I am a Blackhawks fan, and therefore I am a very tired person.
The Blackhawks / Predators series is four games in, and their double-overtime game last week was eclipsed by a triple-overtime gem this week. The playoffs have also been a strain on my attention span because I’m constantly flipping between games. There have been few blowouts, which means trying not to miss a big event when flipping to the other game.
Before we get to the playoff recaps, though, let’s talk about the oil-covered elephant in the draft room.
The McDavid Lottery
Despite all the tanking from Arizona and Buffalo, the hockey gods proved they are capricious bastards by awarding the #1 draft pick this year (i.e., Connor McDavid) to the Edmonton Oilers.
Edmonton has been an awful team for a decade. This will be its fourth time the Oilers get the #1 pick overall since 2010, and yet they never seem to progress. Neither do the draft picks — the Oilers have the reputation of a team where young players go to lose prime years of their career. All this, and Edmonton topped the ESPN list of “NHL teams free agents don’t want to play for.”
And now the new young face of the NHL will play there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many variations of “oh, shit,” as I did after Edmonton won the top pick.
Amidst the wailing and gnashing of teeth, Ryan Lambert used his perch at Puck Daddy to write a rather solid counterpoint to the collective grumbling. To it, I would add that Edmonton has analytics Tyler Dellow, has a dedicated fan base to cheer on McDavid, and they play in the Pacific — a division going through some serious upheaval. Plus, after Buffalo GM Tim Murray’s comments after the draft, I didn’t feel so bad about the Oilers — and not Buffalo — getting McDavid.
Murray played the role of spoiled brat to perfection after the lottery. He went into the lottery knowing that the Sabres had a 20% chance of landing the first pick (Connor McDavid) and an 80% chance of getting the second (Jack Eichel). Despite knowing that he was four times more likely to get Eichel instead of McDavid, Murray still whinged about the Sabres missing a rare chance. Instead, the Sabres have to suffer the ignominy of drafting Eichel, potentially the best American prospect since Patrick Kane. Boo-hoo.
Then again, this is also the GM that fired a coach (Ted Nolan) for doing exactly what the Sabres wanted him to do, but trying to it with a shred of dignity. I’m not surprised Murray was complaining that the draft lottery went exactly as percentages said it would.
And now for the playoffs:
I’m starting out East this time because I have to wonder what is going to happen in Pittsburgh. If people are up in arms about an Oilers team that might flounder even with Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid, how to we react to a Penguins team that barely makes the playoffs and can’t escape the first round even with Crosby and Malkin?
New York Rangers | 3 -1 | Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh had a golden opportunity to even the series last night. The Rangers were off their game early on, and struggled through the rest of regulation. It would’ve been an amazing morale boost for Pittsburgh, as New York has outplayed them most of the series.
But the Rangers are too well-coached and the Penguins lack too much depth and consistency for this series to overcome the shift in momentum in New York’s favor. I could see Pittsburgh clawing it’s way back against other teams in the Metro, but not the Rangers. I really think it’s a shame that Alain Vigneault won’t win the Jack Adams as this season’s best coach, because I think a big reason why New York has the rest of the East on notice.
Washington Capitals | 2 – 2 | New York Islanders
This. Series. Is. Awesome. This is my favorite series for pure entertainment value, even if the Blues / Wild series is the first round’s true slobberknocker. Ovechkin and Tavares have been electric (though Backstrom and Okposo have been spark generators), the defenses have stepped up in the face of injury and illness, and you never know which way the tilt is going to go.
I still have no idea who’ll win this series. I picked the Capitals because of the injuries plaguing the Islanders’ blue line, but Leddy and Boychuk have stepped up. The Capitals won with their starting goalie out sick, and they’ve killed every single penalty this series. I don’t want this series to end.
Montreal Canadiens | 3 – 1 | Ottawa Senators
Congratulations, Ottawa, you have staved off your inevitable defeat. This means you’ve had a more successful post-season than your neighbors in Manitoba. But the reality is that the Senators need impossibly good goaltending to survive this series. After Andrew Hammond reverted to “just pretty good” (they pulled him after he put up a .929 save percentage in game 2), they put in Craig Anderson — and promptly lost despite a great game in net.
The Senators finally won when their goalie blocked every shot against him, and even then the barely won. Ottawa has a lot of positives they can build on next year, but their run is coming to a close. I’d say that they’re playing with house money at this point, but they’ve been doing that since February 18th.
