NHL Playoffs Near Go-Home Time; ECHL Utah eliminated

In non-NHL news, the U.S. defeated Sweden 3-1 to win gold (their fifth) at the U-18 world championship. Hans und Franz notes that Norway and Germany earned promotion -- while Norway defeated Denmark {sob, sniff} to do so.

On the farm, Utah was swept from the second round of the ECHL playoffs, bringing all of the Islanders affiliates' post-seasons to an end. Kevin Colley called it a successful year; many Grizzlies players plan to head to Europe next season. ... Meanwhile, Bridgeport captain Mark Wotton -- who was honored for his 1,000th (North American) pro game at the end of the season -- intends to play again, though it's unclear whether that means as valued Islanders prospect tutor or elsewhere.

Update: Travis Hamonic and the Wheat Kings (that's a band name, isn't it?) were knocked out of the WHL playoffs by Calgary. He still has that other Cup thing to look forward to though, since Brandon is host.

NHL Playoffs: After many scares, favorites taking control?

Consider the rest of this post fodder for discussing today's and last night's NHL playoff games. I like reading what you all have to say about the other series and the games you watched...

NAS-CHI: So Nashville and Chicago have the afternoon game (3 p.m. EDT | NBC/TSN), the proverbial "pivotal" Game 5 in Chicago. Who do you have? I'm afraid the Blackhawks may have gotten the wake-up call they needed. But Nashville's no patsy, and there's always the question mark in the Hawks goal...

VAN-LA: Speaking of wake-up calls ... Is that what the Canucks experienced to elicit their slaughter of the Kings last night? Or was it a cascade of ugly Kings mistakes? Ryan Smyth, where are you? ... In my book, that makes four series that have gone on "longer than they should" according to the favorites' fans, but four series where the favorite has probably taken control.

PIT-OTT: Tonight Pittsburgh has to try to do what they couldn't do Thursday at home, in that triple-OT loss: Finish off the Senators, in Ottawa (7 p.m., Versus/CBC). I'm banking on the "Pens are in playoff mode, they'll finish the job" theory, but it'd be fun to see the Sens really put a scare into Crosby & Co. by forcing Game 7. (For the record, it'd be fun for every series to see Game 7, full stop. I want my playoff hockey.) [On SBN: Pensburgh | Silver Seven]

SJ-COL (10 p.m. Versus/CBC): Speaking of finishing, You Know Who has a chance to fight back a few playoff demons and advance to the second round tonight. They'll have to do it in Colorado though, where Craig Anderson just might have one more freshly pressed Superman cape. [On SBN: Mile High Hockey | Fear the Fin]

DET-PHX: The one thing nice about the Coyotes being down 3-2 (boy, what a heartbreaker last night, the game slipping away on two rough goals in the final 9 minutes) is that they don't have to face the questions about how many times in history their franchise has blown a 3-1 series lead. Of course, they do face the prospect of hearing, again, how their franchise hasn't been past the first round since 1987. (Which is, sadly, just six years earlier than the Islanders' last trip to the Round of 8.) In case you don't know, last time the franchise blew a 3-1 series lead, Pierre Turgeon scored in OT of Game 7 -- in Phoenix.

BUF-BOS: The Sabres live to fight another day! But their super-reliance on jaw-dropping saves from Ryan Miller really makes me wonder. I know that's what their entire hopes are built on, but I expected that to be the avenue they took to compete with the higher seeds -- not with the offense-challenged Bruins.

WAS-MON: Wow, so the Capitals couldn't finish out the Habs at home. Is this a case of the Capitals still not firing on all cylinders, or are we about to see a whole lot more of the "Capitals are not built for the playoffs" meme?

*  *  *

Anyway, that's what's running through my head after last night's games and before tonight's. I love it when the first round gets to this point, with do-or-die games each night. But I hate that it means next week will be fewer series, fewer teams, fewer playoff action.

Always interested in your playoff thoughts -- both on what's happened so far, and what will happen tonight. The comments are open.

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