The NHL playoffs never disappoint, and this season is no exception.
Clear favorites in the Eastern Conference—like the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins—have already dropped games, while all of the higher seeds in the Western Conference navigated their way to crucial wins to open the series.
Though it should come as no surprise, the St. Louis Blues jumped out to a commanding 2-0 lead. But with the two victories coming against the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, the hole looks like a daunting one for the Hawks.
In the East, the Montreal Canadiens, the lone Canadian team in the postseason this year, owns a crucial 3-0 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Canadiens are hoping to keep the streak alive and complete the sweep Tuesday.
With more action set to kick off Monday night, here's a look at the up-to-date bracket on NHL.com and a breakdown of the playoffs to this point.
NHL Playoffs Breakdown
While fans have been indifferent about the changes to the playoff format, it has generated some of the most exciting matchups in recent memory.
One of those series is taking place between the Blues and Blackhawks. The chess match between two franchises that could contend for the title has gone completely in favor of the Blues thus far, but the Blackhawks clearly have the championship pedigree to win under any circumstances.
Chicago is currently suffering on the defensive end after giving up a total of eight goals through the first two contests. But the second game in the series also saw two of the Blackhawks' notable stars fall silent nearly the entire game, as Dan Rosen of NHL.com notes:
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have as many shot attempts today as you and I.— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) April 19, 2014
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane would eventually get a shot on goal apiece, but came away with a combined two shots, not nearly enough production to help the team offensively. Returning home, the duo will need to put together exceptional performances to get Chicago back in the series.
Chicago will also have to find a way to get back into the series without the services of Brent Seabrook. The defenseman was suspended by the NHL for three games following a crushing hit in the second game. Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune provides a quote from the league (via a video from the league):
While it is possible that Seabrook does not initially recognize that Backes never gains possession of the puck, the onus still is on Seabrook to ensure that he does not hit an ineligible opponent.
Seabrook still is in the faceoff circle when Backes overskates the puck. And Seabrook skates some distance before making this hit. So he has time to avoid this check completely. Instead, he skates into the hit and drives up with his right shoulder, delivering a violent blow that causes the defenseless Backes to crash dangerously into the boards.
As for the Eastern side of the bracket, the Columbus Blue Jackets pulled off a compelling Game 2 victory over the Penguins to draw the series even as both teams head to Columbus. The win was the first in franchise history for Columbus in the playoffs, per John Buccigross of ESPN:
Blue Jackets 4, Penguins 3. 2 even-strength goals in the game (3 power play, 2 shorthanded). Blue Jackets: 1st postseason win evah— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) April 20, 2014
Which team will win the Stanley Cup
Pittsburgh still has one of the most talented teams in the league with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the front line, but allowing a team like Columbus to stick around could prove to be the downfall of a strong season for the Penguins.
The Bruins also struggled in the first game of their series with a loss to the Detroit Red Wings, but bounced back in the second contest to take a 1-1 series back to Detroit.
Unlike Columbus, the Red Wings have plenty of experience in the postseason and can't be overlooked even by a team as great as this year's Boston team.
With several games still remaining in the opening round of the playoffs, the suspense is just getting started. Thanks to the intrigue from many of the notable franchises currently tied up in tough matchups, this year's Stanley Cup playoffs promises not to disappoint.
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