Well, this is quite different, isn't it? The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs was filled with seven-game drama all around, while the second round has been quick and rather uneventful. Three Cup favorites, the Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals, are either already done or likely will be sooner rather than later, and a fourth, the Nashville Predators, don't seem able to stack up with the West's best.
The games have still been exciting from a period-to-period standpoint, with lead changes and comebacks and overtimes abound. It's just that we could walk out of the weekend with everything sewn up in four or five games, and that's a bit of a shocker.
The shock isn't just to fans, of course. No team could have expected to be in this predicament, which means the aftermath will be just as interesting. Let's take a look at each team in the hole, and what happens if they don't stage a miracle comeback.
How It Happened: It doesn't matter that the games were by one goal, or that two of the games took overtime for the San Jose Sharks to triumph -- a three-game deficit is a three-game deficit. And early chatter following Game 3 among Wings fans focused on HOW the Wings lost: blown leads with a prevent-style defense. The Detroit faithful have even grumbled about firing coach Mike Babcock.
If They Lose: Losing to the No. 2 seed in a series of close games isn't the disaster the record books may draw it up to be. Never one to make wholesale changes or knee-jerk reactions, general manager Ken Holland has to recognize the balance between his player loyalty and cap hits. Nicklas Lidstrom may or may not return, but it's the depth positions that could see some makeover. Older players, such as Brian Rafalski and Todd Bertuzzi, could be in changed roles with diminished ice times next year.
How It Happened: Nashville wasn't supposed to be here, not with injuries up and down the lineup and limited scoring. And yet, the Predators took care of the Anaheim Ducks handily and entered the second round brimming with confidence. For some shifts, they've stood toe-to-toe with the Vancouver Canucks. For others, well, the Canucks have shown why they won the Presidents' Trophy and pretty much every team statistical category.
If They Lose: This is a growth period for the Predators, as their young defense is just coming into their own. The question, as usual, lies up front with the Predators. Would the series have been different with a healthy Matthew Lombardi (out with a concussion for the entire season) and Marcel Goc up the middle? It certainly would have given Barry Trotz some more flexibility. Perhaps Nashville will appeal more to free agents after this strong showing, and some forward support should be top on David Poile's list.
How It Happened: The Flyers are a different team with Chris Pronger in the lineup. They simply are, and Pronger's presence creates a ripple effect from the blueline out. Without him, the defense goes from scary to pretty good, and pretty good doesn't quite cut it when your goaltending rotates between an overwhelmed rookie and career journeymen. Is it too simple to say that the series would have been much different should a healthy Pronger patrolled the Philly blueline? I don't think so, but it does show the importance of goaltending.
If They Lose: Of course, goaltending hasn't really been that important in Philadelphia for, oh, 20 years or so. That probably won't change; however, there are a few aging veterans hitting the UFA market. Expect the Flyers to address this issue by signing a guy such as Jean-Sebastian Giguere. We've seen this trick before, though. Don't forget the late 1990s when the Flyers signed an aging John Vanbiesbrouck to help rescue their goaltending. That one didn't quite work out either.
How It Happened: The Caps beat the New York Rangers in five games, though it sometimes felt like a lot more than that. And against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps all but disappeared barring one close game where they controlled most of the play. Outside of that, it's been difficult to assess.
Alex Ovechkin seemed to play with the heart of a champion but the brains of a beer-leaguer, attempting to go through the entire 1-3-1 system by himself instead of playing within a system of his own. That's better than Nicklas Backstrom or Alex Semin, though. Those two talented forwards strangely disappeared. Backstrom was especially head-scratching, as he was clearly Washington's best forward last year against Montreal.
If They Lose: Well, they HAVE lost, so that's a certainty. General manager George McPhee says he "expects" Bruce Boudreau back, but that could mean anything. Boudreau has shown some tactical errors, but he's a good coach that showed he could restructure his methodology mid-season to be more defensive. Of course, that didn't really produce any different results.
Some changes will be made in Washington, but McPhee will really have to decide if his non-Ovechkin star players (Semin, Backstrom, Mike Green) are the type that can mature into true leaders or if they will be career enigmas a la Alex Kovalev. That question carries much more big-picture impact than coaching.