National Hockey League
Indicators on how first-round series could end
National Hockey League

Indicators on how first-round series could end

Published Apr. 17, 2009 10:01 p.m. ET

One game does not a series make but the opening games of the 2009 Stanley Cup conference quarterfinals have brought some interesting factors to the fore which could affect the outcome of these series.

  • The San Jose Sharks entered the postseason hoping to finally shed the label of playoff chokers, but their 2-0 loss in the opening game of their first-round series against the underdog Anaheim Ducks isn't likely to allay the fears of their supporters or the barbs of their critics.

    It's not as though the Sharks didn't put forth a strong effort. They outshot and outchanced the Ducks for most of the game but a stellar 35-save shutout performance by Anaheim netminder Jonas Hillier, Anaheim's solid penalty killing and the timely offense of rising Ducks star Ryan Getzlaf (1 goal, 1 assist) thwarted the Sharks efforts.

    While the Ducks finished as the eighth seed in the West, they're not a club to be taken lightly and there was certainly no indication the Sharks were guilty of that. But they just couldn't bury their chances against Hillier, who is making the case to take over the starter's role full-time from J.S. Giguere.

    The Ducks however need to be better prepared for the Sharks onslaught in the next game as they're certain to be even more determined to even this serie. But if they're able to win Game 2 doubt will once again cast a long shadow over San Jose.

  • The Washington Capitals need a better performance from starting goaltender Jose Theodore if they hope to win Game 2 to tie up their series with the New York Rangers.

    Theodore gave up four goals on 21 shots in a 4-3 defeat, with most of those goals coming on high shots as the Rangers, despite being outplayed by the Capitals, stole the opening game of this matchup.

    Entering this series, Theodore's goaltending was considered an area of concern for the Capitals. He did nothing to quell those concerns with his performance in Game 1 and there's talk he's on a very short leash heading into Game 2.

    The Rangers know they can count on Henrik Lundqvist, who demonstrated in Game 1 why he's ranked amongst the league's elite netminders. The Capitals will know by the end of Game 2 if they can rely on Theodore.

  • The Columbus Blue Jackets may have split their season series with the Detroit Red Wings on the road to their first playoff appearance, but they got a rude introduction to the tempo of postseason hockey in a 4-1 loss to the defending Cup champions.

    Although the Jackets had a decent first period, the remainder of the game belonged to the Red Wings, who scored three goals in the second period to bust the game open and never looked back while cruising to an easy win.

    Wings netminder Chris Osgood didn't have a particularly memorable regular season but displayed the postseason form in this game that helped make Detroit the champion last spring, making several big saves in the first period. Blue Jackets rookie Steve Mason, who was a big factor in his club's drive to the playoffs this season, struggled as the Wings got plenty of traffic in front of him and around his net.

    One shouldn't write off the Blue Jackets after only one game as nerves probably played a part in the loss, but they'll have to adjust quickly to the higher tempo of postseason action or their first playoff round in franchise history could be a short one.

  • If every game of the Chicago Blackhawks-Calgary Flames series is as close as the first one it could be a long, low-scoring, tight-checking series.

    The Blackhawks overcame a jittery start to their first playoff game since 2002 to rebound from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to push the Calgary Flames into overtime.

    Young Blackhawks Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were the focus of attention as they were also making their NHL postseason debuts, but it was veteran winger Martin Havlat providing the heroics with the game-tying and game-winning goals.

    The goaltending was solid for both clubs as Calgary's Mikka Kiprusoff and Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin faced each other for the first time in the playoffs since the 2004 Stanley Cup final when Khabibulin backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Cup.

  • The Philadelphia Flyers-Pittsburgh Penguins series could potentially be the hardest-hitting of the opening round.

    Neither club spared the body in Game 1, resulting in 12 penalties for the Flyers and six for the Penguins, including four roughing penalties and two fighting majors — the last coming late in the final minute of the third period between Pittsburgh's Bill Guerin and Philadelphia's Braydon Coburn.

    The Penguins however took advantage of the Flyers' undisciplined play to take a 4-1 victory thanks in part to goals by team leaders Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

    This series was expected to be a rough one and if the first game was anything to go by both teams will be battered and bruised by the time it's over, which could leave the winner of this series significantly weakened for the next round.

  • Goaltending could be the determining factor in the series between the heavily favored Vancouver Canucks and upstart St. Louis Blues.

    Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo outdueled Blues netminder Chris Mason as Vancouver drew first blood by a 2-1 score. Luongo earned first star honors with 25 saves and a .962 save percentage while Mason kicked out 29 of 31 Canucks shots. Credit also goes to the Canucks penalty-killers — especially in killing off a nearly two-minute, 5-on-3 disadvantage in the first period — and the Sedin Twins who factored in both Canuck goals.

    Both clubs matched up well in a very physical opening game which could set the tone for the remainder of this series. If Luongo and Mason stay sharp it could be a very close, low-scoring one.

  • If the Carolina Hurricanes cannot improve their overall performance against the New Jersey Devils it's going to be a very short series.

    The Devils had struggled down the final weeks of the regular season whilst the Hurricanes had been among the league's hottest clubs, but you'd never know it by the 4-1 beating the Devils inflicted upon the hapless Hurricanes.

    From the opening whistle to the final buzzer the Devils dominated Game 1 and if not for the goaltending of Cam Ward — who blocked 35 of 39 shots — the score might've been 10-1. By contrast, the Hurricanes offered up a tepid effort against the Devils and managed only 19 shots against Martin Brodeur.

    It could have been that the Hurricanes underestimated the Devils, in which case we could expect the rest of this series to be more evenly matched. Hurricanes fans are undoubtedly hoping so otherwise this series won't go beyond four games.

  • The Montreal Canadiens aren't expected to have much chance against the heavily favored Boston Bruins as these two long-time rivals began yet another chapter in their postseason legacy, but if Game 1 of their series was anything to go by the Canadiens won't make it easy for the Bruins.

    Boston took the opening game by a 4-2 score, but the Canadiens put up a fight, overcoming a two-goal deficit to tie the game before Bruins captain Zdeno Chara potted the winning goal on a power play midway through the third and Phil Kessel iced it with an empty-netter late in the third.

    The Canadiens need goalie Carey Price to be at his best if they're to have any chance of upsetting the Bruins, and while he was stellar for most of the game the Bruins opening goal was a weak one as he failed to adequately freeze the puck which resulted in Boston's first goal.

    Even if Price elevates his game he needs more help from his defense. Kessel, Chara and David Krejci led the Bruins to victory by exploiting Montreal's defensive weaknesses, a trend likely to be continued throughout this series.
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