We have been through about two weeks of playoff hockey and we have seen just about everything. Bob Cole even said during the telecast of Game Six of the Bruins-Canadiens series that this was one of the best first rounds that he has seen in years, and I could not agree more.
Four Game 7s later, it is time to get ready for Round 2. First, however, let's take a look back at what made the 2011 quarterfinals so terrific.
The Washington Capitals are no stranger to playoff disappointment after winning only one of their past four playoff series despite being favored in each one. Throughout most of their series against the Rangers, Caps fans were once again on their heels, worrying if they would be disappointed once again.
Game 1 appeared to be more of the same for Washington, as they trailed 1-0 late in the third. Alexander Ovechkin, however, tied the game and Alexander Semin gave the Caps a series lead with his overtime winner.
After shutting out the Rangers in Game 2, Washington headed to New York confident in their chances. However, Brandon Dubinsky's goal with less than a minute remaining in the third gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead that resulted in the final score, and the Rangers were back in the series.
Game 4 had Caps fans on the edge of their seats again. Down 3-0, Washington thought the series would be all tied up, with New York having momentum. However, Bruce Boudreau's team was determined to win, as they tied the game with three goals in the third and won it in overtime, giving them a 3-0 stranglehold on the series.
The Caps would never look back as they sealed the series with a 3-1 victory in Game 5.
Headed into the playoffs, Red Wings fans were worried. Detroit was one of the coldest teams heading in, and fans were worried that they would be seeing an extended summer for the second year in a row.
Also for the second year in a row, the Red Wings were facing the Phoenix Coyotes, who took Detroit to seven games in 2010. This year, Detroit wanted to end it more quickly.
Detroit swept away the Coyotes in four games, including a 6-3 offensive outburst in the clincher. Pavel Datsyuk led the team with a six-point performance, including a goal and three assists in Game 2.
The Capitals have had trouble in previous years with their playoff goaltending situations, as Semyon Varlamov and Jose Theodore had both proven to be somewhat inconsistent. This year, the Caps didn't even know who their starter would be: Varlamov, Braden Holtby or Michal Neuvirth.
Neuvirth got the nod, and he seemed to be the right choice, yielding only two goals in three home games and leading his club to a five-game series victory.
Trying to return to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Philadelphia Flyers wanted to fix one thing: the goaltending. They thought that Sergei Bobrovsky could be the answer, but he was pulled after surrendering three goals on seven shots in Game 2.
"Bob" was replaced with veteran Brian Boucher, who finished Game 2 and ended up being credited with the victory. Boucher, however, was pulled in Game 5 after yielding three goals on 11 shots in favor of Michael Leighton. The Flyers lost Game 5, but stuck with Leighton for Game 6.
In Game 6, Michael Leighton was yanked after giving up three goals on eight shots in favor of Boucher. Boucher proved to be stellar as the Flyers came back to send the series to Game 7, where he backstopped the Flyers to a 5-2 victory and sent them to the second round.
Going into Game 3 of their first-round series against Los Angeles, the San Jose Sharks had reasons to be worried. The series was tied, but their win came in overtime while their loss was a 4-0 thumping at home against an injury-depleted Kings team.
Game 3 appeared to be much of the same disappointment, as Los Angeles jumped on a commanding 4-0 lead at the beginning of the second period. Determined, the Sharks would never give up. They scored five goals in the second period, and the game headed to overtime with the scored tied at five.
Devin Setoguchi beat Jonathan Quick just over three minutes into overtime, capping the incredible comeback and inspiring the Sharks to win the series in six games.
We have seen many playoff goals that cannot be described with words—including Stevie Y's famous double-OT blast against St. Louis, Super Mario's phenomenal deke against the North Stars or Bobby Orr's famous flight.
After Game 5 of the series between the Predators and Ducks, fans may agree that another Bobby should make the list.
Tied 2-2 in the third period as well as in the series, the Anaheim Ducks were desperately trying to take the lead and make their home crowd proud.
Bobby Ryan provided enough entertainment for the crowd after scoring what may be the most memorable goal of this year's playoffs.
After intercepting a pass from Nashville's Dave Legwand, Ryan skated up the ice and caused Legwand to lose his stick going after the puck. Legwand still tried to get the puck without his stick, but Ryan made him look silly on two different moves. After he was past Legwand, Ryan backhanded the puck past Pekka Rinne and put Anaheim on top 3-2 in the third period.
Nashville, however, would get the last laugh...
Despite Bobby Ryan's unbelievable goal, Nashville found a way to tie Game 5 in the final minute and then win it in overtime.
