To say the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs were highly entertaining would be a massive understatement.
Half of the series went to a game seven and three of the four deciding games were spectacular. The one exception was the 5-2 drubbing the Flyers put on the Sabres. The other four series were equally entertaining. I would say the Caps 4-1 triumph and Detroit’s sweep of the Desert Dogs were the only ho-hum parts of the first round.
#1 Washington Capitals defeat #8 New York Rangers 4-1
I had the Caps winning in five, which really is no great stretch of a prediction. This could have shaped up to be a much different series had Marian Gaborik not gift-wrapped the game four overtime goal for Jason Chimera. The Capitals improved defense was strong as was Michael Neuvirth. Washington scored timely goals and Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t enough to counter the superior match up. Turning point: Marian Gaborik’s gaffe leads to OT winning goal to give Washington a 3-1 series lead. MVP: Michael Neuvirth – 4-1, 1.38 GAA, .946 SV%
#2 Philadelphia Flyers defeat #7 Buffalo Sabres 4-3
To the Sabres’ credit I had this series going to Philly in six. Buffalo benefited from some great goaltending from Ryan Miller and some poor goaltending from the Flyers, collectively. In the end the Flyers depth and talent reigned supreme and they managed to dig out of a 3-2 hole to win the series. The story of the series was the Sabres’ inability to put the Flyers away when leading by three (game five) and two (game six) goals. Turning point: The Flyers tying game six and Ville Leino’s OT game winner in Buffalo. MVP: Danny Briere – 6G 1A 7P
#3 Boston Bruins defeat #6 Montreal Canadiens 4-3
A teeter-totter series that saw the road team win each of the first four games that was hotly contested from game one to seven. Montreal will be kicking themselves for not capitalizing on the massive amount of momentum they gained in games one and two as they dropped three straight, including two in overtime. While the Habs were one shot away in game seven, it would be a deflection off a Montreal player that would seal the series for Boston. New faces were key for Boston as Nathan Horton scored the clinching goal and Chris Kelly had a pair of timely markers. Turning point: Back-to-back overtime wins for the Bruins in games four and five. MVP: Tim Thomas – 4-3, 2.25 GAA, .926 SV% and the save of the series in game five.
#5 Tampa Bay Lightning defeat #4 Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3
I went four-for-four with my Eastern Conference predictions. This one was probably the toughest to call. Sure, the Pens were without Sid the Kid, but the Bolts had plenty of question marks. Through four games it seemed as if Crosby wasn’t going to be missed that badly and that Tampa’s big guns weren’t coming out. That all changed with Tampa’s 8-2 romp in game five. Dwayne Roloson went on to steal the show in the final two games and the Lightning survived into a second round date with Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. Turning point: Tampa’s seven-goal explosion in game five as they went on to an 8-2 win. MVP: Dwayne Roloson – 4-3, 1.77 GAA .949 SV%
#1 Vancouver Canucks defeat #8 Chicago Blackhawks 4-3
It certainly seemed as if the President’s Trophy winners would cruise through to the second round over the defending champs – who were clearly a different team than last year. However, Raffi Torres poked the sleeping bear with a huge hit on Brent Seabrook and suddenly it became a series. Roberto Luongo forgot how to play goal and the Chicago Blackhawks remembered how to win. Chicago’s valiant run from a 3-0 hole fell just short as Alex Burrows had a monster game in the series finale to allow the Canucks to survive into round two. Turning point: Alex Burrows’ clinching goal in OT, it was anybody’s to win until that point. MVP: Corey Crawford – 3-4, 2.21 GAA, .927 SV%. He stood tall all series for the Hawks, almost stole game seven by himself.
#2 San Jose Sharks defeat #7 Los Angeles Kings 4-2
When it came down to it, the Kings simply didn’t have the horses to run with the Sharks in this series. There were a couple of opportunities for LA to grab the reigns of this one but they just couldn’t do it. The 6-5 OT comeback for the Sharks was huge and to follow it up with another six-goal outburst was crushing for the Kings. A healthy Anze Kopitar may have changed the landscape of this one a bit. Turning point: Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski’s goals, one minute apart to bring the Sharks back to tie game three. 100% momentum shift. MVP: Ryane Clowe – Series leading four goals and seven points. The blueprint for a playoff performer, gets his nose dirty and produces plenty of points.
#3 Detroit Red Wings sweep #6 Phoenix Coyotes 4-0
Easily the most vanilla series of the first round. The Red Wings were all business in their approach and the Coyotes looked overwhelmed. It didn’t help that Ilya Bryzgalov was a major goat with a 4.36 GAA and .879 SV%. Per usual the Red Wings got contributions from everywhere while effectively limiting the Coyotes few stars. Credit to Shane Doan for having a big series. Turning point: 4-3 game two victory for Detroit. Phoenix was unable to score the tying goal after coming back from 4-0 deficit. No other game was decided by one goal. MVP: Pavel Datsyuk – Two goals, six points and was huge for the Wings while they wait for Henrik Zetterberg to heal.
#5 Nashville Predators defeat #4 Anaheim Ducks 4-2
If any series of the first round deserved a seventh game, it was this one. Both teams went back and forth so hard throughout the series right until the bitter end. Both teams alternated wins up until game six and this could easily have gone the other direction. Had Jonas Hiller been healthy the Ducks probably walk away with a win in this one. The Emery/Ellis combo just wasn’t good enough. Turning point: Shea Weber’s tying goal with 35.7 seconds remaining in game five. The Preds took the win in OT when Anaheim could have walked away with the 3-2 lead. MVP: Shea Weber – Didn’t blow up the stat line (3+2) but scored the biggest goal of the series and may have locked up the Norris with his performance.
2ITB result: After going four-for-four with my picks from the East, I was 50% out West. Probably put too much faith in the players will to win in Phoenix and far too much faith in Dan Ellis and Ray Emery out in Anaheim. Overall: 6/8