Before I post previews for the four Conference Semifinal Matchups, a quick review of what was an exhilarating first round full of Overtime games, 7-game series, and a surprising amount of advancing top seeds (only the two #4 seeds failed to advance of the home-ice advantaged teams). For reference, “What I said” refers to my predictions of the first round.
1) Vancouver Canucks vs. 8) Chicago Blackhawks
Summary in one line: Finally, that monkey is off their back. Now to close up those back wounds…
What I said: Vancouver in 5 | What really happened: Vancouver in 7
Recap: It seems like ages ago when the Canucks were up 3 games to none against what were essentially the remains of the defending Stanley Cup Champs in Chicago. The Canucks, by far the best team in the league this season, had finally figured out a way to surpass the team that had ended their playoff dreams the previous two years.
Chicago won Game 4 by a score of 7-2. Oh well, that was a pride victory. Chicago won Game 5 by a score of 5-0. Concern started to mount. Perhaps panic. Maybe Roberto Luongo could not handle Chicago in a closing situation after all. So in goes Cory Schneider for Game 6, and he supposedly tears something failing to stop a penalty shot, so Luongo has to come back in only to give up a goal in OT. However, give credit to Vancouver and especially to Luongo. They showed up for Game 7 and though they did give up a shorthanded goal to Jonathan Toews to tie up the game late, Alex Burrows took advantage of a Chicago turnover and buried a shot past Chicago’s Corey Crawford, perhaps etching himself into Canuck lore should Vancouver make a deep run.
Will Vancouver be mentally worn out for their series against a hard working, physical Nashville team? Perhaps, but history sides with Vancouver; of the previous three teams to lead a series 3-0, let it collapse to 3-3 only to win Game 7 anyway, all three went on to win the Stanley Cup.
2) San Jose Sharks vs. 7) Los Angeles Kings
Summary in one line: Blowing 4-goal lead in Game 3 killed Kings for good.
What I said: San Jose in 6 | What really happened: San Jose in 6
Recap: Some experts called the series over after Game 3, in which the young Los Angeles Kings stormed out to a 4-0 lead, only to lose that lead and eventually lose that game 6-5 in overtime. True, the Kings were able to win Game 5 in San Jose, and gave them a good fight in Game 6, but the veteran and increasingly playoff-savvy Sharks were able to fend them off and take the series in a relatively brief six games.
Jonathan Quick, the Kings’ goaltender, was completely overworked, faced the second most shots of any playoff goalie (only Ryan Miller, who played a seventh game, faced more), and the Kings themselves blocked shot after shot. The Sharks were trigger happy, and though they did score only one goal in their last two home playoff games (an anomaly to perhaps keep note of in the future), the Sharks were indeed firing on all cylinders.
3) Detroit Red Wings vs. 6) Phoenix Coyotes
Summary in one line: First to Four – the series
What I said: Phoenix in 7 | What really happened: Detroit in 4
Recap: So I vastly overrated the Phoenix Coyotes. I didn’t think the ownership issues would affect the team too much, considering they took the Wings to seven games last year under similar troubles, but the Coyotes outside of a couple of players just did not show up. Most notably, Ilya Bryzgalov looked terrible at points throughout the series. The free agent to be probably lost himself a lot of money as a result. As for Phoenix, uncertainty awaits. Will they be able to remain in Phoenix, or be sent back to Winnipeg? Those answers may not come for some time, but many believe the Coyotes have played their last game in the desert.
As for Detroit, the Red Wings played the entire series without Henrik Zetterberg, and they didn’t even need him. In every game, the Red Wings scored at least four goals, while Jimmy Howard did well enough to keep Phoenix from scoring four themselves in each game, and while Phoenix did fight valiantly, the Red Wings ended up with the only sweep in the first round. One thing of concern for Detroit: all five of Phoenix’s goal in Games 2 and 3 came on the Power Play, all after Detroit had gained massive leads in each game. Detroit can’t get away with that lax play in the next round. Based on how poorly Phoenix played, don’t take too much stock on Detroit going into their 2nd round matchup against San Jose, the team that eliminated Detroit last year.
4) Anaheim Ducks vs. 5) Nashville Predators
Summary in one line: Offense – Nashville’s offense – propels Predators.
What I said: Nashville in 6 | What really happened: Nashville in 6
Recap: In my preview, I noted that while Anaheim had the better offense of the two teams, Nashville had the better defense and goaltender. Well, as it turns out, it was Nashville’s offense that made the difference in this series, scoring at least three goals in every game. Pekke Rinne wasn’t at his best even if it was against a high-flying offense like Anaheim’s, but he made enough big saves and kept Nashville in every game aside from Game 4. For the Ducks, one just has to wonder how different this series could’ve been if Jonas Hiller hadn’t gotten hurt months earlier. Ray Emery just couldn’t get it done, though having Andreas Lilja smothering him during Nashville’s series-winning goal didn’t help any either.
