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NHL Playoffs: P.K. Subban's Been Flaw-Free; Patrick Kane's Heroics; Is Dan Bylsma Done?
*A chapter or two on what's happening in the NHL today, and what you need to know for tonight's Game 7 between Montreal and Boston... and, I guess, a bunch of other stuff, too.
Is Disco Dead Yet?
Last night, Pittsburgh lost. They were up 3-1, about to eliminate the New York Rangers on home ice, when Henrik Lundqvist and rest decided to make a series of it and then stole Game 7 on Pennsylvania ice. It was embarrassing for Pittsburgh, who got little to no help from Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby – the Penguins scored one goal in each of their last three games against the Rangers.
Was it worse than last year's sweep to Boston? Worse than 2012's first-round thumping at the hands of Claude Giroux and the much more physical Flyers? Worse than 2011's opening round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, where Pittsburgh (minus Crosby and Malkin) blew a 3-1 series lead, too? Worse than 2010's second-round loss to the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens?
Who knows. But it's because we have all those recent examples of disappointing, fizzled-out futility that we're also asking whether Dan Bylsma will be fired... for, like, the third year in a row.
Some enterprising soul even gave the question its own identity on Twitter:
Not yet. — IsDanBylsmaFiredYet (@DiscoFiredYet) May 14, 2014
That's humorous and all, but ultimately I guess kind of stupid. Because, really, you can expect Bylsma to be fired any day now. And if he's not, then he's gonna be in Pittsburgh for at least another three years, because not letting him go after this collapse is more a message that it's the roster – not the coach – that's the problem.
Remember when all those Twitter accounts were created before the last Pope was announced, because that damn Seagull was sitting on the pipe where the smoke comes out?
That was funny, too... until it flew away.
The Predictably Pumped-Up P.K. Subban
P.K. Subban has been amazing, and thrilling, in these playoffs so far. That's not a shocker... after all, if you were told – prior to Round 1 – that the Habs would be entering a Game 7 against Boston in Boston, you'd almost certainly expect P.K. to be a major reason why.
Him and Carey Price.
But what's confused me is, I haven't seen any of the defensive lapses the elder Subban is supposedly so prone to making.
You remember all that talk, about how his offensive game was great (duh) but that he was a risk taker who could make some kind of catastrophic mistake at the absolute wrong time? Wasn't that why he got next to no playing time for Canada at February's Olympics, why last year's Norris voters essentially left an asterisk next to his name when it was announced? Almost like, "Yeah, yeah, he was the best player this year, but that doesn't mean he's Weber or Chara," as if they were an old guy comparing the Internet to their chess game in the park or the New York Times crossword puzzle.
Well... where has that risky, immature player been?
I haven't seen Subban do a single crazy or blatantly stupid thing yet. Not in these playoffs anyway.
Of course, there's a good chance he didn't get any time with Canada because he just didn't fit in there. Weber, Doughty, and Keith were the unavoidable top three, and Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester came as a pair. That left Vlasic, Hamhuis, and Subban fighting for the final spot, and Vlasic is one of the league's top puck-moving blueliners in the game – the NHL's closest thing, right now, to what Nick Lidstrom was for the past decade.
But it's clear to me, anyway, that Subban's so-called defensive struggles are either completely made-up or were exaggerated to make Canada's decision easier to sell.
Maybe they just didn't want such an outwardly confident guy making it all about him.
This Patrick Kane Guy Is For Real...
About three weeks ago, I told my girlfriend that, if Patrick Kane scored another series-winning OT goal in these playoffs, then I'd buy his jersey. I expected him to do something amazing... but I didn't expect him to do it again, not so soon. As stupid as that sounds.
(Last night's winner was Kane's third career series-clinching OT goal. He's 25 years old. Incredible.)
I've been basically wiping Kaner's butt for him since he played his junior hockey with the London Knights, when I watched him as a second-year undergrad student at the University of Western Ontario (also in London) and thought, "Jeeze, he's good. Does anybody know about this guy?"
