While the NHL Eastern Conference final has the look of a close series, the Vancouver Canucks are threatening to steamroll the San Jose Sharks out west.
By Spector FoxSports
The first two games of the Eastern Conference Final presented a study in contrasts as the Tampa Bay Lightning cruised to a disciplined 5-2 victory, only to see the Boston Bruins win a wild Game 2 by a 6-5 score which wasn't reflective of how dominant the Bruins were for the first two periods.
Game 1 saw the Lightning strike for three goals in roughly a minute and a half midway through the first period, which set the Bruins back on their heels for the remainder of the game. Netminder Tim Thomas appeared shaky at times but wasn't helped by his teammates, who were expecting the Lightning to play their vaunted "1-3-1" system but instead saw a more traditional, though still disciplined, attack by the Bolts.
Boston roared back in Game 2, out-hustling and out-muscling the Lightning through the first two periods to take a 6-3 lead and driving Dwayne Roloson from the Tampa Bay net before they inexplicably strayed from their physical play in the third, allowing the Lightning to narrow the lead to 6-5.
Thomas' struggles continued in the first two periods. But as the Lightning pressed for the equalizer, he ultimately saved the victory in the final minutes.
This isn't the first time in this year's playoffs Thomas has had a couple of games where his play has been less than stellar, but he rebounded back into form before and will likely do so again. Ditto Roloson, who was outstanding in Game 1, only to be lit up for five goals in the second period of Game 2.
The Bruins' power play, anemic in the first two rounds, continued to sputter in the opener, going 0-for-4 with the man advantage, but it roared to life in Game 2 by going 2-for-5 courtesy of tallies by Nathan Horton and Michael Ryder. It remains to be seen if this is a sign the Bruins have finally shaken off their power-play woes.
Perhaps the biggest story of this series so far is the play of rookie Tyler Seguin, who finally saw playoff action after center Patrice Bergeron was sidelined in the previous series by a concussion.
Seguin saw limited playing time this season and was often overshadowed by the play of other notable rookies, but the 19-year-old has made the most of his opportunity in this series, splitting the Lightning defense to score one of the Bruins' goals in the opener and then following up with an impressive two-goal, four-point effort in Game 2.
The first of his two goals saw him again split the Lightning defense and this time deke Roloson out of his pads. His second was a hard wrister beating Roloson high to the glove side. His efforts had Bruins fans chanting his name every time he was on the ice in Game 2 and led to calls for Bruins coach Claude Julien to give the kid more ice time in this series.
If Seguin plays as well in Game 3 as he did in the first two games, he'll certainly get more playing time. We could be witnessing the emergence of the next Bruins superstar.
While the Eastern Conference final has the look of what could be a close series, the same cannot be said of the Western Conference, where the Vancouver Canucks have jumped to a 2-0 series lead over the San Jose Sharks.
The first two periods of Game 1 were very close, but the Canucks dominated the third period en route to a 3-2 victory. The Sharks appeared to run out of steam, leading to suggestions they may have been feeling the after-effects of their seven-game battle with the Detroit Red Wings.
The first period of Game 2 was another evenly matched frame and the teams stood tied at 2-2. But the Canucks took over in the second period, stifling the Sharks' offensive game while stepping up their own scoring attacks. A Kevin Bieksa breakaway goal snapped the tie and the floodgates opened in the third as the Canucks scored four consecutive goals over a demoralized Sharks team.
Sharks forward Ben Eager got one back late in the third but by that point the game was lost and the goal was meaningless. That didn't prevent Eager from trash-talking Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, earning one of his four penalties on the night -- which did little to help his team's cause. Given his reckless performance in Game 2, Eager will be lucky to see the ice again in this series.
The Canucks' best players have stepped to the fore in this series. The Sedin twins struggled to score in their previous series against Nashville, but they've had no problem finding the back of the net against the Sharks. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa has two goals in as many games. Luongo has been steady between the pipes. Ryan Kesler meanwhile continues his strong two-way play.
By contrast, the Sharks can only point to three players – captain Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau – who played well in both games.
Dany Heatley has scored only once in his last nine games. Devin Setoguchi, who was a clutch scorer earlier in the playoffs, has yet to generate a point in this series, and Joe Pavelski has only an assist. Logan Couture scored a pretty goal to open Game 2 but was nearly invisible after that. Ryane Clowe's only contribution of note has been in penalty minutes. Goalie Antti Niemi played well in Game 1 and then was lit up for seven goals -- though to be fair he had little help from his teammates in that one.
The Sharks appear to be having trouble keeping up with the Canucks' speed, as well as generating consistent offensive pressure against Vancouver's defense. They'll have to find a way to elevate their overall performance to match the Canucks, or this series could very well end in the next two games in San Jose.