As excited as hockey fans are to find out who will ultimately vie for the Stanley Cup, the first round of the NHL playoffs has been so entertaining that they may not want it to end.
It can't last forever, of course, but there is still plenty of first-round action left to savor. Most of the series are still intact, and it certainly seems as though some of them have the potential to go all the way to Game 7.
Here is a snapshot of the NHL playoffs' current state, along with predictions for how the remaining first-round series will play out.
Updated NHL Playoff Bracket
Bracket courtesy of NHL.com.
|Detroit Red Wings vs. Boston Bruins||BOS in 5|
|Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins||PIT in 7|
|Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks||SJ in 5|
|Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche||MIN in 7|
|New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers||NYR in 6|
|Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues||CHI in 6|
|Dallas Stars vs. Anaheim Ducks||ANA in 6|
Breaking Down Likeliest Winners
The Boston Bruins' playoff run got off to an inauspicious start as they dropped Game 1 to the underdog Detroit Red Wings, but the Presidents' Trophy winners have managed to turn things around in a big way. With three consecutive victories to their credit, the B's are now on the verge of potentially eliminating Detroit on home ice.
The Red Wings have struggled mightily to generate offense with just four goals in four games. Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has been an absolute force, while goalie Tuukka Rask has turned away almost every shot sent in his direction. Boston is now in firm control, and it has reestablished itself as the potential Stanley Cup favorite.
Even though the Red Wings pushed the Bruins to overtime in Game 4, it was no contest. Boston outshot Detroit 12-3 in the extra frame, and Jarome Iginla put it to bed with his first career overtime goal in the playoffs. The Bruins were so dominant that Gerry Callahan of WEEI in Boston totally dismissed the Red Wings' credibility:
In overtime, once again, men against boys. Detroit total fraud team. Tomorrow at 6 am we'll break down Bruins-Canadiens. @WEEI— Gerry Callahan (@GerryCallahan) April 25, 2014
That may be somewhat of a harsh assessment since Detroit certainly has a talented team, but Boston is in a different class. The Bruins boast a ton of depth and ability across every position, and that has become quite apparent over the past three games.
With Boston now in firm control, the Red Wings are simply sitting ducks.
San Jose Sharks
While the San Jose Sharks were unable to execute a sweep of the Los Angeles Kings, there is no question that they remain in the catbird seat with Game 5 approaching. The Kings deserve full marks for living to fight another day and coming through in a must-win situation, but the Sharks are in the enviable position of having a chance to close it out at home.
Which team is most likely to advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs?
From an offensive perspective, the Sharks have been banging on all cylinders. They are averaging five goals per game, and they have had no trouble beating Kings goalie Jonathan Quick despite his status as a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Quick is the type of netminder who can get hot at any time, though, so San Jose must be wary.
Although the Sharks have a reputation for wilting in the postseason spotlight, that hasn't been the case thus far against the Kings. In fact, San Jose has displayed plenty of clutch play, and nobody has personified that more than forward Patrick Marleau.
Marleau netted the overtime winner in Game 3, and he is now the No. 2 active playoff goal scorer in the NHL, per Bleacher Report's Dave Lozo:
The only active player with more playoff goals than Patrick Marleau is Jaromir Jagr.— Dave Lozo (@DaveLozo) April 23, 2014
Add in more offensive firepower in the form of Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, and it is extremely difficult to imagine the Sharks squandering their advantage. San Jose has admittedly fallen short come playoff time in the past, but this Sharks team simply has a different feel than those of the past.
Entering the playoffs, most observers figured that an Eastern Conference Final clash between the Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins was essentially inevitable. Boston has righted the ship and appears to be back on track, but that isn't necessarily true for the Pens. In what has unquestionably been the wildest first-round series thus far, Pittsburgh is getting everything it can handle from the wild-card Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Penguins seemed poised to take a 3-1 series advantage with a 3-0 lead in Game 4, but the Jackets shockingly stormed back with four unanswered goals to win. It has been a series full of momentum swings, as the team to score first in each game has come out on the losing end, according to ESPN's John Buccigross:
Although offense hasn't been an issue for either team in this series, the Penguins certainly need more out of superstar center Sidney Crosby. He does have four points through four games, but he has yet to find the back of the net. Despite his goal-scoring drought, Crosby isn't concerned, per Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun.
I would love to score every game, to be honest with you. Playoffs are tougher than any time of year to score. I would love to score at this point, especially with the chances I have had, But it is not for lack of effort or going to the wrong place. It is a matter of putting the puck in when you get a chance. So you keep trying to do the same things and trust it is going to go in.
The law of averages suggests that Crosby is bound to break out eventually, and the same can be said for fellow stud Evgeni Malkin, who hasn't scored a goal yet either. The final two or perhaps even three games of the series will be a battle for Pittsburgh against a game Columbus team, but the superior talent will ultimately win out in the end.
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