The Nashville Predators eliminated their division rival, the Detroit Red Wings. Having met them a couple times prior in the playoffs, it was immensely satisfying for the Predators to come out the victors this time around. Historically, Nashville has seemed to be the only team that could give Detroit a run for their money and this time, they conquered them handily.
The Predators continue to build on their previous playoff experience and look poised to go deep this year. They were undaunted playing the in Joe Louis Arena, a building that is not kind to visitors. (The Ducks know that all too well!) With Pekke Rinne, one of the three Vezina trophy finalists, standing tall (literally) in net, Nashville moves to the second round where they will meet up with the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Coyotes, who won the Pacific Division, will have home ice advantage again. Mike Smith was stingy with allowing goals when faced by the Chicago Blackhawks. He won't be any more generous in the second round. With two solid goaltenders, this match up is not going to be a goal scoring extravaganza (reference Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). The challenge becomes figuring out how to beat the goaltender.
The Blackhawks and Coyotes took their first five games to overtime, but Phoenix was ready to move on in game six. A 4-0 blanking of Chicago sealed the deal for the desert dogs, who had not won a single playoff series since moving from Winnipeg 15 years ago.
Both Nashville and Phoenix will likely battle it out for a while in round two and both teams are deserving of going to Western Conference finals. Personally, I am giving the edge (and only a slight edge) to Nashville to come out the victors. It should take six games, but could easily go the full seven.
The St. Louis Blues eliminated the San Jose Sharks, which is not too surprising. The Sharks are notorious "also rans" in the playoffs. The Blues also were close to being the President's Trophy winners this year, and were not to be taken lightly. The Sharks, who won their final game of the season against the Los Angeles Kings, were handed the Blues as their present. Then again, their other option was to face the Vancouver Canucks, who DID win the President's Trophy.
Instead the Canucks faced the Kings and were ousted unceremoniously in five games. The 8th place (barely) seed killed off last year's Stanley Cup runners up without any apology and had an opportunity to sweep them. Were it not for the return of Daniel Sedin, the Kings would have done so. But would the Kings have fared so well had they met up with the Blues in the first round? The Kings will get to find out in round two as they get to face St. Louis.
St. Louis has missed the post season dance for a while. They are not inclined to leave it in the second round either. Los Angeles has another Vezina finalist in Jonathan Quick and they won their first playoff series in over ten years. If Quick continues to play well, St. Louis will have their work cut out for them.
After firing their coach and putting Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, the Blues have been solid and consistent. Not so the Kings. It is Quick who has kept his team in the hunt and he will continue to be the difference maker. There will be no sweeps in this series either or even close sweeps. This one could go either way and Los Angeles could continue to surprise. In the end, it will probably take all seven and St. Louis will go on to the conference finals.
If you look at the record books, the teams who win the Stanley Cup are usually the top seeded teams. Every. Single. Year. The bottom seeds do not go on to lift the Cup. So even if the Kings manage to pull off another upset, the odds are against them. But nothing is impossible.
In the Eastern Conference, it has been a totally different story. Three series are going to game seven - Boston/Washington, Florida/New Jersey and Ottawa/New York Rangers. Philadelphia, who finally bumped off Pittsburgh in six games, will have to hope that their goaltending improves before round two or that they meet someone in net as challenged at stopping goals as Marc-Andre Fleury proved to be.
If you had said that these three series would be going to a game seven, it would have seemed unlikely, but these have all been hard fought series. Hopefully the final match ups between the teams will be equally as exciting.