So when he rose to the top of Central Scouting's rankings and went first overall to Chicago later that year, I was already on the wagon. But I didn't know – even for all his EA Sports-like stickhandling – that Kane would be this great, at exactly the right moments.
You can't teach what he has, the way he's always there in overtime or late in the game. I watched him last night and there are times where he just won't contest a puck. He almost gives it away. But he's conserving his energy, saving it up for when he really needs it.
And maybe that's why every big goal he's scored has been highlight of the night-worthy. In 2010, he shook-and-baked Kimmo Timonen before sliding the Stanley Cup-winning goal under Mark Leighton. Last year, he one-timed a hard pass from Jonathan Toews – from the top of a slot – with laser speed, perfectly over Jonathan Quick's glove but under the bar behind him to eliminate the L.A. Kings in the Western Conference Final. And last night, he slapped away the stick of Matt Cooke, grabbed a rolling puck only five feet in front of Ilya Bryzgalov, deked to his backhand and roofed it to send the Wild packing.
Most guys would have just one-timed that shot. They would have put it right into Bryzgalov's chest and they wouldn't have imagined doing anything different.
But Kane plays in slow-motion. And now I'm short $200 bucks.
Watching Matt Cooke's hit-from-behind on Johnny Oduya last night, and especially watching Cooke's reaction to the hit, it's clear... the guy just doesn't get it.
He's still stuck in that pre-2005 era, where Scott Stevens roamed with shoulders to the head and Todd Bertuzzi had just been suspended for riding Steve Moore into the ice like he was the bottom kid in a tandem ride down a waterslide.
Cooke gave that look last night like, "Oh, come on... That was illegal, too?"
Yes, Matt. It was.
Oduya wasn't injured. Thankfully. But Cooke could have so easily let off, he could have just not driven the Swedish defender's face into the boards... and he still didn't. He's still shooting first, asking questions later, even after yet another suspension for a very different kind of dirty hit.
And that's the weird thing about the never-learning, always-hunting Matt Cooke... he's not just dirty for one kind of hit.
He used to be a head-hunting specialist. He almost got himself run out of the league for that. Then he became a knee-on-knee guy. He actually threw out a few this season but was never suspended because the receiving players – like Oduya last night – weren't injured.
But then he nearly tore off Tyson Barrie's leg and the NHL acted.
On that play – again, like last night and like every crappy thing you've seen Cooke do before that – the guy had the same look. "What, me?" And he gave us the look right after he did it, which means he knew he had done something.
From the head to the knee to Oduya's back, he's guilty of it all. And he'll never be innocent.
Vancouver, Stop Chasing the Lead Horse...
I've written about this before, but it worries me again when I see another former idol go down to a harder-working, hungrier team.
Last night, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost to the New York Rangers. Their model – whatever it was, "Just draft Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby and you'll be good" – is dead, or about to change drastically. The Penguins are yesterday's team. Steve Yzerman, in Tampa, is a flavour of the month GM – a high-profile name who picked a winning Canadian squad (but somehow left off Claude Giroux and got away with it) but still hasn't won a thing as an NHL exec. Same goes for whatever Doug Wilson was building San Jose.
That leaves the Boston Bruins. The Bruins are the model. They're the lead horse every trailer is trying to replicate.
But what happens if Boston loses tonight? What happens if, by 2016, they're no longer the biggest bull in the ring?
What if our Canucks – and, certainly, several other teams – have bought a carton with an expiry date?
Instead, consider Detroit.
You know why the Red Wings are the perfect model?
Because after 20 years of perennial contention, they're destined to keep going for another 10. Because they never abandoned their identity and they never packed it in when they lost as a first seed in the first round (like they did in 2006, losing to last-place Edmonton in six games) or as an aging squad in the Cup Final (like they did in 2009, to Pittsburgh) or as one of two alpha males in a split universe (like they did in 1996 to the Colorado Avalanche, in the Western Conference Final).
No, when the Wings lose, they simply wait it out... they might change a thing or two, but they're not bending in the wind like a sock, going whichever way everyone else is.
Who knows if Boston is that team, too. But until we do, let's pump the brakes on this Bruins bandwagon.