That certain smell is back in the air, folks. The atmosphere has lightened and the Gods have blessed us with its return. PLAYOFF HOCKEY IS BACK. Now, in case you've been living under a rock, the Qualifying Rounds are over and we've seen Game 1 of each Stanley Cup Playoffs first round series played thus far. In this "longer than it looks" article, I'm going to address our Qualifying Round losers and recap the first game of each active series. So, without further ado, as they say in Hockey...let's do that Hockey.
New York Rangers: Swept in three games by Carolina
Congratulations, New York! You were rewarded for being utter and complete trash. For the past fifteen seasons, you took God's gift to the world in the form of Henrik Lundqvist and you completely stomped all over him time and again. For fifteen seasons, you wasted away the career of a legendary goalie that most teams spend years searching for. Your franchise cornerstone, the face of your organization since 2005 and all you did was blow it when it mattered most (i.e. 2012 and 2015). There is no further explanation warranted here. The only upside is those tears of utter sadness you made Lundqvist and your fans cry helped weigh down that ping pong ball for you in the Draft Lottery. Enjoy ruining Lafrenière, too.
Edmonton Oilers: Embarrassed by the Blackhawks in four games
How? How in the absolute hell did you lose this series? Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Zack Kassian, Kailer Yamamoto...I could honestly list everyone else on the team as well. Your roster is ten times better than Chicago's, yet they made you look like utter garbage. My expectations for you were astronomically low, but holy shit were you still able to disappoint me. Not only are Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen not franchise goalies, they aren't even starting goalies in this league. You have two of the best players in the world and can't even use your talent to upend a Chicago team that had no business being in the playoffs -- IN YOUR OWN DAMN ARENA, NO LESS. Go find yourself a goalie that's worth something this off-season and then come back to me. Knowing you, though, you'll sign Braden Holtby to a seven-year deal worth $75 million. Good luck.
Florida Sergei Bobrovskys: Lost to the Islanders in four games
The Florida Panthers are not a bad team. They just have a "meh" goaltender who's being paid far much more than he's worth. Besides Mike Hoffman, nobody showed up in this series for the Panthers. Barkov and Huberdeau made a handful of impact plays, but they were silent for much of this series. The Panthers had six 20 goal scorers on the roster and Mike Hoffman was the only one of them who provided any impact. I understand that it's a global pandemic and it's tough not playing hockey for four months, but dishing out massive contracts to an inconsistent goaltender relying heavily on him while the rest of the team can't piece it together is not the best strategy to employ. The Panthers need another piece on this team. Who that is, I don’t know, but they need to shake up this roster for the better.
Pittsburgh Penguins: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Blow it up and trade Sidney Crosby. I'm speaking it into existence. You're old, stale, mediocre and you LOST TO THE FREAKING HABS. You need a serious attitude adjustment over there in Pittsburgh and it starts by taking your older than dirt players and giving them the axe.
Winnipeg Jets: Shit the bed against Calgary
How the hell do you lose this series? I mean, honestly, with the offensive pieces that you have mixed with your Vezina Trophy candidate (who I thought should have won until I saw him in this series) in net, there's no excuse for you to just not show up. I understand the hit on Mark Scheifele that kept him out along with Patrick Laine missing a game possibly impacting you, but even then that's no excuse given your top 6 core. Connor Hellebuyck looked incredibly pedestrian and the ineptitude of the defense in front of him finally caught up with the Jets. Had there been no pandemic, Winnipeg gets to the semis. Instead, they're sitting at home.
Minnesota Wild: Lost in 4 to Vancouver
Coming into this series, Minnesota had the veteran leadership and presence the Canucks just didn't have. Jared Spurgeon continued his excellent play from the regular season and Eric Staal looked primed to put Minnesota on his back. Game 1 could not have been better for the Wild; Staal just forgot that Ryan Suter and Zack Parise's contracts were weighing him down, causing his old man knees to finally break. Vancouver employed their one advantage over you and used it to expose you for the rest of the series. Vancouver's young core popped you in the mouth in Games 2 and 3 and finally buried you come Game 4. They skated circles around you and exposed Alex Stalock as the spotty goaltender he's always been. Sadly, though, Devan Dubnyk probably wouldn't have fared much better. A rebuild is imminent for this team, as the core is too old and this was their last shot at some sort of a run.
