Lord Stanley must be pleased. Round One provided some very solid and entertaining hockey that was capped off by three Game 7s last night. Each ending had its own storyline with the Rangers staying perfect in Game 7s at MSG on home ice, the Wild finally breaking through and winning in Colorado and the Kings completing their epic comeback/ the Sharks collapsing.
Round two has the potential to match or exceed this past round as we have divisional foes about to square off. So I think it must be said that the new playoff format is pretty awesome. People were skeptical of it because, hey, its the NHL and they get a lot of things wrong but we must give Bettman and company credit here. The first round had divisional foes facing off and also rewarded those that won their divisions with an “easier” matchup. Now we are all set up for more rivalries that includes the most historic one in hockey. (Habs/Bruins.)
Plus on top of that you can actually fill out a bracket because there is no reseeding. (I went 7 for 8 with my only miss the Wild. (Vose!))
Before we move forward to Round Two though lets take a look at the worst and best of the opening round…
Best game/series: Avs vs Wild: I don’t think anyone expected this series to provide as much drama as it did. With four overtime games that got started on an absurd comeback from the Avs on home ice in Game 1. The home team went on to win every game until Game 7 back in Denver..
The Wild advance to play the Hawks and to be fair they were the better team all series. Had it not been for two last minute collapses they would have won earlier in the series. Still it was fun to watch and with the Avs good young core I feel we will see these teams playing again in the playoffs in the near future.
MVP: LAK D Drew Doughty: He along with Jonathan Quick were the main reasons the Kings erased a 3-0 hole and became the 4th team to come back and win a series. Looking at his stats he did it all against the Sharks best competition too. Having the Kings stick around may be very similar to Boston last year who survived a first round scare against the Leafs before making the Final.
LVP: Blues and Sharks: Each of these teams came into the postseason with high expectations and each will be sent home packing in round one. For the Blues the expectation for the Cup was set the minute they traded for Ryan Miller. Everything went well until the final six games of the regular season when they went 0-6 and drew the Hawks in the first round. They went up 2-0 only to have a repeat of last year and lose the last four games of the series. Not surprisingly those in STL are calling to blow it up.
Speaking of blowing it the Sharks looked dominant the first two games and then won game 3 in LA in OT and all seemed to be right in the world in Sharks land. Then everything flipped and now they are part of history with three other teams that gave up a 3-0 lead. Many will call for the Sharks to blow it up too but I am not as convinced they can do that. The gave Thornton and Marleau extensions midseason and had it not been for their best D man Vlasic for getting hurt they might still be playing. Glad some in their fanbase think rationally.
Best Goal: Jonathan Toews Breakaway from Keith in Game 5:
Best Save: Jonathan Quick in Game 7
I have a feeling those two will be seeing each other later in the playoffs.
Best Team: Boston: With all due respect to the Habs who won in a sweep Boston shut down the Red Wings and gave up six goals in five games. All of Detroit’s young guys struggled when facing one of the best defensive teams in the league. Boston is a python who slowly sucks all the life and fun out of hockey. I hope the Habs can cut them down.
Best CBC Montage: Game 5 Pens vs CBJ
All of the emotions
Good: Getting new/old hockey markets involved: Both Dallas and the Avs seemed to revive their fan bases that have been dormant for a decade. Also Columbus got to experience some playoff wins and hopes to establish a rivalry with the Pens. Key for each of these teams is to follow it up with getting back to the playoffs. The Wild have done this and now have some optimism whereas the Islanders squandered last years playoff birth with more horrible hockey this year.
Bad: NYR vs Flyers fans: That isn’t that surprising.
On to Round Two. Here is the schedule. Lets break it down by conference.
“The Rivalry” 1) Boston Bruins vs 2) Montreal Canadiens
Lowdown: There is no more historic rivalry in hockey. I am not overstating that either. Wings-Hawks might have been going on just as long, Pens-Flyers might have more hate and Habs-Leafs might have more emotion but none of them match the history of this rivalry. This will be their 34th meeting in the playoffs and although the Habs have been better historically (24-9 all time) the Bruins have been the better team for the past decade. (I have heard this same thing in another rivalry I follow. I wonder which one?) Either way the atmosphere in both buildings will be absurd and read up on what you are watching here. (Also I assume the CBC montages will be hall of fame worthy, cant wait.)
Goalie Matchup: Tuukka Rask vs Carey Price: When these two met in Sochi for their respective countries it was Price coming away victorious but in that instance he had the better team in front of him. So far this postseason Rask has been the best goalie which means Price will need to either match or exceed his play. No easy task.
Injuries: The Bruins are expected to get Daniel Paille back
Hate Level/History: A Billion: I don’t have to say much here. Just watch
Other notes: Of the eight teams left everyone but the Wild have won a Cup. Amongst the Seven though the Habs have the longest drought. Which is weird considering they have more Cups than everyone else.
