Hockey fans can find something to enjoy in almost any playoff year, but there was a feeling – maybe intangible – that this first round was special. Maybe it was the steady stream of overtimes and stunning array of dramatic comebacks. Perhaps it was the intense physicality and exciting style of play.
By my own subjective accounts, there was only series that could be considered a relative “dud”: the Detroit Red Wings’ sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes. Yet even in that case, hockey fans were given the chance to marvel at the sublime skills of Pavel Datsyuk and the locomotive force that is the Red Wings’ offense.
Ultimately, the Blackhawks-Canucks, Canadiens-Bruins and Sabres-Flyers series were everything we hoped they could be while Kings-Sharks and Lightning-Penguins matches exceeded most peoples’ expectations. There was plenty to like in the Predators-Ducks and Rangers-Capitals clashes as well, as the former series was surprisingly wide-open while the latter featured suffocating defense.
Whatever series or factors drew you in, the NHL’s willing to back up our feelings with concrete facts.
* The four Game 7s were the most in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1995.
* Each of the final nine days of the first round featured an overtime game, an unprecedented streak. There were 12 OTs in that span.
* The 14 total overtimes were the most since the record 15 in 2001.
* The 49 total games matched the most ever in the first round.
* There were two Game 7 overtimes, tying the pair in 1997 as the most ever in the first round.
* Seven of the eight series had a game decided in overtime.
* Three of the eight series ended with an overtime goal.
* Road teams posted a winning record (26-23), one victory short of the most ever in the first round.
* Following a 2010 first round in which each of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference were toppled, the top three seeds in both the East and West survived the first round for the first time since 1996.
Obviously, with four series instead of eight, it’s unfair to ask the second round to match the first from a quantity standpoint. With that in mind, the question is: can the semifinals hope to bring the same level of quality hockey? It’s a tough mark to hit, but hockey fans will enjoy finding out.