NHL Playoffs Off To a Surprising Start

Scott McDowellContributor IIApril 15, 2010

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 14:  Milan Michalek #9 of the Ottawa Senators handles the puck in front of Brooks Orpik #44 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Mellon Arena on April 14, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Senators defeated the Penguins 5-4.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

What do the Flyers, Coyotes, Senators, and Avalanche have in common?

They were picked to lose their opening-round series by the bulk of NHL punditry.

Granted, the 2010 NHL playoffs are still in their infancy, but each one of the favored teams in last night’s games got a wake-up call. If you don’t come to win the NHL playoffs, you’re going to lose.

The regular season and playoffs are two different animals in the NHL. The regular season is filled with highlight reel goals, saves, and hits, but the playoffs are filled with gritty, grind-it-out games.

The team that absolutely wanted to avoid a first-game loss (read: upset) was the San Jose Sharks.

They’ve consistently been the NHL’s most disappointing team come playoff time. They’ve been bounced from the playoffs early in consecutive years, and if they can’t respond tomorrow night, they’re in deep trouble of repeating that fate.

The Coyotes did exactly what they needed to do against the Red Wings—score on the power play. All three of their goals came with the man advantage.

In contrast to the San Jose-Colorado series, a loss doesn’t hurt the Red Wings much. They’ll just need to win one road game in the series, and the balance of power shifts to Hockeytown, USA.

The Flyers somehow channeled the prowess in net that they have so sorely been lacking all season. Brian Boucher kept New Jersey out of the net, allowing just one goal in the 2-1 Philadelphia win. If he can get going on a playoff hot streak, Philadelphia can win this series, and he can lock the revolving door that has been swirling open and shut all year at the goaltender position.

Beating the Devils in a low-scoring game is going to be a rarity for any team. I don’t see another score line like this happening again, at least not one that favors the Flyers.

I was shocked to see the Penguins struggling, down 4-2 as the third period opened up. Ottawa is a solid team, but last night’s 5-4 loss was more lopsided than the final score indicated.

The Senators answered every question Pittsburgh asked, and then some.

I don’t expect them to, but if the Penguins can’t find a rhythm and fast, they could be in a 2-1 series deficit by Sunday.

If anything, Wednesday night’s playoff-opening games should send a message to the rest of the favored teams in the playoffs: If you don’t come to win the NHL playoffs, you’re going to struggle.

Chicago doesn’t play until Friday night, but they may be a sexy pick to have an upset similar to the ones we saw last night.

However, with the remaining series yet to begin, most of the matchups are more even than the seeding indicates (outside of Washington-Montreal). “Upsets” like the ones we saw on Wednesday, won’t be nearly as impressive or surprising.

Who knows though?

A fortuitous bounce here, a soft goal there, and you have yourselves the making of an upset.

That is why you need to be watching NHL playoff hockey.