Nashville Predators: Disappointments Yet Again
These guys are truly the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NHL. High end talent that will help you compete, only to screw you over come playoff time. There are no words to explain the inadequacies of Nashville and how they keep falling utterly short every single year. The window is closing fast and I truthfully don't know if Nashville can find their way back to the Cup Final. 2017 was your chance and you blew it. Enjoy mediocrity for the next decade.
Toronto Maple Leafs: 53 years without a Cup & no Playoff series wins since 2004
I was looking forward to crapping all over the Leafs. The Preds mascot in Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Zach Hyman, all cornerstones of the Leafs' offense. This team is too talented offensively to have been shut out twice in this series. Dead in the water in Game 4 and you pull an amazing comeback out of your ass, winning by scoring four unanswered goals. You follow up an improbable Game 4 win that gives you new life by getting shut out in Game 5. The Leafs have no defensemen on this team that can help form a quality top pairing option. Dumping almost $40 million on your top 4 wingers is an absolute joke. The Jets of the east: offensive firepower with a quality goalie and crap defense. At this point, it's just sad. I will always enjoy the Leafs' misery, but there's a time when it turns from humorous funny to sad funny. I mean, hey, at least it wasn't against Boston this time!
Stanley Cup Playoffs - Round 1
Tampa Bay Lightning v Columbus Blue Jackets
Game 1: Tampa wins 3-2 in 5OT (Yes, FIVE Overtimes)
As much as I love Playoff Hockey, this game went on for far too long. After Joonas Korpisalo sieged and liberated Ontario by beating the Leafs, he then looked to lay waste to Tampa. Despite taking the loss, Korpisalo racked up a Playoff-record 85 saves. He deserved to win this game and probably should have, but Columbus was facing Vezina Trophy candidate Andrei Vasilevsky, who was every bit as good. Columbus locked down Tampa for much of this game, but after the second OT, these teams just looked gassed. The quality of play dropped drastically and it just wasn't good hockey being played anymore. The drama was insurmountable, but the quality was "meh." Brayden Point is going to be Tampa's X-factor this series without Steven Stamkos around. Columbus' defensive play is otherworldly and the Lightning will have to fight for each win this series. I expect and hope this series goes seven.
Dallas Stars v Calgary Flames
Game 1: Calgary wins 3-2 in regulation
This game started after the Lightning-Blue Jackets game and wound up ending before it. Cam Talbot continued his strong play against Dallas, who I do not trust for the life of me in this series. Ben Bishop looked horrible in the one game he's played so far and is not up to speed so far for Dallas, who had to rely on Anton Khudobin in Game 1. Khudobin has been fine for the Stars in his starts, but he's not the guy you want starting in net for you every game come Playoff time. Dallas struggled offensively this season and will need all the help they can get against Talbot, who seems to get better each game. Dillon Dube put Calgary on his back in Game 1, but I just don't know if they can sustain this type of play against Dallas. This series is going to come down to who has the "better" goalie; I give Calgary the edge right now.
Las Vegas Golden Knights v Chicago Blackhawks
Game 1: Vegas wins 4-1 in regulation
This was a statement game for Vegas. After the Blackhawks shocked the Oilers, they looked to carry their momentum into this series. Vegas toyed with them for the first two periods, which I thought could be dangerous, but this game was truly never in doubt. Vegas iced Chicago by the third to take a 1-0 series lead. Reilly Smith was skating circles around Chicago's spotty defense. The Blackhawks have no chance in this series unless Corey Crawford is able to piece it together and Chicago's offense can find ways to produce. Kubalik, Toews, Kanes, DeBrincat and Dach can help make this a series, but Vegas probably takes this in 6. If only Chicago hadn't traded away Lehner, I would have actually given them a shot against Vegas. Now, instead, Lehner gets to put them out of their misery. How ironic.
