Ten Knee-Jerk Reactions at the Start of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IMay 3, 2013

Ten Knee-Jerk Reactions at the Start of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    The NHL's postseason has finally begun. As of Thursday night, all eight opening-round series are under way.

    While it's definitely still early, there are some early impressions that have come out of the playoffs so far.

    Here are 10 knee-jerk reactions to the first few days of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and what they mean to the big picture.

    Feel free to add your own reactions or to disagree with any of the insights that I have listed here. Just make sure that you add why you feel I am mistaken, or support your own observations and insight.

10. Josh Harding Is Inspiring

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    Josh Harding has always said that he doesn't want the fact that he's been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis to be a factor in how people view him. But even if he didn't have MS, Harding's performance in Game 1 of the playoffs against the Blackhawks would have been inspiring.

    Here was a backup who hadn't started a game since January 30th and had only played in five games all season. He had a nondescript 1-1 record with a very average 3.24 GAA.

    Harding wasn't expecting to play in Game 1, but got the start when starter Niklas Backstrom suffered a leg injury in warm-ups and was unable to play.

    The Regina, Saskatchewan, native made 35 saves and kept the eighth-seeded Wild in a game that went to overtime before Minnesota lost to the club with the league's best record, 2-1.

    "I thought he rose to the occasion and played great," said Wild forward Zach Parise. "He gave us a lot of chances to win."

    That's all you can ask of a seldom-used backup goalie pressed into service at the last minute. Harding may or may not play more games in this series, but he proved that he was ready when called upon in Game 1.

9. Experience Matters

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    Two teams made their first playoff appearances for a long time this week and early on, both clubs showed that experience matters.

    The New York Islanders hadn't qualified for the postseason since 2007. Few people expected them to make it this year either. But the Isles surprised everybody and finished eighth in the Eastern Conference.

    A total of 12 Islanders players were making their NHL playoff debuts, and it quickly became clear that the Isles didn't know what to expect in a postseason game. Less than two minutes into the game, the Isles were goaded into a retaliatory penalty by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke. The Pens cashed in the ensuing power play chance and never looked back, cruising to an easy 5-0 victory.

    Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs reached the playoffs for the first time since 2004, ending the longest postseason drought in franchise history.

    The Leafs opened their playoff series against the Bruins and were also beaten easily, 4-1. While Toronto did manage to score a goal, and even held a 1-0 lead, they were thoroughly outplayed by the Bruins.

    The final shots on goal were 40-20 in favor of Boston. The Bruins also forced the Maple Leafs into taking undisciplined penalties, a total of 32 minutes compared to just eight for Boston.

    In the end, both the Leafs and the Islanders now know how different playoff hockey is from the regular season version. How quickly they adjust to the demands of playoff hockey will tell whether they have a chance to win their respective series.

8. Quick to Place the Blame

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    Boy, fans are quick to judge. Sure, Kings' goalie Jonathan Quick's major flub in overtime ended up being the difference in Game 1 of their series with the St. Louis Blues. But let's face it, the Kings wouldn't have been in the game if not for Quick's strong play.

    The Kings were outshot 42-29 in the game and Quick made 40 saves to keep his team alive until overtime.

    Last year, Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP as he led the Kings to their first ever championship.

    Quick make a mistake. He didn't keep things simple and he overhandled the puck behind his own goal. You should never do that in overtime, even if your team is on the power play.

    Quick's error cost the Kings Game 1, but they wouldn't have been in the game without his fine play.

    A player like Quick has earned a little slack after his fine performance a year ago. Now we'll see how he bounces back after making a huge error like that. The Kings better hope he has a short memory.

7. The Penguins Don't Need to Rush Crosby Back

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    Are the Pittsburgh Penguins better with Sidney Crosby in the lineup? Of course they are. But after their easy 5-0 win over the New York Islanders in Game 1, the Pens have no need to rush their captain back into the lineup.

    Crosby is still recovering from a broken jaw that he suffered on March 30th when he took a deflected shot to the face.

    With Crosby's history of concussions and other injuries, and the Islanders not yet giving them much of a fight, they might as well wait until either Crosby is 100 percent ready—or until the series gets a little closer, whichever comes first.

    Having Sid ready for the long haul is more important than forcing him out there for Game 2. If the Islanders win Game 2 or Game 3, then bringing back a healthier Sid would make more sense.

    It is doubtful there will be too many more games as easy as Game 1 for Pittsburgh. But until they are challenged, there is no need to rush Crosby back into the lineup.

6. The Red Wings Are at a Crossroads

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    The Detroit Red Wings have been a team in transition this season and remain so as their series with the Anaheim Ducks gets underway.

