The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is like an early summer blockbuster. And like the typical sequel, Round 2 rarely lives up to the original. But it might show a few different aspects of the ongoing saga.
In Round 1, Josh Harding, Masterton nominee for his successful battle so far this year with multiple sclerosis, stepped in and played valiantly opposite the Chicago Blackhawks. The aging Detroit Red Wings, led by their new captain Henrik Zetterberg, knocked off the highly ranked Anaheim Ducks in improbable fashion. The New York Islanders gave the Pittsburgh Penguins the scare they needed for their playoff run. And the Toronto Maple Leafs poked the bear and only needed a historic collapse to fail to advance.
Understandably, the second round arrived with a whisper—not a bang like Round 1. On most nights, one team shows up while the other runs on fumes or is weakened due to injury.
In addition, three major Canadian fan bases in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal have lost their rooting interests in this year’s tournament. And it is almost summertime. Folks don’t want to be indoors watching hockey. They want be outdoors to enjoy the sun. So some of the novelty of NHL playoffs has worn off.
Round 2 So Far
The San Jose Sharks have lost Adam Burish to injury and Raffi Torres to a suspension lasting the remainder of the series. And thanks to the resurgence of Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, the Sharks fell behind in the series 2–0.
Things picked up however in Game 3 with an impressive performance from 2013 standout, Logan Couture. The Sharks forward battled a late-game injury, blocked a shot in the final minutes, and scored the overtime-winner on the power play to cut the Kings series lead in half.
Back in the East, with the Boston Bruins taking on the New York Rangers, the two teams can’t seem to muster any consistent offense clogging centre ice with bodies and furious stick-play. Both teams have had to rely heavily this season on their defence and goaltending, with New York being less than the sum of their parts.
Even after their historic loss, it’s likely some hockey fans are wishing the Maple Leafs advanced, if only to see a breakaway—or five. The Bruins look like they’re heading to the Eastern Conference final after taking the first three games.
In perhaps the most anticipated matchup, an Original Six meeting between Chicago and Detroit, the games have so far been one-sided, with both teams taking turns dominating the other. The Red Wings looked overwhelmed by the youthful and exuberant Blackhawks in Game 1, losing a defensive affair where most of the play was along the boards and behind the net.
The two days off between Games 1 and 2 then allowed the Wings to recover, only this time it was the Blackhawks who struggled. Henrik Zetterberg in particular out-played his counterpart, Jonathan Toews, by winning faceoffs cleanly, limiting Toews’ time and space, and generally frustrating the Blackhawks captain.
While the first round of the playoffs typically involves many teams, especially those lower-ranked, taking risks, and playing with reckless abandon, the following rounds are an exercise in consistency and discipline.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock took the long-term view by deflecting suggestions by the media, after Game 1, that his team was in panic-mode. The experienced bench boss assured the reporters at his press conference that his team would be fine and that fans and the media experienced too many emotional ups and downs.
“So I guess what I’m trying to tell you is settle down, we’ll be OK,” he said as reported on redwings.nhl.com.
In Game 2, the more experienced Wings looked the wiser. In Game 3, there was never any question. The Wings have the Presidents Trophy-winning Blackhawks chasing them on the ice and in the series leading 2–1 as of Tuesday.
And finally, if there was one series destined to be closely contested yet entertaining, it was the Penguins and Senators. Pittsburgh was involved in high-scoring affairs with the New York Islanders in Round 1, while the Senators were being called “pesky” by everyone including their owner Eugene Melnyk.
The Penguins won the first two games, winning a close second game 4–3, but dominating puck possession and scoring endlessly on the man-advantage. Sidney Crosby scored a hat-trick and Jarome Iginla fired eight shots on goal. Tomas Vokoun, meanwhile, has settled an anxious Dan Bylsma who has chosen to continue playing his backup goaltender.
Game 3 saw Ottawa live up to their “pesky” mythos by hanging around in a game, relying heavily on Craig Anderson and late-game heroics by Daniel Alfredsson. They stole Game 3 in the first double overtime game of these NHL playoffs.
And so the waters have calmed and fans settle in to their groove as the second round signals the long road to the final. So far, mostly one-sided affairs have produced some memorable performances and may just result in a satisfying sequel to round one.
But just imagine if both sides showed up on the same night.
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