There is nothing like the NHL playoffs, as proven by this season’s opening round series that concluded last night. To put it into perspective, four of the eight opening series went to seven games, two went to game six and there was only one sweep. One can argue that the Washington Capitals’ defeat of the New York Rangers in five games was one of the most competitive five-game series in quite some time. The best stat of them all: nine straight nights of overtime hockey, including two Game 7 overtime periods. What more can you ask for?
(8) Chicago Blackhawks vs (1) Vancouver Cancuks- Van Wins 4-3
What started as a no-contest in the first three games for Vancouver turned into a near collapse. The Canucks opened up a 3-0 lead in the series thanks in part to strong goaltending. That same goaltending, led by Vezina finalist Roberto Luongo, simply disappeared in Games 4 and 5, when the Canucks were outscored 12-2. The Blackhawks smelt blood at home in Game 6, and edged the President’s Trophy winners 4-3 in overtime, setting up Game 7 in Vancouver.
Blackhawks’ rookie goaltender Cory Crawford kept the game close in the third period with Vancouver up 1-0 with an amazing save on his stomach with his glove that robbed Ryan Kesler. With his team down late and on the penalty kill, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews found a loose puck seemingly from his knees on the doorstep and tied the game with 1:56 remaining to send the game to overtime, and Canuck fans to their nearest bridge.
Just 5:22 into overtime, Alexandre Burrows, who had the Canucks’ first goal of the game and also missed on a penalty shot, sent the hometown fans home happy when he intercepted a Blackhawks clearing attempted and blasted home a shot from the slot that beat Crawford and put an end to a classic opening round series.
(7) Los Angeles Kings vs (2) San Jose Sharks- SJS Wins 4-2
It was the battle of California in some sense as the Bay Area faced off against Hollywood for the first time in playoff history. It was a roller coaster of a series for both teams. The Sharks edged the Kings in Game 1 but needed overtime to do so. The Kings came back in Game 2 and dominated, blanking San Jose 4-0.
The turning point in the series was Game 3. The Kings had opened up a 4-0 lead by the second period, and then proceeded to give it up. By the start of the third period, the teams were knotted 5-5. In overtime, Devin Setoguchi’s shot from the hashmarks beat Jonathan Quick and gave the Sharks the 2-1 series edge.
The teams traded wins in games 4 and 5 before Sharks’ captain Joe Thornton, who has been criticized for years about his team’s inability to make it happen in the playoffs, ended the series on a turn-around shot from the slot that gave San Jose a 4-3 victory, and a 4-2 series win.
(6) Phoenix Coyotes vs (3) Detroit Red Wings- DET Wins 4-0
This was arguably the only poor series in the first-round in either conference. The Coyotes organization, players and fans all had rumors of Winnipeg swirling around like a wind-storm in the desert from the start of the series. The Coyotes just did not have an answer for the veteran-savvy Wings, who swept the Coyotes out of the playoffs and possibly out of Phoenix for good.
(5) Nashville Predators vs (4) Anaheim Ducks- NSH Wins 4-2
This is the series that probably got the lowest fan-fare of all the opening round series, but it didn’t disappoint. Both teams showed how even the matchup was, splitting the opening four games of the series. The turning point was Nashville’s ability to head back to Anaheim and win a game in overtime thanks to Jerred Smithson’s goal just 1:57 into the extra period that gave the Predators a 3-2 series lead heading back to Nashville and their frenzied fans.
The Preds took care of business on home ice, winning 4-2, and advanced to the second-round for the first time in franchise history.
2011 West Semi-final Matchups
(5) Nashville Predators vs (1) Vancouver Canucks
(3) Detroit Red Wings vs (2) San Jose Sharks