    Detroit features a group of key veteran players with a lot of postseason experience like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall.

    But Detroit is also using a group of players with minimal NHL playoff experience in key roles. How quickly players like Danny Dekeyser, Damien Brunner, Cory Emmerton and Gustav Nyquist adjust to the tempo and intensity of playoff hockey will go a long way toward determining how far Detroit goes in this year's playoffs.

    If the experienced leaders on the Red Wings roster are able to help the younger players adapt quickly, Detroit has a chance to upset Anaheim and advance deeper into the playoffs. If not, it may very well be one and done again in this year's playoffs for the Detroit.

5. Shanny Is off to a Better Start Than Last Season

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    It's early, but so far, so good for Brendan Shanahan and the NHL's Department of Player Safety.

    In Game 1 of the Boston-Toronto series, Andrew Ference elbowed Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski in the face.

    Shanny acted quickly and handed down an appropriate one-game suspension to Ference. If this was the regular season, Ference would have probably had to sit for two or three games, but the league views playoff games as more valuable than regular season contests.

    On Thursday in Game 1 of the Senators-Canadiens series, Ottawa's Eric Gryba delivered a devastating head shot to Montreal's Lars Eller which left the Habs' forward lying prone on the ice. Gryba received a 10-minute penalty for head butting and will likely hear from Mr. Shanahan tomorrow.

    Last year, the league was not very consistent when handing out suspensions during the playoffs, and things seemed to get out of control, especially in the first round. In particular, many experts were surprised when Nashville's star defenseman Shea Weber escaped suspension after delivering a head shot to Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg.

    So far, the league seems to be off to a fair start when it comes to handing out supplementary discipline. Let's hope it continues a the playoffs move forward.

4. The Kings and Blues Will Live Up to the Hype and Be the Most Physical Series

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    Through the first two games, the Blues-Kings series has lived up to the hype. We have two big, physical teams with coaches who encourage a hard-hitting, defensive style.

    Don't expect a lot of offensive fireworks in this series, but expect a lot of close, low scoring and intense games.

    The hits in Game 1 were 41-38 in favor of the Kings, but that doesn't tell the entire story. Expect open ice to be hard to come by, and expect this series to go at least six game, and probably seven, before it's over.

    You want pretty passes and fancy dangling, there are plenty of other series you can watch. But it you're a fan of old time hockey, this is the series for you.

3. Roberto Luongo Is Always Ready

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    Roberto Luongo was pressed into service in Game 1 when Cory Schneider hadn't recovered from his "body injury" in time for the playoff opener.

    Luongo didn't win but he did make 25 saves in a losing cause and looked more ready for the postseason than most of his teammates.

    The Canucks came out OK but were unable to maintain their intensity for three periods, allowing the Sharks to outlast them and win Game 1.

    Say what you want about Luongo's contract or his past playoff inconsistency, but the Montreal native has been ready whenever called upon this season, and has handled a difficult situation with class throughout this season.

2. Ryan Suter Is Very Valuable to the Wild

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    The Minnesota Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to huge free agent deals on July 4.

    The new additions helped Minnesota reach the playoffs after a slow start, but in Game 1 of this series we saw a big reason why the Wild wanted to sign Suter.

    Sure, the game went into overtime, but Suter was on the ice for 41:08 of a game that lasted 76:35. And it wasn't just the quantity of his ice time but the quality that Suter provided coach Mike Yeo that mattered so much.

    Suter's contributions were even more important when you take into account that Minnesota had their backup goalie in the lineup and were facing a talented Chicago Blackhawks team.

    It took Suter a while to adjust to his new team, and the lockout shortened season didn't help that situation either. But by the season's end, Suter was back to being a dominant defenseman, and he showed his value in his team's playoff opener.

    While the Wild are long shots to advance deep into the playoffs, Suter's importance to his club has never been more obvious than it is right now.

1. Alex Ovechkin Looks Like a Man on a Mission

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    No player finished the season as hot as Capitals' winger Alex Ovechkin.

    The Russian sniper overcame a slow start to win the Rocket Richard Trophy after leading the league in goals scored.

    He started the playoffs on a strong note as well. He scored the tying goal in the Caps 3-1 victory over the Rangers.

    Ovechkin had a strong performance, taking five shots, adding five hits and playing 19:30 for the Caps.

    Washington followed their captain's lead. After "The Great Eight" scored, the momentum of the game shifted in favor of the Capitals, and Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera scored to put the game away.

    If Ovechkin leads by example like he did in Game 1, the Capitals have a chance to end their history of playoff disappointments.