2013 NHL Playoffs: Grading Every Team's Postseason Performance

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistMay 13, 2013

2013 NHL Playoffs: Grading Every Team's Postseason Performance

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    True to form, Sunday's NHL playoff contests were as closely contested as many of the other games in this postseason.

    The Detroit Red Wings prevailed to finalize the Western Conference semifinal matchups, while the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs each squeaked out one-goal victories on home ice to force Game 7 in their respective series.

    The first round is traditionally one of the most exciting periods in pro sports. Let's grade the 16 teams that have participated.

    Both expectations and performance factor in—two teams that achieved basically the same result could be graded quite differently depending on their path to the playoffs and how they were expected to perform.

Anaheim Ducks

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    After missing the playoffs in 2011-12, the Anaheim Ducks had a bounce-back year that saw them cruise to the Pacific Division title and second seed in the Western Conference.

    A team built around expensive stars like Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan suddenly started to show tremendous depth. In the playoffs, the Ducks got impressive contributions from players like Kyle Palmieri, Nick Bonino and rookie Emerson Etem.

    Nevertheless, the Ducks' regular season wasn't strong enough to beat the Detroit Red Wings, who weren't even expected to make the playoffs.

    Anaheim gains half a grade for its four-line play, but loses a full grade for falling to the underdog in Game 7 at home after building a 3-2 series lead.

    Grade: C

Boston Bruins

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    On paper, the Boston Bruins should have this series in the bag.

    They took their season series against the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1, dominated them with a 4-1 win in Game 1 of the playoffs and took a 3-1 series lead back to Boston against a nervous and inexperienced Leafs squad.

    Yet in Games 5 and 6, James Reimer has outdueled Tuukka Rask and the Bruins have been uncharacteristically chasing the play, which has set up a Game 7 showdown Monday night in Boston.

    With a back-loaded schedule that left the club playing significantly more games than its foes down the regular-season stretch, Boston has begun to show fatigue as the series has progressed.

    A win on Monday will mean all is forgiven, but a more dominant performance was expected from the Bruins. Should they lose to the Leafs, this grade would drop by a full letter.

    Grade: B-

Chicago Blackhawks

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    The curse of the Presidents' Trophy appears to have been lifted for the Chicago Blackhawks.

    After a record-breaking regular season, some thought the Hawks wouldn't be able to maintain their level of success once the playoffs began.

    So far, no problem. Chicago cruised to a 4-1 series win over the tenacious Minnesota Wild. Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp led the charge on offense, Duncan Keith is playing his "A" game on the blue line and Corey Crawford has dazzled in net.

    With captain Jonathan Toews yet to find his groove, the Hawks have room to elevate their game even further as they face the Detroit Red Wings in Round 2.

    Grade: A

Detroit Red Wings

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    After missing out on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the free-agent sweepstakes, this was the year the Red Wings were supposed to end their playoff streak after 22 consecutive appearances.

    Someone forgot to tell Mike Babcock and his players.

    The Red Wings fought to grab a postseason berth during the final days of the regular season and battled  equally hard against the Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks.

    After falling 3-2 in their series, their never-say-die approach piggybacked onto some excellent coaching to propel them to the second round yet again.

    The Red Wings are showing an exciting mix of young hunger, veteran leadership and solid goaltending that should make for an exciting series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Grade: B+

Los Angeles Kings

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    We should have known.

    Just because the Los Angeles Kings were in cruise control heading into the playoffs didn't mean they didn't have more to give.

    Last year, they elevated their game right out of the gate against the Vancouver Canucks. This season, they spotted the St. Louis Blues a 2-0 series lead before turning on the jets.

    Suddenly, goaltender Jonathan Quick regained his Conn Smythe form. Drew Doughty was back in the groove. Slava Voynov was showing All-Star skills on the blue line. Even Dustin Penner was potting flukey goals—and winning games with them.

    Beware of the Los Angeles Kings. They might just have what it takes to repeat as champs.

    The Kings had a half-grade deducted because of a slow start to their series.

    Grade: A-

Minnesota Wild

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    Depending on your perspective, the glass is either half-empty or half-full for the Minnesota Wild.

    Yes, they got back to the postseason for the first time in five years. Yes, they were a pesky opponent who put up a good fight against the dominant Chicago Blackhawks. And yes, their goaltending situation put them in a hole before the series even began when Niklas Backstrom went down with an injury.

    But the Wild scored only seven goals in five playoff games. In those five games, their top three regular-season scorers—Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter—had just one point between them, a goal by Parise. The same trio also chalked up the three worst playoff plus/minus rankings on the team.

    Getting to the dance was the first step, and they get points for that. Next time around, the leaders on the Wild will need to have a much better showing.

    Grade: C+

Montreal Canadiens

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    The Montreal Canadiens were the feel-good story of 2012-13, catapulting from the bottom of the Eastern Conference to second place and winning the Northeast Division.

    Once the playoffs began, though, the Habs were no match for the Ottawa Senators, who dominated every aspect of the game on the way to a 4-1 series win.

    As the injuries began to pile up, Montreal's lack of depth became apparent. The situation was all the more galling, as Ottawa's success this year has been thanks to the young replacements that have fit so well into the team's roster.

    Additionally, the Canadiens showed a serious lack of discipline, as they lost their cool and let Game 3 devolve into an ugly brawl. After that, there was no fighting back.

    Like Minnesota, kudos to Montreal for a strong regular season. It looks like the team has a long way to go before it can be considered a serious playoff contender.

    Grade: C

New York Islanders

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    For the New York Islanders, a postseason berth for the first time since 2007 rendered the season an instant success.

    Making the Pittsburgh Penguins sweat in their playoff series was even sweeter.

