**Editor’s note: Post was published prior to the completion of Monday night’s playoff games.**
So the second round of the NHL playoffs has begun. In the east, the #6 seed Philadelphia Flyers lead their series over the #5 seed New Jersey Devils 1-0 and the #1 seed New York Rangers lead their series over the #7 Washington Capitals 1-0. In the west, the #8 seed Los Angeles Kings continue to shock the NHL as they hold a 1-0 series lead over the #2 seed St. Louis Blues and the #3 seed Phoenix Coyotes lead their series over the #4 seed Nashville Predators 2-0.
Some of the traditional powers and big markets teams have been knocked out. The Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins all had expectations that they would advance fairly deep into the playoffs, but they have all been eliminated.
Also, it’s interesting to note that every single seed is represented in the second round. That’s pretty amazing. We’ve seen big upsets in the first round before, but very rarely do we see a team from ever seed make it to the second round. The playoffs have been very entertaining and exciting and two teams that have contributed to excitement and the surprise of the NHL playoffs are teams that Dallas Stars fans are very familiar. They’re division rivals Los Angeles and Phoenix.
The Stanley Cup playoffs began with three teams from the Pacific Division making it. The San Jose Sharks were bounced out quickly by the St. Louis Blues. But the other two have surprised many by playing exceptionally well. The Los Angeles Kings pulled off a colossal upset over the top seed and President’s Trophy winners, the Vancouver Canucks in five games; the Phoenix Coyotes ousted the Chicago Blackhawks in six games with five of those games going to overtime. The Blackhawks were a team that some, including myself, thought would make it to the Finals.
The Kings won their series against Vancouver thanks to a physical style of play that matched up well against the Canucks. They also got great goaltending from Jonathan Quick, a rising star in the NHL. Their power play was effective when it had to be, and they had enough offensive firepower to get by the Canucks, who struggled to without Daniel Sedin for the first three games. The power play and the offensive firepower is something that the Dallas Stars struggled with much of the year. They had good goaltending, but nothing like what Quick showed for the Kings in this series. The Kings are in a very good position.
The Phoenix Coyotes, like the Kings, won their first round series thanks in large part to a goaltender who is starting to become a household name. Coyotes goalie Mike Smith was absolutely huge in the series, robbing the Chicago Blackhawks left and right. The Coyotes were able to generate offense and went four for nineteen on the powerplay. The interesting thing is that Phoenix doesn’t really have any big stars. But sometimes, you don’t need stars on your team. You just have to have heart. And that is what Phoenix showed in round one, fending off the pesky Blackhawks. The Coyotes won their first series since moving to Phoenix. The last time they had won a playoff series was back in 1987 when they were the old Winnipeg Jets. And they’re having success early in the second round against the Nashville Predators with a 2-0 lead in the series.
So Stars fans shouldn’t look at this season as too much of a disappointment, considering the success that both the Kings and Coyotes are having. It shows just how tough the Pacific Division was this year, but it also shows how tough the division may be next year. Hence, the Stars need to target some players to upgrade their offensive attack. Alexander Semin (Washington), Zach Parise (New Jersey), Milan Hjeduk (Colorado) and Jiri Hudler (Detroit) are some of the biggest names out there.
We’ll take a look at the free agents that Dallas should target after the playoffs are done. But the Stars definitely need to upgrade while still maintaining some cap flexibility. And if the Stars are looking for the next big goaltender, perhaps, that’s a Josh Harding (Minnesota) or an Evgeni Nabakov (New York Islanders). No question with the success that the Kings and Coyotes are having, the Stars will need to upgrade in order to compete next year and make the playoffs. But it should give hope to Stars fans that with the Pacific Division having as much success as they’ve had in the playoffs, that perhaps the Stars are only a player or two from breaking through and making it back to the playoffs and making a run.