Knee-Jerk Reactions to the Start of Each NHL Playoff Series
So far, the playoffs are off to a great start. Old rivalries are delivering fireworks while new ones are starting to brew.
We've seen dominating performances, come-from-behind wins, overtime tension and, at last, our first shutout of the playoffs.
Here's a quick look at my first impressions of all eight series, along with what each one might hold going forward.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Regular-Season Results: The Tampa Bay Lightning earned home-ice advantage over the Montreal Canadiens with a shutout win over Washington on the last day of the season. The Lightning finished the year with 101 points, compared to 100 for the Canadiens.
Season Series: Tampa Bay won three of four over Montreal, but only one game of the series was decided in regulation. The Lightning had one overtime win and each team won once in the shootout.
Where We Stand: The Canadiens lead the series 2-0 with an overtime win in Game 1 and a dominating victory in Game 2. The series now shifts to Montreal, with Game 3 on Sunday.
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Carey Price is winning the goaltending battle for Montreal so far, which means it's already desperation time for the Lightning.
Down 3-0 in the third period of Game 2, Tampa Bay pulled Anders Lindback and turned to Latvian Olympic sensation Kristers Gudlevskis in hopes of getting a lift in net while Ben Bishop is sidelined with injury, but still fell by a score of 4-1. Without Bishop and injured forward Ondrej Palat, Lightning coach Jon Cooper will need to make more bold moves to get his team into the series in a hurry.
The Canadiens played a near-perfect defensive game on Friday. They'll need to keep their focus when they return to the mad crowds at home. Three times in recent history, Montreal has taken a 2-0 series lead on the road in the playoffs, then failed to advance: in 1996 against the New York Rangers, 2006 against the Carolina Hurricanes, and 2011 against Boston.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Boston Bruins
Regular-Season Results: The Boston Bruins won the Presidents' Trophy with 117 points, tops in the NHL. The Detroit Red Wings squeaked into the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, 24 points back with 93.
Season Series: Detroit won three of four games against the Bruins during the regular season, including a 3-2 victory at Joe Louis Arena on April 2. The only other playoff team with a winning record against Boston in 2013-14 is Montreal.
Where We Stand: Pavel Datsyuk stole Game 1 for Detroit on a late third-period goal; Game 2 goes Sunday afternoon in Boston.
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Unlike the wide-open games we saw during the first two nights of the playoffs, this series is shaping up to be a defensive battle. Mike Babcock seems to be deploying his Wings much like he ran Team Canada at the Olympics, limiting chances and trying to seize opportunities. It worked in Game 1 when Datsyuk made something out of nothing with 3:01 remaining in regulation.
The Red Wings' Jimmy Howard also outdueled regular-season goaltending leader Tuukka Rask in the 1-0 win. Howard gets credit for the first shutout of the playoffs.
The Bruins have developed a bad habit of pushing their backs against the wall before finding their playoff groove. Witness 2011 against Montreal or last season, when they were down 3-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs before battling back to win the series.
Detroit played spoiler against a strong Anaheim team last year in the West, but one win does not an upset make. Lots of hockey left to play in this series.
Dallas Stars vs. Anaheim Ducks
Regular-Season Results: The Anaheim Ducks won the Western Conference Championship with a franchise-record 116 points, one back of league-leading Boston. The Dallas Stars make their first playoff appearance in six years after grabbing the second wild card in the West with 91 points.
Season Series: The underdog Stars won the season series 2-1 and handed the Ducks one of just eight home losses all year with a 2-0 shutout win on February 1.
Where We Stand: With a 3-2 win on Friday, the Ducks lead the series 2-0 after winning both games at home. Game 3 goes Monday night back in Dallas.
Knee-Jerk Reaction: The Stars look a bit like the Ducks' little brothers in this series. They're working hard and showing loads of heart, but Anaheim has been able to pounce on small mistakes and turn them into goals.
It's impossible to ignore the parallels between Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and Dallas' new dynamic duo, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. With time, the Stars' pair could reach the same level as the Ducks' all-star leaders.
We're seeing good hockey in this series, and Dallas is coming close. The Stars' return home to the American Airlines Center could give them the boost they need to pick up a win or two before this series closes out.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues
Regular-Season Results: The St. Louis Blues looked poised to win the 2014 Presidents' Trophy before losing their last six regular-season games of the year. St. Louis ended the season second in the Central Division with 112 points, one point behind the Colorado Avalanche. The Chicago Blackhawks finished third in the Central, four points back of the Blues.
Season Series: St. Louis went 3-2 in its season series against Chicago, but two of those wins were decided in the shootout.
Where We Stand: The Blues grabbed the Game 1 victory thanks to Alexander Steen's triple-overtime game-winner on Thursday. Game 2 goes Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.
Knee-Jerk Reaction: These two teams are so pumped to play each other, they competed for nearly two complete games on Thursday just to get one result.