Meaningless Prediction: Bruins in 7: Let me be clear I don’t want the Habs to win, I need them to win. The Pens can’t match the Bruins depth and want no part of Rask who tormented them last year. But I can’t predict that to happen. Good news is there is historical precedent of the Habs beating better Bruins teams in the 70s. Help us Carey Price, you are our only hope.
Lowdown: The Pens/Rangers rivalry began in the 1992 playoffs when Adam Graves slashed Mario Lemieux and knocked him out of the series. The Pens still went on to win but the rivalry has lived on since. While it is not quite on the level of Pens/Flyers or Rangers/Devils it still has enough history that each fan base doesn’t like each other. More recently the two teams hate level escalated when Matt Cooke elbowed Ryan McDonagh which made former coach John Tortorella mad. Truth is, I miss Torts and this series won’t be the same without him. (Seriously it won’t. Alain Vigneault is actually a good coach and I would much prefer Torts behind the bench.)
Goalie Matchup: MAF vs Lundqvist: Soooooooooo MAF did MAF things in Game 4 against CBJ. I would like to say I am surprised it happened but I am numb to it at this point. You would think that it would give NYR a huge advantage but the one overlooked part about Lundqvist is he has only won a 2nd round once and is 0-12 when his team is leading in a series. The Rangers just love Game 7s for some reason.
Injuries: NYR might get Chris Kreider back while the Pens aren’t sure when Brooks Orpik will be able to play. Good news is C Brandon Sutter sounds good to go.
Hate Level: 10: This one is personal for me since my dead friend and Northwest Ohio’s finest broadcaster Will Kunkel is a Rangers fan. This means insults of all kinds will be flung around for the next 7-12 days. Should be fun. (Hey Will remember this?)
Other Notes: The last time these two met in the playoffs was 2008 when Marian Hossa was a member of the Pens and ended it in game 5…
This makes me feel old for some reason. (My favorite part of this clip is how they say Jagr wants to play four more years. Ha)
Meaningless Prediction: Pens in 7: Part of me wants to pick the Rangers just to anti-jinx myself or whatever but I am going with my team. Main thing here is special teams. The Flyers PP gave the Rangers fits and if the Pens get going their powerplay can carry the team. Also look for it on the other side as well with the Rangers PP and Pens PK struggling. Plus if it does go the distance game 7 will be in the Burgh and not in MSG.
“Battle for LA” 1) Anaheim Ducks vs 3) LA Kings
Lowdown: Despite their proximity these two teams have never met in the playoffs. They call it a rivalry and while they may have played an outdoor game everything will get intensified these next two weeks. These two teams already don’t like each other and it will be great for California hockey that they will be able to name a State Champion and send a team to the Western Conference Final for a fifth straight year.
Goalie Matchup: Someone vs Jonathan Quick: Rookie Frederick Anderson got the majority of starts for the Ducks in round one but was replaced by Jonas Hiller in the clinching game. Add to that they still have rookie John Gibson sitting there too. No idea what will happen.
On the other side the Kings have a Vezina and Conn Smythe winner who after a rough first two games bounced back to be the player we all know. There is a clear advantage here.
Injuries: Each has some injuries to their defensive core but nothing catastrophic
#Fancystats: The Kings are the darlings of the stat community and will be big time favorites. The Ducks rely heavily on their power play and will need to get the Kings to the box to keep it even
Hate Level: Incomplete: Sure they are neighbors but they haven’t had an argument over someone playing their music too loud yet. That will change.
Other notes: The LA Kings actually played the California Seals back in the day. Thought you might like that.
Meaningless Prediction: Kings in 6: As much as I want to pick the Ducks there is no way I can do that with the Kings bounce back win and Jonathan Quick playing like we expect him to.
“Hockey’s Best Franchise vs State of Hockey” 1) Chicago Blackhawks vs 4) Minnesota Wild
Lowdown: These two teams met once in the playoffs last year with the Hawks winning in five games. It was a nice reintroduction the the playoffs for a Wild team that had missed the postseason for a few years. Now they get another chance and despite it going seven games the Wild were clearly the better team against the Avs. For the Blackhawks this is just business as usual as they try to be the first repeat champions since the Red Wings. (That would be a pretty hilarious way to stick it to the Wings who are now out of the conference.)
Goalie Matchup: Corey Crawford vs Darcy Kempfer/Ilya Bryzgalov: I have no idea what to make of the Wild’s goaltending situation and I won’t pretend that I know what will happen. All I know if people doubt Crawford and he keeps winning.
Injuries: Matt Cooke comes back in Game 4 so someone will get hurt then…
#Fancystats: Hawks, obviously
Hate Level: 6: There is hate between these two cities for other sports but it is good to something developing in hockey. It will be weird for Vose though.
Other Notes: I miss drinking and watching hockey in Halligan’s.
Meaningless Prediction: Hawks in 6: I think the Wild will give the Hawks a much better series than they did last year and if they steal one in Chicago early I could see them pulling the upset. I don’t have the stones to pick that though. Hawks vs Kings, the last two cup winners and a rematch of last years WCF sounds like too much fun to pass up.
Good luck and excuse me while I go annoy Kunkel on Twitter.