(Photo by Rantsports.com)
The first round of the NHL playoff’s are over, and for fans of the teams moving on, you can breathe a sigh of relief as your team lives to fight another day. For those who saw their Stanley Cup hopes end early, dry your eyes and turn your TV’s back on because the 2nd round should see some even more interesting match ups.
Teams Moving On
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pen’s advance over the Islanders like many predicted, but it wasn’t as easy as some would have thought. At times, the Penguins struggled against the 8th seeded Islanders due to lack of discipline and some very shaky goaltending and defending. The rest of the teams in the playoffs should send a big thank you to the Islanders, because the young guns from Long Island laid out the blueprint for beating the big bad Penguins: outwork them in their own zone, and play to their physicality. This is scary for the Pen’s, as this is something their next opponent did very well in upsetting their opponent in 5 games.
#7 Ottawa Senators
Whoever saw this upset coming deserves a major pat on the back, or some sort of award. One of the worst scoring teams in the playoffs, upsets one of the top defenses in the playoffs, highlighting the fact that as soon as the chase for the cup starts, it’s an entirely new season. The Senators outplayed the Canadiens in their own zone, played physical and focused. Craig Anderson played some of his best hockey and had great defense to help. Late season addition Cory Conacher played outstanding hockey for his first ever playoff run, and proved to be a fantastic addition who has the ability to contribute and be a playmaker. This team should make the Penguins very nervous going into the next round. While I still believe the Penguins will win their next series against these guys, it will be a hard fought 7 game series.
#4 Boston Bruins
The Bruins had a very tough, hard fought 7 game series to play. However, they were playing a very talented, very disciplined Toronto Maple Leafs team. Tukka Rask played very well, but did look a little shaky at times and the defense had their hiccups. However, they move on after a thrilling overtime win at the TD Garden, and play another original 6 team. Their only saving grace, however, is the fact that their opponent is also coming off a 7 game series.
#6 New York Rangers
The blue shirts struggled a bit and lacked focus against the Capitals in their 7 game series win. Well, until they dropped 5 on the Caps and made it look easy, ending the series at 7 games before the start of the 3rd period in that game. The Rangers looked solid to end the series and are clearly hitting their stride at the right time. The Rangers are a hot team going into their series against Boston. It doesn’t help the Bruins any, that this team has played very well at TD Garden, and are playing as well as they have the past few games. Rangers win this series in 6. Oh, and Henrik Lundqvist has yet to be scored on his last two games.
#1 Chicago Blackhawks
No surprise here, the Chicago Blackhawks advance over the Minnesota Wild. However, what is surprising, is how well the Wild played against the Presidents Trophy winners. It makes you think of how different this series could have been had Backstrom not been injured. However, that isn’t the case and the Hawks continue their pursuit of hoisting the cup. The Blackhawks won this series convincingly and are heading into their next series well rested and prepared. Their opponent, may not be so lucky.
#7 Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are the other 7 seed to upset their 2 seed opponent. However, they may not fair as well as the other in their series. The Red Wings, after playing 7 games and traveling over several time zones, are coming into this series running on fumes, against a well rested Chicago Blackhawks team. While Jimmy Howard shined, as did the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and captain Henrik Zetterburg, it will take a lot to out skate the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Red Wings simply don’t have enough left in the tank. It’ll take the Blackhawks 5 games to finish out this one.
#5 Los Angeles Kings
The Kings played this series very well and Jonathan Quick reminded everyone why he is regarded as one of the most resilient net minders in this years Stanley Cup playoffs. While the Kings didn’t sweep their opponent like they did last year, this team is a very similar looking group as the one that hoisted the hardware last season. They’ll have to continue that discipline and focus against a team who is equally as good in the same areas. Their net minder also knows what it feels like to win a cup.
#6 San Jose Sharks
This was one of the upsets I’m sure a lot of hockey fans saw coming. The Sharks came in poised and confident, and the Canucks looked confused. Antti Niemi is playing very well, and has an abundance of confidence heading into their next series. In addition, Patrick Marlaeu has a goal in every single game against Vancouver. If the Sharks want to win their series against the Kings, they need to steal a game or two away. The Sharks have played nearly unbeatable at home all season, and have the opportunity of another upset against Quick and the Kings. While this series could be one of the most entertaining of this round, the Kings will continue their run in 7 games.
Hold Your Head Up
The Toronto Maple Leafs were very impressive in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and deserved every bit to continue their pursuit. They played a very physical series against a very tough Boston Bruins team and very nearly came out on top. James Reimer was outstanding this series, and for his playoff debut, should go back home with his head held high. Reimer is young, and not nearly as experienced in these do-or-die situations like the Bruins forwards are, which can explain their collapse late in game 7. While the sting of a game 7 loss of this caliber will hurt, this team and this fan base should be very proud of the way they performed this season and the playoffs included. Look out for the Leafs next season, you’ll be seeing this team in the playoffs next season.