While difficult to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs (because the Ducks are not in it), it has been an entertaining and closely fought first round. I cannot remember a time when every single series was tied after the first two games. Not one single team will be swept in the first round.
As play has continued to develop, some interesting trends continue to emerge. In the regular season, the Western Conference was the most competitive and tightly fought. The post-season is looking to be the same way. Three of the four series in the West are knotted at 2-2.
Chicago and Nashville have only played three games, but it is likely they’ll end up at 2-2 as well after the fourth one is played. How Nashville continues to perform year after year regardless of personnel, or changes in net, is beyond comprehension. Then you look behind the bench and Barry Trotz has done an amazing job with what he has been given. Nashville, currently ahead, for the first time ever in a post-season, has a chance to win their first playoff series ever. If so, that would be a huge upset of the #2 seeded Chicago.
Who would have expected that San Jose and Colorado would be tied at this point? Colorado limped towards the post-season, taking longer than it should have to seal their playoff hopes. The Avs clearly were the last team anyone expected in the post-season when the year began, and yet despite their March slump, they have pulled it back together in the playoffs. This evening one of these teams will have a 3-2 advantage in the series. Three out of four games have gone to overtime, so no reason to expect game five to be done in regulation.
If San Jose goes down 3-2 before heading to Colorado for a game six, the Sharks players may not want to return home any time soon. If the Avs win the series, it would be quite an upset, despite the Sharks notoriety for needing the Heimlich maneuver in the post-season.
Vancouver and Los Angeles might be won by specialty teams. The Kings power play is smoking hot and the Canucks penalty kill is not. You know Vancouver is getting desperate when they start putting the Sedin twins on the penalty kill. Unless the Canucks can find a way to stop taking penalties or improve their penalty kill, this series will be a catfight to a game seven. Either team could win this one.
Detroit and Phoenix has been another back and forth affair. Detroit is not the powerhouse it once was, but is still a formidable adversary. Phoenix is enjoying the post-season for the first time in eight years. At the number 4 and 5 seeds, these two are pretty well matched and it has been an entertaining series. If Phoenix can maintain home ice advantage, they’ll see the next round. If not, they’ll just have to build on this for next year.
The Eastern Conference has developed some interesting patterns of their own. Three of the four lower seeds won the first game, but upsets do not come easily in the playoffs.
Washington has not yielded again to Montreal after dropping the first game of their series. The Capitals can finish off the pesky Canadiens on Friday at home, assuming they stick to what works. That includes have Simeon Varlamov in goal instead of Jose Theodore. Washington quickly learned that while defense and great goaltending might not have been necessary in the regular season, it sure is needed in the post-season. The Capitals had so much offense to make up for it in the regular season, it didn’t matter. Montreal, who has gotten strong goaltending from Jaroslav Halak, made the Capitals rethink that game plan. If the Caps go on to the Cup Final, they should go back and thank Montreal for waking them up in time.
Pittsburgh also yielded game one to Ottawa, but has come back to lead 3-1 in that series. Ottawa is not going down without a fight, but they might not be strong enough in net to deal with the Penguins firepower. If Pittsburgh closes the series tonight at home, the Senators will continue to be also-rans.
#7 Philadelphia is the only lower seed with the opportunity to close out a series tonight. The #2 Devils have not been exceptional and the Flyers have been gritty and determined. However, Philadelphia has lost both Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter to surgeries and that might hurt them as they continue in the playoffs. It seems highly unlikely that the Flyers will lose the next three consecutive games to New Jersey. You never know, but the odds are against them doing so.
Buffalo and Boston is also looking to be a potential upset, with the Bruins leading 3-1. Last night’s double overtime game continued to show why Ryan Miller is probably the best goaltender in the game right now. It still wasn’t enough to stop Boston, who had Tuuka Rask matching Miller’s performance. Will Boston finish off the Sabres in Buffalo on Friday? Doubtful. But it will be a good battle the rest of the way.
One can only hope that round two will be as fun and exciting as round one!