NHL

KELLEY: Not Wild about the Avs

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 
Lack of discipline, poor defense and less than spectacular goaltending. It might have been what you expected from the Minnesota Wild in making their first playoff appearance since the NHL returned to the Twin Cities area. Except that those were the traits shown by the Colorado Avalanche. The poor goaltending was the most amazing thing. Patrick Roy, a true champion and sure Hall of Famer, looked pretty weak in this game, surrendering the game-tying goal with just minutes to play in regulation and then being beaten by career journeyman Andrew Burnette for the game-winner in overtime. It was a trend we saw throughout the series as the Avs had a 3-1 lead in this series and failed to get the job done again, losing the final game, at home, 3-2, to a third-year expansion team. When the shock of this comes full circle in Colorado, there will be plenty of blame all around. General Manager Pierre Lacroix appears to have erred in putting Tony Granato ¿ a rookie head coach with no playoff experience ¿ behind the bench in place of the fired Bob Hartley, a Stanley Cup champion. Granato too shares blame in that he was clearly out-coached by Minnesota bench boss Jacques Lemaire in areas from line matchups to tactics and everything in between. Lacroix also erred in not getting any offensive help for his third and fourth lines at the trade deadline. Lack of timely scoring from anyone not playing with Joe Sakic or Peter Forsberg was crucial in this series. Colorado also lacked a killer instinct on defense, seemingly content to rely on the goaltender who had saved them so often over the years. This time, however, the legendary ¿St. Patrick¿ couldn¿t do it all by himself. He looked ordinary on too many of Minnesota¿s goals and downright panic stricken on Brunette¿s game-winner going down too soon and guessing ¿ wrongly ¿ as to which way Brunette might go. Brunette himself seemed a little unsure of exactly what he wanted to do, but once Roy committed to the first move, he simply held onto the puck until the goalie was done and coolly moved it around and behind his outstretched skate. Wild fans will celebrate that goal for decades to come. Avalanche fans likely will never forget it either. In a year when the Stanley Cup was up for grabs and the defending champion Red Wings had gone down in four straight, the Avs had to be thinking for all the world that this was their year to get out of the West. The Wild, like the Mighty Ducks before them, proved otherwise. In the NHL, this really is a season of change.

That's your best shot?

Frankly we're more than a little disappointed with the effort put forth by the Toronto Tuesday. After the big buildup to a dramatic Game 7 finish, the Leafs failed to show up from the get-go, losing 6-1 in a game that wasn't as close as the final score would indicate. Frankly, whatever the Leafs claim to have in terms of grit, tenacity and never-say-quit attitude, they certainly didn't show it away from the Air Canada Centre. Away from home they couldn't score, didn't drive the net well, got next to nothing from their better-paid players — , and — and even less from their defense. In the end, all the Leafs really had was goalie , and he was something of a chameleon, playing great and not so great, sometimes in the same game. In this one, he caught some bad breaks with penalties and having teammate score into his own net, but he also caused some with the stupid penalties he took. In the end, he simply didn't have enough left in his 38-year-old tank to even come close to being a difference maker in this one. Leafs fans, and there are legions of them, were all pretty smug when former goaltender and the Detroit went out in the first round. It may have taken more time, but Belfour, Joseph's replacement, didn't really get this team any farther. Maybe it will finally dawn on the "center of the hockey universe" that it isn't the goaltender, hasn't been for years. It's the defense and the inability of key players to score in the clutch, always has been. Contrast that with the , who were eminently beatable, in that too many of their so-called better players — , and to name three — also came up light in this series. The difference was that the overall were a deeper, more balanced team on offense and defense, were more talented and more committed to overall team defense than the Leafs. In the end it was that commitment to defense and Philadelphia's overall physicality made the difference. The were never all that much better, but they did do the softening up work early, wearing down the Leafs through the marathon overtime games in Toronto. By the time it got down to this, a Game 7 (22 hours after Game 6, no less), the Leafs were spent and the were the (somewhat) fresher team. Couple that with the energy that comes from playing such an emotional game at home and the fact that the Leafs got themselves in trouble early, and the outcome was pretty much inevitable. Philadelphia goalie had never won an NHL playoff series prior to this one. He faced a mere 19 shots and stopped 18, hardly the stuff that legends are made of. That's not his fault. The Leafs simply didn't work hard enough to beat him, especially when the majority of their offerings had nothing behind them. Simply put, this Leafs team was too old, too slow and too thin to go deep. Had it not ended here, it would have certainly stalled well short of the Stanley Cup finals, the oft-stated goal. It's time management takes a long look at this team, maybe even at itself. The players they brought in over the years haven't gotten it done and they haven't gotten any younger or all that better in the process. Leafs fans aren't going to want to read this, but it's time to take this club apart and start the process anew. You could say the same about management, too. This game merely served to punctuate the point.

