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April 22nd, 2015

NHL 2015 Playoffs First Round Update

CJ Paige @CJSportsrambler
NHL Playoffs

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell (29) checks Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro along the boards. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

If there is one thing hockey fans know about the NHL it’s that it is unpredictable. Many, many fans have created their NHL playoffs bracket trying to predict what will happen the entire postseason. If you know someone who has their bracket completely intact, make sure they’re not lying. I don’t think much people had trouble with it so far but the way the games have gone down is something to think about.

Three or four games into some of the series and each series may be where a lot of people thought they’d be but we have gotten there a very different way. Take for example Chicago vs Nashville. I don’t think many people would be surprised that if I said after three games the Hawks would be up 3-1. But If I said that Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford would be on the ice for a rather embarrassing loss and he’d be on the bench for the two wins, I think you might be confused. That exact thing has happened. In the four periods that Crawford has played he’s let up nine goals. Nine goals in just four periods. Meanwhile backup Scott Darling has let up just two goals in five periods of play. Again, tell me that the Blackhawks are up 3-1 and I wouldn’t be shocked, but tell me Crawford is going to struggle and I might say the Predators have this in good hands.

Other than the goalie controversy there, the series has been one of the greats in the playoffs so far. A Back and forth series and games leading to very exciting hockey. Including a double OT thriller in game one where Scott Darling probably stole that game a couple of times from Nashville. Going up 3-0 in the first period and stopping some huge shots down the stretch the Hawks took game 1. Chicago then put Crawford back in-goal for game two, where he wasn’t awful, but in the third period he let in three goals leading to a 6-2 final. Can’t say much more about this series, it’s top two in my opinion, if you want to watch one series this could be it. Up and down hockey, fast, physical, and most importantly exciting on and off the ice. I had Chicago winning this series and I’m sticking by that four games in.

NHL Playoffs

Winnipeg Jets’ Blake Wheeler (26) battles for the puck with Anaheim Ducks’ Emerson Etem (16). (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)

If we stick to series that aren’t very surprising maybe we should head to Anaheim vs Winnipeg. This series falls into the same category as Chicago-Nashville. Coming into the series I’m not sure people would be surprised by a 3-0 series lead for the Ducks, I can’t speak for others but I was not expecting that close of a series and this physicality. Coming into the series I knew the Jets were going to fight hard and push the Ducks a little, but a 3-0 lead for Anaheim doesn’t represent how close this series has been to an outsider. To make this short, Winnipeg has led going into the 3rd period in all three games. Two of those games were late goals by Anaheim to win or tie. Game 2 Anaheim scored the game winner with 21 seconds left in the game. In Game 3 it was with just over 2 minutes left in the game when Kesler scored to get that game into OT. Winnipeg even led in game 1 until Anaheim started to take over in the back half of the 2nd period and take the game in the 3rd.

3-0 series line doesn’t make this series look good. The games though have been exceptional, another example of how great playoff hockey is. Hopefully for me and hockey fans everywhere the Jets can find a way to extend this series because this is good stuff. And really, who doesn’t want to see more than just 1 more game in the city of Winnipeg huh? How great is that crowd, smallest NHL building yet the loudest. Reminds me of a team and city in the NBA, hint hint Sacramento.

NHL Playoffs

Montreal Canadiens forward David Desharnais (51) looks to pass as Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson and forward Erik Condra (22) look on. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

Speaking of 3-0 series lead we have another one out east. Montreal vs Ottawa. This one is a little surprising but again the 3-0 doesn’t do justice for how good this series has been as well. We’re again talking fast, physical, great hockey games that maybe some American fans have been ignoring because it’s 2 Canadian teams. If you’ve been ignoring this series shame on you as a hockey fan. In game 1 you missed PK Subbans vicious slash that is something out of the 1980’s, the Canadiens playing without their best two players for just about the whole game in Subban and Pacioretty and somehow, even after trailing early, the Canadiens pull it out and win game 1. Again in game two even with Those two players back, Montreal trails after the first period but they fight back to lead after two, yet the scrappy Senators force OT where a soft goal gets through the Ottawa goalkeeper. Then heading home nearly the same, Ottawa leads 1-0 the majority of the game, early goal for the home team then Montreal ties it up late in the third and another OT where a seemingly innocent shot gets through the Senators goaltender.

