Wacky may be the right word to describe how Sunday's playoff outcomes were but at the same time, teams are discovering the hard way that winning in the playoffs is 1000 times different from trying to win during the regular season.
In Edmonton, Michael St. Croix (NYR 2011 4th) and his Edmonton Oil Kings found out exactly what we were saying when we warned that the Kootenay Ice were not going to be your typical eighth seed. Edmonton needed to come from behind with two goals in the third period to win game two 4-3.
The Oil Kings were able to take a 2-0 series lead after a come from behind but a good strong case can be made that the Ice lost this game more than the Oil Kings won it. Special teams and goaltending were the key factors in this game as one has to wonder what might of been had the Ice played with more discipline and stay out of the penalty box?
Kootenay found themselves shorthanded seven different times and the Oil Kings cashed in on two of them. Kootenay took the early lead with an even strength goal just 1 minute into the game. In this game the Ice would find themselves leading on three different occasions thanks to the game's first star, Ice goalie Nathan Lieuwen who stopped 38/41 shots.
But Kootenay also took two penalties giving Edmonton a two-man advantage which in turn led to Michael St. Croix tying the score with his 2nd goal of the playoffs 4 seconds after the two-man advantage expired but with one Ice player still in the box. Kootenay regained the lead with an even strength goal to end the first period up 2-1.
In the second, it was another power-play that allowed Michael St. Croix to set up linemate Tyler Maxwell for the tying goal at 2:37. Yet once again Kootenay would regain the lead scoring again at even strength at 12:49 and ended the 2nd period up 3-2.
However the third period turned out to be the Ice's downfall as the Oil Kings behind two late goals were able tie than take the lead for good. Kootenay could not score on any of the 4 power plays they had and that also was a factor.
St. Croix in two games is 2-1-3 as he was named the game's third star and we hope as the series shifts back to Kootenay for games three and four that the Oil Kings go for the kill not give the Ice any thought that they can come back in this series.
It is kind of funny that everybody would Rangers is talking about which prospect might wind up joining either the Whale or the Rangers themselves but JT Miller (NYR 2011 1st) of the Plymouth Whalers does not come up in the conversation. That's probably due to nobody thinking that Miller's Whalers could possibly lose to the Guelph Storm.
Well somebody forgot to tell Andrey Pedan (NYI 2011 3rd) and his Guelph Storm that they were not supposed to win the series. But yet after two games the seventh-seeded Storm are up 2-0 in the series after a 5-3 win.
The smaller quicker Storm are out working, outplaying and have the Whalers scratching their heads wondering what they done wrong. For starters the second game in a row the Storm jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Whalers responded.
Pedan has been everything the Islanders said he would be so far this series with the exception of his continuing maddening desire to keep taking bad penalties. Pedan took two penalties, one of which directly led to the Whalers first goal which came on the power play.
That seems to be the only real negative regarding Pedan because even though he is 1-2-3, Pedan is ready taken 5 minor penalties in the two games played and that has to stop.
JT Miller on the other hand has looked like a tired hockey player but he's not alone as the entire Whaler team has been made to look bad by the Storm. And if the Whalers cannot figure out how to solve Storm goalie Garrett Sparks really quick then Miller will have a bus ticket to Hartford.
Okay let us try this one on; Ryan Strome (NYI 2011 1st) has a 2-1-3 night while Christian Thomas (NYR 2010 2nd) has a single assist so which team was going to win game three of the series between Strome's Niagara IceDogs and Thomas's Oshawa Generals?
After being thoroughly beaten in the first two games by a combined 14-3 score, it was Thomas and his Generals pulling out a 6-4 win to give them a new lease on their playoff life. In this one it was the Generals who jumped to a 3-1 after two periods but thanks to Strome's two goals (3-5-8) in the third period, it was Niagara who grabbed a 4-3 lead looking for a 3-0 series lead.
And it almost worked except Oshawa didn't fold and scoring two goals in a 9 second span (16:21-16:29) shocked Niagara as Oshawa would add an empty net goal to seal a 6-4 win. Game 4 will be Wednesday night in Oshawa and the IceDogs now have something to worry about.
Brock Nelson (NYI 2010 1st) and his North Dakota
And our eyes say that Brock Nelson (0-1-1) still came out a huge winner as the sophomore forward ran away with the top Islander prospect of the year award in our book. Nelson ends the season with a five game scoring streak (5-2-7)
As for the game, no excuses here as Minnesota playing in front of a home crowd got some payback for North Dakota eliminating them in the WCHA Final Five last weekend. Minnesota played a very good game in the defeating North Dakota especially in the second period when they scored three times to take a 4-1 lead and North Dakota could not answer.
Given everything that has happened to North Dakota from player defections to the politically correct/incorrect war over what name North Dakota should go by; we give very high marks to the job done by the entire team from coach Dave Hastol to Brock Nelson's breakout season (28-19-47 12th in NCAA with 6 game winners and 10 power-play goals).
Now is going to be interesting to see if Nelson remains at North Dakota or takes advantage of the season he just had to turn Pro. The only thing we see holding him back Nelson really is Nelson. If he stays (which is our preference) that he's looking at a legitimate shot at the Hobey Baker as well as a chance to be on a team that goes further than this one did.
However should North Dakota lose players like they did at the end of last season that we would suggest Nelson do the same.
And then there's Chris Kreider (NYR 2009 1st) of top-ranked Boston College who shut out the 2011 defending NCAA Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 4-0. Glen Sather and whoever else goes down to Tampa for the Frozen Four should bring plenty of suntan lotion.
Kreider was mostly quiet as his teammates did most of the heavy lifting but this is still a very good matchup featuring two of the NCAA's best teams. In a way this was a matchup worthy of being in the Frozen Four.
The NCAA takes a week off before heading to Tampa Florida for the Frozen Four with all four teams ranked in the top 10 in team defense, three of the same teams in the top 10 for offense. This will be an excellent test for Chris Kreider as he needs to play well in both games not just one.
The only thing that in our eyes is keeping us from saying that Chris Kreider can go directly to the Rangers from Boston College is called consistency. We keep hearing how Kreider is going to be a better pro than he was a college player but consistency in our eyes is consistency at every level.
In the first half of the season, Kreider was in the top 10 nationally for scoring but as he ends the season is currently 24th with his 22-21-43. If Chris Kreider plays in the championship final then his college career will end mere hours after the Rangers regular season ends.
Our point is that it is not worth risking a full year of Chris Kreider's entry level contract to see if he can make the transition from college directly to the NHL. Let him get his feet wet in the AHL where Kreider on an ATO can play regular shifts in the playoffs for the Whale.
If the Rangers were to sign Kreider and activate him for the playoffs then either be eliminated in the first or second round then what a giant waste that would be. All the "experts" say Kreider should go right to the NHL but we don't and we will not.
Chris Kreider is key to the future of the New York Rangers; patience is not a virtue but a necessity as throwing Kreider to the the wolves of the NHL playoffs is way too risky of a move. Let him get to attend the rookie camp, workout over the off-season with the Rangers coaching and training staff then play in Traverse City.
Give Chris Kreider a chance to learn the Ranger system during a training camp not during the most pressure filled days of the year otherwise known as the Stanley Cup playoffs. Ranger fans have really been told what kind of player Kreider is going to be so their expectations already off the scale.
Heaven help the Rangers and Chris Kreider if both falter during a playoff run. It will be worse than ugly
(St. Croix- Everett Silvertips, Pedan- Aaron Bell of OHL images, Strome- Niagara IceDogs, Nelson - Grand Forks Herald)