Today, From the Press Box:
We summarize the opening round series and preview Round 2, which begins on May 1.
Boston vs. Detroit
The Bruins used their physical advantage and an injury to Wings starting goalie Jimmy Howard to gain to key edges that tilted the series in their favor. Even though it was a fluky goal credited to Jarome Iginla, which provided the Overtime dagger in Game 4, and a close 4-2 win in Boston, for the home side, the Bruins left little doubt that they were the better team in this series. The Wings did get Henrik Zetterberg back for the final two games of this set and he did tally a goal and assist, but that spark was not enough to derail the Bruins.
Tampa vs. Montreal
We told you last week that the Habs were able to dispatch the Lightning with relative ease, mainly pointing to the injury, which sidelined starting goalie Brian Bishop, in a four game sweep.
Pittsburgh vs. Columbus
Through the first four games of this set, each final score was 4-3, with each team winning twice (both Columbus wins in OT) and both teams blowing two and three goal leads at some point in each game.
Things settled down and favored the Penguins, who won Game 5, as they parlayed a 48-shot attack and a 23-save effort by Marc Andre Fleury into a 3-1 win. When the teams met for Game 6 in Ohio, Evgeni Malkin took center stage with an early hat trick that helped the Pens build a 4-0 in the first two periods. A furious Columbus rally, with three goals in a five-minute span, fell one goal short, with yet another 4-3 final score, sealing the outcome of this series. Sidney Crosby did not score a goal in this series but did total six assists.
NY Rangers vs. Philadelphia
After splitting the first four games, with each team stealing one win on the road, it was clear that this set could and probably should go the distance. With each team defending their home ice in Games 5 and 6, that is exactly what happened.
The combination of Henrik Lundqvist and home ice ultimately propelled the Rangers to the next round when they eked out a 2-1 at MSG. Steve Mason matched King Henrik save for save throughout this series, but he bent first in the final game, allowing a pair of second period tallies. The Flyers could only muster one third-period goal in response and that was all she wrote in the 2-1 final score.
Anaheim vs. Dallas
The first four games of this series saw each team earn two wins on their home ice. It seemed as though the Stars wins were a bit more decisive and that they might have inched ahead in this matchup, but the Ducks delivered a 6-2 beat down in Game 5, serving another reminder that the Stars had no answer for the duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who combined for two goals and four assists in this pivotal contest.
The Stars appeared to answer that salvo with an early 3-1 lead in Game 6, eventually driving Fred Andersen out of the Ducks goal after scoring four goals on only 12 shots. Forgotten man and season long starter Jonas Hiller blanked Dallas from the time he entered the fray midway through the second stanza. He would eventually stop all 12 shots he faced the rest of the way. The key to this series ending in Game 6 turned out to be another wild ending where the Ducks hemmed Dallas in their own zone, under a relentless attack that netted two goals, by Nick Bonino and Devante Smith-Pelley during the final 2 minutes and 10 seconds of the third period, sending the game to overtime. The intermission did not change the momentum and another goal by Bonino, at the 2:47 mark of the first overtime, sent the Stars into their off-season, while the Ducks advanced to Round 2.
San Jose vs. Los Angeles
The Sharks had to feel their collars tightening after seeing a 3-0 series lead evaporate slowly, under the pressure of an opponent, in the L A Kings, that just refused to quit. It seemed almost impossible to expect the Kings t come back, particularly after they had absorbed a couple of one-sided beatings to stat the series.
The trouble for San Jose was that they were dealing with a recent Stanley Cup winning team, which still had many players from that roster, involved in this series.
The Kings built a slow and steady response with three decisive wins of their own and, with each of these results, there were more questions for a San Jose team whose veterans have a history of recent playoff disappointments.
After both teams went through a scoreless first period in Game 7, the importance of the first goal was seemingly going to be even bigger. When the Sharks Matt Irwin broke the ice, early in the second frame, Sharks fans must have felt a reprieve.
However, goals by Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar gave the Kings a 2-1 lead by the end of the second period lead. That intermission could not have been good for the Sharks and it had to make the Kings feel very good about their chances.
As it turned out, Jonathan Quick, the former Conn Smythe winner, had all the offensive support that he would need. When the Kings struck for an early period goal, by Tyler Toffoli, full panic enveloped the Sharks, who could not dent Quick's armor the rest of the way. Two late empty net goals by Los Angeles completed the stunning four-game reversal, marking the fourth time in NHL history that a team overcame a 3-0 series deficit.
Colorado vs. Minnesota
Through six games, home ice was good to the home teams, setting up the climactic seventh stanza.
The final game was, fittingly, another close contest that saw Colorado take the lead four times, only to see the Wild come back to tie the proceedings each time.
Each Colorado goal was met with a sense that it was possibly going to be the deciding goal, but with each Minnesota response there seemed a growing sense that the visitors were coming on stronger.
Goaltending took on a bigger part of this game, when at one end, Ilya Bryzgalov had to enter in relief of starter Darcy Kuemper, who had to leave due to multiple injury issues, while Semyon Varlamov was beaten on almost identical shots to the top corner, looking like the Wild had uncovered a key weakness.
This game and series was settled in overtime when Minnesota's Nino Niederreiter notched his second goal of the game to stun the home crowd.
