Round 1: So Goals, Huh?

With three game 7’s last night, Round 1 of the 2014 playoffs have officially ended, thank the sweet lord.  There were 282 goals scored in 48 games in the first round which, for context, is 35 more than last year (and 29 more than the 253 goals scored in 50 games in 11-12 ). So if it seemed like there were a lot of goals being scored this year, you’d be right. There were also surprisingly few fights, thought that’s bound to change with second round match-ups of Anaheim-Los Angeles and Boston-Montreal.

So without further ado, let’s talk about the first round and make some guesses about the second round that will no doubt be absolutely wrong.

Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Result: Canadiens sweep the Lightning, who struggled mightily due to injuries to Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos, and potentially the absence of Marty St. Louis as well.

Stand-Outs: Brendan Gallagher. I mentioned on Twitter that, if I had a vote, I would have voted him for the Calder last year. It seems others are taking notice of this tenacious little shit, who has been pretty far up on the Habs’ scoring ranking for the past two years with comparatively low ice time. He’s their answer to Boston’s Brad Marchand  and something the Canadiens needed: an agitator who can score. And he’s always smiling, which probably makes him that much more annoying to their competitors

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Haha you cannot hurt me! I feed on your rage!

Takeaways: The moment Ben Bishop went down, I knew the Lightning were toast. It isn’t that they don’t have anyone else of note on their team, but they were up against Montreal, who has gold medalist Carey Price in net and a chip on their shoulders from getting bounced by Ottawa last year. Stamkos’s injury just made matters worse. At the same time, I think Lightning fans can take heart with how this team fought until the last and can see the shape this team will be taking in the post-St. Louis era.

Personally, I don’t think Montreal is going to beat Boston, but it’s worth noting that they’ve done a good job annoying the hell out of the Bruins this year and won 3 out of 4 of their match-ups this year. I think if any team really has a chance at beating the Bruins, it’s probably Montreal if Carey Price is firing on all cylinders and their home ice gives them as much of a boost as it seemed to in the Tampa series.

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

Results: One of the few things I got exactly right in my bracket challenge, the Boston Bruins won in five.

Stand-Outs: Tuukka Rask, anyone? He has a GAA of 1.16 and a .961 SV%. That’s insane. And in the one game they lost, he was only beat in overtime by this insane Pavel Datsyuk goal:

Like, goddamn. I was watching this and kind of fanned myself like a southern lady in disbelief because sometimes Pavel Datsyuk truly looks otherworldly and that pass was a perfect example.

Also, Brendan Smith. I don’t know if he was just trying to show up his brother’s team or what, but the kid was feisty the entire series. When someone challenges Zdeno Chara to a fight you know they give no [censored]. The best part of that is them being separated as soon as Chara drops his stick. I think the officials were terrified by that.

Takeaways: You know what, I was actually impressed by the Red Wings in the games I saw. Especially in the first game, they did an amazing job of stifling the Bruins offense. Not bad for a team mostly comprised of call-ups. They shouldn’t have brought back Zetterberg, though. I worry.

I think this series really proved what the Bruins are capable of. They lose the first game and come back ready to win and Tuukka Rask seems to have drawn his spell-circle around him to repel pucks so it looks like we’re going to have a repeat of last year’s Cup Final. I think they’re going to beat the Canadiens, but it’ll probably be a really fun series because these teams hate each other. The hatred is strong.

 

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Results: Blues win two and then drop four straight against the Blackhawks.

Stand-Outs: In a bad way, Ryan Miller. He was supposed to be their key to the Cup and instead ended with an uninspiring .897 SV%. Also, I suppose, David Backes for playing with what was definitely a concussion and shouldn’t have done that at all. This series also brought us our first triple overtime of the postseason and let me say I was not pleased about it.

CT blackhawks-blues045.JPG

Don’t worry, bud, we’ll destroy them soon.

Takeaways: The Chicago Blackhawks are a solid, solid team. They don’t get rattled by losses and their depth! Oh, their depth. As a Penguins fan, it makes me weep. I have basically come to the conclusion that the Blackhawks are going to cruise their way to the Conference Final while Anaheim and Los Angeles rip each other apart and then will just casually step over Los Angele’s corpse to the Stanley Cup Final. They’ll probably repeat. I’ll hate every second of it.

The Blues have a fun summer ahead of them. Ryan Miller was Doug Armstrong pushing his chips to the middle and saying, “We’re winning the Cup this year.” On the one hand, they did have some injuries hampering them. On the other, the Blues have been perennial favorites for the past few years. And since the ’06 lockout, in the years they made the playoffs, they have never made it out of the second round. I’m curious to see what they do — will they decide this was just a series of freak circumstances? Or is wholesale change coming to St. Louis?

 

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

Results: Anaheim Ducks in six with a surprisingly strong showing from the Stars, who pushed the final game to overtime.

Stand-Outs: Ryan Getzlaf, who threw himself in front a puck, had a baby, and then came right back. 7 points in six games, too. Insanity. Also Corey Perry, but not for good reasons.

Takeaways: I think Stars fans should be happy with how the team acquitted themselves. Frankly, I was surprised they managed to claw their way into a wild card spot this year since they just started their rebuild by blowing up their team last summer. I honestly think the Stars can take a lot of heart from this. They were in a tough division that included the Avalanche, the Blues, and the Blackhawks, made the playoffs, and weren’t swept by the Ducks. They still need some work and some depth, but it’s a reassuring start.

