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NHL Playoffs catch-up and watch to watch

By: Andrew McGill

Washington Capitals

Playoff hockey made its return last week and it’s been exactly what hockey fans have been dreaming of, if not, more exciting. Almost every series has been evenly matched so far, with only one series currently at 3-0.

There are teams on upset alert and other teams that are looking to make a splash late in the first round. For example, the Nashville Predators have a two-games-to-none lead over the heavily favored Anaheim Ducks, something not many predicted going into the playoffs..

Some series bring vicious, long-time rivalries to the forefront, while others feature two evenly matched teams that change momentum like the wind changes direction, also there’s always room for some new bad blood.

Mid-way through the first round, the playoffs have yet to disappoint in the excitement department, with three overtime games and 12 games decided by just one goal. If you’re a casual hockey fan then there are plenty of series for you to watch and be entertained by, for the crazed hockey fans there has been plenty of nail-biting action.

Let’s take a look at what each series has brought us so far, and what to expect going forward:

Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Rangers, Series tied 1-1

This series has nasty written all over it as two metropolitan titans face-off. These two teams have plenty of scoring depth to wow fans with some dazzling goals and if the first two games are indicative of anything, it’s that these two teams are as evenly matched as possible. Through tames games the series is tied and it has that feeling that either team can grab the momentum and run at any time.

What to watch for: Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff struggled in Game 2, after a strong Game 1, his play will make the difference whether the Penguins can push past the Rangers, otherwise they need to hope Marc-Andre Fleury can return from his concussion sooner rather than later.

Detroit Red Wings vs Tampa Bay Lightning, Lightning lead series 2-1

So far, this series has seen the most blood shed. These teams just flat out hate each other and it shows best in between whistles. There was no love lost in the 5-on-5-line brawl that ensued at the end of game two. The Lightning have certainly outmatched the Red Wings on the ice so far, but the Red Wings were able to win a crucial game 3 in order to stay in the series.

What to watch for: The Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov – Tyler Johnson – Alex Killorn line has combined for 15 points in the 3 games so far this postseason. Detroit needs to find a way to slow them down if they want to have a chance.

Nashville Predators vs Anaheim Ducks, Predators lead series 2-0

The Predators have put the Ducks on upset alert as a wild card team taking a 2-0 lead on a number one seed. The Ducks came into the postseason as a heavy favorite to make a deep run. Just as they fell on their face at the beginning of the season it looks to be happening once again in the playoffs. The Ducks haven’t been completely taken out of the series yet, but they have given Nashville home-ice advantage the rest of the series and they already have a pretty big uphill battle ahead of them to make it to the next round.

What to watch for: Bruce Boudreau said that Fredrik Anderson will start Game 3 in Nashville after an “OK” performance from John Gibson, as described by Boudreau. Goalie changes worked for Detroit in Game 3, the Ducks are hoping for the same fortune.

Chicago Blackhawks vs St. Louis Blues, Blues lead series 2-1

The Blues have faced years of bullying from the Blackhawks and right now they’re taking their frustrations out on them. This has been a very physical series as two strong rivals with a very long history are face off. The Blackhawks have generated more chances, but Brian Elliott has played brilliantly in net so far.

What to watch for: Brian Elliott has a questionable past as a playoff goaltender, but he’s currently shutting out a lot of the negativity by making 105 saves in the first three games–as opposed to Corey Crawford’s 79. The question is if he can keep this level of play up, and for how long?

Philadelphia Flyers vs Washington Capitals, Capitals lead series 3-0

This is just a mismatch of gigantic proportions. After all, it is a matchup between the President’s trophy winners and a team that snuck into a playoff spot on the last day of the season. The Flyers have been prone to stupid mistakes throughout the series that the Capitals have been jumping on almost every one of them. The Flyers are a team that’s a couple years from competing seriously, on the other hand this is just a way for the Caps to tune up before eventually facing either the Rangers or Penguins.

What to watch for: Braden Holtby reportedly suffered a lower-body injury in practice, but is still expected to play. It could be something to look for in Game 4 against Philadelphia, whether he can push off on his leg or not.

New York Islanders vs Florida Panthers, Islanders lead series 2-1

For my money, this series is one of the most exciting through three games. Each game seems to be evenly matched, with both teams producing plenty of offense. You have the playoffs points leader on Florida in Reilly Smith — eight points in just three games — and John Tavares of the Islanders isn’t too far behind with six. The games in this series go back and forth with offensive momentum swinging like a pendulum. The most recent contest finished with an exciting overtime winner from Thomas Hickey.

What to look for: Goaltending has been mediocre in this series, as there have been a combined 20 goals scored in the three games. If you’re not a huge hockey fan, but enjoy a good show then I suggest watching this series because there is a lot of offensive skill, and it’s light on the back end.

Minnesota Wild vs Dallas Stars, Stars lead series 2-1

The Stars turned in a poor performance on the road against the Wild in Game 3. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, they gave up four unanswered goals and lost to the Wild by a score of 5-3. The Stars have plenty of scoring depth, despite losing Tyler Seguin for an unknown amount of time, but need to be able to solidify their game on the road, especially in the hockey-rabid state of Minnesota.

What to look for: Hopefully Dallas felt the sting of that comeback and reacts accordingly, otherwise they might not be meant for a deep playoff run.

San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings, Sharks lead series 2-1

The Sharks came in a grabbed the first two games from the Kings in Los Angeles, but failed to carry that momentum back home to San Jose. The Kings were able to score in overtime in order to avoid going down 3-0 to the Sharks In 2013, the Kings came back from a 3-0 series deficit against the Sharks to eliminate them from the playoffs. Now, the Sharks are doing anything they can to exact revenge on the Kings for the embarrassment that was caused by that comeback performance.

What to watch for: Both these teams are evenly matched, and both play a physically punishing style. Every game has been decided by only one goal, and look for the series to continue this way.

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Andrew McGill

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