Is Wilson really to blame? Where is Mr. Turco?
Five things we've learned from Monday:
1. So, now we're going to really find out whether Ron Wilson was the real reason for the San Jose Sharks' annual transmogrification from Cup contender to playoff chokers. Wilson, a fine coach by any standard but playoff success, was dismissed by the Sharks on Monday after five interesting but ultimately disappointing seasons. The Sharks should have achieved more than being dispatched in the second round for three straight seasons. But was it Wilson's fault? Well, we'll find out next spring whether the Sharks acted judiciously or rashly. Look for GM Doug Wilson to try to bring in a Tom Renney or Dave Tippett-style coach as a nice antidote to the sometimes acerbic Wilson. Joel Quenneville, arguably the best coach on the market now that he and the Colorado Avalanche have parted ways, would likely be high on the list. How about Kitchener Rangers coach Pete DeBoer, who looks like he's ready to make the big jump from the OHL to the NHL? In the meantime, we're guessing that as long as Ron Wilson wants to be an NHL coach, he'll be behind a bench next fall. A team like the Atlanta Thrashers could use Wilson's personality and knowledge of the game.
2. OK, we know it's de rigueur to throw a goalie under the bus when his team goes off the rails in the playoffs. Still, wouldn't it be nice if Marty Turco made a key save against the Detroit Red Wings? The Wings jumped to a 3-0 series lead Monday with a 5-2 victory, scoring five times on Turco on just 21 shots. And while none of the goals was a blooper, Turco has been outplayed in every game by the oft-maligned Chris Osgood, who has won a franchise-record nine straight playoff games for the Wings.
3. After a first round that saw three dramatic seven-game series (Washington/Philadelphia, Boston/Montreal, San Jose/Calgary), the drama has been drained out of the playoffs. In the second round, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Detroit advanced with a cumulative 12-2 record. There was some drama when San Jose made a valiant bid to rebound from an 0-3 start against Dallas before losing in quadruple overtime in Game 6. But now, in the conference finals, as the league would like to build some momentum heading to the Cup finals, Detroit is up 3-0 on Dallas and the Penguins are looking to do the same against the suddenly injury-plagued Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. If the conference finals end early, there is a possibility the season could end by the end of May or the first couple of days of June.
4. Holy myth-busters, Batman. A quick glance at the playoff scoring leaders shows five of the top six postseason points producers are not from North America. There was a time when hockey people shook their heads if a team was too heavily influenced by European players. It was one of the story lines last season, when the mostly North American Anaheim Ducks ran roughshod over a more European Ottawa Senators team. This spring, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Johan Franzen and Jaromir Jagr are among the top six scorers as Sidney Crosby is the only North American in the mix. Among defensemen, three of the top five point-producers also hail from beyond North America (Detroit's Niklas Kronwall and Nicklas Lidstrom are Swedish and Pittsburgh's Sergei Gonchar is Russian).
5. You can debate the merits of the World Championship all day long. In general, it's a tournament European nations love for historic reasons, but its participants are mostly NHLers whose teams didn't make or were eliminated from the playoffs, plus assorted journeymen players. But one player who's hoping the tournament is a springboard back to the NHL is U.S. netminder Robert Esche, who played in Russia last season after failing to draw a gig with an NHL club. Esche came on in relief of injured Tim Thomas and has played well as the Americans secured a quarterfinals berth with a 9-1 win over Denmark on Monday. Esche was once thought to be the goalie of the future for the Philadelphia Flyers and was part of a tandem that won the in 2002-03 Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the NHL. The Utica, N.Y., native was named to the 2006 U.S. Olympic team, but his stock fell after the 2006 playoffs and he played only 18 NHL games in the 2006-07 season. With a shallow pool of netminders available on the free-agent market this summer, Esche could suddenly turn his strong World Championship play into a new NHL gig.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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