The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the best round because it’s laden with surprises.
Big ones. Small ones. And, the way things are going so far, we may be treated to a lot of Games Seven on Tuesday and Wednesday. Here are a few of the more shocking things about this year’s first round so far.
DETROIT’S SWEEP OF PHOENIX – The fact that the Wings won the series isn’t a shock…but a sweep is – especially because the Coyotes had Ilya “I ain’t goin’ to Winnipeg” Bryzgalov in goal. He has stolen series on his own. But not this one. Detroit showed incredible discipline and poise, something that’s been a DRW trademark since the Scotty Bowman days of the 1990s. Frankly, I thought the Coyotes could win this series, but not with the pathetic offence they displayed. And giving up early goals in Games Three and Four was a dagger to the heart. Relocation distractions aside, Coyotes’ head coach Dave Tippett must be extremely disappointed with his club’s effort.
MICHAL NEUVIRTH’S SOLID PLAY – I was sure we were going to be looking at another Capitals’ netminder meltdown. We still might but, through four games, Neuvirth has been the man. He’s only allowed seven Rangers’ goals in over 13 periods of playoff hockey. He’s stopped 114 of 121 shots – .942 sv pct. I know he’s won a Calder Cup in Hershey, but my guess is that Bruce Boudreau won’t breathe a sigh of relief until after this series is over.
COMEBACK WINS – As TSN’s Craig MacTavish said, “Strange things happen in Los Angeles.” None stranger than the Sharks’ comeback win last Tuesday. The problem for the Kings was that they had their 4-0 less than 21 minutes into the game. And that turned out to be enough time for the offensively skilled Sharks. But that hasn’t been the only memorable comeback this spring. The Capitals came back from a 3-0, third-period deficit to the Rangers in Game Four, to win in double overtime. And the Flyers came back from down 3-0 to the Sabres in Game Five before losing in overtime. Is it an indication of suspect goaltending league-wide? It might be. But it’s more proof that the playoff game now is primarily mental and momentum. Get Big Mo, and you can ride it a long way. As I write this, the Penguins trail the Lightning 7-0 in the third period. Add that in as a surprise too.
ROBERTO LUONGO’S PLAYOFF COLLAPSE v. CHICAGO – Oh, wait, these are playoff surprises, right? Scratch this one.
FIRST-ROUND SUSPENSIONS – Head shots galore. Suspensions to Chris Kunitz, Steve Downie, Jarret Stoll, Bobby Ryan (two games for skate stomp on Jonathon Blum) and Jarkku Ruutu…and I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two. Don’t players get it? Don’t coaches? I guess not because, at this crucial time of the season, it’s really not too smart to miss a game in which you could be helping your team. And speaking of not too smart, Andrew Ference’s one-finger salute to Montreal fans also falls into that category.