What a first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs! After some ugly lopsided games, we got five Game 7's, and all were close. That’s a first. Hats off to Jake Oettinger for his stellar performance against the Flames, especially in Game 7. To Brian Boucher, some of us did have the Dallas Stars lasting that long. Not sure why everyone is so shocked. It's basically the same team that went to the finals two years ago. The Stars are like the Los Angeles Kings a few years ago. They’re built for the playoffs.
If you're a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, I don't know what to tell you. I give them an A for their series performance. Their wins were impressive, and their losses were, too, because they never quit and scored a few goals at the end to give them momentum for the next game. After winning Game 5, it seemed the pattern of alternating wins would hold. They had a great chance to win Game 6, but that turnover that led to the first Lightning goal was ugly, and the overtime winner was a bit fluky. In Game 7, Auston Matthews played well. He could have played better, but he had an assist, and I liked his effort on certain plays. It's not like they lost to a bad team. It was the two-time defending champs. But the Tampa Bay Lightning weren't great, and they only won because of Nick Paul. Imagine if the Lightning never made that trade at the deadline. The Maple Leafs would have won. If they don't win next year, I'm not sure they ever get out of the first round.
I wish ESPN would get rid of Barry Melrose. He doesn't say anything intelligent. He was on PTI, and they asked him why the Oilers lost Game 5, and all he said was it was a tough loss. That didn't answer the question. We'll get to that game later. Then there are his predictions. He picked the Penguins, Capitals, and Lightning to advance because they have guys that have done it before. Only one of those advanced, and his logic makes no sense.
The Capitals won it only once, and the rest of the time, they never did anything. The Penguins haven't done it in a while, and the Lightning won this series because a guy who had never even been to the playoffs before this year played well. If guys with experience were the formula for winning, we'd have teams winning four in a row as they used to in the '80s.
Before the Lightning were two-time champs, they blew 3-1 leads in the conference finals twice and were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets. So they certainly didn't have guys that did it before when they finally won.
This is the Colorado Avalanche's Stanley Cup if they want it. I feel we might get that Avalanche vs. Panthers Stanley Cup rematch we're all desperately craving. You do want that, right? ;) Just think of all the plastic rats.
We’ll get to those coaching changes later. It’s not often that two coaches that recently took their teams to back to back conference finals get fired in the same week. Mostly because it’s stupid.
A1 Florida Panthers vs. A3 Tampa Bay Lightning
Season Series: 2-2
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Lightning
What We Learned: The Panthers continued their comeback ways over the Washington Capitals. The Tampa Bay Lightning barely survived after only showing up half the time.
Stars to Watch: Carter Verhaeghe played some phenomenal hockey against the Capitals and is second in playoff scoring. Claude Giroux made some key plays, especially in the later games. Aleksander Barkov rounds out the Panthers' top three. Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman led the Lightning in scoring in round one. Followed by Ross Colton and Brayden Point, who looked pretty banged up in Game 7. That could be an issue.
Goalie Problem: Sergei Bobrovsky was good enough against the Capitals. He'll need to be better against the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy was the only player on the Lightning who played consistently well.
X-Factor: Depth should be a major factor in this series. We saw what Nick Paul did for the Lightning in Game 7 and Point is injured. What will Nick Paul do for an encore? Guys like Anthony Duclair will need to do more for the Panthers. Two points aren't enough. Jonathan Huberdeau needs to do more too. The Lightning were fairly balanced against the Maple Leafs. Let’s see if that holds.
Fun Fact: Only five of 19 Tampa Bay Lightning players had a positive plus-minus in round one. Gustav Forsling led the Panthers with a +10.
Prediction: Neither team impressed in the first round despite moving on. But I liked the Panthers' comeback wins against the Capitals and their effort against the Lightning in round one last season. The Lightning aren't winning three in a row, and they're lucky they escaped Toronto. You can tell they're running on fumes, and this is as good a spot as any to lose, especially after a tough first round. Hopefully long and close, but I think the Panthers in six or seven. But it wouldn't surprise me if the Lightning found a way to win. I can’t believe I forgot to mention the Panthers had no power play goals in the first round. That’s terrible. If they continue that way, which was the case in Game 1, they can’t win this series.
M1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. M2 New York Rangers
Season Series: 3-1 Hurricanes
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Hurricanes
What We Learned: The Hurricanes used their home-ice advantage advantageously. The Rangers made it hard on themselves and came back in games and the series.
Stars to Watch: Tony DeAngelo and Jaccob Slavin, two defensemen, led the Hurricanes in scoring. Followed by Teuvo Teravainen and Vincent Trocheck. As much as I don't care for him, DeAngelo has been impressive. Now he faces his former team. Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Chris Kreider led the Rangers. Zibanejad, Kreider and Artemi Panarin had key goals. I really liked Jacob Trouba's moves in the series.
Goalie Problem: Frederik Andersen should be back in this series. But probably not the best time to ease your way back in. Antti Raanta played well if he needs to continue starting. Igor Shesterkin didn't play that great but played well when it mattered, and a lot of the earlier goals when he got pulled weren't his fault. I think he has more confidence now and will be better.
X-Factor: Both teams play well at home, and the Hurricanes have a huge home-ice advantage. It wouldn't surprise me if the home team won every game, which means the Hurricanes in seven.
Fun Fact: The Rangers were last in face-off winning percentage in the first round. The Hurricanes were sixth and beating Patrice Bergeron. Jordan Staal won 59.3 of his draws, mostly against Bergeron. Advantage Hurricanes.
Prediction: Now that the Hurricanes have finally beaten the team that knocked them out twice, they're ready to take the next step. I loved their passing in round one too. I like the Rangers' style of play, but they make things way harder on themselves, try shooting more on the power play, and they're still young. I do believe the Hurricanes in seven.
C1 Colorado Avalanche vs. C3 St. Louis Blues
Season Series: 2-1 Avalanche
Playoff Series History: 2-0 Avalanche
What We Learned: The Avalanche rolled easily over the Nashville Predators. The Blues had some brutal games but otherwise played well against the Wild.
Stars to Watch: Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Devon Toews led the Avalanche in round one. That's two defensemen. They'll be busy against the Blues. David Perron, Ryan O'Reilly, and Vladimir Tarasenko led the Blues. I didn't even mention the first two in my first-round preview, which demonstrates how deep they are.
Goalie Problem: An injured Darcy Kuemper is set to return while Pavel Francouz filled in and played okay. Jordan Binnington reclaimed the top goalie position for the Blues, and it's not surprising they were 3-0 with him in goal.
X-Factor: This series will feature the Avalanche's top playoff power play against the Blues' fourth best. Neither team takes many penalties, so whoever gets one will need to take advantage, and I'm sure they will.
Fun Fact: The Avalanche outscored the Blues 20-7 in their previous playoff meeting last season. These two teams also turned it over the least in round one.
Prediction: The Blues will be a tougher test for the Avalanche, who are way better than the Wild. The Blues having major duds against the Wild doesn't bode well for their chances. I don't see why the Avalanche would lose here. The Blues are better than last year, but not enough to win the series. I didn't really think the Avalanche would lose to the Predators, but I thought the Predators' style of play would challenge them. It didn't. The Avalanche hit pretty well in the series and even had more hits in Game 4. Significant because it was a closeout game. They actually had the third-most hits per game in round one, while the Blues were 15th. I'm hoping the games will be close. Avalanche will win.
P1 Calgary Flames vs. P2 Edmonton Oilers
Season Series: 2-2
Playoff Series History: 4-1 Oilers
What We Learned: The Flames survived the Jake Oettinger experience. The Oilers discovered new ways to lose games but pulled it out.
Stars to Watch: Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm led the Flames in round one, just like in the regular season. Connor McDavid, Evander Kane, and Leon Draisaitl led the Oilers. Kane exceeded all expectations, and Cody Ceci was a pleasant surprise.
Goalie Problem: Jacob Markstrom is no Jake Oettinger, but he played well. I'm not a huge Mike Smith fan. His early games weren't great, and his turnover cost them a win. But he played well when it mattered later in the series. This is a match-up of the third and fourth best SV% of goalies who played at least three games in round one. It might stay that way since the Flames take so many shots.
X-Factor: Both teams had defensive struggles in round one and will now presumably shift to their wide-open style of play that led to 33 goals in four games in the season series. While it may not be easy at first, I think it'll be pretty wide open after game one. That style of play doesn't favor either team, but the Flames were more turnover prone than the Oilers in round one. I'm interested to see how they'll balance everything.
Fun Fact: The first battle of Alberta in the playoffs since 1991. The only time the Flames won, they went to the finals.
Prediction: I didn't like the Oilers' win over the Kings. They made the Kings look way better than they are while missing Drew Doughty. Connor McDavid had to do way too much to will them to the series win. That’s why he was tired on the Kings’ game-winner in Game 5. And Leon Draisaitl played some awful defense in Game 5. Try guarding your man instead of always looking for a breakaway. His "defense" spotted them two goals. I had the Oilers losing to the Avalanche in the conference finals, but if that play continues against the Flames, there's no way they're winning this series. So if they play like that, the Flames win. If they play to their potential, the Oilers win.