I am not one that is thrilled with the Stanley Cup playoffs starting in May but circumstances forced the NHL hand.

Having said that the first round is often the best, regardless of the date on the calendar.

It is all about competitiveness and games decided in the third period or later.

Typically, there is the lure of the upset, unpredictability, and more compelling storylines.

The first round of the 2021 NHL playoffs is six days old.

Each year one can argue that the Conference quarterfinals provide the most excitement, entertainment, and enthusiasm.

Sure if your team makes the Stanley Cup final, obviously that championship series will hold more weight, but there are a number of factors that make round one, the Sweet 16, the most compelling:

MULTIPLE GAMES EACH NIGHT: Not every game is a masterpiece, but there are a few to choose from which hold one’s interest; somewhat similar but on a smaller scale to what helps make the NFL successful on Sundays in the fall. Clicking the channel from one game to the next can add to the drama and keep the viewers on edge.

LURE OF THE UPSET: With more opportunities in the opening round, the lower-ranked teams have their best chance of defeating the higher seed. In all likelihood, there is at least one stunning surprise, if not more, but we can only guess which series will produce the “shocker.” Could Montreal actually beat first-place Toronto? The Habs are off to a good start winning the opener 2-1.

MEMORIES ERASED: Whether you are the top seed or the team that barely qualified as the fourth-place finisher in your division, the first round offers one important intangible-HOPE. Yes, the memories of the regular season schedule and previous playoff failures are erased as teams begin 0-0. Winnipeg was dominated by Connor McDavid throughout the season but the Jets did a masterful job on McDavid in the opener in a 4-1 victory. Can the Jets keep it up?

Pure hockey: Yes, the playoffs do not provide gimmicks like three-point games and shootouts. They compete until there is a “true” winner for as long as it takes, not a skills competition. Real overtime, with no time limit, keeps us up late but the lost sleep is worth the extra entertainment value. Usually, the most overtimes occur in the first round. This year after 18 games, 6 of them, or 33 % have gone beyond regulation time.

More storylines: The three games between the Bruins and Capitals, all decided in overtime, as former Prince George Cougar Zdeno Chara of the Capitals is battling at age 44 the team he played with for 14 seasons. How about the goal-fest and intense battle going on between Tampa and Florida and will the survivor of that series have anything left for round two? Each series offers its own intrigue and the first-round usually offers more games than the remainder of the playoffs combined.

The Pool: Hockey pools are more fun in the opening round because all participants start at full strength. In other words, after the draft, everyone thinks they have picked the best team, but those thoughts are quickly put to rest once teams and players are eliminated. If you have 12 players on your fantasy hockey pool team to start but are quickly down to four by round two, the disappointment leads to frustration and a possible lack of caring.

Ice Chips: The first round generally provides more rivalries that again spark interest. This year, for example, we are getting Toronto-Montreal, a match-up we have not seen in 42 years. To be honest, once your favorite team(s) is eliminated, the passion to watch the other teams play lessons significantly. It is only human nature. This doesn’t mean, rounds two to four, aren’t worthy of one’s attention especially since there is more on the line the further a team advances. The Stanley Cup playoffs are an institution, but there is still that mystique about the first round that offers a uniqueness that demands our special attention even in a pandemic year.


Numbers: If you are curious, NHL road teams are 10-8 this year after winning all four games last night (Thursday). 14 of the 18 games played to date have either been decided by one goal or by one goal plus empty netters.


Cat Scan podcast:

Prince George Cougars head coach and general manager Mark Lamb has just completed his third season with the team. In this week’s Cat Scan podcast, Lamb discusses several topics including:

  • Pros and cons of spending two months in the Kamloops bubble
  • Addressing the team’s goaltending situation and how both “starters” need to play more than half the games
  • The Cougars roster and could the team actually decide to go younger next season?
  • The meaning of the shortened 22-game season
  • The dynamic relationship with the ownership group


Taking Note:



CDC guidelines now say you can be outside without a mask if you’re not in a crowd. So Miami Marlins fans should be fine.

*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com

Albert Pujols, released by the Angels and signed by the Dodgers, has grounded into an MLB-record 403 double plays in his career. Instead of having a street renamed in his honor, maybe he should be awarded his own 643 area code.”

*Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times http://www.seattletimes.com/author/dwight-perry/

Denying a potential circus, Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer nevertheless gave Tim Tebow a choice between three roommates come training camp—-a sword swallower, the wolf boy, and a two-headed man.

*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California


According to a recent study, tragedy makes you think about sex. In a related story, Toronto Maple Leafs fans are dirty-minded.

*Western Canadian comedy writer RJ Currie www.Sportsdeke.com

Hartley Miller is the news and sports director/supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. He also is the radio color commentator for P.G. Cougars home games.
Hartley has been on the Prince George airwaves since 1979 and is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).
His column appears Fridays on myprincegeorgenow.com.
Send along a quote, note, or anecdote to hmiller@thegoatrocks.ca