What Happened After Two Rounds of the NHL Playoffs?

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What Happened After Two Rounds of the NHL Playoffs?

Jacob Chaimovitch

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If anyone wants to argue that NHL Playoffs are not the best kind of playoffs, I give you the 2019 NHL Playoffs. In the first round alone, there were two 4-0 sweeps and one series almost swept. On top of that, five of the eight low seeds eliminated the high seeds they faced. Of the top 10 teams by points in the NHL, two of them are still in. With the second round ending on Wednesday, Let’s go over the series that have finished already in the order that they were completed.

(1) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (WC2) Colombus Blue Jackets (CBJ Wins 4-0)

This series is a perfect example of why hockey’s playoffs are the best. The Tampa Bay Lightning with a 62-16-4 record, giving them 128 points, the 2019 President’s Trophy, and a share of the record for the most points in a season. The heavy Stanley Cup favorites had plenty of confidence, as they were up against the worst playoff seed in the Eastern Conference as well. Nothing could go wrong. Then, they were outscored 19-8 in four games and they were eliminated by the Colombus Blue Jackets before they knew what hit them. Nikita Kucherov had two assists but also had 9 shots total and 19 penalty minutes; abysmal numbers for the potential NHL MVP. Andrej Vasilevsky, the frontrunner for the Vezina (NHL’s best goalie), let in all 19 goals and Captain Steven Stamkos was virtually non-existent. Meanwhile, Jackets like Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, and Sergei Bobrovsky shone in the four-game sweep of the best team in the NHL.

(2) New York Islanders vs. (3) Pittsburgh Penguins (NYI Wins 4-0)

Two sweeps in one night. In their first season of the post-Tavares Era – or the Barzal Era if you will – the Islanders were supposed to be rebuilders. Instead, they stormed into 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division and only one point behind the defending Stanley Cup Champs. Knowing that they were up against a team that could win another cup on top of their back-to-back they’re already won, the Islanders went into the series with nothing to lose. They weren’t supposed to get a playoff spot, they weren’t supposed to beat Sidney Crosby’s Penguins, and they certainly weren’t supposed to sweep them. Jordan Eberle and Mathew Barzal combined for 11 points, which was more than Pittsburgh’s top two offensive lines combined. Outscoring their opponents 14-6, it was clear that the Islanders wanted this series more.

(1) Calgary Flames vs. (WC2) Colorado Avalanche (COL Wins 4-1)

The top seeds in both conferences, Tampa Bay and Calgary, combined for one win in the first round. That win was a shutout win to Calgary in Game 1. Colorado didn’t score, and they didn’t like that too much. In response, they scored 17 goals in the next four games to take the series emphatically. There’s a lot of finger pointing going on in Calgary right now. Perhaps it’s the lack of general experience on the Flames. Their average age is 26 years and 3 months. Maybe it was because Johnny Gaudreau was invisible for that series and the Flames are so heavily dependent on him. Perhaps its all on goalie Mike Smith. He’s 37 years old and the Flames goalie depth isn’t that strong. Either way, the Avs were the better team.

(2) Winnipeg Jets vs. (3) St. Louis Blues (STL Wins 4-2)

At the end of the season, goal difference set these two teams apart. Winnipeg got the slight edge and gave them home-ice advantage in the series, which they used to drop all three home games played at the Bell MTS Place. Granted, they won games 3 and 4 on the road, but they lost the road game that mattered. At this point, two of the four teams that were in the Conference Finals last year have already been eliminated. I have nothing bad to say about either team, to be frank. All of the games except the 3rd were decided by one goal. The Jets shouldn’t change much this offseason. They were simply beaten by a slightly better team.

(1) Nashville Predators vs. (WC1) Dallas Stars (DAL Wins 4-2)

When Mats Zuccarello was acquired at the deadline from the Rangers, the Stars’ playoff hopes shot up. Then he went down with an injury in his first game. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and others continued to push for a playoff spot. Then Zucc returned in Dallas’ third-to-last regular season game to help clinch a wild card spot. He scored thrice in the first round and helped the Stars move on past the Predators, who continue their playoff woes. The Preds have all the right elements and have been a great regular season juggernaut. However, all of that success seems to go out the window come April and May. In their fifth consecutive playoff appearance, they lose in the first round. Ouch.

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (3) Toronto Maple Leafs (BOS Wins 4-3)

As Yogi Berra once said, it’s déjà vu all over again. Last year, Boston and Toronto met in the first round with the Bruins being a 2 seed and the Leafs a 3. Boston won that series in 7 games. This year, fate (or perhaps a funky playoff seeding system) pitted the B’s and Leafs together as a 2 and 3 seed again and Boston won in 7 games again. Of course, after the final game of the series, angry Leafs fans took to Twitter to complain that the playoff system was ‘rigged’ because it put their team against Boston two years in a row. But, perhaps it was a way for Leafs fans to cope with the fact that their team barely won their games and their losses were not pretty ones.

