We’re 10 days in to the 2017 NHL Playoffs and a few things are certain. The Nashville Predators, Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins have punched their ticket to Round 2. There are 5 other first round series’ that are yet to be determined but here are a few things we’ve learned so far during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
WE ALL UNDERESTIMATED THE LEAFS
Or, we overestimated the Washington Capitals. Either way, it’s all gone Pete Tong in this series for the Caps as 3 of the 4 games have gone to overtime and all 4 games have been decided by 1 goal. Remember the sheer panic in Toronto when the Leafs drew the Capitals in the First Round and Ottawa got matched up with Boston? Those worries seem to be in the rear-view mirror because this series is tied 2-2 and there’s no reason to think that the Leafs can’t pull out a win tonight in Washington. There’s a very good chance that Toronto will still lose this series but I don’t think many people, including those in the Toronto locker room, envisioned things playing out like this.
It’d be easy to say the current standing in this series is solely due to Washington’s inability to do anything in the playoffs but that would be doing a disservice to the young Maple Leafs. They’ve shown tenacity, perseverance and all those other sports clichés and they’ve been able to hang with the Caps in every game. Yes, Frederik Andersen has been a huge factor for Toronto but remember, the Leafs are doing all of this with an average D corps and without their shutdown D-man, Roman Polak.
GOALTENDING WINS PLAYOFF GAMES
The Calgary Flames found that out the hard way. They were swept by the Anaheim Ducks last night and it wasn’t due to a lack of scoring. In game 3, Brian Elliott allowed 5 goals on 27 shots and game 4 saw him be pulled early in the first period after he allowed 1 goal on 3 shots. Elliott is a serviceable goaltender and is an above average backup but he’s not suited to be a number 1 ‘tender. A brain cramp once in a while is fine but when you’re constantly letting in leaky goals, a starting playoff goalie you are not.
Look no further than Ducks goalie John Gibson. He had a bad night in game 3, getting pulled after letting in 4 goals on 16 shots but he bounced back big time in game 4 only allowing 1 goal against. He is a big reason why Anaheim are on to the second round. The emergence of Shea Theordore and the return of playoff versions of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf also helped.
The Flames may also want to look at what they have with Johnny Gaudreau. He only managed 2 points in 4 games (with no goals) and made no impact whatsoever in this series. Sean Monahan potted 4 goals and 1 assist and that was with a bad wrist that will require offseason surgery. Monahan was the lone bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season for Calgary.
FINISHING FIRST DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN YOU WIN
The Columbus Blue Jackets clinched a playoff berth with plenty of time to spare in the regular season. Now, they’ll be making preparations for next season after being ousted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 5 games. They managed to win 1 game but they were never really in this series. The first 2 games, the Blue Jackets could only muster 2 goals against the Pens while allowing 7 goals against. Just like the Flames, the Blue Jackets just did not get the goaltending you need in the playoffs. Sergei Bobrovsky had a superhuman regular season but had a sub-.900 SV% in the playoffs. Also contributing to Columbus’ early demise was the play of big guns Brandon Dubinsky, Brandon Saad and Nick Foligno. They made little noise in this series whereas Crosby, Kessel and Marc-Andre Fleury shone for the Pens. Pittsburgh also got big contributions from Byran Rust and Jake Guentzel.
If the Washington Capitals have taught us anything, it’s that the regular season means nothing when it comes to playoff time. When you coast into the postseason, you lose that so-called killer instinct and that is exactly what happened to the Blue Jackets. They also overachieved this past season—remove their 16-game winning streak and you’ll discover a good team that caught fire for a portion of the season.
EMBRACING THE UNDERDOG ROLE WILL HELP YOU WIN
When you’re talking about overachievers, it’s hard not to mention the Ottawa Senators. They live and die by Erik Karlsson and play a sometimes-risky 1-3-1 style of hockey but, somehow, they get things done. The Sens find themselves in the driver’s seat in their series against the Bruins and they’ve done it with a little bit of luck and a ton of grit. It’s been an emotionally taxing season for the Sens—Craig Anderson’s wife battling cancer, Bryan Murray with his own cancer battle and Clarke MacArthur making his return from severe concussion issues. It’s hard not to root for Ottawa, given everything this team has endured during the regular season. Erik Karlsson has been other-worldly, which is impressive considering he his most definitely playing hurt. Bobby Ryan has come off the mat, Derrick Brassard is providing the kind of secondary scoring that is crucial this time of year and Craig Anderson has been making big saves to keep his team in it.
