We are into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, which almost seems like a letdown compared to the excitement of the first round.
It seems each year, almost without exception, there are stunning results in the opening round.
In 2023, the opening round had the President’s Trophy champions and the defending Stanley Cup champs knocked out while the Toronto Maple Leafs advanced to round two for the first time in 19 years.
While it wasn’t a stunner the Leafs beat Tampa in six games, Toronto had to overcome immense pressure knowing they had been 0-and-11 in games since 2004 where they had their opponent facing elimination.
The second-year Seattle Kraken (does anybody know any of their players yet?) delivered the knockout punch to last year’s winners, the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 on the road.
The 8th-seeded Florida Panthers pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NHL history with their historic victory over the Boston Bruins, who set a record in 2022-23 with the most points ever over the course of the regular season.
It wasn’t just that Florida won but they trailed 3-games-to-1 with the Panthers winning in overtime on the road in both Games 5 and 7.
Florida took Game 6 on home ice after trailing in the third period.
How crazy was it that the road team went 11-3 in overtime in the first round?
You may never see those kinds of numbers again.
Each year one can argue that the Conference quarterfinals provide the most entertainment.
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 the Sweet 16 the most compelling of the four rounds:
MULTIPLE GAMES EACH NIGHT: Not every game is a masterpiece, but there are a few to choose from that 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. There were nights the first round provided as many as four games.
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.” This year I doubt hardly anybody had Florida and Seattle advancing to the second round.
MEMORIES ERASED: Whether you are the top seed or the team that barely qualified as an eighth seed, the first round offers one important intangible, and that is HOPE. Yes, the memories of the 82 regular season schedule and previous playoff failures are erased as teams begin 0-0. The Panthers are an example of that this year as they squeezed in getting the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, just a point ahead of Pittsburgh and Buffalo.
Pure Hockey: 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. Overtime with no time limit keeps us up late but the lost sleep is worth the extra entertainment value. Often, most overtimes occur in the first round. This year there were 14 of them.
More storylines: There are always players that come out of the woodwork from a mediocre or okay regular season to blossom in the playoffs. Could anyone have imagined that New Jersey’s Akira Schmid would have had the best first-round save percentage (.951) and the top goals-against average (1.38) in round one? Schmid, who only appeared in 18 regular season games, came back down to earth in the opener of the second round against Carolina, allowing three goals on 11 shots before he was pulled in a 5-1 loss.
More Canadian teams: Most fans in this country want the Stanley Cup back in Canada after a 30-year absence (Montreal 1993). This year, there were three teams (Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Toronto) that had a chance following the regular season, and that number is now down to two with Winnipeg out and will likely be trimmed again entering the Conference Finals. The Leafs are in a hole down 2-0 to Florida and the Oilers are also behind as they dropped the opener to Vegas.
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, especially this year with Boston and Colorado making an early exit. 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.
The weather: Hockey is still on our mind in early May but six weeks later in June, there’s a lawn to cut, camps to seek, sunshine to bask in, and a barbecue that awaits. The hotter the temperature outside, the cooler reception to hockey inside. Residents in Prince George Prince George over the last several days have had temperatures several degrees above normal with a record high set on April 29th.
To be honest, once your favourite 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 consideration especially since there is more on the line the further a team advances.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are an institution with many Canadians “catching the bug”, but there is still that mystique about the first round that offers a uniqueness that grabs special attention.
Taking Note column:
IceDogs pay price for discretions . . . T-Birds one win from WHL final . . . BCHL has Zoom call with on-ice officials https://t.co/bFzxMt2jn6
— Gregg Drinnan (@gdrinnan) May 5, 2023
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
ESPN headline “Young Jets players in awe of new teammate Aaron Rodgers.” Wait until Aaron screams at them to get off his lawn.
*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com
The Memphis Grizzlies informed trash-talking Dillon Brooks that they will not bring him back ‘under any circumstances.’ Due to his propensity to provide bulletin board material, nine teams have voted him their Most Inspirational Player.
*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
The Edmonton Oilers, despite four goals from Leon Draisaitl, lost Game 1 to the Golden Knights via a series of blunders — as TSN showed, they beat themselves. Not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
*Western Canadian comedy writer RJ Currie
Hartley Miller is the news and sports supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. He has completed his 10th season as the radio colour commentator on the home games for the Prince George Cougars. Hartley has been on the airwaves in PG since 1979 and is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).