With the win, Nashville has finally won its first playoff series in its sixth try. They were one of the hottest teams going into the playoffs and just took out perhaps the one team that was even hotter in Anaheim. Vancouver is going to be in a dogfight with this team as the Predators hope to create a Cinderella story nobody outside of Nashville is really aware of… yet.
1) Washington Capitals vs. 8) New York Rangers
Summary in one line: Boudreau talks smack, gets away with it.
What I said: Washington in 5 | What really happened: Washington in 5
Recap: Normally, when a player or coach says something that incites the fans of the other team, things don’t work out so well. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, before Game 4 at Madison Square Garden, bashed said Garden for not just being terrible in general but for also being not as loud as his team’s home rink, the Verizon Center. When New York built up a 3-0 lead in the ensuing Game 4, Boudreau was getting it hard from Rangers fans, with such quips as “Can you hear us?”
Well, he did, and the Capitals would rally and score four straight goals, the last coming in double OT, to stun MSG and its Rangers. Then it was back to the very loud Verizon Center, whose populace had a little comeback of its own (“We are louder!”), and the Rangers were finished off in five games. In the three games at Verizon Center, New York only managed two goals. More importantly, however, the Capitals have avoided the first round trap that they got caught in last season, but the second round will not be any easier with the talented Tampa Bay their next opponent.
2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. 7) Buffalo Sabres
Summary in one line: So how about those goalies?
What I said: Philadelphia in 6 | What really happened: Philadelphia in 7
Recap: Going into the series, Ryan Miller was considered to be one of the better goalies in the league, while many pondered how the Flyers could pull off a series win with what was literally a goalie by committee. Well, that much was true for the Flyers. Sergei Bobrovsky didn’t last very long. Brian Boucher had his ups and downs. Michael Leighton came in during those downs and wasn’t too great either.
However, Ryan Miller, aside from a pair of shutouts which seemed like exceptions to the norm, was just terrible against the Flyers. The Flyers scored at least four goals in each of their four wins. Miller gave up nine goals in Games 6 and 7, being pulled after giving up a 4-0 lead to the Flyers in the decisive Game 7. Give Buffalo some credit, though. Early in the season they were one of the league’s worst teams with Miller battling various injuries. For them to even make the playoffs was a triumph in itself. Alas, I’m sure the way they lost this series will leave a sour taste in Buffalo’s mouth.
3) Boston Bruins vs. 6) Montreal Canadiens
Summary in one line: From the bloodbath survives the Bruin…
What I said: Boston in 5 | What really happened: Boston in 7
Recap: For many, this was the most anticipated series going into the 2011 Postseason. By many accounts, it did not disappoint, though Boston got off to a rocky start losing their first two games at home while looking offensively inept. In fact, Boston was able to win this series despite not scoring a single power play goal in 19 tries. To be able to advance despite this is a testament to goaltender Tim Thomas and Boston’s defensive play.
It was also a physical series as expected, and as expected it was Boston that was throwing a lot of the big, and borderline illegal, hits. Montreal took full advantage of Boston’s penalty issues in Game 6, getting both their goals on separate 5 on 3 opportunities. Boston will be playing perhaps the one team more physical than them in the Flyers, so unless Boston can regain their discipline, just gain a semblance of competent power playing, and have Thomas work wonders in net again, Boston may not be able to last for much longer.
4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5) Tampa Bay Lightning
Summary in one line: In the end, Pittsburgh really did miss their stars.
What I said: Pittsburgh in 7 | What really happened: Tampa Bay in 7
Recap: For the past few couple of years, the Tampa Bay Lightning were a team defined by its offensive prowess and the complete lack thereof in defense and goaltending. With Steve Yzerman as Tampa’s new GM, he’s made strides to fixing those problems, most notably acquiring Dwayne Roloson, and in the end that move paid off.
The Penguins, who are missing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin due to a concussion and lower body injuries respectively, were dependent on its defense and Marc-Andre Fleury to carry them through. However, in Game 7 their injury-plagued offense finally collapsed and couldn’t get a goal against the Lightning. Martin St. Louis led Tampa Bay’s star-riddled offense and though they only got one goal in Game 7, it was enough. How the Lightning will fare against a healthier team such as divisional rival Washington will be an interesting watch for sure.