The first round of the NHL playoffs wrapped up last night, and it was a perfect example of just how exciting the playoffs are.
Three out of the eight series went to a game seven, a one seed was knocked out and another was challenged, and there were 16 total games that went in overtime.
But what was more surprising to see was how well the defensive-orientated teams did against offensive-orientated teams, especially in the Western Conference.
Before, the NHL playoffs were battles between star forwards, but this year we’re seeing a totally different story.
Teams with high offensive power (Chicago, Detroit, and Vancouver) are being outplayed and ousted by, essentially, their opponents’ goaltenders.
The Nashville Predators ousted the Detroit Red Wings in just five games. It was the first time Detroit had been ousted in the first round of the playoffs since 2006. Nashville’s goaltender, Pekka Rinne, had a .944 save percentage and was a major reason why Nashville was able to win the series.
Believe it or not, Rinne’s save percentage ranks last among the four remaining goaltenders in the Western Conference. Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues save percentage is at .949, Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes is at .950, and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings is at .953.
It’s interesting that this is only happening in the Western Conference and not the Eastern Conference. Are teams in the Western Conference going to have to reevaluate how they’re going to build their teams? Maybe.
Just one team (Nashville) from last year’s Western Conference playoffs made the second round. The rest are newcomers. In fact, the Coyotes have never made the playoffs before this year, and the Blues ended a 10-year playoff series drought with their series victory over the San Jose Sharks. All three of these teams have what look to be promising futures anchored by a strong defense and solid goaltending.
The same could not be said of the others.
Detroit is rapidly aging, Chicago’s defense and goaltending is a huge uncertainty for them, and Vancouver doesn’t seem to know what to do with the goaltenders they have.
We may be entering an period when the teams what used to rule the roost in the in the Western Conference fall behind. If so, things are going to get a lot more interesting.