Best and worst series of Round One

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1-sharksfan.jpgThere’s a fine line between what makes a great series and what makes a forgettable series in the NHL Playoffs. Not every seven game series is going to be exciting and incredible to watch just like how every sweep or five game series won’t always be a huge stinker to witness. What will this year’s playoffs hold for us as far as excitement and stinkers? I’ve got two of each to give you a heads up on. Our playoff picks from earlier today in the West and East will help prepare you for this.

Best Series to watch

Chicago vs. Nashville is one series in the Western Conference to keep a close eye on because these two already have some divisional dislike going on. Nashville doesn’t allow anyone to just boss them around and they’re a team that does not get cheated out of any game. Their effort is consistent night in and night out. Chicago, of course, is highly talented and has a lot of offense to spread around and their defense plays as tough as any other in the league. What adds a little gasoline to this match up is having a couple of playoff inexperienced goaltenders to the mix. Antti Niemi and Pekka Rinne are the future of Finland goaltending and they’re getting their first dose of high pressure action now in the first round of the playoffs. No sweat, right guys? How each of these guys handles the stress of the NHL Playoffs will determine how this series goes (the health of Patrick Hornqvist is also a big deal to Nashville) but I envision this series as a cutthroat, blue-collar-oriented one with all the extreme physicality the playoffs are capable of providing.

Washington vs. Montreal is a series in the East that, while it may not be long on games, will be long on potential entertainment value. Yes, you’ve got the scoring trio of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom in Washington going out and running their offensive circus. Mix in an acrobatic goalie who was able to steal some thunder in the Olympics in Jaroslav Halak and a team in Montreal that can provide some scoring punch with Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Sergei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot going against a potential weak link in Jose Theodore and you’ve got yourself some potential firewagon hockey. The catch here is that the Canadiens aren’t big fans of offense this year (217 goals, t-25th in the NHL) but managed to split their season series at 2-2 with the Caps. All things are possible with Jose Theodore, something Montreal fans know all too well.

Worst series to watch

New Jersey vs. Philadelphia sticks out to me as uninspiring for a few reasons and none of them have to do with the old Internet meme of “The Devils are boring.” Shocking, I know. While I think that Philadelphia will play with enough pride to stick around in this series, the Devils are going to be the methodical killer here and slowly drain the life out of Philadelphia. A back-breaking goal here , resisting giving into Dan Carcillo’s attempts to goad the Devils out of their discipline there, Brian Boucher realizing who he is and ultimately giving into the Devils. A reason to hope for excitement here: Jeff Carter blows up offensively for the Flyers now that he’s returned to the line up. Also, Ilya Kovalchuk flexes his talents all over the ice with some highlight reel stuff. I’m not going to hold my breath here, especially since I see this series going six games in uninspiring fashion.

San Jose vs. Colorado also shapes up to be a bad series for a couple of reasons. First of all, I don’t see how a seemingly tired Colorado team is going to be able to hang tough with a Sharks team that has to be ready for the playoffs after all these years. Secondly, if things do go south for the Sharks… Is watching a team unravel in the playoffs again worth seeing happen? I know for Colorado fans and Sharks haters it would be, but at some point it becomes hockey’s version of a snuff film set on repeat. When is enough, enough?

Is there drama in an eight seed taking out a #1? Sure there is, because it’s wholly unfathomable that it happens and when it does it’s shocking. I guess what I’m saying is is that while the Sharks were the originator of the stunning upset in 1994 (beating Detroit), they’ve become the punchline to the joke and if they were to fail again it’d be like watching a top comedian rip himself off to stay famous.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.