The NHL playoffs are in full swing as contenders enter the second round of the postseason. The first round included two No. 1 ranked teams losing in their respective brackets, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Montreal Canadiens. However, other teams took care of business, with the defending champs the Pittsburgh Penguins winning in five games and the Capitals winning in six games after overcoming an early 2-1 series deficit.
The Nashville Predators and New York Rangers both showed up impressively. The Preds amazingly swept the Blackhawks in four games, considering the Nashville natives were a wild card team. The Rangers overcame a 2-1 deficit to the Flying Frenchmen by rattling three consecutive wins.
One big reason for the Hawks’ early exit was their lack of offense. During the regular season, Chicago hovered right around the league average when it comes to goals scored per game, shots per game and power play goals. However, Nashville shutout the Blackhawks in the first two games of the series. The B-Hawks only scored three goals all series, which is surprising since they averaged a little under three goals a game during the season. The Predators showcased a defensive barrage on the six-time Stanley Cup champions.
Having great performances by goalies are key to a deep run in the NHL playoffs and “The King” gave that to the Rangers. During those three-straight wins for the Blueshirts after being down 2-1, Henrik Lundqvist possessed an outstanding save percentage. He performed consistently to say the least and “King Henrik” saved 94 percent of the shots in those three winning efforts. The Rangers have been blessed by the consistency Lundqvist gives every game especially in the playoffs, not too bad from a former 205th overall pick in the 2000 NHL Draft.
The defending Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets without much worry. Much like New York, the Pens received a spectacular outing from their goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. In three of the Pittsburgh’s four wins, Fleury saved over 96 percent of the shots, which were in Games 1, 2 and 5. The 32-year-old is showing his prowess in the postseason as he looks to keep it going against the Capitals.
Whenever the Capitals are mentioned, Alex Ovechkin is the first player that comes to mind and he is usually the difference maker when it matters most. Another offensive force emerged to the forefront for the Caps and his name is T.J. Oshie. He contributed seven points this postseason so far and in a pivotal Game 4, he scored two of the Capitals’ five goals en route to their win. The Red Army did not look back and they handled the Toronto Maple Leafs in order.
Looking ahead and coming up in the second round, the most interesting matchup is most certainly the Pens facing the Caps, where the two highest scoring offenses square off in a battle for hockey fans to enjoy. Pittsburgh averaged just under three and a half goals per game and the Capitals averaged just above three goals a game. This series could go either way, since the Capitals are favored to win right now by 51 percent. The play of the goalkeepers dictate this series.
Another series to watch is the New York Rangers duel with the Ottawa Senators. The Rangers also possess a potent offense, since they averaged the fourth highest scoring offense during the regular season. On the contrary, the Sens have a below average scoring offense, placing the 22nd highest scoring offense, as well as only averaging a little over two and a half goals per game.
Compared to the Caps-Pens series, this series is more favored to go toward the Blueshirts with a 59 percentage to win the series. The Rangers have to see this opportunity and make that push for the Stanley Cup.
With a number of surprises already in the NHL playoffs, there is still much to see in the second round and beyond. The Predators certainly put themselves on notice for other postseason contenders as well as the Rangers making a surge against Montreal; both took down top-seeded teams. The field of teams is now down to eight and only time will tell which team can bring home the Stanley Cup.