Highlighted by numerous comebacks and overtime games, the NHL postseason is off to a memorable start and should only get better from here. For now, three series remain as a wild opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs nears its conclusion.
This round has illustrated the high level of parity throughout the league. Only two teams advanced in five games or less. At least two series and potentially three are going to go the distance, which makes for plenty of intriguing drama.
By the end of play on Wednesday, there will be only eight teams left standing in the Stanley Cup chase. Let's check out the remaining games in the first round, followed by predictions for each of the series still searching for a winner.
Remaining First-Round Schedule
|2014 NHL Playoffs - First-Round Schedule|
|April 29||6||Rangers at Flyers||7:30 p.m.|
|April 30||7*||Flyers at Rangers||7 p.m.|
|April 30||7||Wild at Avalanche||9:30 p.m.|
|April 30||7||Kings at Sharks||10 p.m.|
|NHL.com; *Denotes if necessary|
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
The Rangers and Flyers finished two points apart in the standings and split four meetings during the regular season. The fact they have traded wins throughout the series, with New York grabbing a 3-2 edge thanks to a Game 5 win, doesn't come as a surprise.
For the Rangers, the biggest difference in the last game was the production from secondary sources. Players like Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle stepped up to provide some much-needed offense, taking the pressure off Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Rick Nash for at least one night.
One interesting part of the series is the fact it hasn't had an overtime game in a round that's been filled with them across the board, as noted by Bob Vetrone Jr. of the Philadelphia Daily News:
That could certainly change in Game 6. Ultimately, whether there's an overtime game or not, the one reason it's tough to pick against the Rangers is Henrik Lundqvist. While the return of Steve Mason has provided some stability for the Flyers, the goaltending edge will help New York advance.
Prediction: Rangers advance
Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche
It's rare to see a series play out so normally. Both teams have defended all three games on home ice by playing their preferred style. Minnesota was more defensively efficient at home, where it could set more favorable line matchups, while Colorado excelled with a more up-tempo approach.
The Avalanche return home for Game 7 and would seem to hold the clear advantage. There were some very positive signs for the Wild in Game 6, though. The offense looked far more prepared to challenge the Avs, as Zach Parise put together a four-point night and Jason Pominville ended his goal drought.
Darcy Kuemper is the other key factor if Minnesota wants to reverse the trend of home wins in the series. The unheralded goalie has risen to the occasion, but his worst start in the series came in his only road start so far.
There's no doubt the Avalanche have a bright future, in large part due to rising star Nathan MacKinnon. But Minnesota came within an overtime goal of scoring a road win in Game 5 and was clearly the better team in Game 6. It should find a way to get the job done in Game 7.
Prediction: Wild advance
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks
After the Sharks won the first three games of the series, the universal feeling was that they needed to finish it off before Los Angeles had a chance to build some confidence. They couldn't close the door in Game 4, and sure enough the battle-tested Kings fought all the way back.
Game 6 saw Justin Williams score a controversial go-ahead goal just past the halfway mark of the third period to spark the Kings to a 4-1 win. After the game, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan lashed out at the officials' decision:
We got cheated, simple as that. I was told (by the ref) you could see the puck lying behind (goalie Alex Stalock's) feet the whole time and that's why the whistle didn't go. That was obviously the turning point of the game.
Not only do the Sharks have to get past the fact they let a 3-0 lead slip away, but now they are dealing with an issue where they believe a bad call cost them a game. It makes the mental hurdle far more of a problem than the physical one in Game 7.
The good news for the Sharks is that they get to return home, where they were able to dictate play and rush out to that early lead thanks to an explosive offense (13 goals in first two games). As long as they can let Game 6 go and focus on bouncing back in Game 7, they can still salvage the series on home ice.
Prediction: Sharks advance