Following a fairly entertaining, yet somewhat noncompetitive first round that didn’t see any of the eight series go to 7 games, the second round delivered. 3 of the 4 series went to seven games featuring a few comebacks that ultimately fell short.
With the dust on these series long settled now we can look back at what the four eliminated teams were missing and what can be learned from them as Detroit continues to rebuild. If you want to look back at what lessons could be taken from the earlier rounds, we’ve already reviewed the qualifying round and the first round.
Boston was the lone eliminated team in the second round who didn’t manage to at least take the series the distance. After winning the first game of the series they lost four straight, falling to Tampa Bay in just five games. The series may not have been as lopsided as that though with Boston losing twice in overtime including a double OT finale to the series.
Boston kept the games close for the most part, outside of a blowout 7-1 loss in Game 3. After leading the league in the regular season and looking like a force they limped out of the bubble though. Rust wasn’t an issue and after an early scare in the round robin they made quick work of the Carolina Hurricanes seemingly finding their form. But there were probably a few factors that put them on the losing side of those games. Seemingly the largest that can’t be overlooked is Tampa is incredibly deep through their lineup. Even missing Stamkos, the Lightning boast a lineup featuring Kucherov, Point, Palat, Hedman, Sergachev, and deadline pickups like Coleman. As strong as Boston is, they have often relied on the big three in Pastrnak, Marchand, and Bergeron as well as an ageing Krejci. They’ve used the formula to great success generally speaking but relying on one line has been the downfall of many great regular season teams. Outside of the aforementioned four players there were only two other Bruins who scored had more than a single point in the series, UFA to be Torey Krug, and Charlie Coyle. You have to get more support than that to have win these games. Halak also probably didn’t do any favours with his mediocre play and .896 SV% in the series but that felt very secondary to the lack of support scoring.
Boston’s downfall seems pretty cut and dry compared to some of these other teams on why they fell short. Yzerman would be wise to remember you have to have scoring throughout the lineup and that comes from patient building and strong drafting. You try to land the superstars with those high picks and hit on your second round picks and beyond to deliver the depth. A key signing here or there for those support players is the finishing touch.
Philadelphia was ousted by the smothering team defense of the Trotz led Islanders. Give them full credit though for mounting a comeback against New York after going down 3-1 in the series before forcing a Game 7. That’s not easy against those defense-first teams that can be incredibly frustrating to play against. The Flyers did eventually fall flat in the deciding seventh game though. But even in taking this series the distance the result was probably closer than the series really was. The Flyers earned all three of their wins in overtime while losing the other four games by a combined 14-3 score. The Flyers looked great after winning the round robin portion and then overcoming the Canadiens in the first round. So why’d they sputter out against the Islanders?
The Flyers had a different problem than the Bruins. They got decent scoring from players further down the lineup like Kevin Hayes, Scott Laughton, and others. But their leading scorers from the regular season; Konecny, Couturier, Voracek, and Giroux combined for just 3 goals between them in a seven game series. The four totalled 13 points but they are relied on for goals that they weren’t able to produce here. Giroux in particular carried the burden of playing below expectations well before this series in the playoffs. Yes, the Islanders whole identity is based on being able to frustrate and slow their opponent’s top weapons down, but to succeed your stars have to find ways to break through and the Flyers big names couldn’t do that. Perhaps adding some salt to that wound is the Flyers are tied to most of the players for several more seasons.
If you’re looking at the Flyers as the Red Wings there’s some valuable insight to be gained. It’s good to get a steady core locked up and one you hope will take you to the promised land. But you better put your eggs in the right basket in terms of which players you tie your wagon too. And should you bet on the wrong guys, you need to make the determination of when to cut bait. The Flyers may or may not be in that situation now, as time will tell. But it’s up to the GM to be able to determine if this is the most they’ll be able to do.
Colorado looked set for a great run after a great regular season in which they trailed only the Blues by a couple of points. They cleaned up Arizona in dominant fashion in the opening round making Kuemper look average. They were many pundits pick to come out of the West. But they fell to the Dallas Stars in seven games, a team they outscored by 57 goals in the regular season. This series was a barn burner averaging over 8 goals a game between the teams. In the end Colorado lost a heart breaker losing Game 7 in overtime after coming all the way back from a 3-1 series deficit.
