Fans, experts, and analysts alike tend to show away from using words like “ever” and “all-time” when describing a player, game, era, etc. The naysayers will tend to say, “well I’m sure there is something/someone better, what about…”. At some point though you need to stand up and declare something the greatest ever because there is always a best, especially in sports.
Now I may not be old enough to have witnessed the playoffs in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, or even most of the 90s, but these playoffs are head and shoulders above any NHL Stanley Cup playoffs I have seen during my lifetime.
There has undoubtedly been some great individual playoff series in recent memory, ones that come to mind are the 1994 Rangers-Devils or the 2009 Penguins-Red Wings, but these playoffs have not only been home to the greatest individual series ever played, it as a whole is everything the NHL could have dreamed for from a ratings stand point. Just take a step back and think about all that has gone on already.
The first round alone was good enough to make the entire playoffs one of the best. It set a record for the most games ever in one round (49) thanks to just one sweep (Red Wings over Coyotes). The large number of games was also due to four Game 7s, but that doesn’t even go to tell the whole story.
The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens played a series where the home team did not win a home game until Game 5, but then the home team won the remaining games to send the Bruins to the next round.
Despite being the No. 2 seed, and one of the most dynamic offenses in the NHL, the Philadelphia Flyers were pushed to the brink in Game 5 by the Sabres and needed to win two straight, including a crazy back-and-forth 5-4 overtime win at HSBC Arena in Game 6.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had a commanding 3-1 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning, but a blowout 8-2 victory in Game 5 by the Lightning shifted things in their favor and they wound up taking the final three games of the series to win.
The reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks got into a deep 3-0 hole to the powerhouse Vancouver Canucks and this would turn into the best individual series I have ever witnessed. After two straight blowout victories, the Blackhawks needed to rely on the first successful playoff penalty shot to send Game 6 to overtime where they would win. Game 7 lived up to the hype of the rest of the series and was one of the most exciting Game 7s in sports history. The Canucks worked with a slim one goal lead for the whole game and missed on a penalty shot in the beginning of the third period. Yes, there were penalty shots in back-to-back games. Jonathan Toews was so close to earning himself a “history will be made” commercial when he did what a great player in sports does and stepped up at the biggest time by scoring a highlight reel goal, from the ice, on the penalty kill to tie the game up with under two minutes remaining. The Canucks overtime victory in this series will go down in history.
The second round was a bit wacky with the Eastern Conference Semi-finals being filled with domination (two sweeps) and the Western Conference Semi-finals producing another unforgettable series.
The San Jose Sharks did their best Vancouver Canucks impression by taking a commanding 3-0 lead on the Detroit Red Wings, but since nothing can come easy in this year’s playoffs, the Red Wings won the next three games in nail-biting fashion. The Red Wings couldn’t complete the comeback, just like Blackhawks, which is the only thing these playoffs seem to be missing.
The Conference Finals are off to great starts and look like each will be a very competitive series. A series that was supposed to be one about goaltending, the Bruins-Lightning series has already seen a goalie that carried his team through the first two rounds, become a questionable starter for the next game because of his recent poor performances.
The stage has been set for a great Stanley Cup finals.
I haven’t even had the chance to mention that 19 of the first 59 games of the playoffs went to overtime and that there was a stretch of nine straight days with a game that couldn’t be settled in regulation.
Barring a terrible finish in the Stanley Cup finals, these playoffs will go down in the history books for more than just a couple of series records. If anyone ever asks me, this is the best playoffs the NHL has ever seen.
This year goes to show that the salary cap does work and it keeps a healthy balance in the league. No one team has been able to dominate the field and the competitive nature of the league seems as high as ever.
As a hockey fan, I am grateful to have been able to watch the 2011 NHL playoffs.
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