The Predators had been involved in five previous playoff series in their history, but they had dropped every single one in six games. This, in fact, was their first victory in a Game 5, and the first time that they had won three playoff games in one season.
Heading back to the Music City for Game 6, Nashville wanted to treat their home crowd to their first ever playoff series win.
Despite another miraculous performance from Anaheim's Teemu Selanne, the Preds still found themselves up 3-2 in the final minute when none other than Dave Legwand, the all-time leading Predator scorer, potted an empty-netter to cap the series victory and send Nashville to their first-ever semifinal appearance.
Arguably the greatest rivalry in the history of hockey, the Montreal Canadiens met up with the Boston Bruins in the first round for the third time in four years. This meeting may have been the best of them all.
After winning the first two games on the road, the Habs headed back home with a chance to put the Bruins away. However, the trend of road teams winning kept up, as Boston won Game 3 and tied the series with an overtime thriller in Game 4.
Game 5 back in the Garden also went to overtime—double overtime in fact. For the first time in the series, the home team won a game as Nathan Horton put the puck past Carey Price to give the B's their first lead in the series.
In Montreal for Game 6, the Habs were still confident that they could win the series. They won another thriller, 2-1, and sent the series to a seventh game.
Game 7 took place just a night later. While the teams may have been tired, they did not show it.
Boston took a 2-0 lead right away in the first period, only to give it up as the Canadiens tied the game 2-2 in the second. Boston pulled ahead with a goal in the third, but P.K. Subban's slapshot tied it once again and sent the game to overtime. Nathan Horton once again was the overtime hero for Boston, as he potted his second overtime winner to win the series for the Bruins.
But what is a good rivalry without a controversial moment?
Some may argue that Montreal would have won if Jeff Halpern was not knocked out of the game from a broken jaw that he suffered from a dirty hit by Andrew Ference...but the series is over and the Bruins are the ones moving on.
Pittsburgh went into the playoffs without stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but they had expected to have no problem without them—just like the second half of the regular season. This thought was reinforced when they took a 3-1 series lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had not made the playoffs since 2007.
The Penguins expected to win Game 5 at home and seal an easy series victory against the Bolts. Tampa, however, spoiled their plans of an early celebration with an 8-2 slaughter of the Penguins on the road.
Back at home for Game 6, the Lightning pulled off another great performance and took the game 4-2, sending the series to a seventh game.
In Pittsburgh for Game 7, the Lightning seemed to have nothing to lose. They were at one point down three games to one, they were new to the playoffs and had an unexpected milestone season while the experienced Penguins had been to two Stanley Cup Finals in the past three seasons.
Pittsburgh controlled most of the play in the seventh game, but Sean Bergenheim put Tampa Bay on the board to break the scoreless tie. Veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson stayed perfect in elimination games, shutting out the Penguins in Pittsburgh and helping his team hold on to the 1-0 lead to finish off the remarkable series comeback.
About a month ago, I did a slideshow on the top 10 playoff series since the lockout. If I had waited until now, this would most likely top the list. In fact, this might have been the greatest playoff series in at least the past 10 years.
For the third year in a row, the Chicago Blackhawks met the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs. The Canucks, however, were still trying to get past Chicago for the first time. With a depleted Blackhawks team and a President's Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks team, it looked like this would be the year.
Especially after Vancouver won the first three games of the series.
The Hawks were still desperately trying to pull of the miracle and stay in the playoffs to defend the Stanley Cup. They were successful after a 7-2 thrashing at home in Game 4; however, it seemed like the series would be all but over heading into Vancouver for Game 5.
The Blackhawks somehow shocked the world with a 5-0 victory in Vancouver, pulling them within one game of the Canucks and heading back home for Game 6.
Going into Game 6, it was said by many that "Chicago led the series three games to two" with all of the momentum that they had. This game was much closer than the previous two, though, and the series went to overtime for the first time. Ben Smith emerged as the hero for Chicago as his overtime tally tied the series and pulled the Blackhawks within one win of one of the greatest comebacks of all time.
Game 7 in Vancouver was a bitter contest, as the two teams battled for every inch of ice. Alex Burrows gave the 'Nucks an early lead, but Jonathan Toews tied the game late with a shorthanded goal, and the series went to overtime again.
Everyone was on their heels knowing that the next goal would send one team to the next round and the other team home. Shortly into overtime, Alex Burrows intercepted a Chicago past and sent the puck past Corey Crawford, winning the game and the series for Vancouver and exorcising the demons against Chicago.