**Editor’s note: This article was submitted before the conclusion of Monday night’s playoff games.**
The first round of the NHL playoffs are concluding this week and the second round of the playoffs beginning this weekend. The games and series have been great. We’ve seen some major upsets, some amazing goals and incredible saves and more is still to come. Four teams, Nashville, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, all have advanced to the second round. Time for some quick reaction on how they did it and where we’re at in the remaining five series.
The Nashville Predators knocked out the Detroit Red Wings in five games, the earliest exit for the Red Wings in the playoffs since their six game first round playoff loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s also the first time in three arrempts that the Predators have won a playoff series against the Red Wings. The Predators are a very balanced team with a great goaltender in Pekka Rinne. They have a good shot in my estimation of advancing further in the playoffs. It is not out of the realm of possibility that we could see the Predators in the Stanley Cup Finals, especially with Vancouver getting knocked out by the Los Angeles Kings.
The St. Louis Blues had the best goaltending in the league in the regular season, and it showed in their first round series win against the San Jose Sharks; they knocked out the Sharks in five games. Goalies Jaraslov Halak and Brian Elliott were sensational in the series. Elliott had to fill in the final two games after Halak got injured, but it didn’t matter who was in net because the Sharks couldn’t score. It’s still tough to say how far the Blues can go, but hot goaltending is often enough to take a team deep into the playoffs. The Blues two stellar netminders will make them a tough out the remainder of the playoffs.
The battle for hockey bragging rights in the state of Pennsylvania this year has
been won by the Philadelphia Flyers. In a very physical series where goaltending at times was optional, the Philadelphia Flyers defeated thePittsburgh Penguins in six games to move on to the second round of the playoffs. There is no love lost between these two teams. In fact, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said as much after the game when he said that he didn’t wish the Flyers well. The star of the series for Philadelphia may have been Penguins goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury. He was absolutely awful in the series. He seemed to get rattled very early giving up many rebound shots and more soft goals than a playoff goalie should. Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov wasn’t overly impressive in this series, which should be a concern for the Flyers, but he was helped out by some stellar play from his front line including Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr. This series had plenty of penalties, and the Flyers special teams were better the Penguins, a surprise to some. But the Flyers have advanced and knocked out the perennial eastern conference favorite Penguins out of the playoffs.
The Vancouver Canucks haven’t fared well in their last two playoff series. This year’s President’s Trophy winner (awarded to the team who had the most points in the regular season) has been ousted from the playoffs after losing to the eighth seed Los Angeles Kings in five games. Folks in Vancouver and Canucks fans around the country, both in the United State and Canada are shcoked by this. Some experts like ESPN’s Barry Melrose picked the Kings to win the series because they could match Vancouver’s physical style of play and would not be intimidated. They weren’t. The Kings had a better power play in the first two games of the series in Vancouver, forcing the Canucks to pull Roberto Luongo out of the net and inserting Cory Schneider. That proved to be a great move for the Canucks as Schneider played brilliantly, making save after save and keeping his team in games. They won game four in Los Angeles and had a 1-0 lead against the Kings in game five, but thanks to Kings goalie Jonathan Quick keeping the team in the game, the Kings finally broke through with a goal in the third to tie the game and force overtime. In overtime, Jarrett Stoll took a turnover and put a wrister past Schneider. Stunning. Great hockey, and we’ll see if the Kings can deliver the NHL great ratings being in Los Angeles. I’m guessing L.A. is buzzing more about hockey than they have in a while.
Now let’s take a look at where the other series are at right now:
#3 Florida vs. #6 New Jersey(Florida leads series 3-2)
It is very surprising that the more offensively talented team, the New Jersey Devils are down in this series. With Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuck, they shouldn’t be down. Then again, they haven’t exactly gotten a consistent performance from goalie Martin Brodeur. And the Devils have been unable to hold leads in games. They should win the series, but Florida’s will, determination and smarts have them ahead. They are playing as a team whereas at time it appears New Jersey is playing on talent alone. Game six is tonight in New Jersey. The Devils need to win to force a winner take all game seven. I think the Devils can win this game and then after that, it’s anyone’s guess.
#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa (Ottawa leads series 3-2)
Somehow, someway, the eight seeded Ottawa Senators can knock out the tough, physical New York Rangers. How they’ve done it is pretty remarkable: they are led by goalie Craig Anderson who has stopped 94 of 97 shots he’s faced in the past three games, two of them Senator wins. The Senators get Daniel Alfredsson back as well, most likely for game six. He has missed the past few games due to injury; he is a difference maker when in the lineup. Ottawa is also very effective with their penalty killing and matching New York’s physical style of play. They are not intimidated and the Rangers seem to be surprised by that. Not too many people had high hopes for the Rangers in terms of advancing deep into the playoffs, but most everyone expected them to get by the Senators fairly easily. It would not be a good thing for the Rangers to exit this early, for it would be a sign that they are farther away from making a legit run than they thought. Plus the NHL would love to have New York continue for the market and rating purposes, though they won’t admit it. New York’s down to their last life. How will they fare?
# 2 Boston vs. #7 Washington(series tied 3-3)
This happens to be the first time in NHL history that a series’ first six games have all been decided by one goal. Capitals rookie goalie Braden Holtby continues to shine despite giving up four goals in game six. He has made some unbelievable saves that has kept the Capitals in this series. Alex Ovechkin has scored a couple of goals for the Capitals, but he hasn’t stood out a great deal in the series. No doubt the Boston Bruins have been a little frustrated by Holtby’s play. They keep peppering him with shots, but they are unable to get many shots by him. Their power play is struggling. Tim Thomas has given up some soft goals. One reason that is is that he coming out in the crease to challenge the shot, but that is giving the Capitals a ton of room to make a move and have a wide open net. We saw it in game five. Having said all that, with a game seven coming up and everything on the line, you trust the savvy veteran over a rookie in this position. I think Boston is going to win and advance to the second round.
#3 Phoenix vs. #6 Chicago (Phoenix leads series 3-2)
This series has also made history with the first five games going to overtime. It’s been a fun series to watch. The Blackhawks keep scoring late to force overtime, but the Coyotes have been the better team in overtime winning three of the five games. They had a chance to knock off the Blackhawks in five games, but Jonathan Toews made an impressive move on Coyotes goalie Mike Smith and buried one in the back of the net to stave off elimination. The series may have taken a turn when Coyotes LW Raffi Torres left his feet and delivered a blow to the head of Blackhawks RW Marian Hossa in game three. Hossa had to be immobilized and carried off on a stretcher. He has missed the last two games. Torres has been suspended twenty-five games. Will Chicago come back and win the series? The NHL would love it for the ratings, though they won’t say it. Phoenix has played very well though and for the Blackhawks to win three in a row with two of those on the road is going to be tough. We’ll see what they do.
The NHL playoffs have been spectacular so far. If you haven’t caught much if any of them yet, highly encourage you to do this. The action is non-stop and the games have been awesome. The second round gets going this weekend.