By: Chris Dagonas
Round 1 has come and gone (and Round 2 has already begun!) and we have seen the usual variety of series. The Montreal Canadiens swept the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Boston, Chicago and Anaheim mostly steamrolled through Detroit, St. Louis, and Dallas, respectively. Columbus showed signs of life, but ultimately fell to the more powerful Penguins, while the Minnesota Wild surprised many by pushing past the Colorado Avalanche.
The most interesting series of the first round were regional rivalries, where the San Jose Sharks fell to the Los Angeles Kings in a historic comeback/collapse, and the New York Rangers defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in a tough series. So now we move to Round 2, where the games get tougher, the shifts get shorter, and the beards get longer. This is hockey in May.
HOW IS THAT BRACKET HOLDING UP?
Pretty well, thanks for asking. I know this isn’t exactly March Madness, but I’m still proud of choosing 7 of the 8 first round series correctly. By this point, though, every team is worthy of their spot, and every team is on some sort of roll. After having had a second look at my picks, I’m sticking by them. You can find them again here, in case you forgot.
OK, so I didn’t predict the Wild beating the Avalanche, in a contest of teams with names that are not plural. Minnesota advanced in Game 7, relying largely on the game of Nino Neiderreiter’s life. They now advance to face the Blackhawks, who will probably dismantle them in short order.
Nailed the Eastern first round, thank you very much.
WHO HAS BEEN THE BEST PLAYER SO FAR?
Tuukka Rask, and no one is even close. He allowed only 6 goals in his five-game series, and turned aside over 96% of the shots he faced. This isn’t the first time he’s done something like this, and the Bruins will be happy to continue to ride their hot goalie. In regular skates, Nathan MacKinnon was wildly impressive in his first playoff series, as well as Paul Stastny. With Monday night’s return of Matt Duchene, the Avs might have had the best trio of young forwards in the playoffs. But now that they’re out, I’d be very worried about playing against Anze Kopitar, who had a goal and an assist to charge his Kings past the Sharks in Game 7. Kopitar might be the best point-scorer remaining, though Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Corey Perry are all still involved and all still outstanding players.
ANY UPSETS IN THE CARDS?
Who can bet against the Kings now? They were down 0-3 against a talented Sharks team, and rallied to win four in a row to advance. They now face another California matchup with the Anaheim Ducks, who were tied with the Boston Bruins for the most regular season wins. If any of the four lower-seeded teams can take out their challengers, it’s the Kings. They’re red-hot, and they have the defensive stability and goaltending necessary to slow down Anaheim’s attack. Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens have jumped out to a 1-0 series lead over the Boston Bruins, so keep an eye on that matchup. Especially if P.K. Subban provides a few more game winners.
WHAT IS SOMETHING I DON’T REALIZE THAT I SHOULD REALIZE?
Montreal scored an average of four goals per game in their first-round sweep of the Lightning, making them the playoffs’ most dangerous offense (try to contain your surprise). The Canadiens are not really built for scoring tons of goals. (Their top offensive player was Max Pacioretty after all.) Their offense will definitely come back to Earth a little bit against the Bruins, but if they are able to sneak a couple of goals past Rask, they might keep the series close enough to make it interesting. (THEY ALREADY HAVE!)
The Rangers and Canadiens were equally horrid on the Penalty Kill, escaping only 71% of their penalties unscathed in the first round. That will spell trouble in close games, as their opponents, the Penguins and Bruins respectively, have excellent power-play units.
Sidney Crosby has no goals in these playoffs! Sound the alarm! Naw, just kidding, he has 6 assists, 4 of which have come on the power play. The bigger worry in Pittsburgh should be Kris Letang, who after 6 games has only 1 assist, is a minus-2, and has collected 10 penalty minutes, to “lead” his team. His defensive compatriot Paul Martin has picked up the slack, but may not be able to continue his excellent play against a tougher Rangers team.
Of the remaining teams, Anaheim has the lowest even-strength ratio (goals scored divided by goals allowed) at 0.92. The Kings were not much better, with a perfectly even 1.00 ratio. Their series will be settled in power-play/penalty-kill situations, where both teams have been very good. The slightest hiccup in 5-on-4 situations could swing the series.
WHAT ARE THE LEAFS DOING RIGHT NOW?
Welp, apparently our star forward Phil Kessel is having the time of his life while night fishing with his friends. Kessel took a lot of heat for that tweet, but what do you expect a guy to do if he doesn’t make the playoffs? Cry on his couch, watching the other teams play? That’s what Leafs fans do, not Leafs players.
Well, I’m going to go watch the Raptors knock out the Brooklyn Nets (FEARLESS PREDICTION!) and at least enjoy the fact that one Toronto winter sports team is still playing in May.