Ryan Miller looked shaky early, then settled down to deliver more than 80 minutes of error-free hockey and give his team a chance to win—the kind of performance St. Louis was hoping for when they acquired him at the trade deadline. The Blues also got great work on Thursday from Alexander Steen, who was tearing up the league early in the season before being sidelined by a concussion.
Both coaches leaned heavily on their stars through the extra frames in Game 1, but Joel Quenneville was able to deploy his forwards a bit more evenly. That could give the 'Hawks an edge if the series goes the limit. Chicago's playoff experience over the past few years should help it bounce back from what could be a deflating loss.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Regular-Season Results: The Pittsburgh Penguins were wire-to-wire leaders in the Metropolitan Division, finishing the season with 109 points. Columbus makes its second-ever playoff appearance in its first year in the Eastern Conference after snagging the first wild card with 93 points.
Season Series: The Penguins were 5-0 against Columbus during the regular season.
Where We Stand: After Columbus jumped out to a 3-1 lead, Pittsburgh came back to take Game 1 by a score of 4-3 thanks to Brandon Sutter's third-period game-winner.
Knee-Jerk Reaction: The neophyte Blue Jackets' aggressive game showed a lot of promise in Game 1, but the more experienced Penguins were able to stay patient and turn the game back in their favour to secure the win—the mark of a veteran club.
The Penguins appear to be a more balanced team than they've been in recent years, able to get the win with a less-than-dominant performance from Sidney Crosby. Columbus has some bright young talent, and 20-year-old power forward Boone Jenner showed that his game is tailor-made for the postseason. The Blue Jackets will make more noise before this series is done.
Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche
Regular-Season Results: A late-season surge saw the Colorado Avalanche move from last place in the Western Conference one season ago to reach top spot in the Central Division with 112 points. The Minnesota Wild also had a strong finish to the season, seizing the first wild card in the West with 98 points.
Season Series: Colorado won the season series against Minnesota with a 4-0-1 record. Both the Avalanche and the Wild won one game in a shootout.
Where We Stand: Colorado has a 1-0 lead in the series after Game 1 thanks to Paul Stastny, who scored the tying and winning goals in the Avs' come-from-behind 4-3 victory. Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday night in Denver.
Knee-Jerk Reaction: As a late-night series featuring two teams from smaller media markets, this series might not get as much attention as some of the others, but there's a lot to watch. Keep an eye on:
- Veteran Ilya Bryzgalov, who was outdueled by his Russian counterpart Semyon Varlamov in Game 1.
- Colorado coach Patrick Roy, trying to prove that his successful rookie season behind the bench is the tip of the iceberg.
- Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, expected to anchor the Wild to success now and for many years to come.
- 18-year-old Calder Trophy hopeful Nathan MacKinnon, who picked up three assists and went plus-three in his first-ever playoff game. The 2013 No. 1 draft pick looks like the real deal and has made an immediate impact for Colorado this season.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers
Regular-Season Results: Both the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers had terrible starts to the 2013-14 season, but rebounded with solid second halves. The Rangers finished second in the Metropolitan Division with 96 points, while the Flyers were two points behind with 94.
Season Series: Even steven. The Rangers and Flyers each won twice in their four-game series, with the home team taking every game.
Where We Stand: The Rangers enjoyed a dominant wire-to-wire performance in Game 1, outshooting the Flyers 36-15 on their way to a 4-1 win. Game 2 goes Sunday at noon ET from Madison Square Garden.
Knee-Jerk Reaction: The Rangers' lopsided win makes it look like the Flyers' problems run deeper than just missing injured goaltender Steve Mason, but the game's outcome was determined by New York's two quick power-play goals off a third-period high-sticking double-minor to Jason Akeson.
With better discipline and some adjustments, the Flyers will have an opportunity to find an impact moment of their own—though they might have to wait until they get home. Philadelphia has now lost nine straight at MSG dating back to February 20, 2011.
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks
Regular-Season Results: The San Jose Sharks finished second in the Pacific Division with 111 points, 11 points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings in third. When the two teams met in the second round of the 2013 playoffs, it was the Kings who had home-ice advantage; This year, it's the Sharks' turn.
Season Series: The Kings went 3-1-1 against the Sharks this season. Los Angeles won one overtime game and lost one in a shootout, though San Jose won the last meeting of the year on April 3.
Where We Stand: San Jose won Game 1 by a score of 6-3, but saw the Kings come back with three goals in the third period after falling behind 5-0.
Knee-Jerk Reaction: As expected, this series is a war. Total hits in Game 1 were 69-52 in favor of Los Angeles—mind-blowing numbers.
The Sharks came out blazing on Thursday, but when they took their foot off the gas with a five-goal lead, the Kings showed they still have plenty of fight.
You won't see Jonathan Quick get chased from a game very often. He's a fiery competitor who hates to lose and will be back with a vengeance on Sunday.
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