Now that the first round of the NHL playoffs is complete, here are five things we learned:
- Backup goaltending can get it done – While Lundqvist, Quick and Mason struggled and with Halak and Marc Andre-Fluery injured, we saw a lot of backup goaltenders get the job done. Not so much in the Rangers and Kings case, but the Islanders and Penguins moved on to the second round in pretty dominant fashion, while Michal Neuvirth gave Philadelphia an honest change at beating the Caps. I feel bad for Lundy as I think his shot at a Stanley Cup has surpassed him. The Rangers are not getting any younger and their reign as the top dogs of the Eastern Conference has officially come to an abrupt end.
- Blown calls need to be prevented – Both in the Minnesota series and the Islanders series there were some calls that were missed. Did that change the outcome of the series? That we will never know. Should there have been a penalty on Trochek in game 6? Did the puck (I think it did) cross the line in Minnesota? With the speed of the game it is difficult for even the trained eye to make the right call 100% of the time. Should we keep the tradition of the game and have series be defined by potential human error? Is it time the NHL looked at additional ways to ensure the right calls are made?
- Changing of the guard – The Western Conference has been dominated primarily by LA and Chicago over the past 6 seasons. With each team failing to make it out of the first round, I think it represents a changing of the guard. Not only did LA get dominated by San Jose, the nucleus of the team is getting old (in NHL terms). Chicago still has a chance to regain its composure, but SJ, Nashville and Dallas all pose legitimate threats as remaining contenders in the Western conference. I think this has to be the year for St. Louis as they are showing signs of age as well. Perhaps the west coast will be dominated in years to come by a team that didn’t even qualify for the playoffs this season. Arizona, anyone? Whatever the case, I think it is good for the sport to get some fresh teams and faces in the national spotlight.
- East Coast, West Coast – The two conferences have provided a different landscape for quite some time now, but it is becoming pretty prevalent how different the two really are. The western conference playoff teams are strongly comprised of a cast of veterans who rose to fame through grit and toughness. Sure you have your skilled players, but when you think of the makeup of most of the western conference playoff teams you think of hard-nosed hockey. The eastern conference, on the other hand, has more raw talent, more skilled players and more offensive minded teams. Part of the success in Chicago was due in part because they could play a skilled game and a gritty game. I am sure whoever hoists the cup will have to do the same. Can Washington, NYI, Pittsburgh or TB rise to the challenge or will the Western dominance continue?
- It remains the most exciting playoff in all of sports – Sure the NFL has one largely followed game, but in comparison to the other two sports where they play a series of games against the same opponent, hockey is leaps and bounds a more exciting and unpredictable playoff. In basketball, during the first round, there are so many sweeps or lopsided victories it’s not even worth watching. I don’t know a thing about basketball except for the fact that Golden State and San Antonio will most likely meet in the Western conference final and whoever wins that showdown will win another championship. In baseball, the same thing occurs, the underdogs rarely win. How many times in hockey have we seen a team limp into the playoffs and continue to advance? We have seen at least three underdogs win their series in the first round alone. When you look at basketball and the lack of defense and then you see a player lay out to block a shot, you have to respect that. I don’t care who you are or where you come from, that has to mean something to you.
Round two is already underway and has proven to be exciting through the first two games, with plenty of hockey left, I can’t wait to see how this plays out.