Well, the first round's just about over by the time that I'm starting this blog, and while I don't have the time to recap every series, here are some interesting things to note (get out a sheet of paper, really):
-Of the 8 first round series, only two have made it to seven games (NJD vs CAR, NYR vs WAS). However, 3 of those series made it to the intense mark of six games, meaning in those three match-ups, the teams were fairly equal, but one gained more momentum and won it all.
-The leading scorer of the post-season so far is Evgeni Malkin. Interestingly enough, it's not very common to see the regular season scoring leader top the playoffs in scoring, for whatever reason. However, with the experience of a Finals appearance last year, Malkin's Penguins could go all the way again this year, leaving the possibility of the top regular and post- season scorer being the same man.
-Detroit's 4-game sweep marked the first time since 2002 that the team who won the Cup made it beyond the first round the next year, while Pittsburgh's 4-2 series win over Philadelphia marked the first time since that same year that both finalists made it past round 1.
San Jose vs. Anaheim
Result: Anaheim wins series 4-2
Perhaps the most surprising, yet not fully unexpected, upset of the first round, eighth seeded Anaheim, who struggled to even stay in playoff contention, took down the top seeded, President's Trophy-winning, San Jose Sharks, who are annually expected to go the distance and win a Cup, and annually disappoint the league and their fans.
Series difference-maker: Jonas Hiller (Ducks goaltender) Hiller was shifting between backup and starting goalie throughout the year as J.S. Giguere suffered through numerous inconsistencies, but was always rock solid when called upon. He kept the Sharks' goal total low enough to allow the Ducks a victory every night.
Boston vs. Montreal
Result: Boston wins series 4-0
Coming into the playoffs in their 100th season, the Canadiens had a year of many struggles, but were expected to contend fairly well. Instead, they went up against a Bruins team that had dominated the Eastern Conference all year and weren't ready to slow down just yet. In a crushing sweep, the Bruins took down the Habs like lightning, leading many to wonder just what challenge actually awaits Boston.
Series difference-maker: Michael Ryder (Bruins winger) Ryder came back to haunt his former team in the first round, scoring 4 goals and 7 points in 4 games for Boston.
Detroit vs. Columbus
Result: Detroit wins series 4-0
Perhaps the only series that ended exactly as predicted, the first-time-post-seasoner-Blue Jackets entered the playoffs hyped up, but with a poor match-up that resulted in a crushing defeat at the hands of defending champs Detroit. However, the supposed parity increase in the NHL has finally played out, as the Blue-Jackets, previously the only team in the league to have never made the playoffs, finally tasted the first round. And if the fans in Ohio are any proof, the Jackets want more.
Series difference-maker: Henrik Zetterberg (Red Wings Center/Winger) Although the entire Wings team was balanced out in terms of scoring and defensive play, there's no denying that Zetterberg is one of Detroit's ultimate leaders, and with 3 goals to lead the team, not to mention his outstanding defensive play, he'll lead the Wings wherever they go.
Washington vs. New York Rangers
Result: Washington wins series 4-3
One of the NHL's 7-game series, the Caps pulled off an upset, coming back from a Rangers 3-1 series lead to upset the boys in blue. After the Rangers chased goalie Jose Theodore from the Washington net, rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov came in and stole the show, and the comeback ended on Washington ice in game 7 with a 2-1 win.
Series difference-maker: Simeon Varlamov (Capitals goaltender) With Alex Ovechkin being harassed by Marc Staal and Alexander Semin and Nick Backstrom proving ineffective without him, it was up to the rookie Varlamov, who changed the series momentum in game 5 when he shut out the Rangers 4-0 for the second time. Comparisons to Mr. Cam Ward have already begun, and while it's a bit early, it looks good for Washington. Next up? Pittsburgh.
Vancouver vs. St. Louis
Result: Vancouver wins series 4-0
The first series to end (Boston's sweep of Montreal and Detroit's sweep of Columbus ended only a few days later) proved that while an underdog team can carry plenty of momentum, consistent goaltending will take you all the way. That was the story, as the Blues could not rely on the scoring of David Backes and Brad Boyes to get past the wall of Roberto Luongo. And surprisingly balanced scoring made sure that the Canucks topped the Blues in only four games.
Series difference-maker: Sedin Twins (Canucks center and left winger) It's practically impossible to seperate these two in any way. They duo dominated the series along with right winger Alex Burrows, making precision passes and sniper-like accuracy on net turn into goals. While Burrows had three goals, Daniel Sedin led with 2 goals and 5 points, while Henrik Sedin had a goal and 4 points.
New Jersey vs. Carolina
Result: Carolina wins series 4-3
There might not have been a more dead-locked series in the first round than this 7-gamer between the Devils and the Hurricanes. The Devils had Zach Parise to pour in goals, a world-reknowned defense to shut down the Canes, and star goalie Martin Broduer in net in case all else failed. The Canes had Eric Staal to lead on offense, a somewhat inexperienced, but still strong defense, and former Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward in goal. Through the first six games, it was literally a back and forth series. Two games went into overtime, with New Jersey winning one and Carolina winning the other. Although the Canes dominated in game 6, winning 4-0, it appeared that the Devils had the series locked up with a 3-2 lead going into the final period of game seven. However, goals by Jussi Jokinen and the heroic Eric Staal gave the Canes a 4-3 win and a chance in the second round.
Series-difference maker: Eric Staal (Hurricanes center) With 5 goals and 7 points, the Canes future captain stayed on a point-per-game pace throughout the series and was the leading goal-scorer as well. Although counterpart Zach Parise played perhaps as heroicly as Staal, the Canes came out on top thanks to their leader.
Chicago vs. Calgary
Result: Chicago wins series 4-2
The story of this series was toughness and experience (Calgary) up against energetic youth (Chicago). The Flames were led by gritty veteran Jarome Iginla and solid netminder Miika Kiprusoff, while the Blackhawks had the goal-scoring and leadership of Jonathan Toews and the netminding of former Stanley Cup winner Nikolai Khabibulin. Many people gave the series to Calgary because of the lack of experience (17 players never having played in the playoffs) that Chicago had in their lineup. However, the Hawks managed to overwhelm the defensive efforts of the Flames and moved on to the second round.
Series difference-maker: Jonathan Toews (Chicago Center) Despite being so young, the future Chicago captain dominated the series with his gritty play. He had 2 goals and 6 points to tie for second on team scoring, and kept up the morale of the team even as they lost games 3 and 4 in Calgary.
Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia
Result: Pittsburgh wins series 4-2
The series with the most heated rivalry already in place became intense right off the bat. Both teams relied on scoring, as Pittsburgh had the dynamic duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while the Flyers relied upon Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, among others. In the end, though, the superb goaltending of Marc-Andre Fluery bested the efforts of Martin Biron, and the Penguins came out on top. Next up, the dream series of Pittsburgh vs. Washington.
Series difference-maker: Evgeni Malkin (Penguins center) Despite the hype surrounding Sid the Kid, Malking quietly lead the playoffs in scoring through the first round, and potted 4 goals and 9 points total.