NHL playoffs: Blackhawks swept in a stunner; Blue Jackets ousted in 4-1 series
Two of the NHL's top four teams of 2016-17 are out of the playoffs
John Tortorella will not be taking home the Stanley Cup this season.
First-round exits are not unprecedented for anyone in the NHL, especially within a seeding format that is built to serve up rivalries more than preserve top-ranked contenders. But the ways in which Chicago and Columbus were dispatched, the Blackhawks by way of a sweep (yes, a sweep) by the Nashville Predators and the Blue Jackets via a 4-1 series that saw the Pittsburgh Penguins outscore Columbus 21-13, were no doubt headlining.
They top the takeaways from a huge night in the Stanley Cup playoffs, which now have three teams locked into the second round:
The Predators were like a replica of the (good) Blackhawks in their stunning sweep
Faster. Quicker to the puck. Smarter in the net.
Nashville had just about every advantage in its series against the Blackhawks. And while that would not have been surprising had the edge vanished after Game 1 or even Game 2, the Predators' historic sweep of Chicago, a team rich with postseason experience and consensus favorites out of the Western Conference, essentially painted them as a replica of an earlier era of Blackhawks dominance.
In a series that figured to see Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews lead a long-heralded offensive attack and Corey Crawford hold it down on "D," Chicago's playoff heroes were hardly even factors in the shadow of guys like Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg. They hardly put a dent in Nashville, scoring just three goals -- Artemi Panarin had none -- and succumbing to a pair of shutouts, whereas the Predators strung together four straight games of fast-paced, decisive play much in the mold of the Blackhawks we're used to.
Heading into the second round, how can pundits not be enamored with the four-game stretch Nashville just wrapped up? How can the Predators, what with superb showings from Pekka Rinne and even more promising work from their slew of scorers, not be crowned new, legitimate contenders in the West?
It is fair to say that the Blue Jackets blew it
Columbus deserves credit for a roaring 2016-17 campaign. The team's defense was elite for much of the year. Tortorella obviously had something cooking with the Blue Jackets earning a rare postseason berth. And Sergei Bobrovsky entered the playoffs as maybe one of the most formidable players in the net.
But you can't hype up the Blue Jackets' hard-nosed potential without also admitting that they -- plain and simple -- flopped against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Say what you want about the Pens being the defending champs, but Pittsburgh was also banged up, missing some of its key contributors and forced to lean on a last-minute goalie change at the start of the series. Yes, the Penguins offense is lethal and, yes, it now seems poised to go far. But Columbus undid its run with as many cheap shots as Blue Jackets fans will like to pin on Pittsburgh, not to mention a porous defensive showing.
Allowing 21 goals in five games was never going to cut it. And even though Tortorella may have been justified in his edgy response to questions about a dramatic goalie interference call that deterred a Columbus score in Game 5 (see below), the Blue Jackets also failed to come close to the Pens' offensive production in Thursday's crucial matchup despite 19 more shots on goal.
The Habs get one more shot to remind Rangers of home struggles
What a good time for the Montreal Canadiens to head back to Madison Square Garden after a 3-2 overtime win by the New York Rangers on Thursday night in Montreal handed the N.Y. a 3-2 advantage in the series.
The Rangers, of course, snapped their home losing streak recently but still have a ways to go before they truly erase memories of playoff slip-ups there. And in a series that has long been expected to go the distance, things are about as even as they could be. The Habs and Rangers have 10 and 11 goals, respectively, through five games. And the goalie battle between Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist continues to warrant attention.
The Rangers can move on to the second round with a good deal of confidence if they knock off Montreal and continue to fend off home-ice demons at the same time. But the way the Canadiens have fought back -- literally, in some cases -- makes this series a potential seven-gamer down the stretch.
Rage is all the rage in Montreal
Buffalo's 20-year-old phenom pulls off the highlight of the night against Vancouver
The North American love affair with Edmonton's superhuman center continues to grow
The defending Western Conference champion Predators are also heating up early in the year
The Oilers' young star remains seriously unfair
David Kelly, a Toronto-born hockey analyst, has strong advice for Edmonton vs. Chicago game...