When your favorite team is no longer playing, it is hard to get inspired to write, hence the two-week delay. However, watching the playoffs, even though a bitter reminder that your team has been golfing this past month, is proving to be more inspiring than expected.
How can you not like the spunky Montreal Canadiens? No one gave the Canadiens a chance in round one but they came in as the #8 seed and killed off Alexander Ovechkin and the President's Trophy winning Washington Capitals. Many so-called "experts" did not give them a chance in round two either. After all, round two was against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins headed by Sidney Crosby. Perhaps those so-called experts need to rethink things a bit.
Jaroslav Halak has been very strong since putting on an amazing performance in the Olympics. He's been pretty consistent in rounds one and two and does not show any signs of slowing down. Halak has not been perfect and does not have a single shut out thus far in the post season. His teammates haven't needed him to be perfect, as they are all pulling their weight and playing as a cohesive unit from top to bottom.
As the Canadiens wait for the outcome of the Boston/Philadelphia series to finish on Friday, they can no longer be considered "surprising" and instead be considered contenders. The last time they made it to the conference finals (1993) they went on to win the Stanley Cup. Canadiens fans have to be absolutely besides themselves at this point.
Another surprise is the Boston/Philadelphia series. Boston was up 3-0. Philadelphia continues to be hit with injuries, including an MCL injury to goaltender Brian Boucher that will keep him out of action for the remainder of the playoffs. Philly is like the Monty Python running joke - "I'm not dead yet!" They are taking the Bruins to a game 7, hoping to become just the third team in history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a series. Odds are not good, but at this point, they really aren't dead yet. Boston needs to figure things out quickly or else they will risk being mightily embarrassed in front of the home crowd, not to mention the wrong end of answer in a hockey trivia question.
In the West, both the Sharks and the Blackhawks are resting up, waiting for the conference finals to begin. Would anyone have thought that San Jose would not have choked by now? After all, it seems to be their traditional playoff modus operandi. Granted, there is still time, but taking down the venerable Detroit Red Wings, in just five games? Not the sign of a team in need of the Heimlich maneuver.
They will get to host the Chicago Blackhawks, who had a sense of deja vu in defeating the Vancouver Canucks for the second year in a row in the second round of the playoffs. Certainly they will be a lot happier meeting up with the Sharks than a repeat against Detroit. Or so you would think. Depending on the outcome of the series, Chicago might wish it was the Red Wings and their annoying octopi.
Vancouver will have to wait until next year to exorcise their Blackhawk demons. Each additional series between the two teams can only ramp things up a notch in the hostility department, both between the teams and their fans. The Canucks can hopefully take heart that someday they can vanquish their foe. After all, the Red Wings were the playoff thorn in Anaheim's side for several years until the Ducks swept that curse away in 2003. Third time's the charm?
The most refreshing aspect of the playoffs is seeing teams who have not been to the Cup Finals in years, if at all. The Sharks have only made it to the conference finals once before in 2004 and never made it to the Cup Finals. The Blackhawks lost to the Red Wings last year in the conference finals, but had not been there since 1995 and last won the Cup in 1961, six months before Chris Chelios was born!
As mentioned before, Montreal last made it to the conference finals in 1993, the same year they last won the Cup by defeating the Los Angeles Kings. Boston last made it to a conference final in 1992 and has not made it to the Cup Finals since winning the Cup in 1972. The Flyers won the Cup in 1974 and 1975, but the last time they made it to the Finals was an unsuccessful attempt in 1997. They are probably the most recently experienced at conference finals, having made it there last year, 2004 and 2000.
One thing is certain, the next round won't be dull, and it will likely continue to provide more surprises as play unfolds. Sure, it's more fun to be watching your team play, but this year, the playoffs have provided enough excitement and interest to keep at least one viewer tuned to the TV.