North York - April 21, 2012 - So, we've made it to the halfway point of the first round of the playoffs, and it has been rather eventful when compared to previous years. Here is my breakdown of each series this far.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS vs LOS ANGELES KINGS
The Canucks finished this season with the best record in the NHL, which earns them the President's trophy, but things didn't quite go their way early in the playoffs. Daniel Sedin didn't play in their first three games for the Canucks as the Kings jumped to an 3-0 series lead. Vancouver would win game four with Daniel Sedin in the line-up, but have a big hill to climb.
Roberto Luongo played in net for the Canucks in games one and two, and played considerably well, but Cory Schneider was given the call for game three to change things up. Despite the loss in game three, Schneider, who played well, was given the nod to start in net for game four which he won. This raises a lot of questions about the future of Luongo and whether or not he will be playing for the Canucks in the near future.
The real goaltending story in this series is Jonathan Quick for the Los Angeles Kings. In my opinion he has been the best goalie of the playoffs thus far.
Although the Kings are the eighth an final team to make the playoffs in the Western Conference, they are still a very good team with a very talented roster. I don't see the Canucks winning another three consecutive games to knock the Kings out. In fact, when the dust settles and the first round is behind us, I think Los Angeles will be many people's favourite for the Stanley Cup.
ST. LOUIS BLUES vs SAN JOSE SHARKS
After last nights win, the St. Louis Blues have a 3-1 series lead. The only game they lost happened in the second overtime. Even despite the injury to Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis' number one goaltender, they still managed to win with Brian Elliot in net. Although Elliot is the back-up goalie, he put up great numbers in the regular season and is continuing where he left off in the playoffs. Andy McDonald has been great as well as he leads the Blues offense with seven points.
As for the Sharks, Neimi has played well enough to win most nights, but their top players need to start producing. Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski are still held pointless thus far in the series.
PHOENIX COYOTES vs CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Although Chicago is the lower seeded team in this match-up, many people considered them favourites to get past the Coyotes. With all the fire power and skill up front, it's surprising that the Blackhawks trail the Coyotes 3-1 in the series. Simply stated, Crawford has been bad in net for Chicago, and across the ice, Mike Smith has been phenomenal for the Coyotes.
Granted, all four games were decided in overtime, but the last two games were decided by bad goals. In game three Crawford let in a goal from the icing line, and in game four he let a sliding puck get behind him. If the Blackhawks want to get back into this series, they need Crawford to start playing like a starting NHL goalie. But let's not put the whole blame on Crawford. Johnny Oduya, who the Blackhawks picked up at the trade deadline, is having an absolutely terrible run thus far in the playoffs.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS vs DETROIT RED WINGS
The Predators lead the series 3-1 over the Red Wings in another series where most games have been decided by a single goal. When things are that tight, it helps to have a goalie like Pekka Rinne in net. It also helps that Shea Weber is in the line-up and not suspended despite a vicious play involving him and Zetterberg earlier on the series. But that's another discussion entirely in itself.
Who would've thought that two former Stanley Cup champions and one runner up, all within the last five years, would be on the brink of a first round elimination?