2012 NHL Playoffs: Friedman's Five, Quarterfinals Edition

Daniel Friedman@DFriedmanNHLCorrespondent IApril 22, 2012

2012 NHL Playoffs: Friedman's Five, Quarterfinals Edition

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    The 2011 Stanley Cup Finals produced many exciting moments and some of the finest hockey we'd seen in quite some time. 

    I wouldn't say this year's first round was as good as its predecessor, but there's been plenty to talk about nonetheless. There's no shortage of skill, physicality and intensity in these playoffs. 

    Here are the top five stories thus far. 

    Enjoy, and feel free to comment below. 

No. 5: Changing of the Guard in Western Conference

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    In a somewhat unexpected sequence of events, the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks were both knocked out of the postseason in five games. 

    The elimination of these two Western Conference powerhouses signifies a changing of the guard. San Jose and Detroit were at the forefront for years, but now it's St. Louis and Nashville's time to shine. 

    Don't blame Antti Niemi for the Sharks' demise; he was just fine in this series. However, the same cannot be said for Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, who went M.I.A over those five games. 

    In Hockeytown, I wouldn't say the Wings lost because of a lack of effort on their part. They lost because, for the first time in quite a while, they ran into a team that's actually better than they are. All five contests were hard-fought and the Predators did an excellent job at both ends of the ice and just seemed to have an answer for everything Detroit threw their way. 

No. 4: Rookie Goalie Shines for Washington

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    Going into this series, the eighth-seeded Washington Capitals knew it would take something special to have any sort of chance to hang with the Boston Bruins. 

    They've got something special alright, in the form of goaltender Braden Holtby. 

    Holtby's been nothing short of phenomenal, sporting a 1.86 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage through the first five games of this best-of-seven. He's had to make 40-plus saves twice (44 and 43, respectively) and in both instances, the Capitals emerged victorious. 

    If not for his heroics, Washington could've very well been on the brink of elimination by now.

    Instead, it's the Boston Bruins who have their backs against the wall. Considering the amount of shots they've fired in Holtby's direction, the Bruins have to be wondering how on earth they're going to solve him. 

No. 3: Chicago, Phoenix Working Overtime

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    Last night's Game 5 between the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks went to overtime. 

    Not that both teams aren't used to it by now, as the previous four contests in this series were no different. Jonathan Toews' goal secured the win for Chicago, who trail the Coyotes three games to two.

    Had Phoenix forward Mikkel Boedker notched the OT winner, he would've become the first player in NHL history to do so in three consecutive games

    And speaking of records, the two teams tied the 1951 Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, who needed the extra session in all five games during that year's Stanley Cup Finals (Toronto won the series, 4-1). 

No. 2: Conference Leaders on Brink of Elimination

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    The Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers are already linked in NHL history because of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, a series that the Blueshirts won. 

    Here in 2012, the two teams are in the same discussion again, but for all the wrong reasons.

    Both finished atop their respective conferences and both find themselves on the brink of elimination: New York trails the Ottawa Senators 3-2 and the Los Angeles Kings have jumped out to a 3-1 series lead on the Canucks. 

    I think the Rangers have a better chance of reversing their fortunes, and not just because their deficit is only one game. Unlike Vancouver, New York has played with a lot more grit and desperation. That being said, it's still a daunting task. 

    You can't blame Daniel Sedin's absence if you're the Canucks. That team is still very dangerous, even without No. 22 in the lineup. Roberto Luongo was benched but he's not the reason Vancouver trails, either. Cory Schneider is better than him, but Luongo certainly gave his team a chance when he was in net. 

    The Canucks don't seem to have any response to LA's physical, aggressive style. Of course, Jonathan Quick's superhuman performance between the pipes has to be giving opposing shooters nightmares right now. They've yet to solve him.

    As for the Rangers, I think there are a whole bunch of factors that play into the situation we've got here.

    Ottawa's speed has been difficult for the Blueshirts to keep up with. The absence of Carl Hagelin obviously put them at a disadvantage, but at the end of the day, his presence wouldn't be enough to neutralize the skating prowess throughout this Senators lineup. 

    Something we didn't necessarily expect was that Craig Anderson would match Henrik Lundqvist save for save. We knew Anderson was good, but Henrik's been the better goaltender and should've given the Rangers an edge. Last night, New York peppered the Sens goalie with 41 shots; he stopped every last one of 'em. 

    The Rangers have also been off their game at times, especially (and most importantly) late in the third period. They've been blocking shots and making strong defensive plays, which has been their M.O. all year. They've failed to convert those turnovers into scoring chances, however.

No. 1: Penguins/Flyers Mayhem, Head Shots & Suspensions

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    Even before the opening faceoff in Game One, the series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers was expected to be a bloodbath. 

    What virtually no one predicted was that it'd turn out to be more of a circus.

    From all the shenanigans after the whistle to the horrific goaltending on both sides and lopsided scores, this has been an absolute joke. 

    There's only one way Ilya Bryzgalov could possibly have three wins right now, and that's by Pens' goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury matching him, blunder for blunder.

    Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety had a field day after Game 3 and have been quite busy throughout this first round. A number of players have been suspended or fined, and the rulings have been inconsistent, to say the least.

    I'm not going to get into the details of each separate incident and explain whether or not I felt it was fair or unfair. That's already been done extensively. What is important is the lack of consistency in those rulings. 

    The NHL needs to explore better, more consistent disciplinary procedures. Things need to be more clear-cut and, in my opinion, punishments need to be harsher. Three-game suspensions and $2500 fines don't scare players. 30-game bans do. 

    What I will say, however, is that before you point all the fingers at Shanahan, understand that much of what he does is based on protocol that was put in place long before he started this gig. There's a ton of politics behind this and it's a much broader issue than it might appear on the surface.