NHL's Conference Semis: Only Capitals and Rangers Are Even
Sometimes, the hockey gods pick one team to make a special run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
After underachieving for years, the Washington Capitals have a chance to be that team this spring.
The Caps defeated their first-round opponents, the Islanders, in seven games and then barged into Madison Square Garden to score a last-second goal to take a one-game lead over the Presidents' Trophy winning Rangers.
New York did even the series Saturday with a 3-2 victory, but Washington -- led by superstar Alex Ovechkin and goalie Braden Holtby -- have improved on defense and can ruin a great season for the Blueshirts.
New York misses speedy winger Mats Zuccarello, who's out for the series, and has struggled to find their offense so far in the playoffs. After four 2-1 victories over Pittsburgh and a 2-1 loss in Game 1 of this series, the Rangers finally scored three goals as Chris Kreider, Dan Boyle, and Derick Brassard lit the lamp.
For whatever reason this season, the Rangers are better on the road than at home, so they're likely feeling confident on their way to the nation's capital.
In the other Eastern Conference semi-final, Tampa Bay got a break in the opener. It was a goalie highlight reel -- except for one instance -- all the way through to double overtime:
And the Lightning were fortunate there was no video review:
The Habs claimed they'd put this behind them before Game 2, but it didn't look like it. Dudes were the poster boys for poor discipline. The only thing that got behind them was the puck:
Out West, top-seeded Anaheim is still unbeaten. After sweeping Winnipeg, they pounded Calgary, 6-1, in a second-round opener that wasn't even that close. Frederik Anderson has taken over in goal for the Ducks and has given up a mere ten goals in five games, while Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf remain on fire.
After slumping in Round 1 and being replaced by Scott Darling, Corey Crawford is back in form. With regulars Patrick Kane & Crew lighting the lamp, the Hawks are as tough as ever. Reinforcements Brad Richards and Teuvo Teravainen have helped to derail Zach Parise, Devan Dubnyk and the rest of the upstart Wild.
Minnesota was the hottest team in the West at regular season's end. They could still make this a pesky series, but they're already skating into the wind:
The Central Division was probably the NHL's toughest all season long. It's been clear since the New Year that Anaheim was fated to meet the survivor in that group. The issue is how beat up that survivor would be by crunch time. Chicago has already overcome injuries, and Minnesota has outlasted a late-campaign slump.
The Ducks are simply tuning up for the challenge.