This post season has been unlike any other so far in recent memory and that’s a good thing. Unprecedented teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild, and others have all shown that anything is possible in the NHL — and this just the beginning.
With the defending champions knocked out late in the regular season, there will now, no doubt, be a new king to crown in professional hockey.
Here’s a breakdown of three ways that the 2015 NHL Playoffs have transformed hockey for the better:
1. Contagious Calgary
From how the regular season played out, the Calgary Flames went above and beyond to show us that they are legitimate contenders for a crown this time around. Stuck in the always tricky Pacific Division, the Flames had their hands full — I mean the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and Vancouver Canucks were all division rivals gunning for them — but they pulled off a miracle.
Or should I say, the impossible.
No one in their right mind (unless you’re a Flames fan) thought that Calgary would be the team to put the nail in the Los Angeles Kings’ coffin this season. Los Angeles had kept their playoff dream alive by clinging to life until a loss to the Flames with just one more game past that remaining doomed the dream of a repeat.
But it didn’t doom any championship mindset.
As discussed previously, teams around the NHL — especially in the Pacific Division — have taken serious note to how the Kings were able to replicate success consistently despite poor regular seasons. The answer, surprisingly, was rather simple.
The Flames are getting hot at the right time of the year too. The win over the Kings to polish off their impressive regular season was just the beginning, but it gave birth to a fierce kind of hockey that we can see in the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets.
Imagine what the future holds.
2. The Sensational Senators
While being inspired somewhat by the Flames rate of play, the Ottawa Senators have gone to different lengths to stress their own personal game plan for trying to revamp and cause complete culture shock in the Eastern Conference.
With nothing to look forward to more than half way through the season, the Senators turned things over to Andrew Hammond who destroyed the competition.
And that’s putting it kindly.
Since getting the starting spot, Hammond went 20-1-2 and had a goals allowed average just under 1.8 per game.
That’s like Jameis Winston starting for the Tampa Bay Bucs this coming NFL season and winning fifteen games. It’s unheard of.
But up against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, things with Hammond are getting a little shaky and uncomfortable — and Senators fans hate this. It’s not so much that the fan base has left Hammond in the dust, but after just two losses (close, competitive, and heart fought, mind you) Hammond got the boot and Frederick Anderson got the start.
Guess how that turned out?
Despite the fact that they find themselves in an 0-3 role that they likely (I say likely because the Kings did it last year, so the fat lady hasn’t sung yet) won’t get out of, the future looks more than bright for Ottawa as Hammond continues to grow and develop with the team he has built around him.
Talk about a home coming.
3. A Balance Of Powers
Unlike the clearly unbalanced Eastern and Western Conferences of the NBA, the NHL has seemed to really even the playing field with there still being plenty of powerhouses.
Big name teams like the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks are competing from different perspectives now. New York is more on the offensive now that the Kings aren’t anywhere in the picture whereas Chicago has taken the role of a backseat driver more than a behind-the-wheel kind of a team like they’ve been before.
But that’s a good thing.
Up and comers like the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders, and Washington Capitals are showing they can hang with the bad boys — and now even more fans are watching and getting into the game that Canada and Russia have embraced for quite some time.
And we’ve seen nothing yet.
Also, of the eight first round series going on, five of those eight saw the home team lose Game 1 with the Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Winnipeg Jets being the exception.
But even those teams aren’t through just yet.
The Senators had great success in the regular season against their current opponent in the Canadiens. Resorting to more conservative, tempo-based play is what will get the Senators through moving forward.
As for the Penguins, a Game 2 road win tied the series up at one-a-piece and now they just need to win in Pittsburgh. The Rangers are known for being a formidable foe on the road, so Sidney Crosby & Co. must be on high alert.
And lastly, the Jets have been on the trail of the Anaheim Ducks from the very beginning. A shocking overtime loss in Game 1 and a slow offensive start that turned costly in Game 2 is all that’s keeping Winnipeg from moving on past Anaheim.
Time to take the road less traveled.