goalie so that we’ll be ready for the likes of a Huet.
2nd Period – Yeah, well my bench could beat your bench up
The reason for this is because by the end of the game, we were still rolling 3 ½ lines and Torts had been playing with two lines all night. Brad Richards, their #1 centre, had 9 more minutes of icetime than Jason Spezza, our #1 centre (he only played about 15 minutes). What a luxury we have of being able to put out three to four competent lines that all have the ability to either put the puck in the net or help keep it out of ours. Torts said at the start of the series he was going to play his big three and ride them as far as they could go. Apparently, that was about two games, because those dudes are simply out of steam and are looking for a fill-up. Meanwhile, Havlat is giving a post-game interview. The deeper we can go into the playoffs using this long bench, the more of an advantage we will continue to see against teams like Tampa (and dare I say, Montreal) that don’t have the talent and depth we have down on the third and fourth line – hey, Chris Neil is a 16-goal scorer on our fourth line!
3rd Period – How has everyone else played:
Alfie – I might be in the minority in Hockey Country where people’s moods change faster than Tampa’s goalies, but I’m still feeling just fine about Alfie’s capabilities in the post-season. Some people might think that he is disappearing in the playoffs, but others like myself think that it is great we can be dominating a series without the obvious help of our leader. I repeat it for those that don’t believe me – this guy WILL take the team on his back if/when others cool off and we need his skill.
Smolinski – I’ve always stuck up for Smoke (most of the time) as a solid two-way forward that does his job for the 12-15 minutes he’s on the ice, but I’m beginning to wonder where he fits into the grand scheme of things. He has absolutely NO chemistry with Alfredsson and Eaves, leaving him with no apparent “natural linemate” like his friends have. His role is no doubt reduced because we don’t need him to score each night, but I just wish he and Alfie could find the chemistry to give us a lethal third line.
Eaves – fitting in pretty well so far, although he had a rough few minutes in the first period last night. After being coaxed into a roughing penalty, he came out of the box following the kill and took his spot on the backcheck. Instead of picking up Richards on the blue line (who had the puck), he finished a weak check and allowed Richards to fire a slapshot from so close I think his stick hit the net on the follow-through. Finish the checks unless it takes you out of position. He is still looking great for a kid out there and he plays like a mini-Fisher.
Arnason – Still in the press box. It will take two injuries to forwards to get him in there since Murray loves Schubie-doo.
Kelly – he’s back in his role of a fourth liner and he’s playing hurt. Still the first one over the boards on the penalty kill, but lost his job on the top line (rightfully so as he isn’t a hands guy anyway).
Vermette – this guy gets better with icetime. Now the third man in on the top line, he has the ability to finish the play and if he just leaves the fancy stuff to Spezz, he’ll excel up there.
Meszaros – Let’s write off Game 2 as part of the learning process, because this guy is getting better and better with each game. I think it just took a couple of games for the young kids here to really learn what it meant when people said they had to raise their game to a new level. He is starting to raise his game.
Loblaws Express Lane – 10 items or less
1. I can’t believe our powerplay was only 25% last night, down from the 43% it was going into the game.
2. Not only was Chris Neil’s breakaway goal the first of his playoff career, but it sent such a great message that the most hated man in Tampa Bay put the dagger in their season.
3. Emery was Rayzor sharp – get it? Kept us in the game in the first period when we should have been down more than one goal.
4. We’re still not getting many shots off – only 25 last night. Not as noticeable when we win, but we were averaging around 35 during the regular season.
5. Phillips always manage to score one of those beautiful goals every year when he sneaks up on the rush and wrists it into the top drawer. I just liked the one against New Jersey in 2003 better and hope this isn’t the last one he scores this year.
6. Let’s put this one away Saturday and then get some rest and eat some ribs and watch if Ryder and Higgins can pull that series off without their captain – hope he gets back. By the way, is it ironic that the NHLPA is overly concerned with protecting their players wallets but doesn’t seem to care at all about their health and safety by enforcing visors? Alanis, put that one in your song and get your toque back on for the video. All four of you.
7. Don’t forget to check this site daily – http://www.northeasthockey.blogspot.com/.
Saturday vs. Tampa Bay, 7:00
Monday @ Tampa Bay, 7:00 (if necessary)
Wednesday vs. Tampa Bay, 7:00 (if necessary)
Ups and Downs: Week 16
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