Won¿t get fooled again

We have been fooled for the last time by the St. Louis Blues. They have proven once again they have the talent, but not the character nor the goaltending to win when it matters most.
Jim Kelley's First Round Predictions
Matchup Result Jim's Prediction
OTT vs. NYI OTT in five OTT in five
NJD vs. BOS NJD in five NJD in five
TB vs. WAS TB in six TB in seven
PHI vs. TOR PHI in seven PHI in seven
DAL vs. EDM DAL in six DAL in six
DET vs. ANA ANA in four DET in six
COL vs. MIN MIN in seven COL in seven
STL vs. VAN VAN in seven STL in six
They proved it again this postseason, blowing a 3-1 lead and losing to the surging Vancouver Canucks. This time it wasn¿t even close. Even staked to a 1-0 lead (thanks to Doug Weight, by far the best performer in blue), the Blues couldn¿t find it in themselves to play a complete game, surrendering four unanswered goals in losing a Game 7 showdown to the Canucks, 4-1. Not to take anything away from the Canucks ¿ they played a superb game, especially in the discipline and skating departments ¿ but they were helped mightily by the Blues. We saw this last year in a complete meltdown vs. the Detroit Red Wings in the second round. We saw it in previous years as well. We thought this time, with a healthy Weight and the acquisition of Chris Osgood in goal, it might be different, but it appears to us that players like Chris Pronger and especially Keith Tkachuk don¿t have the will and mental discipline to lead their team to a win when it matters most. Osgood failed to make a difference as well. The two-time Stanley Cup winner was brought in to make a difference in a situation like this and he didn¿t do it. Still, there¿s plenty of blame to go around. The Blues should never have allowed the series to get to this point, but their inability to close out the Canucks in Games 5 and 6 gave life to the younger but abundantly talented Canucks and they took advantage. They out-skated the Blues in this game, they played better defense, got key goals from some of their younger players, who got better every game the series went along (especially the Sedin twins), and Dan Cloutier outplayed Osgood down the stretch. The killer for St. Louis was allowing a short-handed goal to Trevor Linden at the start of the third period. The Blues sagged noticeably after that and the Canucks won going away. It¿s a solid achievement for the Canucks. Before the series started they had blown their chance at the Northwest Division title. They weren¿t sure who they were and how good they could be. As they brought it to a close they grew into being the better team and by the time the series reached Game 7 both they and the Blues knew it. This should spell the end to whatever reputation Tkachuk had as a money player. A brilliant scorer in the regular season, he¿s been a playoff disappointment throughout his career (one goal in seven games in this series), posting series after series of disappointing performances when it mattered most. This postseason was no exception. With budget realities staring the Blues square in their financial face, Tkachuk will likely and rightly bear the brunt of any change. Small consolation to Blues fans, but then they had their chance. The Canucks simply went them one better. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Red Wings, Flyers, Maple Leafs, Tony Amonte, Ed Belfour, Keith Primeau, John LeClair, Alexander Mogilny, Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts, Curtis Joseph

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