The 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs began last Wednesday night, and we may already see one team pack its bags and head home before long. Here's some eye-popping trends as the second season's well underway.
Despite a regular season where average goals per game ended at 5.48, the 2014 playoffs have been a show. Teams have combined for 109 goals in 17 games going into tonight, a 6.41 goal per game average, nearly a goal more than the regular season. Defense wins championships, huh? The San Jose Sharks pace the offense, scoring 13 goals in 2 games against the NHL's stingiest regular season defensive team, the Los Angeles Kings. Our Detroit Red Wings unfortunately have yet to join the scoring party, so hopefully they show up on time as our series shifts to Joe Louis Arena for Tuesday night's Game 3. There's no telling whether this trend is going to continue or suffer from the natural ebbs and flows of hot and cold streaks (aka regression), and the small sample size nature of the playoffs means volatility and unpredictability rule the day.
Can I get an extension?
Three of five nights so far in the playoffs had at least one overtime game. The Columbus Blue Jackets got their first playoff win in franchise history in double overtime against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks had both their games go to overtime, triple and single. Who knows if we'll get another stretch like last year in the first round with seven consecutive nights of overtime in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but playoff overtime has made its presence known in these playoffs. Thankfully, the Red Wings have spared our hearts and livers, knowing they gave us all the overtime fun we could handle last year against the Anaheim Ducks.
Title Defenses Are Hard
In a series where my ultimate rooting interest is a meteor raining down on both teams, I'm no-heartedly throwing my support to the Blues so that our reign as the last back-to-back champions continues. Twice, the Blackhawks took a 3-2 lead into the last two minutes of regulation. Twice, they've given up the game-tying goal. Twice, they lost the game in overtime. With the series heading back to Chicago, the defending champs could find themselves on the ropes if they don't hold serve at home, and it certainly won't help to have Brent Seabrook out due to suspension.
In particular, I like how this article suggests that the Blackhawks are getting "uncharacteristically chippy and undisciplined." Because we all know first-hand how much of a lead-by-example captain Jonathan Toews is. If we, the Detroit Red WIngs, managed to pull off Toews off his game that much last year, just imagine what the Blues are capable of doing if they get into his head for the entire series.
How's Canada Doing?
Perpetuating the stereotype that all Canadians are pulling for the only Canadian team making the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup, the Montreal Canadiens are doing pretty well for themselves. While it feels like our series has barely started now that we're tied 1-1 with the Boston Bruins, the Canadiens are one win away from the division final and a potential vacation while waiting for either the Red Wings or the Bruins. Notwithstanding a fortuitous case of based refpuck, the Canadiens certainly haven't been undeserving of the current 3-0 series lead they hold, and the Tampa Bay Lightning look like they really could have used Ben Bishop even more than I thought they would.
The Zebras Are the Story . . . Again
It's inevitable that the referees will become the story. Hardly any mistake they make is a "tiny" one because they ultimately influence the direction of a game based on missed calls and bad calls. I won't try to excuse them "because they're human" because ultimately they should be the humans that are better than we are at spotting these calls on the ice. This sentiment also doesn't even cover the annoying tendency for more lax rule enforcement because "it's playoff hockey" suddenly makes it ok for the referees to put their whistles away.
Of course the story is predictably going to blow up around referee Francis Charron and his no-goal call in Game 3 between the Lightning and the Canadiens, even going so far as to suggest something more nefarious because Charron's from Gatineau. There was the Milan Lucic spearing on Danny DeKeyser that led to nothing in-game. You could argue referees even led to the Joel Quenneville fine because, really, do you think he's going to be that demonstrative if he gets the call he thinks is right? In the end, I suppose the best that can be hoped for from the early stages of these playoffs is that the NHL will finally make goaltender interference a reviewable play on a goal/ no-goal call.
We've still got another two months of this stuff. Strap in, buckle up, and hold on because you just know the ride's going to get crazier.