After one week of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, one word comes to mind for hockey fans: ease. While the Canadiens and Rangers go toe-to-toe each night, the rest of the league has not followed suit. The first round of the postseason is generally the most balanced in the NHL. This has definitely not been the case so far in the 2016-17 season as it appears only three series will head to a sixth game.
Dating back to 2014, the league has seen seven series pushed to the brink, in the first round alone. Will we see any this season? It doesn’t seem likely as only a few series have been somewhat competitive. Toronto and Washington are tied at two games apiece, while Edmonton took a 3-2 lead over San Jose last night. When the NHL re-formatted its postseason, it did not anticipate this many submissive matchups.
So, what has happened so far? Easily, the most surprising upset came in the west as perennial contender, the Chicago Blackhawks, fell in four straight games to Nashville. The Blackhawks finished atop the tough Western Conference with 109 points, while the Predators barely snuck into postseason play. The three-time Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, couldn’t even muster up a fight; getting outscored 13-3 in the four-game sweep. The Hawks were not alone, as the Calgary Flames suffered the same fate against the Anaheim Ducks, failing to win a single game.
For several seasons, the West has been the more dominant conference (they have claimed four of the past five cups). This postseason has exposed many of their supposed top teams as pretenders, not contenders. The Minnesota Wild, who finished second in the conference standings, seemed destined to be swept as well. They barely staved off elimination, heading into a fifth game against the Blues on Saturday.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the story remains the same. The Pittsburgh Penguins made quick work of the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that recorded the second longest win streak in league history this season. Although most of the games in this series were competitive, the Blue Jackets’ struggles in net were exposed by a potent Pittsburgh offense.
The Boston Bruins caught fire midway through the season when a coaching change was made. But, their postseason experience could be coming to a quick end tonight. The Ottawa Senators look to close out this series in five games. The Sens came into the playoffs with low expectations, due to nagging injuries to their best player, Erik Karlsson. Instead, this series has mirrored most of the other first round matchups: one-sided.
At this point, hockey fans can only hope the competitive play returns in round two. What separates the NHL from other sports is its balanced matchups in the postseason. While the NFL and NBA lack parity in the playoffs, the NHL has become famous for it. With a few more matchups like these, perhaps it’s time for the league to re-evaluate its playoff format in hopes of returning to the ultra-competitive series that fans have grown accustomed to.