A variety of reason contributed to Colorado’s eventual loss. One of those was injuries including veteran defenseman Erik Johnson who was relied on to eat valuable minutes for this young squad. They also lost goaltender Philipp Grubauer to injury. Both he and Johnson went out early in Game 1 and it took the Avs some time to find their footing after that. Pavel Francouz who was terrific in the regular season struggled in relief of Grubauer and put the Avs in a tight spot going 1-3 through the first four games with .862 SV%. Colorado then turned to Michael Hutchinson who had been chased out of Toronto with torches and pitchforks earlier in the year. Hutchinson played surprisingly well in the second half of the series. So between the Grubauer injury and Francouz’s struggles Colorado got buried by their goaltending early on.
But the Avs can be viewed very differently after their elimination compared to the Bruins and Flyers. This is still a very young team learning on the fly. Of their more important pieces the oldest are Kadri (29), Landeskog (27), and Johnson (32). The rest of their core is 25 and younger. After getting their crease sorted out in this series they were done in by a Game 7 overtime goal. They have Hart and Norris calibre players in MacKinnon and Makar. They don’t face any real difficult negotiations this offseason other than resigning or chasing some supporting piece in free agency. What to do with Tyson Jost is probably the only hurdle.
If you are Yzerman and his staff, you’d love to find yourself in a spot like his former rival Sakic. It was just three years ago that the Avs completely bottomed out with their awful season. Rebuilds can come together quickly. Yzerman faces a few more challenges as he doesn’t have a MacKinnon type piece already in place. Larkin probably fits more of the Landeskog role. But it’s a great model to follow for sure. Should the Red Wings eventually end up in a position like Colorado is now it will be important not to let a loss like this cause any overreactions. They have the building blocks in place and their core’s contending window is wide open. Sometimes you just come up a bounce short of the promised land or a tough injury. Hockey’s margin of victory is razor thin, it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind.
The Canucks are the last of the teams that found themselves 3-1 in their series before battling back to force a game 7 and falling short in the final game. It was certainly the theme of the second round. Vancouver had tough competition in the second round against Vegas. Despite being a recent expansion team, Vegas is experienced and have a deep talented roster.
The Canucks put up a good fight and if nothing else these playoffs will serve as a good learning experience for their cornerstone pieces like Pettersson and Hughes. It’s difficult to point out any one particular thing that went wrong for the Canucks. They got great goaltending, including when Demko had to replace Markstrom following an injury. Their young stars while stifled at times, ultimately still produced in the series. In terms of losing this series, they just lost to a better, deeper, more experienced team in Vegas. It wasn’t one particular player or two on either side that buried them. That’s sometimes all there is to it.
Vancouver’s projection moving forward is probably closer to Colorado than to Boston and Philadelphia. They definitely are a team on the upswing but they will face some unique challenges moving forward. Despite being a mostly young team with star players still on their entry level deals, they are staring at a cap crunch. They are still carrying deals that predate the rebuild, none more glaring than Eriksson’s two remaining years at a $6M cap hit. Boeser has been an apparent candidate to be shipped out which many think would be a mistake. But something will have to give. The Canucks will have to pay or replace players like Tanev, Markstrom, Virtanen, and Toffoli, likely having to move other pieces to do so. All while leaving money for Pettersson and Hughes extensions next offseason. It won’t be easy and they’re facing difficult decisions to keep their team moving in the right direction.
That is likely the biggest warning for the Red Wings. You want your rebuild to go like the Canucks’ has, hitting big on your top picks, even when not benefiting from the lottery. But when you’re ready to turn the corner, you don’t want to let contracts of yesteryear hold you back. By the time Detroit’s rebuild is ready they don’t appear to have any albatrosses that will be on the books. The closest is Abdelkader with 3 years remaining but even that will likely be off the books by the time the Wings are ready. But they have to be careful of adding any moving ahead.
Looking at these four eliminated teams there’s a few very different lessons that can be taken. There are models to follow in terms of rebuilding and pitfalls to look out for along the way. There’s also the ability to add the necessary pieces to a contender and to be able to identify when your core perhaps isn’t capable of reaching the ultimate goal. Let’s hope with Yzerman’s leadership he’s watching these teams very carefully to avoid the hazards along the way to another Cup run for the Red Wings.