The Stanley Cup truly is the most difficult trophy to win in all of sports and in the playoffs, anything can happen.
Round one of this year’s postseason is over and eight more teams have packed up their lockers and gone home. Some of those teams are not surprising. Others are downright shocking.
In the East, you cannot deny that the Montreal Canadiens defeating the President Trophy winning Washington Capitals in seven games was a huge upset and something no one could have foreseen. Beyond being a #8 seed knocking off a #1, something that has only happened 32 times since 1994, the plucky little Canadiens came back from a 3-1 deficit in the series.
Was it Washington doing a choke job of astronomical proportions? If you answer yes, then you greatly underestimate the abilities of the Canadiens. Jaroslav Halak proved that with great goaltending, you can do a lot. Halak was immovable and impenetrable in the final three games of the series. 131 saves on 134 shots? Against a team that averaged nearly four goals a game in the regular season? That is effective goaltending.
And in front of every effective goaltender is a solid defense that helps him out. The Capitals were lacking in both departments. Their offense was good enough to get them the President’s Trophy, but it isn’t just about the goals scored. The Canadiens made the most of their chances and eliminated the Capitals scoring threat. Game and series over.
Now the little engine that could Canadiens take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in another seeming mismatch. Two guesses that this team will not be taken as lightly as they were in the first round and if Halak continues on a roll (Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2003 comes to mind), the Canadiens have a pretty decent chance of moving on to the Eastern Conference finals.
The other match up in the East is between the #6 Boston Bruins and the #7 Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers only needed five games to finish off the New Jersey Devils in round one, but came out of the series with injuries to Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter. They have had the most time to heal while waiting for round two to begin. The Bruins knocked off the Buffalo Sabres and goaltending from Tuuka Rask has been exceptional so far. Neither of these teams were likely to advance, and both are more than capable of making a good run to the Finals. The Flyers will get more playing time, because this one will not be over in five games.
Interestingly, there is still one of every seed left between both the East and the West. In the East the top three seeds were knocked off, leaving the #4, #6, #7 and #8 seeds. In the West, the #1, #2, #3 and #5 seeds remain.
The #5 Red Wings get to take on the remaining #1 seed and perennial playoff poor performer, the San Jose Sharks. No rest for the Wings, who had to use all seven games to defeat the Phoenix Coyotes just two days ago. Will the Sharks, so good in the regular season, finally overcome their post-season vanishing act by getting to the Western Conference finals this year? Getting by the Colorado Avalanche in round one wasn’t easy. The Wings will be that much more difficult. If the Sharks can maintain home advantage, that will go a long way to seeing them move on. Otherwise the Wings will happily continue their post-season successes.
The #2 Chicago Blackhawks and #3 Vancouver Canucks will see a rematch from last year in the second round. Both teams will be better honed thanks to worthy opponents in round one. This series could easily go all the way to seven games.
At the end of this one, there will only be four teams left who have a chance at Lord Stanley’s Cup. Don’t go to Vegas just yet to place your bets, because chances are, there will be a lot more twists and turns before this one is over and someone is crowned the winner. That is what makes hockey so exciting, even when it isn’t your favorite team.