For those of you that follow my work you’ll know that I picked all the high seeds in both the Western and Eastern Conferences to emerge victorious in their first round matchups in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After one night of play my predictions are looking pretty good as four out of five of the favorites pulled off a victory last night.
Heading into the playoffs a lot of people pointed to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s offensive prowess as the reason the Bolts would pull off the upset over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While the Lightning managed to pepper Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with 32 shots on goal they were unable to beat him, as Fleury posted the first shutout of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Penguins and Lightning played to a 0-0 tie through two periods before the Penguins exploded for two goals in 18 seconds when Alex Kovalev beat Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson at 06:05 of the third period, followed by a beautiful goal from Arron Asham at the 06:23 mark.
The Penguins would add an empty net goal at the 19:18 mark, sealing the victory and giving them a 1-0 lead in the series.
In the end Pittsburgh’s all-round game was just too much for the Lightning, which is why I took the Penguins!
In the other Eastern Conference Playoff match, the Washington Capitals took on the New York Rangers in what many felt would be a Rangers upset.
Of course, when you have a goaltender of Henrk Lundqvist’s talent between the pipes anything is possible, so one could understand why so many people were taking the Rangers in this series, but with Ryan Callahan out of the lineup, it was tough for me to see the Rangers matching the Capitals offense throughout a seven game series.
The Rangers and Capitals also played two scoreless periods before the Rangers finally scored the first goal in this one, when Matt Gilroy snapped a shot past Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth at the 01:56 mark of the third period.
Lundqvist didn’t disappoint, keeping the Capitals off the scoreboard until Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal of the 2011 Playoffs at 13:44 of the third period, tying the game, and lifting the Capitals spirits.
Ovechkin almost went from hero to zero when he took a roughing penalty that could have been five minutes had he drawn blood at the 15:17 mark of the third.
The Capitals dug deep, keeping the Rangers off the scoreboard, with Brooks Laich emerging as the Capitals best penalty killer.
The Capitals and Rangers headed to overtime where Alexander Semin beat Lundqvist at the 18:24 mark for a huge game one victory over the Rangers.
Over in the Western Conference the Detroit Red Wings faced off against the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Coyotes opened the scoring at the 02:16 mark of the first period when Kyle Turris snapped a shot past Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard.
The Red Wings would not answer until the second period, when they torched the Coyotes for three goals, including a nice wrap-around from Pavel Datsyuk, a terrific snap shot from Johan “the mule” Franzen and a power play marker from defenseman Brian Rafalski.
Jiri Hudler added an early third period goal, while the Coyotes Radim Vrbata snapped a shot past Howard at the 07:38 mark of the third.
In the end, the Red Wings emerged with a very comfortable 4-2 victory, outclassing and outplaying the Coyotes for most of the game.
Perhaps the most anticipated matchup saw the Vancouver Canucks taking on the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions Chicago Blackhawks.
The Hawks have ended the Canucks playoff runs in each of the past two seasons. As such, emotions were high heading into last night’s tilt, as Chicago had won their past five playoff games against the Canucks in Vancouver—bringing a measure of doubt to the Canucks fans.
To their credit, the Canucks got off to a perfect start, with Chris Higgins lighting the lamp at the 07:03 mark of the first period, followed by another Canucks goal at the 10:23 mark.
The Canucks and Hawks traded scoring chances all night long, but both goaltenders stood on their heads, with Hawks netminder emerging with 31 saves on 33 shots, while Luongo emerged with a game one shutout, making 32 saves and emerging as the games first star.
Truth be told, Luongo stole the show last night, making a number of timely saves, keeping the Hawks off the scoreboard, which allowed the Canucks to keep the momentum.
To be fair, the Hawks played a decent game, hitting four posts on the night. No question, there is a lot of hockey to be played in this series—the Hawks are by no means finished in this one.
In the last game of the evening, the Nashville Predators took on the Anaheim Ducks.
The Predators got off to a terrific start when defenseman Shea Weber launched a slap shot (a power play marker) past Tampa Bay Goaltender Dan Ellis at the 04:13 mark of the fist period.
The Predators continued to outplay the Ducks throughout the second period, lighting the lamp two more times when Steve Sullivan tip-in the puck at the 15:16 mark, followed by a nice snap shot from Mike Fisher, making it 3-0 Predators.
Fisher would add another goal at the 00:56 mark of the third period, which all but iced the game for the Predators and saw Dan Ellis pulled in favor of goaltender Ray Emery, who had been nursing an injury on the night.
The Ducks finally answered on the power play when veteran forward Teemu Selanne (who had five shots on the night) snapped the puck past Pekka Rinne at the 11:24 mark of the third.
While the Preds did give up a goal to Selanne, the Ducks trio of Ryan Getzlaf (one shot on goal, one assist on the night), Bobby Ryan (one shot on the night) and Corey Perry (five shots on the night) were kept off the scoreboard, which is encouraging for Preds fans.
There are three games tonight, with the Montreal Canadiens taking on the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres versus the Philadelphia Flyers and the Los Angeles Kings facing the San Jose Sharks.
The most anticipated game on the night will be the Boston Bruins/Montreal Canadiens match, as many expect this series to be an epic battle, with tons of passion and hatred on display from both teams. Take the Bruins.
It will be interesting to see if Philadelphia (who finished the season kind of flat) can raise their game against the Sabres, who were one of the NHL’s hottest teams down the stretch with an 8-1-1 record. Take the Sabres.
The Kings and Sharks should play an entertaining game tonight. That said, with the Kings missing Anze Kopitar it’s tough to see the Kings emerging victorious. Look for the Sharks to get off to a quick start, taking a 1-0 lead in the series on home ice. Take the Sharks.
Until next time,
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