We're less than a week into the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs and already it's been a crazy ride. The hockey has been great, the drama has been unmatched and best of all, there's plenty more hockey still to come.
Here are some things I'm thinking about after watching the start of the postseason:
ALREADY A CLASSIC
This series between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks has been everything we hoped it could be and more. We knew it was going to be great. We knew the history of these two teams and that they were two of the best teams in the NHL. But to have two games like we've seen to open this series -- all this drama, the comebacks, the blown leads -- this is a series for the ages. The only unfortunate thing is that this is happening in the first round and not the third.
Obviously the Blackhawks are in a big hole after losing both games in St. Louis, and losing both of those games the way they did is devastating, but Chicago has to look back at last season. Before winning the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks were down 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings in the second round and rallied to win the series. That dressing room has a lot of character in it. I think the Blackhawks will be great in Game 3. Those two heartbreaking losses in St. Louis weren't the end for Chicago. They were a test. This is what a seven-game series does. The Blues passed the first test of this series in St. Louis by rallying late twice to defend their home ice. Now the Blackhawks have to pass their own test in Chicago by bouncing back.
It's impossible to talk about this series, however, without talking about the impact of Brent Seabrook's suspension. This is arguably the second-best defenseman on Chicago after Duncan Keith. He plays a ton of minutes, he plays the power play, he plays the penalty kill. It's a huge loss, because in addition to what he brings to the game skill-wise, it's almost nearly 30 minutes a night you've got to replace. The big question is how long David Backes is going to be out too, because that would be a huge loss for St. Louis. Backes is a captain, a leader, he's physical, and he does so much to help establish what the Blues do. If he can come back and play before Seabrook returns, that will be a huge advantage for St. Louis going forward.
Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon just makes it look easy, doesn't he? We all knew MacKinnon was talented, and we knew he had been fantastic and played well all season long, but I don't think anyone saw seven points in two games coming when he played in the playoffs for the first time. This kid is an immense talent, and while he's probably benefited from playing with good teammates and playing under Patrick Roy, there is some talent you just can't teach. No one should be surprised MacKinnon is a good player, but everyone should be surprised he scored seven points in the first two games of this series, particularly against a good defensive team like the Minnesota Wild. This isn't chopped liver he's playing against.
Center - COL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 6 | PTS: 7
SOG: 7 | +/-: 5
MacKinnon is on a line with Gabriel Landeskog
and Paul Stastny
that's really creative, and it plays to all of their strengths. That's been a huge help for Colorado, which is very young as we saw in the first game of the series. It seemed early on like the Avs might have been a little caught up in the moment. The playoffs are still foreign territory for most of the guys on this roster, and not having Matt Duchene
in the lineup wasn't a help either.
The Wild are a very good team defensively and they didn't give up much early in the game, but Colorado got better and better as the game went on. By the time they made that amazing comeback in Game 1, the Avalanche were in the swing of things. In Game 2 they were the better team by a mile. Now it's up to Minnesota to take care of business. If the Wild defend home ice, suddenly we've got a best-of-3, but that could be tough to do. Colorado has looked very good, and so far Minnesota has had no answer for MacKinnon, Landeskog and Stastny.
Sometimes there is a singular event in the history of a young franchise that signals its turn from also-ran to contender. The San Jose Sharks had their upset of Detroit in 1994. The New Jersey Devils had their overtime win in 1988 to clinch a first-ever playoff berth. We might have seen that moment on Saturday night with the Columbus Blue Jackets. When Matt Calvert scored in double overtime to give the Jackets their first-ever postseason win, it might have been the turning point for them.
What made Calvert's goal so amazing was that Columbus blew the lead in the first game of its series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That was a sign that these guys knew nothing about winning. When something like that happens to a team with the kind of postseason history Columbus has -- or lack thereof -- you expect them to fall apart. They gave it their best shot, Pittsburgh's talent shined through, and that's that. That ended up not being the case. Even when the Jackets fell down 3-1 in Game 2 there was no fold at all. They dug deep, they rallied and they got themselves a huge road playoff win.
That's a franchise-changer without a doubt.
When you go on the road, your goal is to win one of the two games. Columbus has done it. In addition, defenseman Jack Johnson's been great and forward Ryan Johansen is showing everyone that he's a superstar in the making. The Blue Jackets are showing they're a deep team that can finally compete with some of the NHL's best. After looking dead in the water following Game 1, now Columbus has home-ice advantage against a team that has looked shaky in the past few postseasons. The Blue Jackets have arrived. Maybe now it's the mighty Penguins that are doubting themselves.