The NHL Western Conference playoffs took on further clarity, as the Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames moved on to the second round, joining the Anaheim Ducks. Three of the four positions in the Division Finals are now taken and the fourth could be filled by early evening if the Minnesota Wild can beat the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 (3 PM ET, NBC). Here’s a look at how Chicago and Calgary won their respective first-round series:
CHICAGO BEATS NASHVILLE IN 6
It was one of the best matchups of the first round, with the high-powered weaponry of the Blackhawks going against a good Predators’ defense, anchored by goalie Pekka Rinne. Chicago decidedly won this battle–they controlled pace, with high shot volumes on both sides marking the first four games when the Blackhawks all but wrapped up the series by winning three of them.
To make matters worse for Nashville, they couldn’t hold leads. The tone for the entire series was set in Game 1 when the Preds coughed up a 3-0 lead. The media storyline of the series was the controversy over who Chicago’s goalie would be, Corey Crawford or Scott Darling. But the more important storyline was that the great Blackhawk offensive players beat Rinne.
It’s not easy–in fact, sometimes it seems impossible–for great offensive talent to trump defense in the NHL playoffs. It’s a testament to the sheer depth of Chicago’s firepower that they made it happen. It starts with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa and concludes with defenseman Duncan Keith, one of the best offensive players on the back end anywhere in the league.
Darling stepped in and saved Chicago in the first four games, bailing them out with a superb effort in Game 1–he held Nashville at bay and allowed his team to comeback, even though the Preds took 32 shots in just the third period and first overtime of a game that ultimately went into the third extra session. Darling then faced a combined 89 shots in Games 3 & 4 and only gave up four goals in the wins that all but clinched the series.
But the Chicago goalie situation would end where it began–after Darling collapsed in the third period of Game 5 and then gave up three goals in Game 6, Chicago went back to Crawford, who stopped all 13 shots and his team came back one more time.
The Blackhawks await the St. Louis-Minnesota winner in the Central Division Finals.
CALGARY BEATS VANCOUVER IN 6
It used to be Vancouver that we thought of first when it came to great offensive talent. And while the Sedin brothers, Daniel and Henrik, aren’t the stars they used to be, they’re still awfully good. They played aggressively each game and along with Alex Burrows consistently attacked the next. Calgary won because for five games, goaltender Jonas Hiller turned back the tide and then an offensive onslaught secured the win in Game 6.
Amidst the stars of Vancouver, the Flames also got key goals from their defenseman. Kris Russell scored with thirty seconds to win Game 1. T.J. Brodie had an assist and a goal in Game 3. In a series where the combined score of both teams after five games was 11-10 Calgary, these were critical.
Hiller played poorly in the first period of Game 6 and his team fell behind 3-0. He was pulled, but having carried the Flames for five games, it was time for his teammates to bail him out. Jiri Hudler put in two goals and two assists. Calgary led 5-4 by the third period and then tacked on two empty net goals to secure the series. This was the kind of game Vancouver needed to create and when they finally got it, they couldn’t get it done.
The Flames will play Anaheim in the Pacific Division Finals, the only second round matchup that’s locked in. Schedules have yet to be announced.
OVER IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
The New York Rangers, winners of the President’s Trophy, have advanced to the Metropolitan Division Finals, with a 4-1 series in over the Pittsburgh Penguins. As the Rangers get company in the East’s second round, we’ll take a look at how they dispatched the Pens for the second straight year. Here’s how the other series look…
*Washington-NY Islanders–Tied 3-3 and headed for a decisive seventh game on Monday night in D.C. (7:30 PM ET, NBCSN). The winner plays the Rangers.
*Detroit-Tampa Bay–the Red Wings are up 3-2 and go to clinch at home on Monday (7 PM ET, CNBC)
*Montreal-Ottawa–the Canadiens are up 3-2 and can wrap it up tonight (6 PM ET, NBCSN). The Senators have already won two straight elimination games to stretch this series out.
All first-round series will be completed by the end of Wednesday night at the latest, and potentially by the end of Monday night.