We knew going into these “COVID Cup Playoffs” that things were going to be somewhat out of the ordinary. The lack of fans has made for an interesting dynamic to say the least, and the wide-open format seemed ripe for some upsets from the beginning.
In the play-in round, the Columbus Blue Jackets took out the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games. While this may not be the most high-profile of upsets - some may not consider it an upset at all - I think most of us were at least a little taken aback by a stingy defensive squad beating such a high-octane offensive unit. A couple overtime games, some of the more dramatic comebacks in recent memory, and emerging heroes in the likes of Seth Jones and Pierre-Luc Dubois propelled the Jackets past a Leafs team that continues to struggle out of the gate.
Of course, the biggest upset out of the East, and maybe in the playoffs altogether, was the 12th-placed Montreal Canadiens eliminating the fifth-placed Pittsburgh Penguins in four (4!) games. Carey Price turned in a performance for the ages, and the firepower of a group led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin was stifled by one with the depth of Phillipp Danault, Paul Byron, and Arturri Lehkonen. The Pens’ blue line struggled, and couldn’t even push the Habs - soon to be eliminated by their cross-state rivales in Philadelphia - to the full five games.
Out West, the other hometown team in the qualifying round was felled, in another 12 vs 5 upset, with the Edmonton Oilers having their bubble burst by the Chicago Blackhawks. It turns out that a team needs more than two of the best players on Planet Earth to win when it counts, as the Hawks frustrated the Oilers into a four-game loss. It took a little bit of luck, with a fluky win or two, but it’s nuts that two 12th-placed teams moved on.
The 11th-placed Arizona Coyotes also earned a hard-fought four-game win over the sixth-placed Nashville Predators. In a series that boasted some overtimes, and some absolutely absurd goaltending from Darcy Kuemper, they proved to be too tall an order for Matt Duchene and Co. to overcome. Realistically, this one could have gone either way, but the Coyotes deserved the win in the end. They scratched and clawed for every inch of ice.
In the actual first round of the playoffs (it’s easy to forget, I know), there was another sort of upset, when the seventh-place New York Islanders slapped the third-placed Washington Capitals silly for five games. This series was just a clinic from the outset, Braden Holtby looked shaky, and the Caps couldn’t generate much of anything in the offensive zone. The Isles scored aplenty in timely fashions, and that was a wrap for the 2018 champs. Even if you don’t think this one was an upset, it should have at least been a bit more competitive.
And, of course, we need to talk about last night.
In a series where the St. Louis Blues never seemed able to get out of the starting gate, they were vanquished in six games by a young, hungry Vancouver Canucks team. Jordan Binnington’s show-stealing performance from a spring ago was nowhere to be found, as he went without a single win in five appearances during the Return to Play’s Entirety, including three dreadful performances against the Canucks. Jake Allen fared somewhat better, winning two games, but was denied the opportunity to start Game 6.
For the Canucks, they did everything they needed to do in order to be successful. Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, and Brock Boeser led the charge up front, while Quinn Hughes and Troy Stecher stepped up huge on the back end. Jacob Markstrom was his usual solid self, and after having to go through the qualifying round, the Canucks secured themselves a second-round date with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The word “chaos” has become all too familiar to hockey fans during these playoffs, and it seems to be something that we’ve embraced. In an era of empty arenas, and August hockey, it seems fitting that the on-ice happenings are just as bananas as those off of the ice.
So, with all this in mind, I ask you; what has surprised you the most so far? Is it lower seeds taking out teams primed to contend? Is it that the defending champs didn’t make it out of the first round? Or is it something off the board, like the fact that there have been no positive COVID-19 tests as of yet (touch wood), or Tuukka Rask leaving the bubble to tend to a family medical emergency?
Whatever your thoughts may be, we want to hear them below.