The Pittsburgh Penguins became the first team to move within one game of reaching the conference finals with a win over the New York Rangers on Wednesday night. It was the first sign the round was beginning to enter crunch time.
Though the second round hasn't quite lived up to the same standard as the first in terms of overall intrigue, playoff hockey always carries a different intensity level. And, things should begin to pick up again as teams enter the business end of the conference semifinals.
Knowing that, let's check out how the bracket is shaping up in both conferences along with the updated second-round schedule. The information is followed by a look at how the round is trending about midway through the four series.
Current Playoff Bracket
|First Round||Conference Semifinals||Conference Finals|
|(1) Boston 4|
|(W) Detroit 1|
|(1) Boston 2|
|(2) Tampa Bay 0||(3) Montreal 2|
|(3) Montreal 4||TBD|
|(1) Pittsburgh 4|
|(W) Columbus 2||(1) Pittsburgh 3|
|(2) NY Rangers 1|
|(2) NY Rangers 4|
|(3) Philadelphia 3|
|First Round||Conference Semifinals||Conference Finals|
|(1) Anaheim 4|
|(W) Dallas 2|
|(1) Anaheim 1|
|(2) San Jose 3||(3) Los Angeles 2|
|(3) Los Angeles 4||TBD|
|(1) Colorado 3|
|(W) Minnesota 4||(W) Minnesota 1|
|(3) Chicago 2|
|(2) St. Louis 2|
|(3) Chicago 4|
|1||Canadiens 4, Bruins 3||May 1||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Bruins 5, Canadiens 3||May 3||12:30 p.m.||NBC|
|3||Canadiens 4, Bruins 2||May 6||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Bruins 1, Canadiens 0||May 8||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5||Canadiens at Bruins||May 10||7 p.m.||TBD|
|6||Bruins at Canadiens||May 12||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Canadiens at Bruins||May 14||TBD||TBD|
|1||Rangers 3, Penguins 2||May 2||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Penguins 3, Rangers 0||May 4||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Penguins 2, Rangers 0||May 5||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Penguins 4, Rangers 2||May 7||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5||Rangers at Penguins||May 9||7 p.m.||TBD|
|6*||Penguins at Rangers||May 11||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Rangers at Penguins||May 13||TBD||TBD|
|1||Blackhawks 5, Wild 2||May 2||9:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Blackhawks 4, Wild 1||May 4||3 p.m.||NBC|
|3||Wild 4, Blackhawks 0||May 6||9 p.m.||CNBC|
|4||Blackhawks at Wild||May 9||9:30 p.m.||TBD|
|5||Wild at Blackhawks||May 11||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Blackhawks at Wild||May 13||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Wild at Blackhawks||May 15||TBD||TBD|
|1||Kings 3, Ducks 2||May 3||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Kings 3, Ducks 1||May 5||10 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Ducks 3, Kings 2||May 8||10 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Ducks at Kings||May 10||9:30 p.m.||TBD|
|5||Kings at Ducks||May 12||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Ducks at Kings||May 14||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Kings at Ducks||May 16||TBD||TBD|
Updated Postseason Outlook
The reigning champion Chicago Blackhawks survived a tough opening-round series against the St. Louis Blues. They proceeded to take the first two games from the Minnesota Wild, and it appeared they were rounding into form at the perfect time to repeat.
Minnesota got back in the series with a convincing 4-0 win in Game 3. It continued a trend the Wild set in the first round of playing much better at home than on the road. They have now won all four games at the Xcel Energy Center in the postseason.
The biggest problem for Chicago in Game 3 was allowing the Wild to find their comfort zone. Instead of an up-tempo contest that allowed the Hawks' high-end offensive talent to shine, it was a much slower grind, which is exactly what Minnesota wants.
Last round, the Colorado Avalanche got caught in the same trap. They held serve at home until Game 7, when the Wild got a road win to advance. In order to avoid a similar fate, the Blackhawks must find a way to force a quicker pace on the road.
Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times passed along comments from Jonathan Toews, who said it's more about what they tried to do and not what Minnesota did to slow them down:
We can't let it frustrate us, we just have to do something about it and get even. They're a smart defensive team, give them credit. But I think it's more about what we're not doing.
Chicago is still the favorite to advance, but Minnesota showed it isn't going down without a fight.
Which team will win the West?
In the other Western Conference series, the Los Angeles Kings came out of the gates flying. Carrying the momentum from their comeback against the San Jose Sharks after falling behind 3-0, the Kings once again showed why they are built for the playoffs.
Los Angeles had a mundane regular season by its recent standards, finishing third in its division with 100 points, which ranked sixth in the West. Yet, since those early struggles against San Jose, the Kings have gotten back to playing more physical, high-intensity hockey.
In turn, the results have been very promising. The Kings have looked far more like the 2012 Stanley Cup team, which isn't good news for the other teams still left standing. A return to form by Jonathan Quick has led the charge.
The Anaheim Ducks will need to elevate their level of play even more than they did in their Game 3 win in order to complete the comeback and win the series.
In the East, the biggest story to develop so far is the vastly improved play of Marc-Andre Fleury. The lackluster play of the Penguins goalie both in playoff appearances over the past few years and in the opening round was a concern.
He's been far better against the Rangers. He's recorded two shutouts over the past three games, and his save percentage for the series is only a shade under .950. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise based on his past playoff outings against New York, as NHL PR points out:
Quite simply, if Fleury continues to play that well to go along with Pittsburgh's elite offensive talent, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the Rangers can make a comeback. All New York can do is start getting more traffic in front and hope Henrik Lundqvist is a wall at the other end.
Which team will win the East?
Finally, the series featuring the longtime rival Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens has lived up to the high billing. Every matchup at this stage is special, but when two teams have been battling each other on a regular basis for so long, there's a unique edge to it.
No team has been more surprising in the playoffs so far than Montreal. It wasn't viewed as a serious Stanley Cup contender heading into the first round, when it was the lower seed before sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Now after a strong start against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Bruins, it's time to start taking Canada's only playoff team seriously. P.K. Subban is showing why he's one of the league's most promising young players, and Thomas Vanek is showing how much a mid-season acquisition can help.
All signs point to a series that could very well go seven games, and fans should enjoy every second of it.