NHL Hot List: Playoffs Round 2

Now that we’ve reached the second round of the NHL playoffs, highlighting teams who’ve had high levels of play from their offense, defense or coaching would be like splitting hairs. To still be playing at this point of the season you need to be good at all three. Every series right now is either 3-2 or 3-3 which points to how evenly matched all these teams are.

Before I sat down to write this I asked around to see who other hockey fans thought would meet in the conference finals and I was told (with the exception of local NY homers) that Boston, Pittsburgh, LA and Chicago would be the four remaining teams more often than not. And for a while it looked like they were going to be right. The LA Kings jumped out to a 2-0 series lead and Montreal suffered a heart wrenching defeat to Boston. Minnesota was down 2-0 for the second straight series and Sidney Crosby and the Penguins had the Rangers down 3-1.

But somehow we ended up here, with every series is in game 6 or 7. To me, that is what this round of the playoffs has been about; the underdogs. Yes I know The (Mighty) Ducks are technically the higher seed but Brian Quick and the Kings are playoff darlings. People just expect them to go on deep playoff runs no matter what seed they are. The Eastern Conference games aren’t as intriguing to me. Those are some regional rivalries so those games were expected to be tight. Montreal & Boston have a long history and intensely dislike each other and the Rangers clearly have the talent to match up with Pittsburgh. The Western Conference on the other hand is what has been surprising me.

Photo by Harry How

Photo by Harry How

I come from a basketball family. That’s the sport we play as kids and still play as adults. In the NBA, teams just don’t come back from 3-0 or 3-1 deficits. No one has ever come back from 3-0 and only eight have come back from 3-1. Yet somehow in hockey teams never feel out of a series and that spirit is impressive. It seems like the San Jose Sharks are on the wrong end of this trend every year.

The Ducks fell down 2-0 to the Kings who just won four in a row to come back from a 3-0 deficit. On top of that the Ducks are playing the aforementioned team of destiny, the LA Kings and impenetrable wall Brian Quick. After game 2 it looked like the Kings were about to go on another run to the conference championship but the Ducks, who fell one point short of the President’s Trophy, bounced back to win three straight. Before game 4 they even made a switch in net replacing goalie Jonas Hiller with John Gibson. Gibson is 20 years old and was thrown into a crucial game 4. He responded like a 20 year old should, by shutting out the Kings. He then won game 5 too for good measure.

Then we have the Minnesota Wild. They aren’t fast starters yet somehow that doesn’t matter at all for their chances. They lost games 1 and 2 on the road in both rounds but they’ve also won every game they’ve played at home (5-0). They’ve managed to steal just one win on the road, game 7 in Colorado, to keep their season alive. The Blackhawks are the reigning NHL champs yet even they haven’t been able to take the home ice advantage away from the Wild, losing both games they’ve played there so far. With game 6 tonight in Minnesota the home ice could once again play a big role with the Wild trying to stave off elimination. They’ve been good in game 7s before, now all they have to do is keep the series alive until then.

As round 2 began I thought the Ducks and Wild were going to fold. The Ducks lost to the seventh seeded Red Wings last year and I thought their underachieving ways would continue. The Wild have been underdogs the whole playoffs and most people (myself included) didn’t think they could beat the Avalanche. Now they’re giving the conference favorite Blackhawks all they can handle. We very well might have a Ducks-Wild Western Conference Finals at this point. Or they could both lose their next game and I could be wrong again.