(*Originally published on White Cover Magazine...)
No 'Home Ice Advantage' between... Boston and Montreal
What has history taught you about Game 7s? Forget it. It doesn't matter here. Not in the second round's two premium matchups – Montreal v Boston, and Anaheim v L.A.
There's no such thing as home ice advantage, in either of these series.
With Montreal and Boston, it's 'cause of familiarity. They know each other so well – hell, they hate each other so much – that no outcome has anything to do with the logo at centre ice. Not anymore, at least. Nothing in this series has made traditional sense – Montreal splits in Beantown, losing Game 2 because they decided to turn off the engines with 10 minutes to go, and the Bruins score four unanswered to slam the Habs 5-3 and even the series. Then, the Habs ride Carey Price to a win in Game 3, only to drop a 1-0 marathon to some kid named Fraser in overtime, in Game 4. Boston then easily won at home, 4-2 in Game 5, before Montreal returned serve in Monday night's Game 6, 4-0.
It's made no sense... and then it's made sense again.
But entering Game 7? Well, if there's one team in the league that should be immune to Boston's hostile Gardens by now, it's the Habs. They don't seem afraid of anything those cuddly bears toss their way, even if it's a heavy-handed crosscheck or two from Chara, Lucic, or Iginla.
(Those final moments of Game 6 were bush league by both teams, by the way. Boo-urns for the Bru-ins for their pretty predictable final-minute strategy, which was to cheap shot Montreal's skilled players – in this case, Andrei Markov, who delivered a sweet hip check to Milan Lucic (aka, the Elephant Balancing on a Ball) earlier in the game. But boo-urns to the Habs and Markov, as well, who actually started that little scuffle with an unnecessary trip on Chara in the corner. It may have been a minor pot shot, but why would you poke the bear with your 4-0 win already sealed? Stupid, all around.)
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
No 'Home Ice Advantage' between... L.A. and Anaheim
I decided to split this into two chapter, because I wrote way too much above and couldn't contain myself...
But while Montreal and Boston know each other too well, Anaheim and L.A. don't have to travel far enough. Celebrity chefs are taking sides and Ducks fans (yay, they exist again) are serenading the Kings with "BEAT L.A." Until, of course, the Kings come back and make it a game, which happened in last night's Game 5 – Anaheim, up 4-1, fell asleep at the wheel because they inexplicably forgot what San Jose painfully learned only, like, a week ago... the Kings are never out of it, and they will always come back.
Last night, Anaheim won in Anaheim – it was the first home win in this series, with L.A. taking the first two in Orange County and the Ducks stealing the next two downtown.
This Southern California showdown is magical, because they're far-and-away the best two teams in the Western Conference right now, all due respect to Chicago.
And it's also magical because – like with Montreal and Boston – we don't know what's going to happen, game-to-game. It doesn't matter that Game 6 will be in Los Angeles... because Game 5 was basically in Los Angeles, too.
All you need to know is, the Kings stole a significant lump of momentum from the Ducks, who have won three straight but certainly tripped over their skates while they closed out last night's affair.
It's going to Game 7. How do I know? Because it has to.
Carey Price vs Tuukka Rask
All due respect to Jonathan Quick and his Ninja Turtle-like, cross-crease slides. But Tuukka Rask and Carey Price are the best two goaltenders in the world.
They laid the foundation for that statement in Sochi, with both goalies medalling – and both beating Quick along the way, too.
But their play in this Eastern semi-final has been like watching Ali and Frazier trade shots, with each round giving us a new leader on points – like a game of Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe where winning just depends on whether you're odd or even.
I would give the belt to Price so far, because of the way he's bailed out Montreal in their most desperate, scrambled moments. But Rask has been just as sound, forgiving a couple botches on Monday night – specifically, the first goal by Lars Eller and the second by Max Pacioretty. (Sure, Patches scored on a breakway, but it was a five-hole slap and Rask put himself off-kilter with his Will I/Won't I Play the Puck fake out that, in the end, he only faked out himself on.)
You remember how I talked – two chapters up – about how there's no home ice advantage between Boston and Montreal?
I credited it to how well these teams know each other, but it could be even simpler than that...
Basically, when you've got two goalie like Price and Rask – or two goalies playing like Price and Rask – it throws all your Vegas odds into the wind.
Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot: From First-Round Busts to Second-Round Studs...
I read some list from the Bleacher Report recently, which was a lot like every list from the Bleacher Report – you nodded at some selections, but most of them came with a pungent whiff of a "writer" who had an axe to grind against guys he clearly got burned by in Fantasy Hockey.
The list was titled something like "Biggest First-Round NHL Draft Busts"... Daigle was at the top. A few others you remember from the mid-90s were in there, too. And then there was Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot, two guys who are currently anchoring this surprising New York Rangers offence against the Pittsburgh Penguins... two guys who seem to be the only ones scoring at all on Broadway, whenever you turn on the channel, while you need an accountant's visor to locate Rick Nash or Brad Richards.
Both Brassard and Pouliot are considered busts because anyone taken early in Round 1 should, ideally, become a top-line player and a consistent point producer. This logic is flawed, obviously, because 30 new first-round players enter the league every year – most go to teams where the depth chart is already filled out, or just full. And that doesn't even account for all the later-round picks who are just as good or better, but nobody knows it yet.
Brassard was taken by Columbus, 6th overall in 2006.
Pouliot was taken by Minnesota, 4th overall in 2005 – the Sidney Crosby draft.
Brassard played a few up-and-down season with the Blue Jackets, struggling on a team that struggled in its own right. He was then traded to New York in a package that saw Marian Gaborik go the other way, in 2013. Pouliot has bounced around, from Jacques Lemaire's stuffy Minnesota team to Montreal, Boston, Tampa Bay, and (now) New York.
But it's funny, because as much as I've heard of each of these guys – mainly Pouliot, because he's a 27-year-old journeyman – referred to as busts, I've also never heard anyone call them BAD. Nobody ever says, "Man, that Pouliot's a bad player" or "I really don't want Brassard on my team".
It makes sense, though. Think of where they've been... that Columbus team Brassard fell to has been to two playoffs in its history, and everyone was expected to fall at the feet of Ohio's Gretzky, Rick Nash – who, by the way, is Brassard's snake-bitten teammate in New York right now.
And Pouliot, from the defensive-only Wild to the clogged rosters in Montreal in 2010 and 2011 (Gionta/Cammalleri/Kostitsyn/Plekanec/Gomez) and Boston in 2012 (Lucic/Krejci/Bergeron/Horton)... where was the guy supposed to play? How was he supposed to succeed, offensively anyway?
In these playoffs though, either because no other high-paid Ranger is doing his diligence or because Alain Vigneault changed something, Pouliot and Brassard have been as important as any player on Broadway. Apart from Lundqvist, they've been New York's best two players, along with their linemate Mats Zuccarello.
Pouliot has eight points through 13 games, tied with team leaders Brad Richards and Zuccarello. Brassard is one back with seven.
But against Pittsburgh, it's been as clutch as it's been common.
Both Brassard and Pouliot scored an overtime winner in Game 1... but Brassard's went in first.
In Game 5, with the Rangers down 3-1 and facing elimination in Pittsburgh, Brassard had two goals and an assist. Brassard scored again in Game 6, a second-period marker that gave New York a two-goal lead they wouldn't give up.
Pouliot picked up points in both, and has been a stick-handling wizard – does he have the best toe-drag in the game? He's up there.