NHL Playoffs 2014: Teams That Must Regain Momentum in Series

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2014

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87)lines up for a face off in the second period of game 5 of a second-round NHL playoff hockey series against the New York Rangers Pittsburgh Friday, May 9, 2014. The Rangers won 5-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Momentum is one of those controversial concepts in sports, like the actual value of an RBI in baseball or point-per-reception fantasy football leagues (there is no inherent value in catching the ball, only inherent value in the yards accumulated per reception, but I digress).

Some folks argue that momentum doesn't exist at all, that what is perceived as a "shift in momentum" is just a team making the proper adjustments and executing them, not some sudden cosmic shift that wills them to victory.

However you fall on the debate, there's something to be said for stringing several victories together and gaining confidence that you've identified an opponent's weaknesses and can capitalize on them. And perhaps even more importantly, there's something to be said for being on the other side of that equation as you feel control of a series being taken out of your hands.

Let's focus on three NHL teams surely feeling like the latter might be taking place and must remedy the situation immediately.

Montreal Canadiens

BOSTON, MA - MAY 03: P.K. Subban #76, David Desharnais #51, and Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens talk during a break in play in the second period against the Boston Bruins in Game Two of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

They won Game 1 in double overtime. They blew a 3-1 lead in the third period in Game 2 and lost, 5-3. They won Game 3, then, despite looking the better team, they lost in Game 4 in overtime, failing to score a single goal. And on Saturday night, they lost Game 5, suddenly teetering on the edge of elimination.

The Canadiens could have swept this series. It was there for the taking. Instead, not only do they now trail 3-2, but the Boston Bruins have regained home-ice advantage. 

So yes, the Canadiens need to get back the momentum in this series. 

One way to do so would be to get star forward Max Pacioretty going. He's registered just two points in this series, and as Nicholas Goss of NESN.com noted before Game 5, the Canadiens will struggle to win this series if he doesn't improve his play:

Pacioretty, whose 39 goals ranked fourth in the NHL during the regular season, has made no impact against the Chara-Hamilton duo. Montreal’s chances of winning this series will be slim if he doesn’t start scoring goals and generating more chances for his linemates,

'[Zdeno] Chara’s been really good this series…Obviously he’s difficult to play against, but it’s a great challenge for me,' Pacioretty said Saturday after Montreal’s morning skate. 'First four games I’ll give him the edge, he was the better of the two players. I just need to worry about the future. There’s three games left for me to prove myself. This is a real gut-check time.'

Yes, it certainly is, for both Pacioretty and his teammates. They had this series in their grasp, and they loosened their grip. It's time to hang on for dear life.


Chicago Blackhawks

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

A series is never won after two games, but the Blackhawks appeared destined to cruise through Games 3 and 4 after winning the first two by a 9-3 margin over the Minnesota Wild. Suffice to say, the trip to Minnesota didn't go so well.

For as much as the Blackhawks dominated the first two games, the Wild responded in kind, winning the next two games by an 8-2 margin, scoring four goals in each contest. Up and down we go in this series.

But the Blackhawks, unlike the Canadiens, still have home-ice advantage. They were the better team in the regular season, and they certainly have the experience in these types of series as the defending Stanley Cup champions. 

Game 5 is monumental, obviously, and you would guess the winner of that game would win this series. They say a series has never really started until an away team wins a game. You can bet the Wild will be anxious to get this series underway in Game 4.


Pittsburgh Penguins

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

The Penguins still have a pretty strong grip on this series, leading 3-2. They still hold the home-ice advantage, too. Still, there was something telling about the New York Rangers beating them 5-1, in Pittsburgh, in Game 5. 

It was a message that could be heard loud and clear in the Steel City—underestimate the Rangers at your own peril, for they've awoken.

Just consider this stat, from ESPN Stats and Information:

The Penguins were feeling pretty good about themselves after going up 3-1 in this series, especially because Sidney Crosby appeared to get himself back on track in the box score. But Game 5 was a clear indication that the Rangers won't be going down without a fight, and after winning two of three games in Pittsburgh thus far, have also proven they can beat the Penguins in Game 7 in Pittsburgh if it comes to that.

The Pens would be wise to wrap this up in Game 6, in other words.