I’m not sure if the Stanley Cup Qualifiers can be implemented in some permanent fashion going forward.
There’s no denying it provided some quality entertainment.
The return to hockey came through like a giant wave that crashed the coast with authority. Games coming in droves, bringing us excitement and giving fans a taste of what’s to come with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which got underway Tuesday with four games.
The results of the qualifiers have given us eight quality matchups in the playoffs; some with results expected as chalk, and others with possible upset ramifications.
The fact both 12 seeds advanced with what seemed like little effort is remarkable. The Montreal Canadiens rode the Carey Price Express all the way to a four-game, really, rout of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Hopefully Montreal fans ride this wave of happiness as long as they can. Your participation trophy is a date with the Philadelphia Flyers, who might fly their way to the Stanley Cup Final with how good they look.
Speaking of that other 12 seed, the Chicago Blackhawks rode veteran leadership and dynamic young playmaking to a four-game dispatch of the Edmonton Oilers. The “home team” did not have such an advantage with Jonathan Toews carving up the Oilers and Corey Crawford turning back the clock at the right time to make an impact.
And while we’re in the discussion of home teams, how about the Columbus Blue Jackets going on an emotional roller coaster to eliminate the host Toronto Maple Leafs in five games? The Jackets are a fan favorite of this site, and the fact they’re set up with a rematch against the Tampa Bay Lightning seems like the hockey gods are ready to be deployed.
If Joonas Korpisalo gets hot, Tampa might be in for a ride it can’t recover from.
The Carolina Hurricanes benefitted from a long break, by sweeping the New York Rangers, only to get ready for an Eastern Conference Final rematch with the Boston Bruins.
Somehow, the Rangers came out winners despite getting swept, winning the NHL Draft Lottery and clearing the way to drafting Alexis Lafreniere with the No. 1 pick. All of a sudden, the Rangers are in the discussion for an actual playoff spot next season; not a play-in spot.
Even the round robin games, primarily in the Western Conference, were exciting. Watching the Vegas Golden Knights run through the competition to claim the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference was stunning. Sure, they could beat the Dallas Stars; even the St. Louis Blues if it turned into a track meet. The way they played the Colorado Avalanche is what stood out most.
Vegas and Colorado will likely meet up in the Western Conference Final. Coach Peter DeBoer has implemented a style that counteracts Colorado’s speed and open play. Yes, it’s one game, but to respond in that fashion against a team that scored 13 goals in two games against them sent a message.
The qualifiers were a great appetizer. The Stanley Cup Playoffs will be one awesome main course.
Hurricanes vs. Bruins: This will be Game 2 of a series that could go either way. It’s time for Boston to show the round robin was a fluke. That will likely happen in Game 1. Carolina is a year older, a year more experienced. If they don’t deliver in Game 1, expect a response in Game 2. HURRICANES
Islanders vs. Capitals: I have the Islanders winning this series in six because of one reason; coaching. There’s no one that knows Washington better than Barry Trotz. That’s going to be the reason why New York moves on. This is the perfect matchup for Trotz’s defense-first club. ISLANDERS
Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks: If Vegas wants to avoid any letdown against Chicago, winning three of the first four games is paramount. Prediction: Robin Lehner is in net Saturday, Marc-Andre Fleury for the back-to-back on Sunday. Lehner’s in, Vegas wins. GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Last week: 2-1