The NHL postseason is now in full swing, and there are a few teams who may already be in real danger of seeing their season come to an end.
While it may still be early in the proceedings, there are signs in each series that point towards one team being in for a short playoff experience.
But there are some teams in a considerably worse predicament than others. Some were expected to struggle, while others were being touted as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
Here are four teams who are already in a world of trouble in the opening round of the NHL playoffs.
On the surface, a 1-0 overtime loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion shouldn’t be a cause for concern. If anything, it should create optimism inside the Washington Capitals’ dressing room.
That would be true if the Boston Bruins didn’t completely dominate the opening game of the first-round series between the two teams.
But they did.
The Capitals have young netminder Braden Holtby to thank for the fact that Game 1 was not a blowout. For the first two periods on Thursday night, the Capitals looked like a team that was completely out of its depth.
They were out-shot 26 to seven after 40 minutes, including 17 to two in the second period alone. It was Holtby, playing in his first career playoff game, who gave his team a chance to steal home-ice advantage in the series.
At just 21 years old, Holtby was forced to take over the starting role in Washington after injuries to both Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth, who came into the season ahead of him on the depth chart.
A veteran of just 21 NHL games, Holtby played in only seven of the Capitals’ games this season. He did, however, start five of his team’s final 10 games, finishing the year with a solid 2.48 goals-against average.
But to expect the young netminder to out-duel the reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner is a tall order, and it may turn out that Game 1 was the best we see from Holtby.
That would certainly be bad news for the Capitals, who looked inept offensively for the majority of the contest.
“The next game will be different,” he said. “We know we can play against them. Holtby played a hell of a game. He was nervous but once he made the first save he calmed down.”
The Washington captain may be saying all the right things, but whether or not he believes it is a different story. Look for Holtby to have a much more difficult time as the series continues, which will signal the end for the Capitals.
Coming into this series, little was expected of the Ottawa Senators as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Yes, they did manage to win three of four regular season meetings with the Broadway Blueshirts, but the Senators still weren’t given much of a chance to pull off the upset.
But in the early going of Game 1, Ottawa looked like a team full of belief that they could indeed topple the heavily favored Rangers.
The Senators dominated the opening period, playing a physical, up-tempo game and out-shooting New York 13 to eight. Despite heading into the dressing room trailing 1-0, head coach Paul MacLean had to be happy with his teams’ effort.
In fact, until Rangers head coach John Tortorella took a key timeout midway through the second period, you would be forgiven for thinking it was the Canadian team who came in as the No. 1 seed.
But that is exactly the problem for Ottawa and its fans.
Despite dictating the play for large stretches, it was the Rangers who still managed to take a 4-0 lead early in the final period. Two late second-period goals from Marian Gaborik and Brian Boyle were supplemented by a Brad Richards marker in the third, putting the game beyond doubt.
It was a disappointing result for MacLean, who said he was happy with his team’s performance overall.
“The last four or five minutes we give up a couple goals and again early in the third,” he said. “Take away those six minutes and we're pretty happy with how we played the game. We'll build on the 54 minutes in the game we played reasonably well.”
Underneath that optimism, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the Senators played about as well as you could expect, and still lost quite handily. The two goals Ottawa did manage to score came when the game was already well out of reach.
If the Rangers decide to bring an increased intensity level right from the opening faceoff, the Senators will be in for a short series.
The Nashville Predators took full advantage of home ice in Game 1, drawing first blood in the series with a 3-2 victory.
Normally, to say that a veteran team boasting the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Lidstrom is in trouble after only one game would be ludicrous.
Indeed, the Red Wings and Predators series could still turn out to be one of the best in the first-round. But the game provided a couple of reasons for Red Wing fans to start getting nervous, if they weren’t already.
Predators’ goaltender Pekka Rinne was once again the star of the show for Nashville, proving to a national audience why his head coach believes he is one of the very best in the NHL right now. Rinne stopped 35 shots on Wednesday night to lead his team to the victory.
If the Finnish netminder continues to perform like he did in the opening game—which is how he played all year long—Detroit’s playoff experience may not be a factor at all.
The injury to forward Darren Helm is also a massive blow to Mike Babcock and company.
A speedy third-line center, Helm will miss the remainder of the playoffs after having successful surgery to repair tendon damage in his right arm. The 25-year-old sustained the injury when the left skate of Nashville forward Alexander Radulov cut his arm in the opening period of Game 1.
He may not get the same attention as some of his teammates, but the Red Wings are well aware of just how important he is to the team.
"It's a big loss," Lidstrom said. "We've been without him for about a month now, and he came back and played his first game and got hurt again. Just his speed and what he can do on both ends of the ice will affect us a bit. But we have other guys that are going to get a chance to play now and play more."
A gritty two-way forward, Helm always seems to raise his game come playoff time. He was one of the key contributors during the Wings’ run to the Stanley Cup in 2008. In 65 career postseason games, Helm has 10 goals and 16 points.
He is also a key member of the penalty-killing unit for head coach Mike Babcock. With the Predators having the league’s top-ranked power play during the regular season, Helm’s absence could be a key factor as the series continues.
The former fifth-round draft pick in 2005 also brings an element of physicality to the lineup, despite only being listed at 5’11” and 192 pounds.
That type of heart and drive is something Detroit will not be able to replace, despite the best efforts of Justin Abdelkader, who is likely to step up and replace Helm on the third line.
With the series taking a nasty turn at the end of Game 1 as a result of Shea Weber slamming Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass, you can expect things to be very physical for the remainder of the series.
Helm would have been one of the members of the Wings’ lineup asked to step up and respond. Whether or not the Red Wings will be able to do so without him remains to be seen.
If they can’t, this series may not go as long as many people had predicted.
Of all the teams mentioned here, the Vancouver Canucks have the best chance of winning their first-round series. After all, they didn’t finish the season with 111 points and the President’s Trophy by accident.
But their surprising 4-2 loss in the opening game against the Los Angeles Kings provided plenty of reasons for Canucks fans to start sweating.
More than anything, Game 1 proved that the Canucks are simply not the same offensive juggernaut without winger Daniel Sedin in the lineup.
Despite still boasting his brother Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and a host of other offensively gifted players, this hockey club needs Daniel to push them to that elite level.
Last season’s Art Ross Trophy winner has been out of the lineup with a concussion since March 21, after he took a vicious elbow in the head from Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith during a game in Chicago.
Together with his brother, Daniel makes the Canucks lineup one of the most potent in the league. He led the team this season with 30 goals, despite missing the final nine games of the year.
Without him, the Canucks struggled to create quality scoring chances at Rogers Arena on Wednesday night.
With the Kings allowing only 2.07 goals against per game during the regular season—the second-best total in the league—Vancouver was already going to be hard-pressed to beat star netminder Jonathan Quick. Without the younger of the two twins, that task will be significantly more difficult.
Reports from Vancouver indicate that Sedin will most likely sit out Game 2 of the best-of-seven series tonight.
It may be a little premature to condemn the league’s best team to defeat already, but if they lose tonight, we may be well on our way towards witnessing one of the biggest first-round upsets in the history of the NHL postseason.