It seems this series is about goalies after reading how basically the Ottawa goalies have cost them 2 OT games right? Pretty much. Andrew Hammond was great for the Senators during their late seasons surge into the playoffs but he struggled a bit here in the playoffs leading to a goalie change for game 3 where Anderson was great throughout the game until that OT goal. It was a hard shot and definitely fooled Anderson, but the way he was going that night, he probably should have had that. Meanwhile the Canadiens have the best goalie in the NHL right now Carey Price. A guy who does everything so calmly back there for the Habs, a goalie who makes things look nearly effortless, good thing to have. If you haven’t been watching this series either check it out, almost the Ducks-Jets just on the east.

NHL Playoffs

Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller (30), left, stares down Calgary Flames’ Mason Raymond (21). (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

A 2 Canadian team series is a good segway into my next series, Calgary vs Vancouver. Unlike the past two series I’ve mentioned, I’m not sure there is much surprising about this series, 3-1 to this point, again it’s been fast and physical but maybe I should just say it’s been playoff hockey because fast and physical is playoff hockey. Both teams are good teams but to me before this series I had Calgary winning because they played more playoff like all season and I thought that kind of play would help them. I think it has. A hard-working team for 60 minutes no matter the score and they can pound the Vancouver defense and make them make mistakes and capitalize on those mistakes. This is another great series where if you’re not watching because it has two boring Canadian teams, you need to change your attitude about this one as well. It’s been a fun series to watch and even has gotten nasty and who doesn’t like watching people fight, in an era where UFC is huge and other sports where they have scuffles the crowd stands up and takes notice, if you like that stuff you should be watching this series.

NHL Playoffs

Washington Capitals right wing Joel Ward (42) checks New York Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan (44). (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

In terms of the other series, there hasn’t been much to discuss. The Washington-New York series has been surprising at a 2-2 series. I thought the Islanders defense was just to leaky and yet here we are and the Capitals are having trouble scoring goals and they can’t get their power play going. Great hockey being played by the Islanders. Staying in New York where the Rangers lead 2-1 over Pittsburgh, again a little surprising I had the Rangers beating the Penguins in 4 or 5 games and they still might get them in 5, but Pittsburgh has made this a lot tighter than I think people expected, If Pittsburgh was even remotely healthy on defense they could be leading this series 2-1 or 3-0 in my opinion, I think the Rangers have work to do to beat tougher teams.

NHL Playoffs

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) pokes the puck from Detroit Red Wings center Riley Sheahan (15) as Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) looks on. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

You have the defensive tight hockey being played by Minnesota and St. Louis which is the thing that brought them both to the dance. Minnesota currently leads that series 2-1, and what a story if the Blues lose that series, but that’s another story for perhaps another time. Then you have Detroit vs Tampa Bay which might be the worst series if you ask me. Unlike the other series this is the only one that has only played 2 games, but both those games were similar. Tampa Bay bring the heavy offense and Detroit weathering a storm for almost the whole game. Game 1 Detroit and Petr Mrazek was able to fend off Tampa for a long time and steal a game which is what Detroit is going to need this series. Game 2 though was a different story, Mrazek let in some goals was replaced by Jimmy Howard and Tampa ran away with a 5-1 win to even the series 1-1. The big story in this series is Tampa’s GM Steve Yzerman, one of the greatest Red Wings of all time, can he lead his team, his new team the Lightning over the team he created so many memories for, and oh yeah he won some Cups while in Detroit hoping to do the same in the Lightning organization.

There you go there is the playoffs. In my book it’s one of the better playoff opening rounds in recent years but I think I say that every year. That’s the NHL playoffs great memories and the greatest sport. The only sport where you can tell when game 82 ends the games are completely different, the atmosphere changes and the hockey gets absolutely off the charts good. And we’re only in the first round people, join me in this long playoff season and we’ll have some fun watching some good sports.

But I do want to know what you think. What’s been the best and worst series? Who’s your favorite team in this playoff season and how are they doing in your eyes? Go ahead and comment, and find me on twitter @CJSportsrambler and let’s get the convo going.

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