What a start!

The other day I hesitantly but publicly made my NHL first-round playoff predictions, all the while reminding everyone the best part about sports is the part where guesses don’t matter and anything can happen.

While I’m not going to let three crazy days alter which teams I believe will advance into May, I must admit I did not see this start coming. But then again, how many truly honest people can say they did?

If what we are witnessing so far is what the big brass of the league was hoping for when it implemented the salary cap, it just got my vote. I mean, I’ll watch playoff hockey regardless but I’m wondering when the last time was we saw three days of NHL hockey this spectacular?

We’ve seen just 12 games thus far and there is obviously a long way to go for the eventual winner but in those dozen contests there have been nine decided by one measly goal. And two others were one-tally games until empty netters were scored, while the last – Detroit over Phoenix Friday – wasn’t a two-goal game until the 17:54 mark of the third period.

Needless to say, the parody the league has longed for is at an all-time high and no one benefits more than the fans.

The salary cap has accomplished a couple of things with the league’s rosters. For one, it has assured the mediocre teams of still having some above-average players ­– if not a couple of all-stars – but it has also guaranteed even the elite teams of having a weakness.

Case and point: Chicago and San Jose.

These two teams have been neck-and-neck for the conference title all season and neither have a shortage in big name superstars on offense, as well as defense. But eventually that cap catches up to everyone and a hole is inevitably left somewhere.

For these clubs, everyone in North America knows that issue is goaltending. Friday night hosted five of the best hockey games anyone of us have seen – other than Olympics of course – for quite a while, but that didn’t mean every player was performing at their best.

First of all, Antti Niemi of Chicago committed the biggest playoff whiff since Dan Cloutier let that shot in from centre ice against the Wings several years back. That goal cost the Canucks the lead, the game and ultimately the series.

Nashville went on to win last night. I’d be freaking out if I were a Chicago fan right now.

Then there’s Evgeni Nabokov of the Sharks, who picked up the win Friday in overtime, despite letting in five goals on the first 13 shots he faced. I know I said Joe Thornton has always been a huge playoff bust – and that’s definitely true – but if you want to stack the odds against a team with a ton of regular season success, add a goaltender who can’t make a save when it counts to an overrated superstar who plays like he could disintegrate at any moment and you’ve got the makings of a choke dynasty.

Hence, the last decade of San Jose’s history.

But aside from some subpar goaltending, the start to the 2010 playoffs has been a whirlwind of great hockey. Not a single series looks as though one team will completely dominate the other and that can only be good news for a sport, which is the caboose of the pro-sports train south of the border.

Maybe hockey is simply too fast and back-and-forth for some sports fans. I know you can turn people right off when you overcomplicate things, just look at NASCAR. As soon as you add a single right turn to a track, two million redneck morons go cross-eyed.

Maybe the NHL is hurting its reputation by being too fast paced and too full of skill and passion so far but I’m willing to take the risk. Hell, I think I’ll even watch Boston and Buffalo this morning, just to see if anything else amazing happens.

On a side note: And again, let me first say I am totally aware there is a LONG way to go. But am I the only one keeping track of the growing pile of evidence showing Crosby is better than Ovechkin?

My friends can all attest to the fact I have said this from day one but I think we can all agree most folks were feeling differently the last few years. But those people – even those who want to call Sid a crybaby – have to admit the Kid just gets it done.

At 22 and 24 years old respectively, Crosby and Ovechkin have long careers ahead of them and a lot can happen as far as teammates and circumstance but to this point in their lives, the argument isn’t even close.

Not close.

Ovechkin gets a boatload of points, is full of contagious personality and plays with a wrecking-ball attitude. Crosby wins.

Who are you going to build a team around? It’s not hard to see coming either if you look close enough. Ovechkin is an individual out there and tries to do too much himself, while Crosby uses all of his teammates to dissect his opponent. Not only does that by itself prove Crosby’s greatness but it also explains why he is a proven winner at every level.

As good as the defense of Montreal played in the first game the other night, Ovechkin getting zero shots in a playoff game is mind-numbingly not good enough. But when a player will continuously attempt to skate through the entire opposing team every time he touches the puck, you won’t even need Hal ‘no skill’ Gill on your blue line to offer viable protection.

As for Crosby, he beat Ottawa by himself last night – even making the save of the game to go with his goal and assist – though he faces the EXACT same blanket of pressure No. 8 does. So to those always claiming Crosby can’t handle getting pestered and simply whines, I ask you to stop basing your opinions on a couple of old YouTube clips and just watch this guy play.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Ovechkin. He’s still amazing to watch and can go off on a tear at any moment. And I don’t think the Montreal Canadiens will shut him down to that level EVER again, nor am I changing my pick of Washington in five until the Habs actually win another one.

But numbers don’t lie. Sid is two years younger than Ovy but has already won both the Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold. Does that have a lot to do with the teams Sid plays for? Of course it does.

But maybe we’ll say the same about Ovy’s teams as soon as he starts playing with them.

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One Response to “What a start!”

  1. Crosby is indeed the consummate team player among the league’s elite. He is indeed as good as billed. His assist the other night on Letang’s goal will be shown for years.

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