NHL Column: Keep the chaos coming

Nashville Predators' Austin Watson (51) taps goaltender Pekka Rinne, right, on the shoulder as they stand by the bench following their 2-1 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series in Dallas, Monday, April 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

One after another, division winners in the NHL continue to fall like dominoes. The mighty Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames, each winners of their respective divisions, floundered in their playoff series against wild card teams. These supposed Cup contenders crushed the dreams of their fans, who built up hope and belief over the past eight months.

The Wild Card winners, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche, took care of their opponents seamlessly. The Jackets swept Tampa Bay. Colorado only needed five games to extinguish the Flames and the Stars finished Nashville in just six. Not a single one of these surprising franchises needed even seven games to move past the heavy favorites.

Of course, in hockey, unpredictability is to be expected, but the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs have brought pure insanity in a way never before experienced by the game. Just a year ago, each one seed took care of business in the opening round, and only a single one seed did not advance to the Conference Final. That one team was the Nashville Predators, who were defeated by the Winnipeg Jets in the second round. This was a far cry from an upset, as the Jets were a powerful two seed evenly matched with Nashville.

But it does remind us that the Predators, since bursting onto the Cup spectrum in 2017, have not met expectations. For the second consecutive year, they have failed to even reach the third round of the playoffs. Ironically, in 2017, when they made their run to the Stanley Cup Final, they were a wild card team. Back then, they were the ones taking care of the upsets, as they swept the first place Chicago Blackhawks in the first round to ignite their run. That year, everybody fell in love with the Predators, who previously had been a mostly irrelevant team. The city exploded in hockey fandom in congruence with their newfound success.

They came up just short of a championship, falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. But the run created expectations for a Championship that the organization has yet to meet. Although they have continued their regular season dominance, they have been unable to produce during crunch time.

Similarly, the Lightning have owned the regular season over the past few years, but a Stanley cup remains elusive to them. While teams always want to achieve the best season record possible, sometimes getting into one of those final playoff spots can prove advantageous. Usually, these teams have been playing playoff like games for about a month already once the actual postseason begins. Teams who clinch weeks before the end of the season, on the other hand, can afford to play lackadaisical at the end of the year.

The meaningful games that the Blue Jackets, Stars, and Avalanche played down the stretch helped prepare them for the intensity of the playoffs. And in a series against top caliber teams, they could play loose and without pressure.

While the upsets have been crazy in this young playoff season, they have not even been the most chaotic part of the Quarter Final round. The first round featured three game sevens, which matched the total from the entire postseason last year. On Wednesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes looked to become the fourth and final wild card team to defeat a one seed, taking on the defending champion Washington Capitals.

The Toronto Maple Leafs continued their playoff struggles against the Boston Bruins, as they fell in seven games after holding a 3-2 series lead. The biggest comeback came for the San Jose Sharks, who were in 3-1 hole against the Vegas Golden Knights. In completing their surge, one unthinkable moment came after another.

In Game 6, the Sharks scored a shorthanded goal in double overtime to send the series back home for Game 7. In this final, decisive game, San Jose found themselves down 3-0 halfway through the third period. The Golden Knights then took a five minute major penalty, in which Joe Pavelski suffered a head injury. The Sharks ensued to score four goals on the power play to take 4-3 lead. Although Vegas tied it in the final minute of regulation, the unlikeliest of heroes, Barclay Goodrow scored in overtime for the Sharks, thus eliminating Vegas.

And with that, the chaos is over, as the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is complete. But the break will be short, and soon the chaos will return with four fresh series.


Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at dylan.barrett@uconn.edu.