Playoff Storylines: 1st Round Coming to An End

What fun would it be if every game or every match up went exactly the way we thought it would? None, none at all I say. It’s good that I feel that way and I hope you all do too. Seriously, look around the playoff landscape for a minute and show me anyone actually predicted what’s happened so far. I bet you can’t. I know my playoff predictions are already blown just like my mock NFL draft was after pick #5.

Just take a look at the Candiens/Capitals series. After a disappointing game 1 loss, the Caps seemed to right the ship while building a 3 – 1 series lead against Montreal. However, Washington has failed in their last two attempts to close out the series, including tonight’s 4 – 1 loss in Montreal.

The play of regular season studs Mike Green and Alexander Semin has been called into question. Through the first 6 contests, the duo of Green and Semin has combined for just 4 points, all assists. Semin in particular, with just 1 assist, has really been a drag. Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom are doing their part with 5 goals and 9 points each but the Caps need more from their other top players if they want to go far in the postseason; much less win their 1st round series against Montreal.

For the Canadiens, Tomas Plekanec has 4 goals and offseason pickup Mike Cammalleri has 5 goals. In goal, Jaroslav Halak has far outplayed Carey Price. Halak’s outstanding 53 save performance tonight thrust the series into a do-or-die game 7.

However this series plays out, the Capitals will have lost the aura of invincibility they carried into the post-season after a hugely successful regular season. If the Caps should somehow manage to hold off the Habs in game 7, the question of whether this squad is psychologically fragile will surely surface regardless.

That’s just 1 series; several others have already concluded with surprising results. Who would have guessed that the Flyers would so easily dispatch the Atlantic Division champion Devils? Unfortunately, the Devils offense failed them again as New Jersey only mustered 9 goals in the 5 game series. The PP was especially pitiful for NJ as they converted on just 12.5% of their chances (4 – 32).

Another factor for the Devils early demise was the substandard play of goalie Martin Brodeur. Marty’s GAA was nearly 3 for the series and his save % was a pedestrian .881 in the 5 game set. I raised the issue of overuse as it pertains to the Devils and their aging superstar goalie and those questions sure won’t go away after this playoff letdown.

Boston finished off Buffalo tonight in 6 games but that isn’t, or shouldn’t be too surprising. Boston returned nearly all of the key components of last season’s Eastern Conference top seed squad, minus Phil Kessel. The loss of Kessel and the injuries to #1 Center Marc Savard really hurt the Bruins in the scoring department but Boston may have seen the ascension of a superstar goalie in Tuuka Rask.

Buffalo was coming off a very solid regular season but headed into the playoffs with two of their top forwards, Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly (again), banged up. Ryan Miller followed up a Vezina-worthy regular season with a fine postseason line of a GAA of 2.03 and a save % of .936.

Where Boston separated themselves from the Sabres in this series was in 1-goal games. The Bruins won 3 of the 4 games decided by a goal. In the real world of hockey, 1-goal games can come down to a single bounce or a misplayed puck. A very slight margin can make all the difference in the world and may have meant the difference in the Bruins winning in 6 or the Sabres winning in 6.

The best series of the playoffs is the Coyotes and Red Wings battle. The Coyotes plastered the Wings in game 6 in Detroit 5 – 2. The win earned the Coyotes a well-deserved chance to shed the Cinderella label by beating Detroit.

The key for the Coyotes has been the success of their PP. In their 3 wins Phoenix is 6 – 13 on the PP. They have been held scoreless in 15 attempts in their 3 losses.

I wondered before this series whether youth would be served; would the Coyotes young legs give them an edge over a very veteran Wings team that has been through long playoff wars over the last several seasons? To this point at least, the Coyotes youth hasn’t been a big disadvantage. Who wins tomorrow is up for anyone’s guess.

Before the playoffs, I picked the Kings to upset the Canucks. The Kings came closer to victory than it would appear on the surface. If it hadn’t been for blowing 2 separate 1-goal leads and yielding 4, 3rd period goals in game 4, LA could very well have been heading into game 5 with a 3 – 1 series lead. Instead, the Canucks fought back and won game 4 and the next 2 games, closing out the Kings in 6.

Pittsburgh flubbed up in game 1 of their series against the Ottawa Senators but otherwise handled business almost according to plan. The Sens did win game 5 and threatened to upend the Pens in game 6 after jumping out to a 3 – 0 lead. That would have sent the series into a decisive game 7 but the Pens rallied to deny the Senators the opportunity.

Back to the West, the Sharks scared their fans again by dropping the first game of their series against 8th seeded Colorado. Game 2 went into OT before the Sharks evened the series. Game 3 was the low point in the series for SJ. The game went again into OT (1 of 3 OT games in the series) when Dan Boyle inadvertently scored the winning goal…..for Colorado. His back-hand pass attempt to his defense partner behind the SJ net instead ended up on goal and squeezed between an unsuspecting Evgeni Nabokov’s right pad and the goal post.

It was at this point when I imagined all Sharks fans with their hands to their foreheads, their mouths agape and sweat breaking out upon their brows. Maybe the Sharks have finally developed the mettle necessary to get over the hump in the playoffs and to take their place as a legitimate Cup contender.

The last series I mention has also seen some surprises; though maybe we should never have underestimated Barry Trotz and the Nashville Predators in the first place. The reasoning behind the belief of most that Chicago would win this series was sound. There is no question the Hawks are one of the most talented teams in the league. After last season’s playoff run, it was clear the Hawks were experienced enough to embark on their own Cup quest. So where have we gone wrong?

Barry Trotz and the Nashville Predators have seemingly overachieved every season of their existence. This year has been no different. They generally play good defense, get solid goaltending and score enough goals to remain a thorn in the side of their opponents. After taking 2 of the first 3 contests, the Predators appeared on the cusp of upsetting the heavily favored Hawks. Fortunately for Chicago fans, the Hawks re-discovered their mojo closing out the Predators by winning the final 3 games of the series.

Ah yes, another playoff season and more postseason surprises. No wonder the NHL playoffs are more intriguing than those of any other sport. With only 2 series still in doubt and the 2nd round rapidly approaching, it’s time to start looking longingly at the storylines to come in round 2.