(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (3) Vegas Golden Knights (SJ Wins 4-3)

Vegas blew a 3-1 lead and my pick is still alive. Now that that’s out of the way…holy moly there’s a lot to talk about. Aside from this being a great series, let’s jump right to Game 7 in San Jose. 10:47 into the 3rd, to be exact. That’s when the Vegas Golden Knights were up 3-0 in the game and Cody Eakin delivered a huge cross check to Joe Pavelski, who hit the ice hard and drew blood. At first, this was a simple 2-minute minor penalty. However, after a brief conference with the other referees, the penalty was bumped up to a 5-minute major penalty and an ejection of Eakin from the game. San Jose took their new 5-minute power play and promptly said thank you by putting a puck in the back of the net seven seconds later. The Sharks weren’t done, however, as they scored three more goals during their hefty power play to take the lead. The game was then tied with :47 left in the 3rd by Jonathan Marchesseault. With 1:41 left in the first OT period, Barclay Goodrow put one past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and, effectively, put the Sharks past the Golden Knights.

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (WC1) Carolina Hurricanes (CAR Wins 4-3)

The Carolina Hurricanes, the NHL’s youngest aged team on average and acclaimed ‘Bunch of Jerks’ by Don Cherry, dethroned the defending Stanley Cup Champions. We will have a new champion by the end of June. Hockey’s most fun team finally won their first playoff series since the 2008-09 season and only two players on that 2008-09 squad still remain part of the organization: Captain Justin Williams and Coach Rod Brind’Amour. This series was no runaway, though. Game 7 ended after two overtime periods when Brock McGinn slipped one past Braden Holtby from in front, sending Carolina into a frenzy. Jaccob Slavin’s nine assists in the series played a huge role. But, they weren’t done there. Nine days after their emphatic series win against Washington…

(2) New York Islanders vs. (WC1) Carolina Hurricanes (CAR Wins 4-0)

…they went on to sweep the New York Islanders. The Bunch of Jerks did it. They made the Islanders look silly. After winning the first two games by one goal, the Canes outscored the Isles 10-4. The person that looked the silliest in the series was goalie Robin Lehner. In the four games against the Penguins, Lehner put a 1.47 Goals Against Average (GAA), a save percentage of .956, and played the whole series. Against the Hurricanes, however, his numbers were worse. With a GAA of 2.64 and a save percentage of .907, Lehner didn’t even play the whole series. Jaccob Slavin added two more assists and Teuvo Teravainen added five points to his total. It’s time for the Canes to truly showcase their worth as they waited to go up against another true powerhouse in their first Conference Final appearance since the 2008-09 season.

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (WC2) Colombus Blue Jackets (BOS Wins 4-2)

Near everyone knew that this series was going to be a good one when the first two games went into OT and then 2OT. Four of the six games were decided by one goal and, in the end, the Bruins had better everything than the Blue Jackets. The goalie matchup, for example, pitted Boston’s Tuukka Rask against Colombus’ Sergei Bobrovsky. They faced nearly the same amount of shots in the series, so the number comparison is generally fair. Rask’s 1.71 GAA and .948 SV% is far superior to Bobrovsky’s 2.66 GAA and .921 SV%. At this point, the Eastern Conference Final was set: the Boston Bruins will have home-ice advantage against the Carolina Hurricanes.

(3) St. Louis Blues vs. (WC1) Dallas Stars (STL Wins 4-3)

Back and forth then back again. That’s a good summary of what this series was like. Extremely fun to watch as a casual fan or not a fan of the Blues or the Stars. If you were a fan of either team, however, you were probably very stressed. It made sense that this series was neck and neck; the last series these two teams shared, St. Louis topped Dallas in 7 games as well. The two keys in the series were goaltending and shots. The only way to score is to shoot the puck. The only way to force a great goalie to make a mistake is to shoot the puck a lot. Goalies Jordan Binnington (St. Louis) and Ben Bishop (Dallas) both faced an obscene amount of shots throughout the seven-game series. The breaking point, however, was when it mattered the most. In the Game 7 matchup, the Blues heavily outshot the Stars 53-30 after the double OT goal by Patrick Maroon sent the home fans to bed and happy. The Blues had to wait an extra day to find out their opponent in the Western Conference Final.

(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (WC2) Colorado Avalanche (SJ Wins 4-3)

The Sharks survive another Game 7 at home to knock off the Avalanche. While this was another one-goal margin, it was not sent into an OT period. Instead, the Sharks held onto a 3-2 lead for nearly the entire 3rd period. Brett Burns led the team in both goals (4) and assists (6) in the series, Martin Jones faced 190 shots and stopped 174 of them, and young guns like Tomáš Hertl and Timo Meier continue to prove to be a huge part in the Sharks’ success over the 14 playoff games they have played. On the flip side, the Avs have nothing to be ashamed of. Knocking off the top seed in the conference in 5 games is no small feat and they will develop their young assets and quickly become the NHL’s next superteam if all the pieces fit right.

So, the Conference Finals are set. In the East, the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes will meet head to head. In the West, the San Jose Sharks will clash with the St. Louis Blues. When the smoke clears, one of these four teams will stand among the rest and be declared the champion of the NHL. Which Captain of their team will get to hoist Lord Stanley’s flask? Will it be Boston’s Zdeno Chara, who got the chance to lift the Cup in 2011. Perhaps it will be Carolina’s Justin Williams, who could end up with a fourth championship on his resume. Or perhaps we could see St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo or San Jose’s Joe Pavelski take their first drink from the Stanley Cup.

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