BY ERINN CASEY | Ball State Sports Link
People say in playoff hockey, more so than any other sport, anything can happen. I’ve never heard a truer statement.
In no other sport can games, series and championships be decided by a single deflection off a stick, skate or pad. Upsets are more common than predictions. Star shooters and goalies who thrived during the regular season can struggle in the postseason, and likewise the other way around.
Every team that enters NHL playoff contention truly has as good of a chance to go far as the ‘favorites.’ Take the events unfolding this year as an example.
Three of the league’s top teams started their first series with three straight losses, leaving them with the daunting task of having to win four straight games in order to advance. Unlikely, but it has happened before.
The top 5 teams this year:
1. WAS – Down 2-1
2. PIT – Up 3-0
3. CHI- Down 3-0
4. CBJ – Down 3-0
5. MIN – Down 3-0
— JB (@JBSportsTalk9) April 18, 2017
The Washington Capitals, who won the President’s Trophy for the best regular-season record, started its series against the wild card Toronto Maple Leafs by losing two of the first three games. They evened the series April 19 with a 5-4 victory.
The Central Division No. 1 seeded Chicago Blackhawks, predicted by many to meet the Capitals in the Stanley Cup finals, are facing elimination April 20 against the wild card Nashville Predators.
Fans are perplexed as to why the team has fallen so flat, having scored only two goals in the first three games. Chicago finished the regular season with 109 points, enough to give them the top spot in the Western Conference.
Nashville has never held a 3-0 lead in a playoff series. And Nashville has never looked more like a Stanley Cup contender than it does now.
If the Blackhawks can’t win four straight games to become the fifth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit, the Western Conference is an attainable prize for the Predators.
According to Scott Burnside of ESPN, “Since 1987, when the best-of-seven series were introduced for every round, just seven teams with at least 100 points in the regular season have been swept in the first round and only one in the past decade.”
Will the Blackhawks make it 8?
Despite the madness of the first round, it has been prime time for newcomers and younger kids to continue to make a name for themselves.
Toronto’s Auston Matthews, 19, and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid have each scored in their initial playoff run.
It was fitting that Matthews’ 40th goal of his record-setting rookie season helped clinched a playoff spot. He scored into an empty net with three seconds left to secure a 5-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins April 8 to get the Toronto into the postseason conversation.
Matthews, a leading contender to win the Calder Trophy, is one of only 19 players to score 40 goals in his rookie NHL season and only the sixth to do it before his 20th birthday.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jake Guentzel, 22, who was just recently recalled from the minor leagues, boasted five goals in the first round, undoubtedly contributing to Penguin’s 3-1 series lead over Columbus.
There have been many surprises so far, and we’re only through the FIRST WEEK of the playoffs. The thrill and excitement that anything can happen and that everyone has a chance is what give playoff hockey an atmosphere like no other.
To date, the only team to officially advancd to the second round is the Anaheim Ducks. The other seven second spots are still up for grabs. At this time next week, the teams currently in jeopardy can be on their summer break — or riding the momentum of a stunning series comeback.
Will the teams who have dug themselves a 3-0 hole battle back to win four straight games? Will the top teams make it through to see the second round? Or will the up and coming wild card teams take their spot?
The thrill of the NHL playoffs is that any scenario can play out. STAY TUNED!