Another week of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs is in the books and it's almost time to start Round 2. With the first round set to wrap up Monday night with Game 7s between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, and the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, here are some things that have stuck out to me from the conference quarterfinals.
ISLE BE SEEING YOU SOON
The New York Islanders might be done after losing in Game 6, but they leave looking far different from how they did six months ago or even three weeks ago. This is a good hockey team. I think it showed at the end of the season when they finished strong, and then the way they played the Pittsburgh Penguins. You could easily argue New York was the better team in this series and the Penguins are lucky to have won. This team has definitely grown by leaps and bounds the last three or four weeks, and if you're an Islanders fan, it's got to be the best you've felt about this team in 20 years.
I think this postseason was a sign of things to come for New York. If you look at the Islanders, they're all young, they've got some good veterans like Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky, and I don't see any reason to think the young guys aren't just going to get better. They've found out there are a lot of great kids in their feeder system, like Brock Nelson, who came up and played very well. Finally, of course, they have John Tavares. This guy is for real and there's no doubt that he'll do next year what he did this year as long as he's healthy. Are they going to fight for first overall next year? I don't think so, but the Islanders are certainly a team that will be fighting for a playoff spot next year.
Center - NYI
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 5
SOG: 21 | +/-: -4
NEXT UP FOR THE PENS
The Penguins' prize for getting past the Islanders? Maybe the worst matchup they could possibly get in the second round. One thing we learned from Pittsburgh's series against New York is if you can skate, you can cause the Penguins a lot of problems, and the Ottawa Senators might be a better skating team than New York is. If you look at that lineup, they've got a lot of guys that can fly and they've got Erik Karlsson. The Isles didn't have an Erik Karlsson and he's a huge weapon for the Senators. Add in that Craig Anderson is a better goalie than Evgeni Nabokov, and this just adds up to a really tough matchup for Pittsburgh.
Ottawa is a very confident team right now after beating a Montreal Canadiens team that was considered pretty good -- and beating them handily. I still think Pittsburgh will pull it out because of its talent level. If you look at how Evgeni Malkin came to life late Saturday night against the Islanders, you can see how the Penguins can just turn it on and take it to another level -- but Ottawa is a team that will cause them problems. I think Pittsburgh wins, but you're definitely looking at a six or seven-game series, without a doubt.
Many people figured San Jose against Vancouver would have been a good series and some probably picked the Sharks to win it, but I don't think anyone was expecting a four-game sweep. What that shows me is there's something of a changing of the guard in San Jose now. It used to be if Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau struggled, San Jose wouldn't win. That's not the case anymore. This series showed that it's Logan Couture's team now. He was great in this series, as were Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns, who gives them a different kind of weapon playing up front.
Center - SJS
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 8
SOG: 11 | +/-: -1
On the back end, Dan Boyle was great on defense and they've shown they have a lot of other good secondary players. This is also a team that has a Stanley Cup winner in net in Antti Niemi, and he's played great so far. The Sharks definitely raised a few eyebrows and showed a lot of people they're for real.
LOOKING LIKE KINGS
When you go down two games to none to the St. Louis Blues and come back and beat them in four straight games, that's pretty impressive. The Los Angeles Kings got better each game in the first round and started to look like the old L.A. Kings, too. When you consider how physical, solid and good in front of the net St. Louis is, in addition to the 2-0 lead L.A. spotted the Blues, I think it makes the Kings the most impressive team in the first round so far in either conference.
As this first-round series went on, the Kings started looking like the Stanley Cup champions again. Jeff Carter got more involved offensively, and Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown all did, too. The Kings are a great team and a good four-line team when it comes to playing well and creating pressure, but they still rely on five or six guys to create most of their offense -- and those guys got better and better and better. Dustin Penner was great, too. That was as good a series as I've seen him play. It was the most involved he's been and the most physical he's been. If that horse gets going, he can carry the offense on his own. All of those moving parts working in tandem left me very impressed, and it makes the Kings one of the most dangerous teams left in the tournament.