Round one was really good. Round two got pretty close to living up to that hype. A couple of game sevens and the two best storylines in the playoffs (Nashville, Ottawa) continued onto the next round.
Here are 10 things I took from the four conference semi-final series:
1)NASHVILLE, err… SMASHVILLE IS A HOCKEY MARKET
Remember when Pittsburgh was almost relocated (I remember you Jim Balsillie) or when Chicago played games in front of a mainly empty arena. Bring some success into the picture and now you have two stable hockey markets.
Well, the same thing has happened to Nashville. They have a young, exciting team and are in a city that loves to party and rowdy. Watching the crowd erupt during their country music themed national anthems or seeing videos of fans partying in the streets has been one of my favourite parts of these playoffs.
The only thing more exciting than their fans has been their play on the ice, which brings me to my next point:
2) THE PREDS HAVE THE BEST DEFENSE. PERIOD.
They have one of the most well-rounded d-men in the league, Roman Josi. Add the electrifying PK Subban who can move the puck up the ice like few others. Throw in Ryan Ellis, who has been contributing 5v5, on the powerplay and on the PK, and doing an incredible job with it. Mattias Ekholm doesn’t make many mistakes, just gives Peter Laviolette good, honest minutes. Matt Irwin was in the minors at one point this season, now he’s anchoring the 3rd pairing in the conference finals. It’s an incredible combination of raw ability mixed with everyone clicking into their best form at the same time.
A defense like that wins you games and can cover when Pekka Rinne has an off night (even though he hasn’t had one yet) but there’s another group of defenders that I can’t say the same about…
3) THE RANGERS ARENT GOOD
Teams can overcome not having a superstar forward (Ottawa, Nashville), and teams can be brought along by a hot goalie as well. But when you have a blueline that is as poor as the New York Rangers, it’s tough to have any success.
This is not a knack on Ryan McDonaugh, who was absolutely incredible in my eyes. But this is on the old and slow Dan Girardi and Marc Staal who is a shadow of his former self. This is on a management group and coaching staff who brought in Brendan Smith to try to fix a poor defensive group. They also refused to give more minutes to two of their more competent players, Brady Skjei played less than Staal and Girardi, while Nick Holden averaged 3 minutes less per game than Girardi.
4) GOOD GUYS CAN COME IN FIRST
Man, if you want an inspiring story, look no further than the Ottawa Senators. From Bryan Murray’s health to Craig Anderson and his wife Nicholle going through an un-imaginable time right now.
Then there’s Clarke MacArthur, who was really never supposed to play hockey again, never mind be scoring series-clinching goals in round one and making an impact late in the playoffs.
It’s an incredible reminder as to why someone like myself loves to watch sports. Sometimes the stars align and everything works out, and it’s amazing to see that happen to this Senator’s family.
5) ERIK KARLSSON IS TOO GOOD
The stories on the Senators have been great, but Erik Karlsson has been THE story on the ice. Averaging over 28 minutes a game, with more than a point a game, he had his coming out party in round two, which is weird to say about a player with multiple Norris trophies.
He’s a top 3 player in the World right now, and I have no doubt about that. We throw the term “generational” around a lot, but that sums up Karlsson. His commitment to defense, while still pushing the offensive pace the way he has this year is incredible.
6) THE OILERS WILL BE VERY VERY GOOD… VERY VERY SOON
A young core with two top ten scorers almost made the Conference Finals. In fact, they were two botched goalie interference calls away from being in the NHL’s final four.
Emerging defensemen like Klefbom, Nurse, and Benning only add to the white-hot future Edmonton has. They didn’t make it this year, but you’d be a fool to bet against them being in the big dance soon, and often.
7) THE DUCKS ARE IN EXPANSION TROUBLE
Shea Theodore has been solid on the incredibly mobile Ducks defense, while up front, Rickard Rakell put up 30 goals this season and Jakob Silfverberg gave the Oilers fits during this past round. Which raises the expansion problem that the success of these three individuals will bring.
Silfverberg brings the classic power forward game, with a habit to fire the puck often. Rakell is just all around solid but has a knack for finishing plays. Theodore is a future top 4 defensemen, and one of them has to be traded, or be lost in the expansion draft. A good problem to have, but a problem none the less.
8) YOU CANT BEAT SID
Take away their best d-man, give Crosby a rookie winger, take out their starting goalie… it doesn’t matter. The Penguins and Sidney Crosby are damn near impossible to win.
As much as it might be boring to watch a repeat champion and not have a young fresh team like Nashville win, witnessing the greatness that is Crosby (and Malkin and Fleury) is quite incredible.
9) THE OFFICIALS…
Hardly needs any explaining. They call PK Subban for diving, which puzzled me. They miss calls late when Nick Bonino is given the phantom high stick from TJ Oshie. They blow goalie interference calls on the Oilers, which may have cost them the series.
The NHL Referees have a habit of giving respect to players who have been in the league a while, and this past round has taught me that is not the right way to do things.
Why have a rule book when it only applies to certain players, at certain points in the game, at certain times of the year. The game should be called the same way during game one in October, as it is in Game 7 of a playoff series. It’s sad that the officials became such a dominant story line, and it makes the NHL less pleasant to watch.