Though he’s had a remarkable career, it appears the end is near for Zdeno Chara. The big man looks so slow out there and his production has dropped off dramatically. He only has 1 point in this series so far and his inability to keep up with the speed of the Senators is very evident.
THE BLACKHAWKS RAN OUT OF GAS
It was bound to happen at some point, but I don’t think many people would have thought that Chicago would be bounced in 4 straight games by the Nashville Predators. They didn’t just lose to Nashville, they got demolished by them. The Blackhawks were outscored 13-3 in this series and looked like a shell of their former selves in the process. Some could argue that the Blackhawks have played a ton of hockey the past 7 years, going deep into the playoffs and battling through 7 game series’ but I could not have envisioned this. Everyone from Toews, to Kane, to Keith failed to show up in this series and though they finished first in the Central Division, they did it in not-so-convincing fashion.
Give credit to the Nashville Predators who made a statement in the First Round. Pekka Rinne was stellar, Filip Forsberg came up big as did Ryan Johansen. The Predators have a highly-underrated backend which is crazy considering they have Subban, Josi and Ellis. They will most likely face St. Louis in the second round and I imagine it will be more of the same in that series.
THE EDMONTON OILERS ARE BACK
Don’t look now, but the Oilers are 1 game away from the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and they’re doing it against a pretty formidable opponent. I know the knock on the Sharks is that they’re old and usually playoff chokers but this is a team that went to the Cup Final last year and has Logan Couture and Martin Jones on their roster. Not to mention Joe Thornton, who always seems to make things happen when he’s on the ice. Edmonton has not looked out of place at all in this series and a huge reason for that is a guy by the name of Connor McDavid. More so than the 3-2 series lead is how they’ve been able to bounce back after losses. In game 1, they lost in OT but came back the next 2 games and played structured and effective hockey. After getting shellacked 7-0 in game 4, they came back to gut out an OT win. That speaks to the maturity and evolution of this team and though it took longer than it should have, it’s here for the foreseeable future.
THE CANADIENS STILL CAN’T SCORE
This isn’t really news for those of you who’ve watched the Habs all season long but I felt it bared repeating. They were shut out in game 1, found some offense in games 2 and 3 but sputtered again in games 4 and 5. They also haven’t been able to capitalize on opportunities when presented with them. They Rangers haven’t been very good in this series and yet, they’re up 3-2. If you want proof, look no further than game 5. With the game tied at 2, Max Pacioretty had a breakaway late in the 3rd period but couldn’t beat Lundqvist. A couple of minutes later, Montreal went on the power play but could only muster 1 shot on goal. The game-winning OT goal by the Rangers may have been a lucky bounce but unlike the Habs, the Rangers were able to make the most of the opportunity.
A lot has been made of Pacioretty not scoring but this team is starving for offense, top to bottom. Pacioretty isn’t the only problem when it comes to the Habs and scoring.
THE CURSE OF BRUCE BOUDREAU IS REAL
It was comical before but now, not so much. After leading 3 different teams to successful regular seasons, Bruce Boudreau is on the verge of being behind the bench for another playoff disappointment. The Minnesota Wild trail the St. Louis Blues 3-1 and will most likely be ousted tonight. The series itself has been underwhelming to say the least but the fact that the Wild have only managed a goal-per-game against the Blues is mind-boggling. Going in to this series, the Wild were definitely the favoured team; they had the better offense and better goaltending but it’s been the Blues Jake Allen standing on his head. After having a resurgent season, Eric Staal has gone cold but he isn’t the only one. Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter have all gone invisible and Devan Dubnyk hasn’t made the big saves when needed.