First round has been a wild ride

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:28 PM ET

LOS ANGELES – The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is like the first lap of the Indianapolis 500.

That's where it is at its heart-palpitating best. That's where, even as a fan, you want to have your seatbelts fastened, where you are trying to watch stomach-in-your-throat action everywhere at once, where favorites crash, stars spin out and surprising moves are made from the back of the pack.

And what a start this season!

It's early yet but there's the growing belief we may be watching the greatest first round in Stanley Cup history.

For the first time, all eight playoff series switched sites after the opening two games tied 1-1, turning them all effectively into best-of-five series. And the teams that finished fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth have taken over home ice advantage.

The No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in both conferences had a combined record of 8-4 going into games Monday night.

In 12 of the first 15 games through the opening weekend, the winning team trailed at some point during the game before coming back to win.

Going into Monday's action, seven games have gone to overtime, including both in Vancouver.

San Jose-Colorado produced a pair as well and the Avs came within a minute of going to overtime in the other one.

In all there were 20 games through Sunday, with 14 decided by a goal and three more featuring empty net goals. The first eight games were all decided by one goal.

It's been wild. It's been crazy. It's been fabulously entertaining.

As a sportswriter, covering an up-and-down-the-west-coast series when you’ve got Eastern deadlines, pretty much the last thing you want is overtime game after overtime game. But it's been sensational stuff to watch at the rink and to follow from afar on the off days.

Even the players can't help but be fans the way it's going.

“It's been incredible,” said Canucks forward Daniel Sedin. “Every series is so tight. It's fun for the fans and fun for us, too.”

Alexandre Burrows says the new post-lockout NHL is responsible for kicking the excitement level up a notch.

“There's so much parity. This year virtually nobody knew who they were going to play in the playoffs until the last day of the regular season. And it went down to a shootout in the last game to settle the final playoff position. It's exciting.”

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said it can't get any tighter than the two 3-2 overtime wins that set up Game 3 in this series here Monday.

“We had 103 points and L.A. had 101. I expect it to stay that way the whole series.

“Between our games I'm watching the other games and it's amazing. It's great hockey to watch, and in our case, great hockey to play.”

How long it will last?

Keep in mind it's an Olympic year. Stuff happens in Olympic years.

After the Turin Games in 2006, the fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-place teams from the Western Conference all won their first-round series and the Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes ended up in the Stanley Cup final.

Following Salt Lake (2002) the seventh- and eighth-seeded Ottawa and Montreal teams won first-round series and Carolina made it to the final for the first time.

After Nagano in 1998, there was sixth-place Buffalo, seventh-place Montreal and eighth-place Ottawa advancing from the East and seventh-place Edmonton out of the West. The Washington Capitals, seeded fourth in the East, made it to the final.

The Stanley Cup playoffs, in Canada, are different than other sports postseason tournaments.

The interest is highest at the start, not the end. This is as a result of many factors – people in hockey pools (and who isn't in one?) dropping out of contention, Canadian teams being eliminated and the start of Canada's all-too-short summers, combined with the belief by the populace that hockey shouldn’t be played in June.

Indeed, the playoffs are sort of shaped like a hockey stick. The highest point is at the start and then drops down until curving back up and out at the end. But so far that hockey stick is being held over the head and what we're watching should be celebrated like an overtime goal.

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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