First-Round Playoff Observations
Guest Writer: Ken Hawkins (aka khawk)
Some quick thoughts re: the carnage of the first round of NHL playoffs this year…
FLA-BOS - One of the two major upsets of the first round, FLA showed a lot of tenacity in repeatedly coming back against BOS. FLA felt like a team that was just starting to put things together late in the season, and certainly showed they're a dangerous team in a 7-game setting. That said, there were clearly big health issues with BOS, and FLA did a good job of imposing their style of play later in the series. Regardless, it's hard to question the Tkachuk-Huberdeau trade at this point.
TOR-TB - Finally getting past the first round is a big deal for TOR given their post-season record, but it can’t be mistaken for any kind of major success. TB showed their age and the effect of roster erosion due to salary cap issues, but despite the win TOR lost 2/3 at home, and were losing in the final 5 minutes of 2/3 of their OT wins on the road. They’ll need to be better, especially if fatigue begins to affect the play of Ilya Samsonov.
CAR-NYI - I’m starting to believe that Rod Brind’Amour may be the best coach in the NHL. Despite losing 2/3 of their best offensive players, they just keep finding a way to win. This team is the personification of the ‘next person up’ mindset, and just continues to impress year after year. Notably, CAR nearly cost FLA their playoff spot with a 6-4 win to end the season, so there could be an interesting rematch ahead.
NJ-NYR - After losing the first 2 games of the series by a combined score of 10-2 on home ice, the Devils seemed to be little more than a speed bump for NYR. Instead, NJD somehow won 4 of the next 5 games, led by a third-string goaltender who's just 2yrs removed from the USHL. The win also came despite not even a single point production from Timo Meier, who instead wound up being hit harder than anyone has since the days of Scott Stevens.
SEA-COL - The combination of injuries and salary cap reality came crashing down on COL, who suffered from a lack of quality forward depth. But give SEA credit for giving the defending Cup champions all they could handle and more. Depth and speed to burn up front along with tons of size on the blue line will make the Kraken a difficult match-up.
DAL-MIN - The most recent chapter of the DAL-MIN drama saw the Wild fail once again to make any kind of playoff noise. Most concerning for MIN was the near-complete shut-down of Kaprizov by the Stars, who managed just 1pt in 6GP. Meanwhile, Hintz went into McDavid mode with 12pts in 6GP, while Heiskanen led the NHL playoffs with >29min/GP of ice time.
VGK-WPG - The promising start to the Jets post-season ended the moment when #1D Josh Morrissey was injured. Despite scoring just 1 goal in the first game, VGK went on to score 18 goals in the next 4GP, and made it clear they are ready to make another deep playoff run. It was also the much-anticipated playoff debut of Jack Eichel, who led all VGK forwards in shots and ice time.
EDM-LA - Two players may not be able to carry a team in the later playoff rounds, but a combined 10G-21Pts in 6GP by McDavid & Draisaitl was enough to get the Oilers back to the Division Finals. The Kings put up a tenacious fight and won 2/3 OT games in the series, but just didn’t have the offensive ability to keep pace. With COL out of the picture, it will be interesting to see if EDM can simply out-gun their way to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
It's hard to say what lies ahead in the second round, but for my money the team to watch is Florida. Some people forget this is a team that won the President's Trophy last year only to be swept in a playoff series, which led directly to them changing their coach and making the largest trade of the year to bring in a playoff-style leader. The last time a Florida-based team was swept out of the playoffs after a President's Trophy season? Tampa Bay in 2019... just one year before they won the Stanley Cup.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the second round!