The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs are over. Some big drama and some great memories came from it, as well as a few key learnings to take away such as:
1) a hockey game is a minimum of 60 minutes, you have to play all 60, 40 minutes will not suffice.
2) no lead, in a game or in a series, is sacred. nothing is secure and nothing is final until the final buzzer is sounded.
3) if the refs don’t see it and the league doesn’t review it, it must not have happened.
4) don’t fuck with the fans. period. no one takes nicely to it. ever.
5) if you don’t control the puck, you can’t shoot. if you can’t shoot, you can’t score. if you can’t score you won’t win. it sounds obvious, but it sure seemed like there were some teams that didn’t get that memo.
So, unlike in the season and the first round where the predictions were all in the East, here’s the overview of how things could play out across the league for a nice change of pace.
Boston Bruins v. Carolina Hurricanes – Bruins in six
The Cane’s surprised everyone with some amazing resilience against the time tested Devils system. For the second year in a row the Devs were bounced due to holes in their execution while the ‘Canes re-found their past instincts and utilized both the late season coaching change and the late season acquisitions. Boston is poised. They have been all season. Is there anything you can say for a system that is so balanced and so deep? The ‘Canes may think they have experience but really, the Bruins being inexperienced may be their biggest asset because the don’t gall back on the been-there-before and use their grinding work ethic to their advantage. Should they be able to utilize that balance and the bruit force they demonstrated all season they can harness their strengths and completely steamroll the ‘Canes. However, if they get tentative and show a chince in the armor there is always that spark of life that the vets on Carolina can exploit, especially if the ‘Canes can find any element of their power play. The ‘Canes can easily be blown away by their own storm if they forget that it was dumb luck that got them past some sketchy moments of Devils play in that last series.
Washington Capitals v. Pittsburgh Penguins – Caps in seven
The Caps had a very difficult time playing a full sixty minutes of hockey all season and they continued that trend during the Rangers series where they took their foot off the gas several times and got burned. The Pens suffered throughout the season with consistency issues of their own that seemed to begin to resolve themselves thus far in the post season. The Pens have way more deep playoff experience, the Caps have way more young firepower. The Pens have more momentum behind them, the Caps have more fun doing what they do. The Pens have the lower rank but the higher expectation, the Caps have their historical arch-rival dating back to the 1980s to face. All things being equal, you couldn’t ask for a better storyline? Varlamov vs Fleury in goal. Ovie vs Crosbaby as scorers. Backstrom vs Malkin for setup men. Fedorov vs Guerin for vets. Green vs Gonchar over the blueline (oh, sadly Gonchar, the x-CAP!). Brashear vs Cooke as tough guys. Kozlov v. Sykora for forgotten old men. It’s not that simple as it gets deeper to breakdown the matchups. The overwhelming feeling is Pens dominate this, but I wonder, if the Caps on that stage don’t have something intangible that the Pens don’t? Bruce Bodreau being a shrewd coach with more guys putting up points and no clear cut answer for what Semin and Poti both brought to the table, oh, and consider the injuries and adversity that the Caps overcame both in the regular season and having their back against the wall already once in the playoffs.
Detroit Red Wings v. Anaheim Ducks – Wings in Five
Is there a magical answer to Detroit? If you aren’t a car manufacture, it is the Wings. Period. End of story. Can anyone realistically beat them? Mayhaps not. They got the “easy” pick in the first round but the way the disposed of them is a completely different story. They provide depth and breath, poise and experience, firepower and defense, with the display they put on in the first round it showed a might more focused look than some of the moments they skated by on during the regular season. Ozzie is still a highly underrated goalie that the pundits would love to put into retirement whereas the tandem of Hiller and Giggy is not exactly without potential fault. However, the Ducks should remember, they got to the next round as much because the Sharks tanked as they played well. The Detroit defense, the neutral zone dominance, the complete puck control and tempo setting game at every inch of the ice can be enough to take the pressure off Chris and put it squarely upon Babcock’s ability to match up lines deep and keep the high powered offense away from Hiller and his crease.
Vancouver Canucks v. Chicago Black Hawks – Vancouver in Seven
This could easily be the best goalie matchup in the playoffs this year. After some asininity in goal the Hawks finally got it together with “Bulin, but Luongo can be that much better, especially with that big, brutal defense controlling the zone in front. There are a lot of potential match ups as difference line depths roll: the Hawks PP and forwards vs. the Canucks PK and defense. Chicago may have come out of a tougher division and put up triple digits points during the season and overcome some of their youthful naivety but the Canucks have more momentum coming together. The difference maker will be how the matchups shake out and although each coaching staff has its advantages, there isn’t that one big line or power shot that is going to undo Luongo single-handedly and the long slow road of trying to chip away at him is what could ultimately make this series grueling and exciting.