Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Opening round lessons; Former Wild players studs in Game 7; Conference semifinal schedules

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: April 29, 2010 - 2:45 PM

(fixes in bold)

From my vacation, good afternoon back in the Twin Cities. It's been an amazing playoff to watch so far.

Rehashing my predictions, I went 5-3 with my first-round predictions, but lost my Cup winner in Washington. I predicted New Jersey to beat Philly, although if you read my Insider before the postseason, I wasn't comfortable with it. I picked L.A. to upset Vancouver. I'd look out for the Canucks now if Roberto Luongo plays the way he did in Game 6 because the Canucks are running on all cylinders. I picked Washington to beat Montreal. So those were my three L's. I did pick Boston to upset Buffalo.

Now, I'll take Pittsburgh and Boston in the East Finals and Detroit and Vancouver in the West Finals. 

A few nights ago, I watched Game 7 of the Wings-Coyotes series with former North Star/Capital/Red Wing/Lightning/Panther Dino Ciccarelli, Columbus play-by-play man Jeff Rimer and friends. Dino looks like he can still play and definitely still knows and loves the game.

Last night, I watched the game with Marlins/Panthers announcer Craig Minervini and the voice of Virginia Tech, Bill Roth. At the house were a couple of friends -- ugh, Montreal Canadiens diehards, and that was an experience. Let's just say, lots of passion.

The Alex Ovechkin overturned call was of course a great call and the Maxim Lapierre waved-off goal -- the one in which he kicked and barreled into Varlamov -- was a travesty. 

They went crazy when the Habs won, then ran around South Florida overturning cars.

Obviously, I was very surprised that the Canadiens were able to come back from 3-1 down to win the series against the best [regular-season] team in the league, but I was hardly surprised they won Game 7. The body language of the Capitals in Montreal during Game 6 was that of a tight, extremely concerned team that had a certain Slovak goalie reverberating around their head.

Jaroslav Halak's 53-save Game 6 performance was one for the ages, and I just felt if Montreal could stave off Washington's early pressure in Game 7 and then get the first goal, the pressure around the Caps' neck would tighten.

Former Wild players Marc-Andre Bergeron and Dominic Moore were the offensive heroes. Bergeron, who signed late into the season and even played wing for part of the season, scored the first goal with his weapon -- one of the best howitzer's in the league. And Moore, who could barely get on the ice when he played for the Wild and has played for six teams in the past three seasons, scored the biggest goal of his career when Caps defenseman Mike Green capped a poor playoff and atrocious Game 7 by basically letting Moore get the puck.

Moore did a great job during this series. Took important faceoffs, playing some important PK minutes on the third unit.

So what did we learn in the first round?

1. Regular season means zip. The moral of this story is unlike every other pro sport, in the NHL, the goal is just to get in. It doesn't matter what seed you are. Look at the East. All three division winners are gone. The 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th seeds advance.

Nine times since 1994 a No. 8 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed, so this is not an uncommon occurrence, although this was one of the biggest upsets I've ever seen.

2. Home-ice advantage means squat, which would have killed the Wild . Road teams won 27 games (27-22), the most ever in the first round. Three series tied the NHL playoff record for most road wins (five, Montreal vs.
Washington; Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa and Detroit vs. Phoenix). The Boston Bruins were the only of the eight advancing clubs to clinch the series on home ice.

3. Why have a high-price goalie? Of the top-12 highest-paid goalies in terms of cap hit, only two -- Luongo (second, $6.75 mill) and Evgeni Nabokov (10th, $5.375 million) -- are in the Top 8 (I'm not including Cristobal Huet and Tim Thomas since they're caddying for Chicago/Boston). Henrik Lundqvist (1st), Niklas Backstrom (4th), J-S Giguere (5th), Miikka Kiprusoff (6th), Tomas Vokoun (7th), Marty Turco (8th) didn't make the playoffs. Detroit's Jimmy Howard, Montreal's Jaroslav Halak and Chicago's Antti Niemi, who are still alive, aren't even in the top-50. Tuukka Rask is the 20th and Brian Boucher, also still alive, is the 44th.

I was a little distracted during above paragraph, ha.

