Aren’t we all glad the regular season slog has ended? I know I am. If I had to turn NBCSN on one more time to see the Bruins and Flyers play in front of 17,000 comatose fans, I was going to go mental. More than usual, at least.
It is funny how quickly the regular season became a sideshow around these parts. It seemed like every outcome during the ’08-09/’09-10 seasons had life-changing implications. The 5 goal comeback vs. Calgary. Hossa’s 2 goal debut in a Silicon Valley spanking. The Toews hat trick on construction hat night vs. Pittsburgh. Vancouver thumping the Hawks 4-0 towards the end of the ’08-09 season to lock up home ice, put them on the fast track to the Pacific Division title and an ending which helped put Alex Burrows down in infamy.
I would be hard pressed to come up with three memorable regular season games in the past six years since. Maybe the game vs. Colorado where Carcillo scored in the final minute to extend the Hawks unbeaten streak to however many games and…I don’t think I can think of anything else.
If that’s not First World Hockey problems, I don’t know what is.
But that’s not why you called.
We’re here to start the playoffs and take a closer look at all of the opening matchups. So let’s get to it with the one you’re probably most interested in reading about.
Blackhawks vs Blues: #ThisTimeWillBeDifferent will be the rallying cry heard from here to Alton for the next couple weeks. Yes, the Blues had an impressive regular season. Yes, the Blackhawks possession numbers were wonky. And yes to the thousands of other reasons I can give you that will make this seem like it will be an all-out bloodbath.
However, there are a few things I can’t seem to shake.
- This Blues core is effectively the same from the previous four seasons which has seen them win a grand total of 10 playoff games while laying witness to a few of the most impressive and monumental collapses in recent memory. Those sort of things doesn’t exactly erase from the memory banks when things start to turn away from them.
- Pizza the Hut has yet to win more than one playoff round in the post-lockout era.
- Unlike the Canucks who only had trouble surpassing the Blackhawks, the Blues do not discriminate when it comes to first round bowouts. The Kings, Wild and Hawks have all sent them to the guillotine so the issue runs deeper than just one rivalry.
Add these three items PLUS the fact their first opponent is effectively a hybrid of Jason/Freddy Kruger/Alien/Any other character that continually rises from the dead and you got yourself the key ingredients for a team waiting for a reason to quit.
If the Hawks steal Games 1 or 2, this could be a very quick opening round.
That being said, another factor that may end up helping St. Louis is that they have two goalies to throw at the Hawks. History has proven that the Hawks will figure out this new version of Brian Elliot with enough looks. But will they have enough time to figure Jay Gallon if a switch is made?
Stars vs. Wild: With “Coach Killer” Zach Parise sidelined for an undisclosed amount of time, it’s hard to imagine the Wild being able to squeeze out four wins of this series.
The Wild do have enough speed on forward and defense to not get their doors blown off, though. Ryan Suter will certainly be capable of playing 30 minutes a night and not look like he spent all day running down cars on the highway (At least in an opening round).
On the other hand, you can count on the Stars winning in a route in at least one of the first two games. After that, Devin Dubnyk is going to have to steal at least one or two to make it interesting.
You can look back at Minnesota beating Colorado in the opening round a couple years ago and say they have the experience for an upset, but that was a dog-ass Avalanche team just begging to be put down. Sort of similar with the Blues last year. This Stars team looks legit enough to win one round. After that, it’s hard to imagine their goalie situation doesn’t stick out like a bad tweet from the Stars social media team.
Ducks vs. Predators: I can’t seem to figure out Nashville. When they were horrible for the better part of the year, I kept thinking they’d be dangerous. When they were the hottest team in the league in February and the beginning of March, I thought “Meh.” Trading away franchise cornerstone Seth Jones will do that, I suppose.
The Predators are, again, yet another Central Division team that has to “prove” they can win more than a round in the playoffs before we’re allowed to take them seriously. Ryan Johansen will be put to the test in this opening round and I’m interested to see how he matches up against Ryan Getzlaf. In previous games where I’ve seen him matched against top-end talent (No, not the World Juniors, Pierre), he disappears fairly quickly.
