The Belanger goal was a very heady play at both ends. Havelid’s pass was just wide enough that Lundqvist probably thought it was a bad shot and by the time it reached Belanger—who tipped it perfectly—it was too late for Lundqvist to react to the play. Congrats to Havelid and Belanger for making the first goal in Thrasher history such a beautiful goal.
While we are on the topic of firsts I have a couple of my own to hand out. No, not the usual 1st assist, 1st penalty sort of thing but rather things that matter but don’t always show up in the box score or game story.
1st game where almost every fan was in their seat when the puck dropped. It was amazing to see a full building chanting "Let’s Go Thrashers" at full throat volume BEFORE the national anthem had been sung. I’ve never seen it that full even that early even on a weekend game. The crowd enthusiasm and noise was fantastic and better than I was expecting.
Most physical game in Thrashers in team history. I’ve NEVER seen this club throw their body around with such abandon. I had to say the team’s commitment to playing the body was a very welcome surprise. I certainly didn’t expect this right off the bat in Game 1, it was like everyone was trying to out do Exebly.
Third line played like Stanley Cup Champions (too bad the first two lines played like a team that is swept out of the playoffs). Holik-Dupuis-Larsen gave the Rangers fits with their forecheck. If I’m coach I don't even talk to those guys. The only thing I’d like to see is the defense jump into the high slot when one of them gains control of the puck and is looking to pass the puck for a scoring opportunity. I was a bit skeptical when Kincaide was touting Holik, but if this line performs like that every game I’ll be thrilled.
My nominee for unsung hero of the playoffs was Pascal Dupuis and he made me proud tonight. He hit relentlessly, he skated hard and ended up with two points on the night. Way to go Du-Pweeeeeee!
Hnidy just continues to be a pleasant surprise. That shot he scored on was great.Quotes from the Stands
The guys behind me kept up a commentary in a languid southern drawl all game. They seemed to be more worried about the lack of hits on Jagr than the lack of goals by the Thrashers. At one point Jagr has the puck in the corner and Guy #1 says: "You don't have to be so pooolite and ginnnntle, it's not teeeennis" and I cracked up.
Later when Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin was put on the jumbotron to a mixture of cheers and boos Guy #1 comments "I think this is the first time she's been to a hockey game" to which Guy #2 replied "I'm not even sure she's really here."
At another point in the game they showed the Atlanta Hawks team watching the game and the crowd started to boo them. I commented that "It would help if they looked like they were the slightest bit excited about being here."
The Hossa-Belanger-Kozlov line didn’t do much of anything. If you missed the game here is what they did: gain the blueline pass to Kozlov, Kozlov curls to the outside to avoid pressure and just throws the puck into the middle of the ice. Rangers clear. It was shameful how little pressure this line generated. This is one reason why the Rangers got so many shots at the other end, our top offensive lines were not applying much pressure in the Ranger end.
Kovalchuk was involved in far too many dead plays. I’ll cut him a little slack because it was his first every playoff game and he did dish out some nice hits. Honestly, though Kovalchuk reminds me of a Jaguar—a beautiful car when it is working, but a car that just doesn’t work well often enough to own. Kovalchuk is a great player with a great shot, its just that he doesn’t adjust very well. If the pass isn’t perfect he’s not going to shot. If the lane isn’t open he’ll try to dance around with his check with the puck on his backhand and lose it into the corner.
At the end of the game when the team badly needed to tie the game and had a 6-on-4 advantage the old power play bad habits reappeared. Excessive passing, reluctance to shoot. They just passed it around as the seconds ticked off the clock until finally Kovalchuk got the puck and just shot it wide or into the pads of shotblocker. It was all far too predictable and frustrating because it is the same thing they have done all season--but now it is costing them when it really counts.
ConclusionThe bad news is that our star players didn't play like star players--it is very hard to win playoff games when that happens. The good news is that our star players can all play better this and they must if the team is going to win the series.