Other tidbits (source: NHL):

1. Comebacks: The winning team in 24 of the 49 games trailed at some point in the contest. Five teams won after trailing by two or more goals. A club trailing in the third period came back to win nine times.

2. Teams combined to score an average of 5.90 goals per game, the highest for an opening round since 1996 and a 36% increase over 2004 (4.34), the last playoff year before the adoption of several rule changes designed to
limit obstruction. The first-round scoring average also topped that of the 2009-10 regular season (5.53), marking the first time that's happened since 1994-95.

3. Twelve of the 49 games were decided in overtime, the most in opening-round play since 2001 (14). Seven of the eight series had at least one game extend to overtime.

4. Scoring the game's first goal wasn't as much an advantage as advertised. The teams scoring first lost five of the six games in the Vancouver Canucks-Los Angeles Kings series (VAN 1-2, LA 0-3). The Buffalo Sabres
opened the scoring five times against the Boston Bruins, but went 2-3 in those games.

Here are your Round 2 referees and linesmen. The one Twin Cities link is local resident Chris Lee. Lee's a nice guy. Because refs/linesmen and (most) beat writers travel commercial and stay at the same hotels, I know most these guys. Most of them are deserving.

Most.
 

CONFERENCE SEMIFINAL SCHEDULE

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Date Time (ET) #4 Pittsburgh vs. #8 Montreal Network

Friday, April 30 7:00 p.m. Montreal at Pittsburgh
CBC, RDS, VERSUS**
Sunday, May 2 2:00 p.m. Montreal at Pittsburgh
NBC, CBC, RDS
Tuesday, May 4 7:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Montreal CBC, RDS,
VERSUS
Thursday, May 6 7:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Montreal CBC, RDS,
VERSUS**
Saturday, May 8 * 7:00 p.m. Montreal at Pittsburgh
CBC, RDS, VERSUS**
Monday, May 10 * 7:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Montreal CBC, RDS,
VERSUS
Wednesday, May 12 * TBD Montreal at Pittsburgh
CBC, RDS, VERSUS

Date Time (ET) #6 Boston vs. #7 Philadelphia Network

Saturday, May 1 12:30 p.m. Philadelphia at Boston NBC, TSN
Monday, May 3 7:00 p.m. Philadelphia at Boston
TSN, VERSUS**
Wednesday, May 5 7:00 p.m. Boston at Philadelphia TSN,
VERSUS**
Friday, May 7 7:00 p.m. Boston at Philadelphia
TSN, VERSUS**
Monday, May 10 * 7:00 p.m. Philadelphia at Boston TSN2,
VERSUS
Wednesday, May 12 * TBD Boston at Philadelphia
TSN, VERSUS
Friday, May 14 * 7:00 p.m. Philadelphia at Boston TSN,
VERSUS

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Date Time (ET) #1 San Jose vs. #5 Detroit Network

Thursday, April 29 9:00 p.m. Detroit at San Jose
TSN, VERSUS**
Sunday, May 2 8:00 p.m. Detroit at San Jose
TSN, VERSUS**
Tuesday, May 4 7:30 p.m. San Jose at Detroit TSN,
VERSUS
Thursday, May 6 7:30 p.m. San Jose at Detroit TSN,
VERSUS
Saturday, May 8 * 10:00 p.m. Detroit at San Jose
TSN, VERSUS
Monday, May 10 * 7:30 p.m. San Jose at Detroit TSN,
VERSUS
Wednesday, May 12 * TBD Detroit at San Jose
TSN, VERSUS

Date Time (ET) #2 Chicago vs. #3 Vancouver Network

Saturday, May 1 8:00 p.m. Vancouver at Chicago CBC,
VERSUS**
Monday, May 3 9:00 p.m. Vancouver at Chicago
CBC, VERSUS
Wednesday, May 5 9:30 p.m. Chicago at Vancouver CBC,
VERSUS
Friday, May 7 9:30 p.m. Chicago at Vancouver
CBC, VERSUS**
Sunday, May 9 * 8:00 p.m. Vancouver at Chicago CBC,
VERSUS
Tuesday, May 11 * 9:30 p.m. Chicago at Vancouver
CBC, VERSUS
Thursday, May 13 * 8:00 p.m. Vancouver at Chicago
CBC, VERSUS

* if necessary **VERSUS exclusive
 

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