    It took six games and a seeing-eye overtime goal from Brooks Orpik before the Eastern Conference champion Penguins were able to dispatch the pesky Islanders. Along the way, the underdogs showed fight, tenacity, courage and a ton of speed.

    Goalie Evgeni Nabokov finished the series near the bottom of the pack with a 4.44 goals-against average and .842 save percentage, so the Islanders lose a letter grade for goaltending. But they gain a grade for putting a much bigger scare into the Penguins than most anybody expected.

    Welcome back to the dance.

    Grade: B-

New York Rangers

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    For a good part of the regular season, the New York Rangers looked like they'd be hard-pressed to make the playoffs.

    A 7-3 finish in their last 10 games pushed them up to sixth spot and a return engagement with the Washington Capitals, who they defeated in seven games in Round 2 last year.

    For all the changes that both teams made, the series looked a lot like 2012: closely fought, low-scoring and continuing to Game 7 largely due to the heroics of goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

    The Rangers gain a letter grade for giving themselves a chance to salvage a sub-par season with a Game 7 win, but lose half a grade for the high expectations that surrounded them at the beginning of the regular season.

    A loss on Monday would drop them to a C.

    Grade: B-

Ottawa Senators

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    In February, the Ottawa Senators were down and out.

    Key injuries to Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and others were supposed to render the short season unsalvagable.

    Instead, the young Binghamton Senators who were recalled to fill the gaps performed admirably. Their youthful enthusiasm and team spirit kept the Sens in the playoff hunt and reached full boil as they dismantled the Montreal Canadiens in five games.

    Karlsson's return gave Ottawa a lift heading into the playoffs and Spezza may be ready to go in Round 2. Will that be enough manpower to put up a fight against the powerhouse Penguins?

    Grade: A-

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    After a standout season, the Pittsburgh Penguins loaded up on talent at the trade deadline, knowing that a long Stanley Cup run requires plenty of reinforcements.

    Little did they realize that they'd be pushed close to the brink in the first round by the lowly New York Islanders.

    After the Islanders tied the series at two games apiece, forcing a best-of-three showdown, Dan Bylsma elected to pull his erratic starting goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, in place of Tomas Vokoun, who had been acquired last summer for such an emergency situation.

    Vokoun did not disappoint. He pitched a shutout in Game 5 and kept the Islanders at bay in Game 6 long enough for the Penguins to eke out a 4-3 overtime victory and advance to Round 2.

    The Penguins started the series with an "A" ranking, but lost a letter grade for shaky goaltending and another half-grade for indifferent play up front—especially from Evgeni Malkin. Vokoun earned back half a grade, and the Pens have a chance to reassert themselves against Ottawa in Round 2.

    Grade: B

San Jose Sharks

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    Were the Vancouver Canucks that bad or are the San Jose Sharks quite good? That's what we'll learn in Round 2.

    In their first-round matchup against Vancouver, the Sharks had all the tricks. Balanced scoring, strong defending and great goaltending combined with good special teams, smart tactics and a little bit of luck. For all their fine efforts, they earn a date with the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings for a battle of California in Round 2.

    Is this the year that the Sharks finally shed their reputation as playoff underperformers? If they can beat the Kings, they will.

    Grade: A

St. Louis Blues

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    In 2011-12, the St. Louis Blues contended for the Presidents' Trophy and rolled through their first-round series before being swept by the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings in Round 2. It looked like the franchise was on its way to becoming a true contender.

    In 2012-13, the Blues enjoyed a rockier ride through the regular season, finishing fourth in the conference and drawing the Kings as their first-round matchup.

    In a physical series, they took the first two games at home, but couldn't mount enough of a defense once the Kings started to push back in Los Angeles. They lost the next four games in a row and didn't put up much of a fight in the end.

    The loss was a disappointment for the fans and a step backwards for the Blues. Expect more changes in St. Louis this summer.

    Grade: C

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    No team has surprised more than the Toronto Maple Leafs so far in this year's playoffs.

    Their 2-1 win at home on Sunday forces their series back to a do-or-die Game 7 in Boston on Monday. The Bruins did not expect to find themselves in this situation.

    The Leafs have shown some rookie nerves and made a few mistakes along the way, but smart coaching by Randy Carlyle and a whole lot of gumption from the young roster has pushed the Bruins' backs against the wall.

    James Reimer has rewarded management's faith in him with a top-notch performance that has gotten better as the series has progressed.

    This grade will rise by another letter if the Leafs can beat the Bruins in their own barn on Monday.

    Grade: B

Vancouver Canucks

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    Of the eight teams to be eliminated in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, none went down with more of a thud than the Vancouver Canucks.

    Top to bottom, the series against the San Jose Sharks was a disaster. Cory Schneider's groin injury meant instability in net. The team couldn't defend the Sharks power play or score when it got a rare man advantage of its own.

    In fact, the Canucks couldn't score much at all.

    The series descended into endless harping about poor officiating and bad luck, but there's no doubt that the Canucks were the second-best team by a mile.

    After two straight humbling first-round defeats, big changes are due in Vancouver. The team is not succeeding in its current incarnation.

    Grade: F

Washington Capitals

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    The Washington Capitals had high expectations for this season under their new coach, Adam Oates.

    They stumbled badly out of the gate and fell as low as 14th place in the Eastern Conference in March before storming back with an amazing April to grab the Southeast Division title.

    The Caps gain a letter grade for salvaging a season that looked like a write-off. Considering they finished just one point ahead of the Rangers, it's no wonder that the series is close.

    Young Braden Holtby has been Henrik Lundqvist's equal in net, but Alex Ovechkin has been unable to ride the momentum of his regular-season goal scoring title so far in this series.

    Every game in this series has gone to the home team. If Washington prevails on Monday, its grade rises by another point.

    Grade: B-


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