After one round of the NHL Playoffs, here are five things learned as the second round gets underway.
1) New York needs more offense in round two
The New York Rangers are a popular pick to be the last team standing at the end of the daunting NHL Playoffs. They did everything you’d expect from a Stanley Cup favorite in the regular season. They were third in both goals scored and goals against rankings, which ultimately led to their third Presidents’ Trophy victory in franchise history. In five playoff games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, the Rangers’ overall play significantly diminished in quality. New York scored only 11 goals and went a dismal 3-for-20 on the power play, all of which are serious concerns for the Rangers, who are set to take on the Washington Capitals in Round 2. The lone bright spot for the Eastern Conference’s top seed was goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s evolution into playoff form. Rightfully referred to by the New York faithful as “King Henrik”, the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner posted a 1.54 Goals Against Average and a .939 save percentage against the Pens. If the King continues to stymie opposing offenses and the Rangers’ own offense addresses their woes, then New York will pose legitimate concerns for opponents moving forward.
2) Chicago’s depth proved to be the difference
From double overtime in Game 1 to triple overtime in Game 4, the Chicago Blackhawks seemed to outlast the Nashville Predators by using experience to their advantage. While the Predators scored more goals in the series than the Blackhawks, winning that battle 21-19, Chicago was able to score major series-altering goals including two overtime winners from two different defensemen, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews led the team with 8 points in the series, and four other ‘Hawks had 5 points or more. Offensively, depth has always been a strong suit in the playoffs for Chicago. This year, depth in the net-minding position may have tilted the series in their favor. After surrendering three goals on 12 shots in Game 1, starter Corey Crawford was pulled and relieved by Scott Darling, who stopping 42 shots and surrendered no goals in a double OT win. In Game 2, Coach Joel Quenneville went back to Crawford, and the result was a 6-2 loss. Darling then started Games 3-6, but after only stopping 33 of 40 shots in the last two games, Darling lost the job, and Crawford stopped the last 13 shots the Predators took in the series. Quenneville has stated that Crawford will get the start in Game 1 against the Minnesota Wild, but the goalie carousel will continue in Chicago unless Crawford plays the way he did in 2013 when the Blackhawks hoisted The Cup.
3) St. Louis has the playoff blues
Despite tying the Anaheim Ducks for the most points in the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues were dispatched in the first round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season. St. Louis has the talent to not only get out of the conference quarterfinals but also contend for a Stanley Cup Championship. Vladimir Tarasenko headlines the star-studded lineup, and he played rather well in the series against the Minnesota Wild, finding the back of the net six times. Goal scoring as a team, however, plagued the Blues as they totaled only 14 goals in six games. Captain David Backes and free agent pickup Paul Stasny contributed a mere one goal each. Lower than expected production was a result of both poor execution and opposing goaltending. After allowing six goals in Game 4, Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk put together back-to-back games in which he only surrendered one tally. No matter how well Dubnyk played, mustering only two total goals in the final two games of the series is unacceptable for a team of this caliber. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock’s future with the team may be in jeopardy after another poor postseason showing.
4) Anaheim looks like a serious contender
The Anaheim Ducks managed to sweep the Winnipeg Jets by leading just 38 minutes and 26 seconds of the 245 minutes and 12 seconds that were played during the four contests. This may sound alarming for the top seed in the West, but outscoring the opposition 10-1 in the third period and overtime of this series signals that when the game is up for grabs, the Ducks are the more determined team. Corey Perry, who notched 7 points, and the offseason acquisition Ryan Kesler, who added five of his own, led the Ducks in scoring. Acquiring Kesler is proving to be a worthy move for the Ducks as he scored some of the biggest goals in the series, including an overtime-forcing tally on the road late in Game 3. Continued production from Kesler and Perry as well as increased output from Captain Ryan Getzlaf will be key in a second round showdown with the surging Calgary Flames. Both teams are top 4 in the playoffs in both goals per game and power play percentage, so expect this series to be a high scoring thriller out west.
5) Home ice is crucial in close out games
Teams playing at home with the opportunity to end the series were a combined 6-2 in the first round. The only losses were Montreal playing Ottawa at home with a 3-1 series lead and the Detroit Red Wings facing the Tampa Bay Lightning with a three games to two edge at the famous Joe Louis Arena. Home ice advantage proved to be monumental in both Game 7. The Washington Capitals were able to eliminate the New York Islanders in a close 2-1 game, and the Lightning dispatched the Red Wings by a score of 2-0 behind goalie Ben Bishop’s best night of the postseason. Both Game 7 environments were electric, and the home players of both teams certainly fed off the crowds’ energy to seal the games late in the third period. Vigorous playoff atmospheres in the NHL surely give the hometown players an extra spark on the ice, and that extra step over the opposition usually ends up being the difference in a tight series-clinching game.