The first round of 2014 Stanley Cup playoff action was magnificent. Three series went to a deciding Game 7. In the East, the Montreal Canadiens unexpectedly swept the Tampa Bay Lightning, while the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers staged an epic battle which went the distance. In the West, both the St.Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche were eliminated after having won the first two games of their opening round series, while San Jose won the first three games before losing four straight. It seemed like it couldn't get any more dramatic than that, but it is headed that way. On May 8, 2014, the Boston Bruins pulled out an OT win over upstart Montreal, and the Anaheim Ducks avoided a 3-0 series deficit by beating the Los Angeles Kings 3-2. On Friday May 9, the New York Rangers stayed alive with a gutsy 5-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Later that night, Minnesota beat Chicago to even their series at 2-2. All this sets up what should be a great weekend of Stanley Cup action.
Saturday, May 10:
Montreal Canadiens @ Boston Bruins; 4:00 pm PT (series tied 2-2) - Two of the first four games were decided in OT. the teams have alternated wins in the series, each having garnered one victory in OT. Each team has also won a game in the other's building. This is now down to a best-of-3 series, with Boston still holding home ice advantage. This is as even as it gets. Over the course of the first four games, each team has scored eleven goals. This will probably come down to a goaltending duel between Boston's Tuuka Rask, and Montreal's Carey Price.
Anaheim Ducks @ Los Angeles Kings; 6:30 pm PT (Kings lead series 2-1) - After having dropped the first two games at home, the Ducks finally picked up a win, when they beat the Kings 3-2 in Los Angeles on Thursday. One of the keys to victory, was the play of goalie Frederik Andersen. The Swedish netminder started in place of Jonas Hiller in Game 3. Though the Ducks won Game 3, Andersen did leave the game in the third period due to an apparent lower-body injury, and did not return. His status for the critical Game 4 is uncertain. When Game 4 is over, it will either be a 3-1 series lead for the Kings, which means the Ducks will need to win three straight, or it will be tied up at 2-2, which means the Ducks would have home ice advantage in a best-of-3 series. What a difference just one game makes.
Sunday, May 11:
Pittsburgh Penguins @ New York Rangers; 4:00 pm PT (Pens lead series 3-2) - On Friday night, down 3 games to 1, and facing elimination, the Rangers put together a gem on the road in Pittsburgh. Finally playing a full 60 mins, New York put a 5-1 spanking on the Pens to stay alive and force a Game 6 in Madison Square Garden. This may be the break the Rangers needed. Buoyed by the home crowd, they may be able to build on that energy and force a Game 7 back in Pittsburgh. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist will undoubtedly be stellar, the question remains, can his team actually show up for two games in a row ? They have yet to do so in this series. It is as though they may have used up all their best hockey, in the opening round series against Philadelphia.
Minnesota Wild @ Chicago Blackhawks; 6:00 pm PT (series tied 2-2) - Much like in Rd 1, the Wild looked lost and bewildered in the first two games. Much like Rd 1, they sprung to life in games 3 and 4, to even the series. Perhaps equally as compelling a story, has been the play of Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. The enigmatic Russian has been absolutely brilliant, in between giving up ridiculously soft goals. No matter, with goalie Darcy Kuemper out due to injury, Minnesota most go with what they have. As gutsy a team as the Wild are, the thought of depending on Bryzgalov for an extended period of time, has to strike fear into their hearts. Perhaps that has inspired them to play such great team hockey. Whatever it is, it is working, and the Wild have earned their way into what is now a best-of-3 series against the defending champs. This one should be fun.