Tampa Bay Lightning | 1 – 2 | Detroit Red Wings
For the first two games, the Lightning looked like the demonstrably better team. They possessed the puck, they put shot after shot on net, and they looked dangerous every minute of both games. Despite being the better team, they couldn’t figure out rookie goaltender Petr Mrazek in game 1, so the series was split after two games.
Once back at Joe Louis Arena, however, the Red Wings asserted dominance, shutting out Tampa Bay to the tune of 3-0. Detroit is keeping Steven Stamkos from finding the net, a Herculean task considering the Lightning sniper was the NHL’s #2 goal-scorer. Even though the Red Wings are up 2-1, I don’t know that they can keep the potent Lightning offense from overtaking the series.
This will soon be renamed the Connor McDavid Conference, and everyone will await the day the Oilers trade him to the Los Angeles Kings. Until then, here’s what the playoffs look like if you stay up late enough to watch the games.
St. Louis Blues | 2 – 2 | Minnesota Wild
Apologies to the Capitals / Islanders series, but this is the heavyweight bout of the first round. Tarasenko scores a gods-damned hat trick against Devan Dubnyk to win game 2. Dubnyk and the Wild respond by shutting out the Blues in game 3. Minnesota gave a clinic on shot suppression, and St. Louis looked like those offensively-challenged teams of prior years.
The Blues responded last night by hanging a pair of crooked numbers on Dubnyk and chasing him from the game. Tarasenko once more dominated the scoresheet, and this series shows every sign of going the full seven games. Get the popcorn.
Nashville Predators | 1 – 3 | Chicago Blackhawks
Nashville is determined not only to prove they belong in the playoffs, but to make it past one of the Stanley Cup favorites. They play a swarming style of hockey that gives opponents fits on zone entries, and then frustrates them later on the forecheck. But the Predators have been without Shea Weber and Mike Fisher for most (or all) of the series.
Chicago, meanwhile, has been here before. They have the opportunity to close out the series tonight with a win in Nashville. Scott Darling will be back in net, because you always ride the hot hand (or some other such cliche). I don’t think Crawford needs to be on the bench (the dude won the Jennings), but as long as the ‘Hawks win, the decision works.
Anaheim Ducks | 4 – 0 |
Wow. I picked Anaheim to make it past this round, but I didn’t think it would be a sweep. Even when the series was 3-0, I thought the Jets had at least one home win in them. Watching the games, it didn’t seem like Anaheim was really that dominant. Frederik Andersen looked merely adequate in goal, and their defense looked beatable.
Then again, the Jets gave up three power play goals in the first two games. They never put away the Ducks in any game, even though Winnipeg always scored first and usually had a lead. And the Jets stuck with Ondrej Pavelec, even as he put up abysmal save percentages (sub-.900 all series except game 2). Anybody who saw Pavelec’s career numbers was completely unsurprised — he was exactly who we thought he was, despite his surprisingly decent numbers this season.
This series is confounding. I still don’t think we know the true quality of the Ducks. They have, by far, the easiest path to the conference finals. They swept the series, yet they always seemed to play just well enough to win against the weakest playoff team in the West. Their path doesn’t get much more difficult next round, either.
Vancouver Canucks | 1 – 3 | Calgary Flames
If the Ducks are the team that plays just good enough to win games, the Canucks play just bad enough to lose games. Vancouver looked the better team in the first three games of this series, and not by a small margin. The first and second periods in those three games were clinics on possession and solid hockey.
That damn third period, though. The Flames are the cardiac kids, and won two games they had no business winning. Game 4 was the statement, though — Calgary looked good. They grabbed the reins in the first period and made the made the Canucks try to play catch-up. Vancouver flailed.
With the Canucks losing Alex Burrows, I don’t see any way back for Vacnouver. I still think the Calgary Flames are primarily a one-trick pony. But that trick — Monahan, Hudler, and Gaudreau — is one of the league’s best tricks. But they’ve developed some depth with the young Sam Bennett up front and the impressive play of Wideman and Brodie on the blue line. I don’t think the Flames could beat any of the teams in the Central bracket, but if their luck holds, they might win the Pacific bracket.
Tonight, two teams are on the edge of elimination. Vancouver and Nashville need to win to stay alive, and if Tampa Bay loses, it’ll be one loss away from going home. And the fourth game is the always-entertaining Capitals / Islanders, so my channel-changing thumb will be getting a workout.