St. Louis vs. Chicago
The first four games of this series were played at a high pace, with each team throwing haymakers at their opponent and both teams winning twice. St Louis clearly had overcome a late season slump and some injury issues, but Chicago's playoff tested core was responding every step of the way.
The playoff mettle of the Hawks ultimately proved to be the difference in this series and that point was underlined when Captain Jonathan Toews scored on a breakaway late in Game 5 to steal a key win in St. Louis. The subsequent 5-1 triumph in Game 6 was only a further affirmation that one of these teams is battle tested and the other was not of the same caliber.
Boston vs. Montreal
The most storied of NHL rivalries, particularly in recent memory has become a blood feud where, the players, coaches and fans simply do not like each other.
The matchup looks like a classic as the Bruins size and muscle is opposed by the Canadiens speed and counter attack game.
There does not seem to be much to chose from, in goal, where the temperamental Tuukka Rask and the even-tempered Carey Price provide some contrast in style but have gotten very similar results all season long.
As with any Boston series, the looming presence of Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla, gives the B's a big edge in the physical game. In the past couple of seasons, that is exactly what gets them in trouble against Montreal, a team whose pesky players, like P.K. Subban, Brendan Gallagher and Brandon Prust, have sometimes driven the Bruins to distraction.
That looks like a decisive factor in this matchup. The Bruins will have to keep their cool around the Habs and allow their skill players to deliver enough offense, while wearing down their smaller opponents with a more controlled physicality. Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Loui Eriksson can play against the best skill players on Montreal.
I think the Bruins will played a more even-tempered style and will take this series in five games.
Pittsburgh vs. NY Rangers
The Pens seemed to be buoyed by a consistent progression from their top players in Round 1 and they should continue to see that growth unfold after surviving an early scare.
Marc Andre Fleury can finally point to a series win after the last two playoff years ended I disaster. Even so, he is clearly the second best goalie in this series, with Lundqvist at the other end.
This looks like another favorable matchup for Pittsburgh as they face a team that will try to skate with them, as opposed to playing a primarily physical style. While the Rangers have plenty of depth on defense, none of Marc Staal, Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh are known as making it a grind for opposing forwards. Only Dan Girardi fits that mold.
The Penguins dealt with lots of injuries this year and at the moment, only defenseman Brooks Orpik and center Brandon Sutter are dealing with significant issues. Paul Martin, Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen are all among the best puck-moving defenders and they should use their skills to keep the puck far away from Fleury.
This should allow Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company, enough latitude to play their offensive game and create plenty of scoring opportunities, at the other end.
The Rangers have their own forward depth that can be quite creative, led by Brad Richards, Marty St Louis and Mats Zuccarello, but they appear to be second best in this matchup. A more physical style, imposed by Rick Nash and Brian Boyle should cause some headaches for Pittsburgh.
In the end, I think this will be a case of too much Crosby and Malkin, and am taking the Penguins in six games.
Chicago vs. Minnesota
The Wild take on the role of Cinderella, as the most unlikely participant and heavy underdog in any of the second round matchups.
Drawing the defending Cup champs only make this a more daunting challenge.
Minnesota will need their top players, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville to play at their very best to spur on this offense. On defense, Ryan Suter leads an otherwise "no-name" brand defense corps into a tough matchup against a deep Chicago team.
Minnesota may also have to lean heavily on the unpredictable Bryzgalov in goal.
Chicago has to be thrilled that their top players, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith have already reached their peak playoff form in Round 1. Bryan Bickell is looking primed for a second straight impressive playoff effort, while Andrew Shaw and Brendan Saad have also grown into important secondary scoring roles.
The Hawks depth on defense is unequalled with Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival already reminding onlookers that make great contributions at both ends of the ice.
Behind all that talent, Corey Crawford is once again showing off his ability as a formidable last line of defense, in guarding Chicago's net.
This should be a relatively easy Chicago series win in five games.
Anaheim vs. Los Angeles
Oddly, the Kings will once again not have to travel far in meeting another cross state rival, the Anaheim Ducks. In fact, neither team will even board a plane in this series, as their home rinks are only 40 minutes apart by car.
All year long, the Kings looked like the third best California team, but the way they leaned on their recent playoff success serves as a strong reminder that they are going to be a tough out.
They showed off their offensive depth as well as the shutdown goalkeeping of Jonathan Quick in getting past the Sharks. They got goals from 12 different players in round 1, including three goals and two assists from trade deadline pickup, Marian Gaborik. Scoring was a season-long weakness for this team.
With Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov capable of providing offensive support from their defense positions and as good a pair of shutdown defenders in Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr, the Kings appear to be built for playoff success.
The Ducks saw 13 players bulge the twine in Round 1 as their offense continues to be the key element to their game. Nick Bonino, Andrew Cogliano, Mathieu Perrault and Devante Smith-Pelly have all chipped in to support the top gunslingers, Perry and Getzlaf. They are all motivated by the impending swan song (no pun intended) of Teemu Selanne.
Cam Fowler and Francois Beauchemin need to be better in Round 2 and I would like to see Jonas Hiller between the pipes to give the Ducks their best bet here.
It seems to me that the Kings are on the rise, while the Ducks have not yet reached that top playoff gear and I lean toward an LA win in seven games.