There were plenty of upsets in round one, but yesterday was devoid of major surprises as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings comfortably beat the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks respectively.
Will that trend continue or will a low seed make it to the Conference Finals? Let’s take a look at tonight’s action:
Game 1: Chicago Blackhawks host Detroit Red Wings (8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN/Live Extra)
The Detroit Red Wings will head to the Eastern Conference for the 2013-14 campaign, so this was their last chance to meet Chicago in the playoffs as division rivals.
The Blackhawks swept their season series, but the Red Wings managed to push them to overtime in three of their four meetings. That naturally suggests that we might be in for some close playoff contests, but so much of that depends on Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard and captain Henrik Zetterberg.
Those two players are huge to this team and when they’re playing at their best, Detroit is capable of stealing games from a team like the Blackhawks. Aside from them, Red Wings forward Valtteri Filppula is the x-factor in this series. He’s coming off of a disappointing season, but he started to heat up towards the end of the first round and played a role in Detroit advancing.
It seems almost inaccurate to label any player on the Blackhawks as an x-factor, simply because the team is so deep. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane didn’t score a single goal in the first round (although they did combine for seven assists), but Chicago still had no problem dispatching the Minnesota Wild.
Only three Chicago players participated in all five games and didn’t end up with at least a point and all of them – Brent Seabrook, Michal Rozsival, and Brandon Bollig – made defensive contributions. The Red Wings might be able to match the Blackhawks in terms of top-end talent, but it’s Chicago’s depth that makes them the heavy favorites in this series.
Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot
Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.
It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.
Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.
The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.
However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.
Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings
The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”
Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.
It’s been a bleak season for the Vancouver Canucks.
Perhaps developments Friday evening can provide some optimism for fans of a team that can’t score, has trouble defending and has been decimated by injury.
Brock Boeser’s sophomore college season came to an end Friday, as North Dakota lost 4-3 to Boston University in double overtime. The Canucks selected Boeser 23rd overall in the 2015 draft with the hopes the talented right winger would one day become a central figure in that team’s scoring attack.
In his first season at North Dakota, Boeser scored 27 goals and 60 points in 42 games. His overall production dropped in his sophomore year — he had wrist surgery in December — but he still averaged more than a point per game in 31 contests, with 16 goals.
With North Dakota’s campaign finished, the Canucks can now work to get Boeser under contract and perhaps get him into some NHL games to close out what has been a disappointing season in Vancouver.
Giving the fans something to get excited about in another season gone south seems as vital as giving Boeser a crash course on what to expect next season.
The Canucks are willing to burn a year of his entry-level deal because playing one game at age 20 would do that. But it seems worth the price for an organization in transition, even if Boeser would become a restricted free agent after two seasons and be in line for a big pay day should his production match predictions of effectiveness.
The Canucks are in Minnesota on Saturday and Winnipeg on Sunday.
It seemed, several weeks ago, that North Dakota’s hockey program was preparing for Boeser to turn pro after his second year ended.
UND head coach Brad Berry on @tsn1040 ''we fully expect Brock Boeser will depart after this season' #Canucks