The Biggest Surprises of the 2014 NHL Playoffs so Far

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistMay 15, 2014

The Biggest Surprises of the 2014 NHL Playoffs so Far

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The NHL playoffs are a marathon, not a sprint. The final four are coming into view, and we've seen some major surprises along the way.

    The top-ranked teams entering the postseason in the Eastern Conference were the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins and in the West the Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche. Many NHL fans felt the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and New York Rangers had a chance to win it all.

    Only four teams make the semifinals, and there have been amazing turns of fate that got us here. These are the biggest surprises in the NHL during the 2014 playoffs.

San Jose Sharks Blow It

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    TONY AVELAR/Associated Press

    What Happened? The San Jose Sharks took a three-game lead against the Los Angeles Kings and then collapsed. They lost Game 7 by a 5-1 score.

    Who Gets the Credit or Blame? As Brian Stubits reported via CBSSports.com, an injury to Marc-Edouard Vlasic in Game 5 had a major impact on the series. 

    Where Does the Credit or Blame Lie? The Sharks don't have enough veteran depth on defense and lack a stud defender who can play 25 minutes a night. Among the items San Jose may want to add this year is a complete defenseman who can play heavy minutes. It should be at the top of the list. 

St. Louis Blues Too Good to Be This Bad in the Playoffs

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    Charles Cherney/Associated Press

    What Happened? The St. Louis Blues had a 2-0 lead in games over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks but couldn't close the deal. 

    Who Gets the Credit or Blame? The Blues paid a heavy price for Ryan Miller, but his play in the postseason did not give the team value. 

    Where Does the Credit or Blame Lie? St. Louis couldn't score goals. It ranks close to the bottom in goals per game in the postseason. This summer may see the team pursue an elite-level offensive scorer who can make a difference.

Colorado Avalanche Quick Exit

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    JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

    What Happened? The Colorado Avalanche were ousted from the playoffs in seven games by the Minnesota Wild. They could not sustain the momentum of an outstanding regular season which saw them win the Central Division. 

    Who Gets the Credit or Blame? The Avalanche turned it around under coach Patrick Roy. His passionate approach and innovative moves drew a lot of attention. 

    Where Does the Credit or Blame Lie? Nathan MacKinnon led a strong effort from one of the truly exceptional young teams in the game. Although the Avalanche didn't make it to Round 8, there's little doubt they will be back again.

Minnesota Wild Ride

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    What Happened? The Minnesota Wild pushed the Chicago Blackhawks to six games in their quarterfinal series, serving notice they will be heard from again.

    Who Gets the Credit or Blame? The Wild have plenty of heroes, but Zach Parise with 14 points and Ryan Suter playing 29 minutes a night are at the top of the list.

    Where Does the Credit or Blame Lie? Chuck Fletcher has been building this roster into a winner since the day he arrived, often with little to show for it. Small gains blossomed this spring, and the Wild should be considered a Stanley Cup contender next season.

Montreal Canadiens Poke the Bear, Win the Series

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    What Happened? The Montreal Canadiens won a thrilling seven-game series against their archrivals, the Boston Bruins. 

    Who Gets the Credit or Blame? It was a team effort, but defenseman P. K. Subban and goaltender Carey Price were outstanding for the Canadiens. 

    Where Does the Credit or Blame Lie? Aside from Price and Subban, Montreal's offense has been the best so far in the postseason. The Canadiens have balanced offense, with eight players scoring three or more goals this spring.

Boston Bruins Facing a Long Summer of Reflection

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    What Happened? The Boston Bruins lost to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games.

    Who Gets the Credit or Blame? The Bruins have a lot of things to ponder this summer. Zdeno Chara looked slow and less effective, the club's physical players did not intimidate the Canadiens, and Brad Marchand and others took too many penalties. 

    Where Does the Credit or Blame Lie? Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli dealt Tyler Seguin in the offseason, and that trade looks less impressive with this result. Boston was not overly active at the deadline, and the defensive holes were on display during the series against Montreal.

Pittsburgh Penguins Can't Make Final Four

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    What Happened? The Pittsburgh Penguins stumbled on their way to the Stanley Cup, losing their quarterfinal series with the New York Rangers in seven games.

    Who Gets the Credit or Blame? There's plenty of blame to go around, but Sidney Crosby's one goal in the postseason stands out as a major reason. Crosby's shooting percentage is ridiculously low, leading us to believe this is a lot about bad luck.

    Where Does the Credit or Blame Lie? The Penguins roster is too top-heavy, making it difficult to have a team with quality and depth in all areas. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have matching $8.7 million cap hits. They are joined by three players making $5 million of the cap—Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal and Paul Martin. The Penguins will need to make some trades at the top end in order to improve the overall quality of their role players. They don't have many entry-level deals that are quality, so trades are the likely solution.