And…the Ducks. I honestly don’t think they’ll get past the Kings next round. Their goalie situation is…weird, and  let’s be honest, these teams hate each other a lot so it’s going to be contentious. If I had to put my faith in which team could beat the snot out of you and then keep you from scoring, it’d be the Kings.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Results: The Penguins in six, in a series that gave me horror flashbacks to the Islanders series from last year.

Stand-Outs: Evgeni Malkin, after taking heat (along with, bafflingly, Sidney Crosby) for not scoring a goal despite having good possession numbers, scores a hat trick. Defensemen Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen lead the team in points, so that’s nice. Brandon Dubinsky annoyed the shit out of Sidney Crosby.

Takeaways: Neither of these teams can sit on a lead. The Penguins managed to blow a 4-0 lead in the final 10 minutes of game six and it was only by the grace of god that they didn’t manage to let the Blue Jackets tie the game and push in it into OT. I have very bad feelings about what’s going to happen to this team in the next round. Thank goodness they aren’t playing the Flyers.

penguins-flyers-brawl-op3c-10417

Though on the other hand we know that would have been entertaining as hell.

But the Blue Jackets won a game! Two, actually, their first two playoff victories ever since getting swept by the Red Wings in 2009. They can be pleased with how this team played. And if anyone ever doubted the passion of the Blue Jackets fanbase, the deafening chants of CBJ during the handshake line proves how much this team means to their fans. I can’t wait for the All-Star Game next year.

 

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Results: Rangers in 7, because that seems to their MO of late.

Stand-Outs: Wayne Simmonds, who has steadily been turning himself into one of the stars of the Flyers. The face of the franchise is still Captain Claude Giroux, who proved the critics wrong by dragging his team to the playoffs and all the way to a Game 7 in the first round, but Simmonds is one heck of a fun player to watch. With a hat trick in Game 6, he propelled himself to second in scoring on the Flyers. There’s also Steve Mason, who was remarkably good with a .939 SV% and kept the Flyers in games. Steve Mason. STEVE MASON DID THAT.

Takeaways: Never give up on a young goalie, maybe? Also, have faith in Henrik Lundqvist when he’s playing a Game 7 on home ice. This is one of the series that had me scratching my heads as to what’s going to happen next. I think the Flyers are probably happy with how their season went after the abysmal start, so no shake-ups going to happen there. And the Rangers once again make it to the next round, where they face off against the Penguins in a series I just cannot predict. Both teams have been somewhat inconsistent this year and while I have more faith in Lundqvist as a goalie than Fleury, I’m still not overwhelmed with confidence this year. Something weird is going to happen this series. I just know it.

 

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

Results: Minnesota Wild in 7, which I have to say I did not predict at all.

Stand-Outs: On the Avalanche side, Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon maybe isn’t such a surprise, even as an eighteen year old, but Paul Stastny’s 5 goals is definitely a surprise for many who had written him off. I’m a sappy sort of person so I’m just kind of pleased that the son of Nordiques legend Peter Stastny is doing well for the same franchise. On the Wild side, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are doing a damn good job of justifying their contracts, Parise with 10 points in 7 games, leading the team by a wide margin, and Ryan Suter always being on the ice.

Takeaways: It was good for the Colorado Avalanche to come this far after finishing second last in the league last year. And with a core as young as theirs, getting some real playoff experience can only help them in the long term. They can be satisfied with their choice of Nathan MacKinnon last year.

Colorado Avalanche vs Minnesota Wild, NHL 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

At least this picture isn’t showing Landeskog’s sad face. I don’t think I could take that.

And now the Wild advance to play the Chicago Blackhawks. They’re doomed. If they had a real goalie and not the injured Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov who has a .826 SV% (though, yes, he was in net for their OT winner) they might have a better chance, but I just don’t see how they’re going to get past a team as deep as the Blackhawks. They’re better than they were last year, in my opinion, but they’ve still got a ways to go.

 

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Results: Los Angeles Kings in 7.

Stand-Outs: Jonathan Quick, who after a couple of awful games put down his foot and declared no, I am better than this. In the last three games he let in 2 goals. Anze Kopitar showed what he could do with 10 points in 7 games and overall a team that is usually derided as low-scoring did okay for themselves.

Takeaways: For the love of Aquaman, Sharks, I know you’re better than this. The first two games were ridiculous examples of what the Sharks can do and then it all went to hell. I hate calling people chokers but yeah. The Sharks were up 4-0 on the Kings and maybe the Kings just figured them out but this is only the fourth time a reverse sweep has happened in NHL history, so the Sharks need to think about that. Change should be a-comin’ to San Jose if anyone there has sense because this team needs better goaltending and deeper defense if they want to stop getting knocked out of the playoffs.

The Kings are now set to play the Ducks in what will, at least, be a really easy travel schedule. Seriously, it’s about a 38 minute drive between the Staples Center and the Honda Center. So these two shouldn’t have any jetlag or travel fatigue to deal with. After games they can just go back home to their own beds. Must be nice.

I think I’d take the Kings in this round if only because of Jonathan Quick, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I think the Kings would stand a better chance against the Blackhawks than the Ducks would, so hopefully we get that. Of course that means we run the risk of having the same final four teams as last year. #parity

 

My guesses for the next round so you can all mock me when I’m hideously wrong:

Bruins in 6

Chicago in 6

Kings in 7

Rangers in 6

 

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