The 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are now upon us and have they ever been exciting. Six of the eight series have played three games (Rangers-Capitals and Maple Leafs-Bruins have only played two), and five of those series stand at 2-1. Only the San Jose Sharks (up 3-0 on Vancouver) and Washington (up 2-0 on the Rangers) hold undefeated records this postseason.
For now, we’ll take a look at some of the winners and losers of the playoffs and even some special pieces about the first round. Enjoy!
San Jose Sharks
Obviously enough, is it not? The Sharks had the hottest-turned-coldest player to start the season in Patrick Marleau, and then San Jose simply coasted into the playoffs down the stretch. Now, the Sharks are playing like the Best of the West, stealing both games on the road in Vancouver before last night’s 5-2 victory at home. The Sharks could sweep the Northwest champs with a win Tuesday night at the Shark Tank, and I say yes, it happens.
Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, who each netted a pair of goals last night, are tied with Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin for the league lead with 6 points this postseason. Couture and Patrick Marleau are also tied for the league lead in goals with three apiece. Antti Niemi has been great in net, allowing just five Vancouver goals over the course of the three games in the series.
If you’re reaction was, “wait, who?” when reading this name, don’t worry: you’re not alone. Most Ottawa Senators fans didn’t even know who Pageau was. Yet, here we are, talking about the 20-year old after his first career hat trick last night against Montreal. Drafted in the 4th round in 2011, there was a chance Pageau might not even make Ottawa’s AHL affiliate club in Binghamton, never mind the NHL. Late in the season, Pageau was a call-up for nine games, posting two goals and a pair of assists for the Sens as they clawed their way into the playoffs.
Playing in all three games this series versus Montreal, Pageau didn’t register a point in the first two road games. But with a return to Ottawa came an increase in ability, as Pageau netted the eventual game-winner in the second and two more in the third for the hat trick as Ottawa dismantled Montreal in a 6-1 win. There is no doubt Pageau is now a household name throughout Ontario, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure as the series moves on.
Surprise number two! OK, maybe it’s not that much of a surprise: Holtby has stood on his head for the first two games and the Rangers have struggled to score goals all season long. Still, Braden Holtby is not always a name that comes to mind when you think of premier NHL goaltenders, yet he’s playing like one. In two games at home, Holtby has allowed just one New York goal on 60 shots, posting league-highs in GAA (0.47) and save percentage (.983).
If the Rangers have any hope of winning this series, they need to figure out how to beat Holtby, and Game 2 was a prime example. One goal in regulation and the Rangers walk away winners without playing overtime. Instead, Holtby shut out the Blueshirts to give the Caps a 2-0 series lead heading to Madison Square Garden. Holtby has now become the x-factor in this series.
New York Islanders
This very well could be the shocker of the playoffs, right here. A lot of people may have tried to predict it, but I don’t think very many people actually expect an upset. And with the Pens holding a 2-1 series lead, it’s still not looking good for the Isles. But wow, have they been impressive. After the 5-0 Penguins win in Game 1, it was easy to laugh at the radicals who picked the Islanders to win the series. Pittsburgh completely outmatched their opponents and dominated on the scoreboard.
Something must have clicked for the Islanders in Game 2; after falling behind 2-0 early in the 1st period, the Isles scored four of the next five goals en route to a 5-4 win, tying the series at 1. At Nassau, the Islanders came out firing on all cylinders, scoring two quick goals for a 2-0 just over five minutes in. Pittsburgh responded with four unanswered to take a 4-2 lead heading into the third. Again, something must’ve clicked for the young group out of Long Island, as Kyle Okposo and John Tavares scored to force overtime. They may have lost in the extra frame, but the Isles’ resilience is incredible and the fact that they’re sticking with the Pens is just amazing. It will still be a battle to steal the series, but it’s much more believable now than it was after Game 1.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat. A common line found on the bottle of most shampoos. The Vancouver Canucks have a similar line: Clinch, Slump, Repeat. That’s been the trend for the Canucks, who are now one game away from a sweep in the first round of the playoffs. They’ve won the Northwest Division for five straight years, but they’ve reached the Stanley Cup Finals just once during that span.
This postseason, it’s not looking any better. With home-ice advantage once again, the Canucks lost both games in Vancouver before dropping the third last night in San Jose. Last year, as the #1 seed in the West, the Canucks lost three straight to the Los Angeles Kings; they managed to sneak away with a Game 4 win before being eliminated in Vancouver in Game 5. At least it can’t all be blamed on Roberto Luongo this time.
New York Rangers
Everyone knew goal scoring was a problem, but this kind of a turnout wasn’t expected. Carl Hagelin opened up the scoring in the 1st period of Game 1, and the Rangers have gone ice-cold since, as Braden Holtby has put up five straight shutout periods since then (plus a little more if you count OT in Game 2). Similarly to the goal-scoring, the Rangers power play has also been nonexistent, as New York is 0-for-7 on the series.
Coming home to Madison Square Garden needs to light the fire under the Rangers or this series is over. Minnesota and Los Angeles both faced 2-0 deficits to start the series, and both teams picked up crucial Game 3 wins at home. Can the Rangers do the same? For the sake of seeing a great series, I’d like to say yes, but let’s face the facts: the Rangers have been flat all season long. Goal scoring has been an issue since the beginning, and Henrik Lundqvist can’t win games by himself. He pitched a shutout through three periods in Game 2, and his teammates couldn’t even put one on the board for him to steal a game in D.C. Now, the Rangers have their backs against the wall and need a monumental win and momentum swing in New York City.
WANTED: Jonathan Toews’ goal-scoring ability. Reward if found.
That’s the sign that the Blackhawks should be posting all around Minnesota and Chicago. Despite a 2-1 series lead, the Blackhawks have looked very lackluster at times, and this series could very well be 2-1 Minnesota. The ‘Hawks needed OT in Game 1 before a convincing win in Game 2, but they’ve been presented with a great fight from Minnesota. The Wild’s Zach Parise finally found the back of the net yesterday in a 3-2 win, and if he can get things going without Jonathan Toews playing well, the Wild very well may steal the series.
Maybe I’m being too hard on Chicago, but I just expected better from a team that dominated in the regular season and earned the #1 seed in the West. On paper, Chicago is one of the best teams in the league and is stacked with talented players through and through. Patrick Kane has yet to find the net through three games, but he’s at least contributing with 5 assists. Brandon Saad and Captain Toews have simply disappeared, and they both must find ways to get their games going to avoid disaster. A win in Game 4 puts the Blackhawks in a great spot to end the series at home, but Toews is clearly needed by his team. Time for the captain to step up.
I’d love to hear your comments below!
And don’t forget to check out the very best of NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs action!