As the first round of the 2011 NHL playoffs wore on, I think a lot of people began to have this same thought: Are we watching the best opening round in the history of hockey?
Likewise, I've been planning on writing this story for some time now, but frankly I didn't really feel like searching through 93 years of NHL history to stack this first round against those from the past.
But then, the past two nights happened. Four Game 7's, two featuring overtime. I'm convinced that, even without searching through the vast history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we've never seen a better opening round than the one that wrapped up on Wednesday night. Here are five reasons why.
There's no doubt in anybody's mind that overtime in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is basically as exhilarating as professional sports gets, and in this first round alone, we had the thrill of watching 13 overtime periods -- two in Game 7's. We had nine straight days of overtime between Tuesday, April 19 and the last night of the first round, Wednesday, April 27.
In the midst of the best first round in history, we saw perhaps the most dramatic first round series of all time as well. The Canucks entered the playoffs with all the expectations of a city, and really, an entire league on their shoulders. They were the best team by far in the entire NHL, but Roberto Luongo's bunch had to prove that when it mattered most.
It certainly seemed like they were well on their way to doing that, right? Luongo seemed unstoppable and the Canucks looked like they were well on their way to a convincing series win over the team that had owned them for three straight seasons. But then, the tables turned. Chicago crushed the Canucks in Game 4 to stave off the sweep, and to assert themselves even further, they crushed Vancouver in convincing fashion again in Game 5.
A dramatic overtime win in Game 6, after Luongo had been kicked out of his crease thanks to poor play and then had to awkwardly stumble back in after an injury to Cory Schneider, led to Game 7. The Canucks led 1-0 throughout the entire contest, but of course, shorthanded with less than two minutes to go, Jonathan Toews dove at a loose puck and batted it through Luongo's five-hole.
... and then, with city bridges shut down and area mountains barricaded to prevent mass casualties, the Canucks killed a penalty in overtime. Alex Burrows, who sat for two long, horrible minutes in the box, stepped out, picked the puck off Chris Campoli, walked in and made us all forget that any of this silliness ever happened.
It's cliche, but you seriously, really can't write this stuff.
3. Series comebacks
Aside from the tumult of the Canucks vs. Blackhawks series, there were a few other incredible comebacks throughout the first round. The Tampa Bay Lightning bounced back from a tough double overtime loss in Game 4, and thus, a 3-1 series deficit, to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.
In the shadow of Philadelphia's 3-0 comeback against Boston a year ago and Chicago's almost-comeback against Vancouver, this gets overlooked, but out of the 200-plus situations in history that teams have trailed 3-1 in best-of-seven series, the Lightning were only the 21st team to complete the feat.
And if you remember, the Boston Bruins were down 0-2 to the Montreal Canadiens way back at the beginning of this first round. After reeling off three straight wins they actually took the series lead. Once Montreal forced Game 7 and then tied the score late in regulation on a power play goal, they won in overtime.
It was the first time in their long, storied history that they won a series after going down 0-2.
4. In-game comebacks
Don't forget the in-game comebacks, too. The Flyers came back from 3-0 down in Game 5 against the Buffalo Sabres before losing in overtime, but staved off elimination in overtime of Game 6 after falling behind by two goals on two separate occasions in the first period.
The Rangers jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second period of Game 4 against the Washington Capitals, and the "can you hear us?!" chants reverberated around Madison Square Garden as the lead grew and a series tie seemed imminent. But the wheels came off in the third period, and the Caps grabbed those wheels and strapped them on themselves, tossing three goals in behind Henrik Lundqvist to force OT.
Almost 34 minutes later, Marian Gaborik finally made his presence known for the Blueshirts ... tapping the puck away from his goaltender and within the reach of Jason Chimera, who completed the comeback for the Caps.
Out West, it took 21 minutes for the Los Angeles Kings to build a 4-0 lead over the San Jose Sharks in Game 4. But, well, they didn't exactly own that lead for long. The Sharks reeled off three goals, then L.A. had an answer, but San Jose still kept coming. Ultimately, they tied the game in the final minute of the second period (yes, this all happened in two periods) before a scoreless third led to overtime (of course). Devin Setoguchi's winner capped the comeback for the Sharks.
Finally, Boston fell down 3-1 in a virtual must-win Game 3 against the Montreal Canadiens before eventually tieing the score on a Chris Kelly goal with about six minutes remaining. Michael Ryder won it in overtime for the B's, and without that goal, they likely wouldn't have won that series. Then again, in these playoffs...
5. Other miscellaneous intrigue
- The Flyers used three different starting goaltenders in the series against Buffalo. And they won that series against one of the best goaltenders in the world, Ryan Miller. Huh?
- Tampa Bay wins their first playoff series since winning the Cup -- before the lockout -- in 2004 against Calgary. All this after that dramatic 3-1 comeback, and in their first year under new owner Jeff Vinik, new GM Steve Yzerman and new coach Guy Boucher.
- And finally, we'll just let TSN cover the war of words throughout the first round.
Maybe you'd like to do the research. I'll safely put the credentials of this first round against any other in history without it, thanks.