As the NHL playoffs enter the elimination portion of the 1st round, several teams are on the brink of going home. With the pool of teams about to be cut in half I think now would be a good time to highlight some of the best performances of round one before some teams are sent home. From Pavel Datsyuk’s game one goal against Boston to Anaheim’s furious late two goal rally to close out their series, round one gave us great moments.
While late game heroics are great for highlight reels; to advance into the next round it takes four wins. Some say defense wins championships and others say you’ve got to score to win. Here are the units that are helping to propel their teams towards the next round.
Offense – San Jose Sharks
If you can’t put the puck in the net there is no chance of advancing. As long as the Sharks have been anchored by Patrick Marleau and Joe Thorton scoring has never been and against 2012 playoff hero Jonathan Quick, scoring still hasn’t been a problem. Oh sure they were shut out in game 5 but the odds of winning 16 straight games are less than 1%. The Kings were tops in the regular season with 2.05 goals against per game but in so far in the playoffs the Sharks have scored 21 goals. Even with that game 5 shut out they are still scoring on the Kings almost one and a half times as often the rate the Kings allowed in the regular season. Jonathan Quick gave up one goal to mighty Team Canada but gave up 7 to San Jose.
Defense – Boston Bruins
When the best team’s best player is a towering 6ft 8in defender the odds are goals will be hard to come by. People that large aren’t meant for skates but Zdeno Chara is an outlier. He seems like he should be facing Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight championship belt. Instead he’s terrorizes opposing forwards. Now add to that one of the best goaltenders in Tuukka Rask and the front of the net is going to be as close to a wall as humanely possible. The blueliners are aided by hulking forwards Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron. Boston was second in goals against and eight in penalty kill in the regular season and those trends have carried over into the playoffs. It took one of the great individual efforts of the season by Pavel Datsyuk to just get one win in the series. With defense like this they might not face an offense equal in skill until they meet one of the many juggernaut scoring machines from the western conference in the finals.
Coaching – Patrick Roy
Every sport has its worst to first story and this year’s NHL version are the Colorado Avalanche. We see it every year. Whether it’s Andrew Luck and the Colts or Lebron James in Cleveland; rookies lead their team into the playoffs after being the first overall selection. Casual fans love these stories not because they expect a deep playoff run this year but a glimpse of a bright future. First overall pick and current playoff points leader Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche take a 3-3 series back home for game 7 to face off with Minnesota hoping to make a big impression on who will take home the Stanley Cup. Having great players makes winning easier but teams are nothing without their coach. Enter Patrick Roy, Avalanche legend in his own right. The playoffs are a different animal and young teams can struggle with it. Playing the same team over and over poses different challenges than a regular season schedule but Roy has kept the team focused to a point where they have been in every game of this series. If they do advance deep into the playoffs, Roy’s experience will be a huge factor.