The Ducks, on the other hand, well…it doesn’t exactly take a wild stretch of the imagination to see them cough this up. The Predators are a fast and skilled team with the ability to score in bunches. They have a seasoned coach behind the bench who is no stranger to winning playoff games.
Meanwhile, the Ducks are an older team that broke their ass through three-quarters of the season to the win their division. Oh yeah, and they’re led by Lord Haagen Dazs who cannot wait to be out-coached and out-schemed in a playoff series.
Still, it’s hard to imagine the Ducks don’t make it out of this round to set up for a wild 2nd round match against the winner of…
Sharks vs. Kings: The Sharks should make for a fascinating study this post-season. Here we have a team that essentially has the same core from their long run of playoff disappointments- Jumbo Joe, Marleau, Pavelski, Vlasic, etc.
What’s different, though, is the man behind the bench. Instead of Todd McClellan, Peter DeBoer is leading the way and he actually can navigate his way through a playoff series when things get dicey. If at the very least, this series may give us an answer as to whether it’s the players or the coach when a team can’t seem to break through. (I’m sure they’ll still ignore these insights in St. Louis)
Unfortunately for San Jose, they’ll be facing the most dangerous team in the West. Making matters worse, it’ll be the opening round so they’ll get the Kings at their best.
This series should be the one everyone who gives a damn about hockey watches. These two teams absolutely kill each other and truly do not care for one another. It should be another long and grueling one.
Moving to the East…
Panthers vs. Islanders: This is another entertaining opening round. The Panthers were this year’s version of the Calgary Flames, in that they were an outlier to advanced metrics. There are plenty of reasons to be intrigued by them, though. Their top line is legit and very young. Roberto Luongo is always entertaining, one way or another. Lastly, we’ll get shots of Uncle Dale in the owner’s suite. Those are always welcome around here.
For the Islanders, this season did not turn out how they expected. After battling the Capitals for seven games last year in the opening round, there was talk of them jumping up to grab the top spot in the East. That didn’t go as planned. Getting Travis Hamonic back will help their defensive depth.
Bouncer of the Bada Bing and part time NHL coach Jack Capuano will be hard-pressed to at least win a round this year if he doesn’t want his hot seat to get warmer.
I do like the Islanders to be the “upset” team in the opening round but not enough to write it in ink. Not when Kevin Spacey is involved.
Capitals vs. Flyers: There’s a lot of intrigue here. You’ve got the Flyers carrying that Dead Owner momentum into the postseason and the Capitals carrying that 8,000 pound gorilla on their back…nope wait that’s just Barry Trotz again.
Seriously though, this was another matchup that NBCSN loved this year so it’s only fitting we get at least four more games with these two teams.
The Capitals had such an amazing year that people legitimately forgot about them when mentioning the best teams in the league. Folks, they were on a pace to best the Montreal Canadiens all-time regular season record at one point. Braden Holtby was literally a man on fire. The only thing that changed was that they started to lose at a slightly more frequent rate. So instead of a legendary winning percentage, they had a really, really, really good winning percentage. Oh yeah, and they won the Presidents Trophy by a full 11 points!
The Flyers had a great second half, led by the fact that half of the Eastern Conference started tanking the moment the calendar flipped to January. Funny how that worked. Philadelphia still has some dangerous pieces like Shayne Gostisbehere and of course, Claude Giroux.
But it’s still going to take a gagging of the highest order for the Capitals to not win four games before the Flyers. Dead owner and all.
Red Wings vs. Lightning: Does anybody really know what time it is?
Penguins vs. Rangers: Does anybody really care?
Watching these four teams continually dry-hump each other in the spring makes me long for the days of conference seeding. Whichever team wins, we can only hope both series are short and painless. Until Stamkos comes back, you can ignore the Lightning. The Penguins will lose in unmemorable fashion at some point and it will definitely be Sidney Crosby’s fault.
See you in the second round.