The NHL is an often underrated sport in America with football, basketball, and baseball filling the television networks and garnering the most interest, but the postseason for professional hockey is one of the most intense and exciting events of the sports calendar.
It gets cranked up to 11 when a game goes to overtime, which is another interesting fact about hockey—of all the sports leagues in America the NHL has the best overtime format for its playoffs.
The two teams just go on until someone scores—no rule differences, no shootouts, and an intermission every 20 minutes. It doesn’t get much more intense than that, and when your team scores that overtime goal in Game 7, you remember it for the rest of your life.
The first round had not one but two such instances with both the New York Rangers and the Calgary Flames advancing with some of the biggest goals in their teams’ histories shot at the right place at the right time.
Will we see another thrilling triumph like that in the 2nd round?
Let’s analyze each matchup and see how each team got here:
The two-time defending champions squeezed out a 2-1 Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday to keep their three-peat bid alive, and are off to a great start with a Game 1 win over Florida on Tuesday. The Panthers came into the playoffs with the #1 seed in the East but struggled a bit with the Washington Capitals before winning the series in a Game 6 overtime duel. The crowds should be great in this all-Sunshine State series.
New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
The Rangers went on quite the ride in Round 1 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In Game 1 both teams went blow-for-blow for all three periods, then in overtime blocked shot after shot after shot until finally in 3OT Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin broke the 3-3 tie and won the game on New York’s rink.
The Rangers responded with a bounce-back 5-2 Game 2 victory, but dropped games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh in blowout losses. On the brink of elimination, they won at home in Game 5 and managed to edge the Penguins 5-3 in Game 6 to send it to winner-take-all last Sunday. Just like Game 1, it was tied 3-3 after 60 minutes, but this one didn’t need all night to finish.
Aided by a power play, the Rangers found an opening and pounced on it to advance to the 2nd round to play the Carolina Hurricanes. All this after falling behind 3-1 in the series. They might need to do it again over the next two weeks, though—the ‘Canes just took Game 1 Wednesday night, who are coming off a similar grueling series with the underdog Boston Bruins that also went seven games.
The Avalanche were the only team that didn’t have to sweat it out in the first round, as they easily rolled over the Nashville Predators for a 4-0 series sweep with three blowouts. The Blues won their series over the Minnesota Wild in six games, which given what most of the other remaining teams went through must feel pretty good. Colorado is the #1 seed in the West and has already taken Game 1, so the Blues will have their work cut out for them.
Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers
The Battle for Alberta! The two remaining Canadian teams needed seven games to reach the 2nd round with the L.A. Kings and Dallas Stars fighting tooth-and-nail all the way, but this all-Alberta series will guarantee that one Canadian and one Alberta team will reach the semifinals.
Remember, in Canada hockey is the number one sport, so their NHL teams are often among the best and can deliver the greatest performances on the ice. Game 1 especially demonstrated that, as the two teams combined for 15 goals in a 9-6 win for Calgary that was tied 6-6 in the 3rd period!
The Flames could have hit double-digits with one more goal—in a playoff game! Highest combined postseason score in 29 years. If I had to guess which series of Round 2 will be the most exciting, I’d pick this one.