Postseason action in any sport is always compelling, but the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs have been riveting from the start of Round 1.
While both the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins made quick work of their opponents in the first round, every other matchup has gone to at least six games. Even teams that came in as top overall seeds like the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins are struggling to put away inferior opponents.
The second-round series are shaping up to be memorable as well, with the Bruins and Canadiens now set to face off for Eastern Conference supremacy after crushing their opponents and losing a combined one game in the opening round.
Before we can get to that point, several series have yet to be decided, with some of the most pivotal games being played early in the week. Here's a look at the remaining schedule and predictions for who will ultimately pull out the series.
Remainder of Round 1 Schedule
|Monday, April 28||7 p.m.||Pittsburgh at Columbus||CBC|
|*Wednesday, April 30||TBD||Columbus at Pittsburgh||CBC|
|Tuesday, April 29||TBD||NY Rangers at Philadelphia||TSN|
|*Wednesday, April 30||TBD||Philadelphia at NY Rangers||TSN|
|Monday, April 28||9 p.m.||Colorado at Minnesota||TSN|
|*Wednesday, April 30||TBD||Minnesota at Colorado||TSN|
|Monday, April 28||10 p.m.||San Jose at Los Angeles||CBC|
|*Wednesday, April 30||TBD||Los Angeles at San Jose||CBC|
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Out of all the series, this one seemed like the biggest slam dunk for the higher seed. The Penguins, an experienced and playoff-proven team, were positioned to meet a Columbus Blue Jackets team that reached the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history.
But the Blue Jackets certainly haven't made things that simple for the Penguins.
The two teams have traded off wins since the start of the series and continued the trend over the weekend with the Penguins winning at home. Sidney Crosby spoke about his team's mentality and his erratic play as of late, per Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun:
For whatever reason, we have not been desperate enough. ... It’s known we are a favourite, but however long it takes (to win the series), I think will be up to us. We have to be better. That’s the bottom line.
Like anyone else, you just find ways to battle through. The playoffs are a tough time of year, but I feel good. (There’s) nothing that would affect the way I play. No excuses there.
With the team now responding to statements from their coach Dan Bylsma and captain, expect the team to come out hungry and physical in Game 6 in Columbus.
Against a team not accustomed to closing out a series in the postseason, the Blue Jackets will fight to prove that they are ready to take the next step. But as the Penguins look to continue a great season, this game will not head back to Pittsburgh, and the Pens will head to the next round.
Predicted Winner: Penguins
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
Is it possible that the San Jose Sharks could have one of the biggest first-round collapses in NHL history? Against a goalie like Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings' front line, anything is possible.
After taking a 3-0 lead in the series, it looked like a sure thing for the Sharks, as the team had the clear upper hand against the Kings. But thanks to two outstanding offensive performances and a shutout by Quick, Los Angeles is right back in the series.
Following a disappointing showing at the beginning of the series, giving up 17 goals over the first three games, Quick has bounced back in a huge way, as Steve Goldstein and Alex Curry of Fox Sports point out:
San Jose look out. Jonathan Quick is suddenly on fire. #KINGS— Steve Goldstein (@goldieonice) April 27, 2014
Along with Quick playing out of his mind, breakout performances from players like Justin Williams and Marian Gaborik have shaped the turnaround for the Kings offensively.
With L.A. needing two more games to clinch, this series still appears to be San Jose's to win. But after gaining confidence from the last two matchups, expect the Kings to come out on fire again and force a Game 7, ultimately clinching the series and advancing to the second round.
Predicted Winner: Kings
Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild
Which team has the best shot of winning their series?
Yet another series where the higher seed jumped out to an early lead only to allow the inferior team climb back in.
The only difference in this one is the fact that the Avalanche are coming off a pivotal win in the series and have the Minnesota Wild on the ropes. Coming in as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, the Avalanche proved why in Game 5 with a huge overtime win over the pesky Wild.
Darcy Kuemper has been a lifesaver for the Wild, owning a 1.40 goals-against average along with a .940 save percentage in just three games. But his effort in Game 5, surrendering four goals in the overtime loss, shows that the Avs have finally figured out the young goaltender.
With outstanding offensive play from Paul Stastny (three goals, five assists) and Nathan MacKinnon (two goals, eight assists), the Avalanche have the firepower to clinch the series in Game 6. And if the series does go to seven games, it will head back to Colorado, where the Avalanche have gone 3-0 so far in the playoffs.
Predicted Winner: Avalanche
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