Wow. The first round of the NHL postseason did not disappoint. Well, it was disappointing for at least half of the teams (like my beloved Red Wings), but it wasn’t disappointing in the level of excitement and skill on display. Good news for hockey fans: these factors will only intensify.
As per custom, the first-round of the NHL playoffs left many analysts puzzled, scratching their heads as they try to make sense of the events that unfolded. Some matchups went as expected: The Bruins handily defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4 games to 1, despite an initial spirited game-one victory by the uncharacteristically-young Detroit team, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets –though spectators of the series were surprised by the enthusiasm and passion put on display by Columbus fans, and the Anaheim Ducks coolly disposed of the Dallas Stars. Those that didn’t go as expected? Well… they went unexpectedly, of course!
One of the two biggest stories of the first-round was L.A.’s historic surge from a 3-0 deficit. Jonathan Quick swiftly reminded people why he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts in the Kings’ 2012 playoff run and, again, the San Jose Sharks showed that they are, indeed, cursed in the playoffs. The second biggest story of the first-round came to fruition last night in Denver, when Nino Niederreitter netted the game-winning OT goal for the Minnesota Wild, after the team had tied the game four times over three periods. Additionally, the Chicago Blackhawks upset the St. Louis Blues – whom many believed might finally earn themselves a Stanley Cup, the Montreal Canadiens swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in what many thought would be a much more evenly matched series (including myself), and the New York Rangers remained perfect at home in game 7 situations when they defeated their arch-enemy, the Philadelphia Flyers. But, all of that is now in the past and, if the events didn’t involve your team, you’ll likely forget the details by the beginning of next season. Moving forward.
A quick note: The four Stanley Cup Champions of the past five years (Chicago having two of those) remain in contention for this year’s prize.
In case you were wondering, I’ll save you a Google search:
2009, Pittsburgh Penguins
2010, Chicago Blackhawks
2011, Boston Bruins
2012, Los Angeles Kings
2013, Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild
On the surface, this series may appear boring. The Minnesota Wild facing off against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, whom, when on their game, are arguably undefeatable? Yawn. But, I see promise in this series. Remember the Wild did just defeat second-highest point-getter in the West, loaded with young talent like 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon. Then again, one may say, young talent is sometimes exactly what you don’t need to win a Stanley Cup. Nonetheless, Minnesota has been primed for success ever since they picked up Zach Parise and Ryan Suter with monster deals back in 2012. Parise earned his contract this past series against the Avalanche with ten points in the series, tied for first among players in the first-round.
The question for the Wild will be goaltending. While the team has many options (Niklas Bäckström, Josh Harding, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Darcy Kuemper), they have never had a go-to guy. Even last night’s game 7 victory included two goaltenders for the Minnesotan team. Darcy Kuemper was given a chance to shine in the playoffs, but was eventually replaced by Bobrovsky late in the game. Bäckström and Harding have both been solid net minders for the squad in the past, but it seems that the Wild are looking toward the future; and that’s probably a good thing. Also, check out the story from the teams’ match-ups this past season.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings
This series is an example of why I think the league’s new playoff berth system might have actually been a good idea. Admittedly, I was highly skeptical at first but I’m beginning to see the merit. For the second series in a row there has been a SoCal showdown. The first round gave us an exciting, historic, 7 game series between the Sharks and the Kings, and now fans will get to experience the Ducks go head-to-head with the Kings. Since the new system pits division opponents against one another until the conference final (for the most part, at least), rivalries will certainly be intensified; some may even be born.
Ironically, Southern California has become a lively area for the NHL; many do not equate the sunny conditions with a typically wintery sport such as hockey, but when a region has umpteen millions of people, there are bound to be some individuals that enjoy the fast-paced, hard-hitting, ballet on skates. But I digress.
The Ducks had an impressive season, earning 116 points, just one shy of the Boston Bruins’ President’s Trophy winning 117, but their first round matchup didn’t require much effort on their part. The usual characters like Ryan Getzlaf had an important role in the victory, but we didn’t hear too much about their third and fourth lines; you know, their depth. Depth wins championships. Not to mention, like the Sharks, the Ducks have had a tough time in the playoffs. The team has gotten close, making it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003, but, again, hardly anyone remembers who lost to the champion. The Kings, however, have proved that they were a championship-caliber team just two years ago. Many of the assets that led them to Lord Stanley still call L.A. home, maybe most importantly Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick.
Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens
Old. School. Rivalry. The Bruins-Canadiens rivalry is considered one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports. Both teams were a part of the famed Original Six and since have met 889 times, the first of which was on December 8, 1924. The conference semifinal matchup will be the 34th time the two squads will have met in the postseason. While Scotty Bowman and Don Cherry are not coaching the two storied teams as was the case in the 1970s, this year’s meeting should have passion to boot.
The case used to be that not only did the teams hate one another but their fan bases were radically different. If one went to a Montreal Canadiens game in the 1970s, they would find most of the attendants dressed in shirt and tie. Conversely, at the TD Garden in Boston, a much more casual attire was expected. The working man’s man attended Boston’s games with enough passion and hellfire to incite a riot. The constituents of each team are not as polarized as they once were, but the hate has not dissipated, and these historic rivalries have a way of living up to their hype. Don’t forget what happened when the two teams met in 2011…
I still expect the Bruins to take the series, but Montreal will not go down without dragging Boston down to one knee. While Montreal was able to sweep Tampa Bay, the Bruins are not the Lightning. The Bruins are a much more complete team – full of grit, passion, and… dirty players.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers
Obviously, or maybe not if you’re clueless, Pittsburgh is the favorite of this matchup. Not by much, but the favorite nonetheless. Anytime you boast players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, you’re bound to be heavily favored. Sure, the Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, and Martin St. Louis, but only one of those three players have won a Cup before. That being said, I think the Rangers have a real good chance of winning this series.
Although Lundqvist has historically botched every playoff run, despite having phenomenal regular seasons, I think he is about due for a win. Staying on the goaltending front, one must consider the sloppy play of Marc-André Fleury in the first-round against the Blue Jackets. He has won a cup, but even then his goaltending didn’t carry the team. He wasn’t awful in the crease, but he also had one of the better teams in recent history making sure he didn’t have too much pressure on his shoulders. He may be one of the few players whose confidence was diminished after winning a Cup.
Regardless, the series will be an exciting one. Both cities have strong fan bases that will be a boon to the home team. I expect both teams to win their home games and fight until the end in this series. Hopefully, in my humble opinion, the Rangers come out victorious because one of the worst things in a Red Wings fan’s mind is a Pittsburgh Penguin (except maybe a Chicago Blackhawk).
Brent Glass is a Michigander who graduated from Eureka College in May of 2013. He spent time at the Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis, IN (a non-partisan think tank) where he worked on political economy pieces for Detroit, MI and Elkhart, IN. Additionally, he spent the summer of 2012 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, working on social media management. Currently he is creating a social media management business (Connect You Consulting) and working full-time as a Management Assistant to the owner of a car dealership. He plans to further his education in the fall of 2014 in pursuit of a Ph.D. in Urban Development.