There are many advantages to winning a series in five games, something that Rangers fans aren’t familiar with. It feels strange to have (somewhat) stress-free hockey to watch at your own leisure and not worry about being eliminated. It allows your team to heal up (see Chris’ post yesterday) and look ahead at future endeavors. It also helps us be better hockey fans and watch other teams, if for no other reason than to weep over our brackets, most of which are FUBAR.
The West was settled up yesterday evening, something that will take the East at least through tonight, if not through Wednesday to complete. There were upsets, expected wins, and upsets over expected wins, so overall a pretty great first round out of the West. Of all the series, there is something different that is interesting of each of them. Consider this a premature round one playoff post-mortem.
Let’s start in Winnipeg, the series that took the least amount of time to settle up. The Anaheim Ducks made quick work of the Jets, sweeping them under the rug. What was so great about this series wasn’t particularly the hockey, it was the fans. Winnipeg hasn’t seen playoff hockey since 1996 (though the franchise was in the playoffs in 2007, it was down in Atlanta). I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody that Canadians love their hockey, so for the passionate fans, homecoming during Game 3 was insane.
So insane that, even after they were eliminated, and despite the fact that the Whiteout is a direct response to the Calgary Flames’ “C of Red,” the Flames took out this classy ad congratulating the Jets on a successful season:
As if you needed a reminder, THIS is why we love hockey.
The Flames took out the Vancouver Canucks, consistently proving themselves in the third periods of games, just as they had done during the regular season. The Flames, though I don’t see a Cup run this season, will be very good next year, with tons of young talent despite their smaller size.
The St. Louis Blues were a heavy favorite to win it all this year, stacked with offense and finally fully healthy on the defense front. The team had veteran leadership, tons of fairly new talent and the emergence of possibly one of the purest goal scorers in Vladimir Tarasenko. The downfall could’ve been goaltending, with Brian Elliott losing his starting role to 24-year-old Jake Allen, the future goalie of the Blues. They also had a giant monkey on their back — having been eliminated in the first round for the past two years, plus the added pressure of being favorites, they had to at the very least make it out of the first round.
And they didn’t. So what gives? Sure, Devan Dubnyk has had himself one heck of a season after being traded to the Wild, and yeah, he’s a Vezina Trophy finalist. The issue here is this: before coming to the Wild, he was having an average-to-good season, and only played 58 games this season en route to a nomination in a year that the winner has been locked up since February. Spoiler alert: it won’t be Dubnyk bringing home that hardware in June. So do the Blues firesale? Do they get rid of Ken Hitchcock, a Stanley Cup and 700+ game winner? There’s no doubt that Hitch is a good coach, but has he run his course with these Blues? It’ll certainly be interesting to see what moves they make this summer.
The series outside of New York that I was most invested in was the Ottawa-Montreal series, because how could you not be interested? Ottawa came from firing their coach midseason and being 14 games out of the playoffs to making it in to the playoffs as the first Wild Card team. They rode career AHL goalie Andrew Hammond, who went 20-1-2 since he had taken over the net in February. Twenty wins, and only one loss in regulation. The team rallied around new coach Dave Cameron and, after hearing his pressers, it’s not surprising why they did.
The Senators were eliminated last night in a 2-0 game (with the second goal being an empty netter with 2.1 seconds left), a game that was all puck luck and amazing goaltending. After being down 3-0 in the series, the Sens forced it to six games and came close to going back to Montreal for a winner-take-all later this week. Cameron wasn’t afraid of the media, of any scrutiny whatsoever. He went to veteran Craig Anderson, who stood on his head after being sidelined with a hand injury for most of the past three months. I don’t think it’s foolish to recommend that Cameron win the Jack Adams this year; if Dubnyk is getting consideration for a good half of a season, why can’t Cameron?
On top of what we’ve covered here of the Rangers-Penguins series, the only thing I have to add is that it was foolish of people (myself included) to discount Marc-Andre Fleury. Seeing the absurd penalties that the Penguins took regularly is a testament to the type of nights that Fleury had to frequently deal with, being a man down and having an obliterated blueline. Fleury impressed me this series, as did Taylor Chorney, a defenseman who seemed to have himself pulled together (though I kept thinking his name was “Shortie” and wound up singing Usher a LOT this series).
As for the Rangers Playoff Beard Watch©, Keith Yandle is in the clear lead, though he did admit to starting his playoff beard the day after the regular season ended. His genes plus the time advantage have him in the lead.