Posted by: mdegeorge | May 6, 2011

The Stanley Cup second round buzzkill

A week ago, I was ready to writing a glowing review of the NHL playoffs. The excitement they were providing at the time was unparalleled. Four of the eight series went the distance, while only two were decided in less than six games.

Brian Boucher. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

They storylines were amazing. The Flyers and Sabres were a typical upset tale, with a hot goaltender in Ryan Miller almost able to will Buffalo to the unlikely victory before falling just short. The Bruins and Canadiens, the two teams that have taken the ice against each other in the most playoff series in league history, needed seven games – and an overtime to boot – to settle a blood feud escalating in levels of disdain. The Penguins and upstart Lightning were a clash of styles with the suddenly flashy Lightning (no pun intended) able to climb out of a 3-1 series deficit. The Blackhawks almost did them a game better in their comeback bid against Vancouver. This series had it all: Demons of the past and bad blood the Canucks were trying to vanquish, a 1-versus-8 upset dynamic, the defending Cup champions starting the road to a repeat against a favorite punching bag, a 3-0 series deficit that turned into a Game 7, goaltender drama with Roberto Luongo and overtime in the finale.

It was almost more than you could script. Home ice meant nothing in the first round, with away teams coming out victorious in 26 of 49 contests (53 percent). Of those 49 games, 14 (29 percent) required overtime – undoubtedly the most exciting happening in all of sports – and three required a second overtime period. By comparison, only 18 of the 89 games in all of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs (20 percent) required overtime, and only two of those were extended beyond the first 20 minutes of bonus hockey.

It looked like the beginning of a legendary quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Then the second round started.

The conference semifinals have offered little in the way of excitement, unless you’re gotten your bookie to float you odds on who will be in goal for the Flyers. The Bruins have systematically dismantled the Flyers top-seeded house of bricks block by block, chasing Brian Boucher twice in three games (and seeing him leave for an injury in the other) en route to a 3-0 lead. The Flyers may think they have them right where they want them after last year’s miraculous comeback. But for those of us who aren’t delusional and drunk in South Philly, there’s only so much joy I feel comfortable having at the expense of a genuine nice guy like Boucher.

Meanwhile, the Capitals spring sleepwalk has resurfaced yet again, and it already has them out at the hands of a resurgent and resplendent Tampa attack. Out West, the Sharks hold a commanding 3-0 lead on the Red Wings, while the Canucks sit in the catbird’s seat with a 3-1 lead heading home for a chance to eliminate Nashville.

Just like that, after a round that provided classic heavyweight bouts, the second round could be over by end of the weekend like an amateur flyweight undercard. There’s still been some excitement – each series has featured at least one OT contest, while the two West semis have given us two each.

But game sevens don’t appear to be in the offing anytime soon. It leaves us hoping the Conference Finals will be better. Or at least not any worse.

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