On Wednesday, April 23, 2014 there were three Stanley Cup playoff games, two of which were decided in sudden death overtime. The other featured a team falling into a 2-0 hole before scoring four unanswered goals of their own, to claim victory. This was a microcosm of the great action which has taken place over the course of this playoff year.
Here is a look at all of the series:
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Montreal Canadiens (Montreal wins series 4 games to zero) - On paper, this looked like a fairly intriguing matchup despite the relatively low profile. Unfortunately for the Lightning, there was a series of unfortunate events in the days and weeks leading up to the playoffs. #1 goalie Ben Bishop was injured late in the year, and was unavailable for the postseason. Forward Ryan Malone got caught driving while intoxicated, and was in possession of cocaine at the time; bye bye Ryan. A little too much for the South Florida squad. In any case, sweeps are difficult under any circumstance, and Montreal deserves credit. Their reward will be a series against the winner of the Detroit/Boston series. Montreal has a bit of a rest before starting round 2, and they are going to need it.
Los Angeles Kings vs San Jose Sharks (San Jose leads series 3 games to zero) - During the regular season, the Kings allowed the fewest goals in the entire NHL. The 2012 Stanley Cup champs seemed to have the type of team which could slow down, and ultimately defeat the Sharks; that has not been the case. San Jose scored almost at will during the first two games, and then when the Kings did finally hold them somewhat in check, San Jose beat them in OT. The last time a team won four straight games after having been down 0-3 in a series, was in 2010 (Flyers over Bruins in seven games). Ironically, current Kings teammates Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, were also teammates with the Flyers in 2010. Can lightning strike twice ?
Columbus Blue Jackets vs Pittsburgh Penguins (series tied 2-2) - Pittsburgh took the first two games, Columbus took the next two. There may be trouble brewing in Pittsburgh. Much like last season, they are struggling against an inferior first round opponent. Also, not only were they decisively outplayed in Game 4, but goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made a late puck-handling gaffe which led directly to the game-tying goal, and then Fleury gave up a rather soft goal in OT. There may soon be a goaltending change. If Columbus wins this series, Pens Head coach Dan Bylsma's days in steeltown are very likely, over.
Dallas Stars vs Anaheim Ducks (series tied 2-2) - There must be an uneasy feeling in Anaheim. Last season, the #2 seeded Ducks lost their first round series to the #7 seeded Detroit Red Wings. This season, the #1 seeded Ducks grabbed the first two games of their series against the #8 seeded Dallas Stars, but then lost games 3 and 4. Much like the Penguins, the Ducks were outplayed in Game 4, and the goaltending was a bit suspect as well. There has been much speculation that Jonas Hiller, not Frederik Andersen, will be the Ducks starting goaltender for Game 5 on Friday night in Anaheim.
Chicago Blackhawks vs St Louis Blues (series tied 2-2) - Again, this could be a series in which bad memories begin haunting the favored team. The Blues won the first two games of the series, and then dropped the next two. Last season, St. Louis won the first two games of their opening round series against the L.A. Kings, and then dropped four straight and lost the series. They had a chance to put the Blackhawks in 3-1 hole, but instead, Chicago won Game 4 in OT. It is now down to a best-of-3 series. Hold on to your hats.
Minnesota Wild vs Colorado Avalanche (Colorado leads 2-1) - Minnesota could very well have won Game 1, and then were outplayed in Game 2. Down two games to none, they came up with a great effort in Game 3, and had to overcome terrific goaltending by Semyon Varlamov to keep the series close. Mikael Granlund scored a spectacular OT winner in Game 3. In this classic duel of young upstarts vs wily veterans, it's anybody's guess as to what happens next. Whatever the Wild do, it will be without notorious forward Matt Cooke. Cooke had transformed himself into a choirboy in recent seasons, but in Game 3, the old Cooke resurfaced, and as a result he has been suspended for seven games due to a kneeing incident. Game 4 should be epic.
Philadelphia Flyers vs New York Rangers (New York leads series 2-1) - This has been an up and down series. The Rangers outplayed the Flyers in Games 1 and 3, and had a two goal lead in Game 2, nut allowed Philly to rally and steal the game. Flyers' Backup goalie Ray Emery has started all three games in place of injured Steve Mason. Emery has played well in stretches, but has been somewhat inconsistent. The Flyers' real problem is that they only scored one goal in each of the 2 losses. Thus far, the Rangers have been the more consistent team. Whether or not Steve Mason plays in the series, the Flyers must establish and maintain a strong forecheck, and maximize scoring opportunities, if they want this series to last beyond the weekend.
Detroit Red Wings vs Boston Bruins - The Red Wings stole Game 1. Boston came back to win the next two games, and appear to be rather firmly in control of the series. There is no quit in the Detroit Red Wings. They are a bit overmatched, and may be a bit overwhelmed. Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard was spectacular in 1-0 shutout in Game 1, but he cannot be expected to come up with a shutout every game. Much like the case with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Wings are going to have to figure out how to score more goals. Detroit has scored only twice in this series. Averaging less than 1 goal per game is not going to do it.
*Games on tap for Thursday, April 24: Boston vs Detroit, Colorado vs Minnesota, San Jose vs Los Angeles
Pacioretty becomes a hero
Max Pacioretty scored with less than one minute to play in Game 4 to seal victory, and secure a four-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Rd 1. Montreal outscored Tampa 16-10 in the series, and won three of the games, by just one goal.
Sharks take commanding lead
Antii Niemi and Jason Demers celebrate OT win in Game 3 vs L.A. Kings. Holding a 3-0 lead in the series, a victory in Los Angeles in Gm 4 on Thursday night will eliminate the Kings, and San Jose would then await the winner of the Anaheim/Dallas series. In last season's 1st Rd matchup, the Kings beat San Jose in seven games.
Dynamic forward Patrick Kane scored the OT winner in Game 3. Chicago will seek to carry the momentum into Game 5 in St. Louis on Friday night. Chicago has outscored St Louis 12-11 in the series, and will have suspended defenseman Brent Seabrook back for Gm 6.
Jamie Benn and the Dallas Stars rallied furiously at home, and have evened their series with the Anaheim Ducks, at 2 games apiece. After dropping the first two games, Dallas has outscored the Ducks 7-2 in the last two games, setting the stage for an epic Game 5 in Anaheim on Friday night.