We're just about a week into the postseason and already we've got several exciting series, a number of interesting storylines and many hints for what's to come. Here are some of the things I've noticed so far from the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
ARE THE ISLANDERS CREATING THE BLUEPRINT?
In Game 3 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders, the Isles jumped out to a quick lead and suddenly the Penguins took over. Now, the Islanders came right back before the Pens eventually won in overtime, but there were a few things worth noticing.
First, that quick Pittsburgh rally just shows that team's skill level and how few chances they need to score. The Islanders have had the better chances and more shots, but Pittsburgh gets a chance and it goes in. Douglas Murray gets a chance and he scores. Pascal Dupuis gets a chance and it's in. They're just so talented, and that's the difference. Everybody on that team can score and the Islanders don't have that luxury. Almost nobody does. Only a few teams in the NHL have that kind of luxury and Pittsburgh is by far the best in that area.
That said, the cream may be slowly rising to the top in that series, but we're also seeing that if you can skate, you can play with Pittsburgh. The Islanders are making this a tighter series than expected because they can skate with the Penguins. If the Pens end up winning this series, we're seeing that skating with them is what teams are going to have to do. The Penguins aren't used to playing teams as quick as they are, and that's why the Islanders are having so much success. The Isles are every bit as quick as the Penguins, which is something that doesn't happen too often. The Pittsburgh forwards aren't getting a ton of great chances, and that's because the Islanders' defense skates pretty well. If the Penguins end up playing a team that's more dangerous offensively than the Islanders and can still skate with them, that anticipated coronation in the East could suddenly be in jeopardy.
THE RANGERS ARE IN TROUBLE
The New York Rangers can't score. They've got one goal in two games. Their power play is nonexistent and 5 on 5 Washington is just the better team. Alex Ovechkin has been great. Rick Nash hasn't been great. Braden Holtby has been great, and while Henrik Lundqvist has been great, the Rangers can't survive on that alone. The only reason Saturday's game went into overtime was Lundqvist, but if the Rangers get a great game like that from him and lose, what hope do they have? They're in a ton of trouble.
Going into the playoffs I didn't see a reason to think the Rangers were going to be able to score. They had a few big games at the end of the season, but other than that it was one or two goals at the most. What can the Rangers do? They're a defense-first team built to win low-scoring games. If they're losing low-scoring games like they did in Game 2, what hope do they have? The only hope is for Lundqvist to be even better than he was in Game 2, and I don't know if he can be better than that. They're a fragile team right now and they can't just bank on Lundqvist getting shutouts.
YOU'VE GOT TO WORK
In Game 2 of their series against the Minnesota Wild, the Chicago Blackhawks looked like the Blackhawks, but in Game 1 and to some extent Game 3, for whatever reason they just weren't ready to play and Minnesota shocked them. Game 1 was a great wake-up call for the Blackhawks and they can count their blessings that they won it and then reappeared in Game 2, but all this shows is that you need to put the work in to win in the playoffs. The Blackhawks are better than the rest of the West if they're willing to work like they did in Game 2, but right now they haven't been doing that consistently.
The playoffs have shown if your work ethic isn't what the other team's is, you can be beat. It happened to the Penguins in Game 2 and it's happening in the series between the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings. I thought L.A.'s pushback on Saturday was very good, but even if you're the top seed against the worst team in the playoffs, if you aren't willing to work you'll suffer for it. We've seen that now.
SURPRISES OUT WEST
The San Jose Sharks have been playing great, but I'm still very surprised the Vancouver Canucks not only didn't win Game 3 Sunday night, but they got beat badly and fell apart in the third period. The Canucks really controlled Game 2 of that series and lost it late, and when a veteran team like that gives up a goal in the last minute it's not a good sign, but I still expected them to respond well in Game 3 in San Jose and they just didn't.
The amazing thing is the Canucks are such a nasty team to play against. They get under your skin so badly. They're hacking you and whacking you and they cross-check you and they spear you and they yap at you. They're a very tough team to keep your cool against, and for the most part the Sharks have done a very good job of that. I thought we were still looking at a five-or-six-game series even after the Canucks lost the first two games at home, but this just looks like it's too big a hole to climb out of. Right now it's very hard to believe this can go past four.
UNEASY LIES THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN
The Kings responded well in taking Game 3 at home on Saturday, and I think they'll probably win Game 4 and square the series at 2-2, but the last game showed that Jonathan Quick can't afford to make a mistake. St. Louis is that good. Quick made a mistake in Game 1 and the winner by Barret Jackman in Game 2 was pretty soft. Game 3 he played great again, but it showed that he needs to play like he did a year ago. I can't think of a soft goal Quick gave up last year, and he's already had two in this series.
The Blues just need to keep doing what they're doing. It's so hard to get a scoring chance against St. Louis. They're so good defensively, they're big, they're physical. They've made L.A. change its lineup by going to seven defensemen and when you're forcing teams to make adjustments like that, it's a good sign. If the Blues score at all, they're very tough to play again. That means Quick has to be as good or better than Brian Elliott. If Quick can do that L.A. can even up this series, but if he struggles, St. Louis will win it.
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