The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are over and there are plenty of lessons for all of us around the NHL to learn.
The saying goes, “There is nothing like playoff hockey.” That statement could not be truer this year thanks to a wonderful first round which has led to all of us scratching our heads at some point.
This year, the playoffs featured two very strong one seeds, along with some Wild Card teams who could do some damage should they receive the necessary goaltending and effort up and down the lineup. It featured some familiar faces who we’ve grown accustomed to like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators, and the Washington Capitals to name a few. It all set up what truly will go down as one of the best first rounds the NHL has seen in years.
It might seem like an overstatement, but there really has not been a first round in the last few years that brought the excitement this year’s brought. On any given night, a different team could come out victorious. On any given night, something happened that you never think you would see in a playoff game.
There are so many takeaways from the first round, here are some of the important ones.
Let’s face it, nobody’s bracket could have predicted the Columbus Blue Jackets and Colorado Avalanche coming out of their first-round series against the two best teams in the NHL. Full disclosure over here, I didn’t think it was possible the way the teams were playing to close out the season, and I had both one seeds going through to the Stanley Cup Final.
Here’s a look at my bracket entering the postseason:
It's bracket time! Here is my 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff full bracket. pic.twitter.com/EJLdryfeU6
— Dom Renna (@drennaESNY) April 7, 2019
Most people around the league had similar ideas with their brackets. The Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning combined to win just one game in the first round, with Tampa (the Presidents’ Trophy winners) getting swept after taking a 3-0 lead in Game 1.
While they were the higher seed, the New York Islanders were looked at as underdogs because they were playing the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners of two Stanley Cups in the last three years. The idea of New York coming up with a sweep crossed nobody’s mind, and they shocked the entire hockey world sweeping Sidney Crosby and company.
In the West, St. Louis upsetting Winnipeg isn’t as big of a surprise based on the end of the regular season. However, it still is quite shocking to see another team expected to go far in the playoffs leave so early. The same can be said about Dallas who used a defense-first mentality to grind their way through a series win over Nashville.
Think about this for a second, there are so many busted brackets that the NHL is doing a second chance bracket before the second round starts. It’s been just a crazy start to this year’s playoffs.
NHL officials are not perfect, no referee in any sport is and the human element is a huge part of any sport but this postseason officiating has been a major problem.
The obvious example comes to us from Game 7 between the Vegas Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks. With Vegas up 3-0 in the third period, a questionable five-minute major was called and the rest was history. Let’s get this part out of the way for any Vegas fan out there, the cross-check from Cody Eakin was a penalty. There is no denying that. Where the officials went wrong was giving that a major which resulted in San Jose scoring four power-play goals.
Cody Eakin ▶️▶️▶️ Joe Pavelski#HfHits
This was a 5 minute major pic.twitter.com/b8pShR5FFc
— hockeyfights (@hockeyfights) April 24, 2019
While that situation was unique, it raises questions about what officials will allow and what they won’t. When the postseason starts, the rules seem to be a bit looser and players can get away with a little bit more than they normally can. Why this is accepted across the league is mindblowing, but it’s something everyone admits happens. What makes it worse is how they are starting to have an impact on the game itself.
Take the Vegas example away and there are still questions that need to be raised. We’ve seen different interpretations on what goaltender interference is and you honestly don’t know what to expect when challenging a play. It almost makes challenging a play pointless because the rule seems to change on a nightly basis.
If this postseason has taught us anything, it is how we need to find some common ground on some of the basic rules so it’s a level playing field on the penalty sheet.
The playoffs have taught us now to expect the unexpected, and quite frankly it is honestly the greatest part about sports.
If you look at some of the other major sports like the NBA and the NFL, the favorites usually win almost all of the time. We have a pretty good idea of who is making the NBA Finals and we know the New England Patriots will always be in the conversation for the Super Bowl as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are around.
The beauty of the NHL is how anything can happen on any given night and we saw that with the two sweeps and all of the upsets the first round has brought us. Only in hockey can a 3-0 deficit in the final period of regulation turn into an overtime thriller. Only in hockey can everyone’s brackets be completely busted in the first round.
So as the rest of this year’s playoffs unfold, don’t be surprised if you find yourselves shocked over a crazy outcome. It’s the best time of year to be a hockey fan, and the first round of the playoffs have taught us just that.