Seven of the eight first-round series in the NHL playoffs played Game 1 over Wednesday and Thursday night. Here’s some thoughts on each of those games, plus a look at what’s ahead…
ATLANTIC DIVISION BRACKET
Montreal 5 Tampa Bay 4 (OT): The biggest injury development of the postseason has already hit this series. Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop turned out not to be ready to play after what appeared to be a minor arm/shoulder injury in the last week of the regular season. What’s more the Lightning aren’t optimistic that Bishop will be ready “anytime soon”, and without him, they lost a high-scoring game to a team not known for its offense.
Montreal simply attacked and outskated Tampa Bay, to the tune of a 44-25 advantage in shots. The Lightning got good play from Steven Stamkos, who took five shots, and scored twice. But Ryan Callahan was nowhere to be found and the Canadiens used a balanced attack, led by the aggressive Tomas Vanek, who took seven shots and scored a big tip-in goal in the third period. Ultimately, it was Dale Weise that won the game in overtime for Montreal.
If you’re the Canadiens, you saw your star goalie, Carey Price, play a bad game, and you still won. As long Price’s bad game was an aberration—and for now we should certainly assume that—then this portends good things ahead in this series.
Boston-Detroit is the other first-round series in this portion of the bracket, and it’s the one series that hasn’t started yet, with Games 1 & 2 going Friday and Sunday.
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METROPOLITAN DIVISION BRACKET
Pittsburgh 4 Columbus 3: I picked Columbus to be my upset pick in the first round, and when they led 3-1 early in the second period, everything looked good. Then Jack Johnson, who scored a goal and dished an assist in the first period, went to the penalty box, and it all went to hell in a handbasket. Pittsburgh scored twice in less than a minute on the power play, and eventually got the lead in the third period.
It’s only one game, but this is as bad as it gets for the Blue Jackets. The sole reason for their upset hopes is the play of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. He was handed a two-goal lead, and while the Penguins did get 32 shots, that shouldn’t be an unmanageable number for a top goalie. Yet Bobrovsky couldn’t close. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, when an offense of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal beats you, but if Bobrovsky couldn’t deliver in this kind of a game, it doesn’t leave you optimistic going forward.
NY Rangers 4 Philadelphia 1: It was tied 1-1 after two periods and then a third-period flurry from the Rangers blew the game open. Although it took a while for New York to pull away, they were the vastly superior team in all phases of the game. They dominated shots, 36-15. I know the Flyers have problems in goal, but how can a team with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds only get one shot in the third period of a tie game.
While Philly’s stars were AWOL, New York’s came to play. Brad Richards had a goal and two assists, and took six shots. Martin St. Louis had a pair of assists. If we think long-term, the best news might be that Rick Nash was extremely aggressive and active, taking seven shots. Nash didn’t light the lamp, but if a player of his caliber keeps that active, the goals will come.
CENTRAL DIVISION BRACKET
Colorado 5 Minnesota 4 (OT): Minnesota’s in the same boat as Columbus—if they didn’t win this game, where are the wins going to come from. Unlike Columbus, Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of reason to be disappointed. Because, to paraphrase former NFL coach Dennis Green, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is who we thought he was.
The Wild led 4-2 after two periods, but the Avs got a goal from Jamie McGinn. Then they got another from Paul Stastny with fourteen seconds left. Stastny scored again in overtime and Colorado had survived. Minnesota played well offensive, and Jason Pominville was active, with six shots. The forced the Avalanche to take a lot of shots from the back end—defenseman Nate Guerin led Colorado with eight shots on goal. But Bryzgalov couldn’t get it done, giving up all five goals when the teams were at even strength.
St. Louis 4 Chicago 3 (3 OT): The action was fast and furious early on, as the Blackhawks led 3-2 after one period. Remember how Jonathan Toews was supposed to be injured and out for the playoffs? We all need to find his personal trainer, because Toews had a pair of assists. Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp each fired six shots at St. Louis goalie Ryan Miller.
But Miller played a good game and kept his team in it, as a long dry spell ensued. St. Louis was eventually able to tie it up and force overtime. Both teams were extremely aggressive in the opening OT, with shots going 14-10 for Chicago. But the Blues’ defense tightened, while they were able to keep getting opportunities against Corey Crawford. Eventually, Alexander Steen put one of those chances through.
PACIFIC DIVISION BRACKET
Anaheim 4 Dallas 3: Anaheim bolted to a 4-0 lead, scoring three times in the first period. Even better, was that the scoring and assists were balanced. The Duck offense can be overly dependent on their stars, Ryan Getzlaff and Corey Perry. While Getzlaff had a goal and an assists, and Perry had an assist, there was a lot of wealth-sharing going on. Francois Beauchemin led the supporting cast with two assists.
Frederik Andersen got the start in goal, as the West’s best team is rolling the dice with a rookie in goal. Andersen let Dallas make it interesting, and they pulled to within a goal with more than six minutes to play, on the strength of a goal and an assist from Colton Sceviour, but the Ducks held on.
San Jose 6 Los Angeles 3: Another game where the favorite came flying out of the gate. Joe Thornton leads this Sharks’ offense, but normally it’s with his passing, rather than scoring. In this game, Thornton lit the lamp immediately, and San Jose attacked Jonathan Quick for a 5-0 lead after two periods.
If you’re a Los Angeles fan you might look at your 34-33 shot advantage and think that things will even out. Don’t get your hopes up—the Kings did all their damage in the third period, when they were attacking desperately and the Sharks had pulled back. San Jose held a decisive 28-18 shot edge in the first two periods when the game was decided.
I didn’t make official Finals picks when the playoffs began for two reasons—the fact I’m a Boston fan means I’m not even going to hint at objectivity in the East. I would have considered Tampa Bay the best alternative, although without Bishop you can throw that out the window. The other reason is that I’m just sick of being wrong all the time. That said, I’ll jinx the fans of northern California, by saying I think San Jose is going to win the West.
TheSportsNotebook’s NHL playoffs coverage will return on Sunday morning, with a look at the games of Friday and Saturday. Here’s the upcoming schedule…
Detroit at Boston (7:30 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
Montreal at Tampa Bay
Dallas at Anaheim (10 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
Chicago at St. Louis (3 PM ET, NBC)
Columbus at Pittsburgh (7 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)
Minnesota at Colorado (9:30 PM ET, NBC Sports Network)