Boston Bruins v Carolina Hurricanes
Game 1: Boston wins 4-3 in 2OT
The Bruins had to wait a whole extra day to play, but this game couldn't have gone much better for them. Although rusty at times, the "Perfection Line" finally woke up, with a goal from David Pastrnak in the first period and the OT dagger from Bergeron to win it. Boston looks primed to get back to their old selves within these next few games. Tuukka Rask still needs to flip the switch, as he played an okay game for the B's in Game 1. He was able to settle in as the game went on, but an in-sync Rask makes that stop against Fleury, screened or not. Boston needs to play better and faster, as Carolina will make this series living hell for Boston if they don't. The Bruins played with fire in Game 1 and need to be on point in Game 2. Boston should be able to handle Aho and company, but it's far from a certainty. I expect Boston to wrap up this series in 5 games, as Carolina just doesn't have the goaltending to compete.
Washington Capitals v New York Islanders
Game 1: Islanders win 4-2 in regulation
Braden Holtby is not to be trusted, and neither are the Capitals. These were sentiments I felt even before the season halted four months ago. Washington has the pieces in Ovi, Oshie, Vrana, etc. to compete, but I don't trust them. To be honest, I have no valid reason, it's just one of those feelings. Washington has notoriously collapsed and faltered under Alex Ovechkin, 2018 notwithstanding. Holtby struggled mightily during the regular season and continues to scuffle in the playoffs so far. The Islanders have to core to go head-to-head with Washington and proved it in Game 1. This will be a lengthy series for Washington, who will need to shut down Barzal and Eberle/Bailey if they wish to win. Truthfully, I think this series goes 7 as well.
Colorado Avalanche v Arizona Coyotes
Game 1: Avalanche win 3-0 in regulation
It's fairly easy to win a game when you only have to defend 20 shots. Philipp Grubauer pretty much had the night off, as Arizona just didn't seem ready to go and looked awful all night long. Taylor Hall looked downright lost at times and old men Soderberg and Kessel couldn't whip the lot into shape. Darcy Kuemper looked great in net and will be the reason why Arizona gets back into this series. The Avalanche are by no means an unstoppable wagon that everyone keeps championing for no reason, and I think that Arizona will be fine. Game 2 should and will hopefully be much more evenly matched than Game 1 was.
Philadelphia Flyers v Montreal Canadiens
Game 1: Flyers win 2-1 in regulation
Philly, you lucky bastards. If Montreal didn't suck so bad defensively, you would've lost this game. You let this lackluster Montreal team keep up with you the entire game. You dispatched Boston in Round Robin Game 1, handled Washington with ease and bitch slapped Tampa en route to the East's top seed, yet almost get embarrassed by Montreal? The Habs have nothing to lose and are just looking to play spoiler. That's a dangerous combination to be dealing with if you're not careful. Carey Price is going to try and out-duel young phenom Carter Hart and, you know what? I think he can do it. Philly needs to put the Habs away fast, or else this series may wind up being their last.
*Fun Fact* The Habs and Flyers have met in the Playoffs 6 times. 5 out of those 6 times, the winner of the Series has gone on to the Stanley Cup Final. The other time, you may ask? Well, both teams were playing each other the Stanley Cup that other time. Freaky…
St. Louis Blues v Vancouver Canucks
Game 1: Vancouver wins 5-2 in regulation
I called this a trap series for the Blues and Game 1 only caused me to feel that way even more. The Blues look completely out of whack, Binnington is Swiss cheese in net and the offense can't do much of anything. This looks like the Blues team prior to the 2019 Trade Deadline. Tarasenko needs to be the life blood for this Blues team that, in my opinion, ran into the wrong team to play in the first round. The Round Robin games made the Blues look bad, but this Game 1 loss is worse. The Blues are actually in a "must-win" Game 2 if they want to have any chance at winning this series. The only upside for St. Louis right now is that they looked okay in the first two periods. Vancouver, behind Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson, helped put the Blues away in the third. I think Vancouver's youth and offensive prowess behind Jacob Markström in net will pay dividends in this series. Don't sleep on the cucks!
That'll do it, folks. Stay tuned for more blog updates like these from me as the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles.