It’s only been six days into the chase for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but every game so far has had a bunch of excitement and drama. That excitement and drama have fans of teams in the postseason on the edge of their seat from puck drop to the final buzzer. The fun part is, it’s only the beginning. But as each series enters the third or fourth game tonight or tomorrow, several things have come to light about where the rest of the playoffs might be headed. Below are the five most notable.
1. The Top Teams Flexing Their Muscle
Ever since the playoffs began last weekend, there’s been some clarity as to why they have favorites, and why they have so-called underdogs. The Tampa Bay Lightning, who thought they were going to be in a non-stop fight with a pesky New Jersey Devils squad, have run over them the first two games. Head Coach Jon Cooper’s club showed that their depth is incredible and that they are willing to physically overwhelm the Devils — throwing hits at every possible chance they could get. The Bolts have also proved that if you allow them opportunity after opportunity, they are going to eventually pounce and take away any hope from the opposition.
In addition to the Lightning, the defending Western Conference Champions, the Nashville Predators, have exhibited why they are just plain better than the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs have given the Preds all they can handle, but every time the Predators have needed to answer, they’ve done it. In all three facets of the game, when Colorado seems to be changing the momentum, Nashville has found ways to turn the tide (whether a big save or goal) and steal all of the confidence the Avs began to build.
The Vegas Golden Knights continue to write the greatest story in ages. They’re up 3-0 in their series. While their series with the LA Kings has been the most competitive of the first round so far, Vegas fast and relentless will have inundated the Kings. Furthermore, Vegas’s ability to have several players come up clutch in more than one situation have validated that they deserve to be in the position they currently stand.
2. Blowouts And Lots of Them
They say the playoffs in any sport, the intensity ratchets up and the games are a lot closer than how they unfold in the regular season. The NHL must have missed the message through these first few days of their postseason. So far in the playoffs, there seem to be one or even two blowouts on a nightly basis.
I mean, last Wednesday the Penguins smacked the Flyers 7-0. That basically set the tone. Philly would return the favor, winning game two in Pittsburgh 5-1. And then Pittsburgh followed up that performance, with a 5-1 beating of the Flyers yesterday afternoon.
The Bruins have assaulted the Maple Leafs in their first two games, 5-1 and 7-3. In the Tampa Bay and New Jersey series, the games are a lot closer than the score indicates, but the Lightning has outscored the Devils 10-5. Games two and three in the Jets-Wild series, the scores — 4-1 and 6-2 — tell the story that the games were over by the time the third period rolled around. If this is how it’s going to be throughout the playoffs (hopefully not), we’re in for some short nights and dull games.
3. Home Ice Doesn’t Matter
“It’s not a series until the road team wins one.” If you think that quote has no meaning through the first few nights of the postseason, you’re dead wrong. For years now, the adage that a team having home ice gives them a significant advantage has decreased dramatically.
Teams that had home ice — Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia, and Anaheim — all saw that there’s a lot more to the playoffs than getting those first two games at home. Pittsburgh (above) got throttled by the Flyers in game two, costing them a chance at a possible 2-0 series lead. The Capitals, oh the Capitals, had two two-goal leads against the Blue Jackets in both games one and two and lost both in overtime. Anaheim didn’t realize how aggressive the San Jose Sharks were as a team. They lost both games at Honda Center, by a combined score of 6-2, including being shutout 3-0 in game one.
Even Sunday, the Flyers returned home to a raucous Wells Fargo Center after a 5-1 beatdown of the Pens Friday night. They allowed Sidney Crosby to have a four-point game and were pasted by the Pens 5-1. The blowouts have come at an increased rate, something not many usually expect in the postseason.
4. Bet The House On Vegas
Before the playoffs began, a lot of fans and critics were questioning how the Vegas Golden Knights would fare in their first playoff go-around. Safe to say, they’ve been pretty steady. Ok, how about more like, unbelievable.
In game one, even with the nerves and the rowdiness of T Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights won their first playoff game in franchise history on the back of Shea Theodore goal in the first period, and 30 save shutout for Marc-Andre Fleury. Game two was one for the ages. Vegas and LA went stride for stride deep into the late night. In the second overtime, the Knights finally broke the stalemate when Erik Haula made a dazzling play to beat Jonathan Quick, giving them a surprising 2-0 lead in the series.
Last night, the Golden Knights once again made waves. Down 1-0 in early in the third, they finally hit paydirt. Cody Eakin would tie the game, leading to a great rest of the third. With just under six minutes to play, James Neal put Vegas on and then not even 25 seconds later, William Karlsson doubled the lead. Vegas won 3-2, and no have a 3-0 stranglehold on the series. Stunning doesn’t even describe what the Golden Knights have accomplished in round one.
5. Nothing Beats O.T.
Playoff hockey, like I said earlier, is full of drama and excitement. But overtime in the playoffs is a whole other experience. There have been only three games so far in the first round that have needed more than 60 minutes to decide a winner. Each of those overtime-filled affairs has been as exhilarating as any game in the opening round.
The fact that there got to be a double-overtime game in Vegas on Friday night was fantastic. With that wild atmosphere, the possibility of Vegas going up 2-0 or the Kings stealing home-ice, and the fact that it was a Friday, all made for a beautiful scenario for the game and the fans. Vegas winning in the second extra frame made the night even more satisfying. Even more fitting than that double-overtime game, the first two games of the Columbus Blue Jackets-Washington Capitals series having to be decided in the extra session.
Games one and two of Columbus and Washington were offensive clinics and didn’t disappoint. And with Columbus finding a way to snatch both games on the Caps home ice in OT, was great for headlines. As the first round continues, I hope for more overtime games before round one ends. We’ve only gotten a few, but the more that happens, the more intriguing the playoffs become.