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NHL Play-off Weekly Recap: Round 2 Edition

And then there were eight

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Let me start this feature by letting you, the reader, behind the curtain a bit here at Silver Seven. For the majority of the first round of the play-offs, we ran a daily preview of the night’s games and provided an open forum for folks to chat. You may have noticed them.

As the first week rolled into the second, I saw that there just wasn’t that much by the way of engagement with these posts. So we’re going to try something a bit different and see how it goes. Instead of daily updates, we’re instead going to give weekly updates where we have space to talk about the over-arching narratives of each series, and just generally be a bit more informative than a simple recap of last night’s games and preview of tonight’s.

Please let me know what you think in the comments, feedback welcome!

The Week That Was:

Where to start? At the outset of the first round, there was a lot of hype surrounding several of the match-ups. Of the eight series, only one was decided in less than six games (the Colorado Avalanche’s comprehensive sweep of the Nashville Predators) and we were treated to five (!) Game Sevens, of which two (!!) went to overtime. Somehow, virtually all of the series lived up to the hype. When does that ever happen?!

On top of all that, as an unbiased observer with no conventional rooting interest, I have to say that these past two weeks have been some of the best hockey I have ever witnessed. The overall talent level has increased dramatically since the 04-05 lockout, and the smorgasbord of offense in the first round was just another illustration of how bright the sport’s future can be.

As for the winners and losers, it brings me no small pleasure to report that the Toronto Maple Leafs found yet another way to lose in the first round. With five straight first round exits, and counting, I’m actually in awe at the variety of ways that they’ve lost. They’ve been the underdogs, they’ve been the overwhelming favourites, they’ve been even-stevens — it doesn’t matter they still find a way to lose. For my money the Tampa Baby Lightning are the model franchise for the last 6-7 years so in theory there should be no shame in going out to them but when it’s worth wondering whether something’s gotta give in Leaf Land. At some point you gotta win something.

Meanwhile, the New York Rangers continued to ride the outrageous play of Igor Shesterkin and some timely goal-scoring as they escaped their first round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins thanks to a Game 7 OT winner from Artemi Panarin. The Pens had a 59.64% xGF share across all situations for the series; they absolutely dominated. Still, Sidney Crosby is going home and one begins to wonder just how many runs this Pittsburgh group has left. When Crosby came into the league, he was the most hyped player since Eric Lindros — and he’s somehow lived up to all of it, and more. As a Sens fan I can’t say I’ve always loved being on the receiving end of his brilliance but I have to tip my hat to one of the all-time greats.

Speaking of absurd goaltending performances, the Calgary Flames weren’t far behind the Pens with a 58.87 xGF% (the Avs whooped the Preds with a 67.33 xGF% to lead the way) but they got the bounces in the Game 7 overtime that Pittsburgh did not and survived the unreal goaltending of Jake Oettinger. As you may be aware, Brady Tkachuk has been supporting his brother and also may have had a couple of drinks before this interview:

Even the formidable Florida Panthers faced a stiffer challenge than might have been anticipated in their first round series after going down 2-1 to the Washington Capitals and needing overtime to salvage their season in Game Four. The Carolina Hurricanes were pushed to the limit by the Boston Bruins, who seem to have been particularly motivated by the possible pending retirement of their captain Patrice Begeron. If this is really it for Bergeron, it will be the end of an era indeed.

The Week Ahead:

If Round One was an unqualified success, Round Two has the potential to be somehow...better? The Panthers vs. the Lightning is shaping up to be an end-to-end blockbuster. With the arsenal of firepower these two teams boast, I’m looking forward to some 6-5 barnburners. The added benefit of a “regional rivalry” is like a little cherry on top, too.

But speaking of regional rivalries, we’ve got our first Battle of Alberta since 1991 in round two. Calgary’s clearer the better of the two teams for my money but the Oilers have Connor McDavid, and, well, sometimes that’s enough. If nothing else, we can be sure that the atmosphere in both rinks will be positively electric.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues were decisive in getting past a strong Minnesota Wild team and could pose an actual threat to the dominant Avs. I say “could” as I’m open to the possibility that Colorado just buries St. Louis but I think we’ll actually see some real fight in this one. For the Blues to hang around, they’ll need the PP to be buzzing because I cannot see how they keep up 5v5. If Vladimir Tarasenko is burying some PP goals, then watch out.

Lastly, the Hurricanes and Rangers has some sneaky underdog potential: the Canes tend to dominate the shot clock, and the Rangers...tend to get dominated on the shot clock. If Carolina doesn’t carry the play at 5v5 I’d be shocked — but they also have a tendency to fire a lot of pucks into the opposing goalie’s chest protector. If Shesterkin is Shesterkin again, the Rangers could be dancing on Broadway yet again.

Strap yourselves in, this should be good!