Biggest Takeaways from the 2nd Round of the 2014 NHL Playoffs
Eleven teams down. Five to go.
After the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks square off on Friday night for Game 7 of their California Freeway series, we'll hit the halfway point of the 2014 NHL playoffs.
While the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks wait patiently to learn who they'll face in the Western Conference Final, the fourth- and fifth-seeded Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers will duke it out in the East, starting Saturday.
Here's a look at the standout storylines from the second round so far.
Deadline Additions Can Pay Dividends
Six weeks before the playoffs begin, NHL teams take an honest look in the mirror to determine whether they're true Stanley Cup contenders. If they are, they'll do their best to try to pick up one or more valuable pieces at the trade deadline without overpaying in the process.
It's a high-risk, high-reward game. When it doesn't work, you get a Ryan Miller-like situation in St. Louis, but when it does, the benefits can be enormous.
This year, the Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers all hit the jackpot.
- Marian Gaborik leads the playoffs with eight goals and has provided much-needed scoring for the offensively challenged Kings.
- Thomas Vanek has five goals, and Mike Weaver has been a useful addition on the back end for Montreal.
- After the New York Rangers came within one game of elimination, Martin St. Louis emerged as the team's emotional centerpiece thanks to his gritty determination in the face of his mother's passing.
St. Louis has one year left on his current contract. Gaborik and Vanek have made good cases for being re-signed by their current teams after the end of the playoffs.
Jarome Is a Jinx
For the second straight season, Jarome Iginla's mercenary quest to join a Stanley Cup contender has ended with a whimper.
In 2013, he had 12 points in 15 playoff games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but his scoring touch dried up against the Boston Bruins. He was pointless in the Eastern Conference Final.
After switching sides to the Bruins this year, he kept producing, but the results got worse. Iginla had three goals in Boston's second-round series against the Montreal Canadiens, but the Bruins were eliminated in seven games.
Boston paid a pretty penny for Iginla this year, mostly in performance bonuses. After such a disappointing postseason, it seems unlikely that the Bruins will bring him back. Which team will Iginla target next season?
Kane and Toews Are Still Clutch
We've seen this movie before.
When the going gets tough in the NHL playoffs, there are no more reliable clutch scorers than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.
The 'Hawks have won eight games so far as they await their opponent in the Western Conference Final.
Amazingly, the dynamic duo has seven of the team's eight game-winning goals. Toews leads all scorers with four game-winners so far in the playoffs, while Kane is right behind with three. His latest beauty was an overtime winner that knocked the Minnesota Wild out of the playoffs in Game 6. It looked a lot like his goal that won the Stanley Cup back in 2010.
This is what they do. Expect to see Toews and Kane keep cranking it up as the playoffs progress.
The Pittsburgh Penguins Will Look Very Different Next Season
The Pittsburgh Penguins are reeling after giving up a 3-1 series lead and falling to the New York Rangers in their second-round series.
Local beat reporter Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is painting an unsettled picture, where coach Dan Bylsma failed to meet with the media on locker clean-out day and is almost certainly on his way out the door. General manager Ray Shero's position could also be in jeopardy. Rossi wrote:
Bylsma's absence around the offices was noticeable because ownership favors firing him, multiple sources told the Tribune-Review. Five successive postseason losses to lower-seeded opponents have convinced ownership that Bylsma no longer is the right coach, the sources said.
Those postseason losses, in addition to perceived poor drafts and the team's lacking accountability and overall toughness, had Shero's status in jeopardy, the sources said.
Defenseman Kris Letang pinpoints the problem: "Because we have the two best players, we have to win every year. You can't. We didn't."
The problem is, it has now been five years since this group won its lone Stanley Cup. Patience has run out.
P.K. Subban Will Write His Own Ticket This Summer
It's unfathomable that just three months ago, P.K. Subban played a fringe role for Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics, appearing in just one game.
This spring, he has been one of the most riveting characters of the playoffs. He leads all defensemen in scoring with 12 points and has embraced the bright spotlight of the postseason, reveling in the moment and breezing through moments of controversy.
Subban was at his classiest as he dealt with the aftermath of racist tweets following his winning goal in Game 1 against the Boston Bruins. He was at his fieriest as he prepared for Game 7 at TD Garden in Boston. From Arpon Basu of NHL.com, Subban said, "It's going to be great. I can't wait for the crowd, the noise, the energy in the building. I can't wait to take that all away from them."
As the Montreal Canadiens' dream run extends to the Eastern Conference Final, the 25-year-old is reminding us all that he won the Norris Trophy in 2013—and that his two-year "bridge contract" is up at the end of this season.
After the Canadiens balked at signing him to a big-money deal in 2012, it'll cost them a lot more to lock him up for the long term when it's time to re-sign him this summer.
Divine Intervention Is a Powerful Tool
France St. Louis continues to be a guiding beacon for her son's New York Rangers.
With his team facing elimination in Game 5 of its second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Martin St. Louis returned to his New York Rangers just one day after learning of his mother's passing, pouring out his heart on and off the ice as the Rangers rebounded to win their series.
St. Louis has played well and has also become New York's inspirational leader, earning the respect of teammates and fans as he thrives on the support he's receiving during one of life's most difficult situations.
The Rangers travel to Montreal this weekend to begin their Eastern Conference Final against the Canadiens. As a team, the Rangers will use their day off after Game 1 to attend France St. Louis' funeral on Sunday, according to Tal Pinchevsky of NHL.com.
As France's spirit continues to inspire, the funeral will be another bonding experience for a New York team whose playoff resurgence has been fueled by emotion.
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