NHL playoff splits make for great hockey

Raise your hand if you thought every series in the NHL Conference Quarterfinals would be split after two games. Me neither.

I’ve got two points to make on this oddest of scenarios: I thought the matchups weren’t the best they could have been, and I didn’t think a few series would be close. With a week of the best postseason hockey I’ve ever seen under the NHL’s collective belt, I can definitively tell you I was dead wrong on both counts.
Near the end of the regular season, only four teams’ seeds were decided in each conference, setting up many possible match-ups for the playoffs.

In the East, the possible matchups worked out relatively well, with Buffalo-Boston and New Jersey-Philadelphia pitting division rivals against each other and Pittsburgh-Ottawa marking the third time in four years the two teams would meet in the first round of the postseason. Caps-Rangers would have been better than Caps-Montreal, but the Flyers wouldn’t be able to play the Devils if the Rangers made the second season.

Out west, the playoff pairings could have been much better, if only as far as rivalries and geography were concerned. San Jose could have played Los Angeles, which put divisional hatred and distance into a big-time matchup. Phoenix-Nashville could have happened, which really just allowed for better pairings elsewhere, like Detroit-Chicago and Vancouver-Calgary.

That being said, the matchups that have come out of the regular season are absurdly competitive right now. All eight conference quarterfinals split the first two games of their respective seven-game series. Last year, only one series (Jersey-Carolina) split in the first two games. Not only were they split, but they were all extremely close. Empty net goals aside, every game has been decided by one or two goals, and many have gone into overtime.

Matchups that weren’t even supposed to be close (Washington-Montreal and San Jose-Colorado as the two most blatant examples) have been immediately converted to tight series that could easily go the distance. With the series switching to the lower seeds’ rinks for two games, the tables have been turned for the higher seeds and home-ice advantage has been eliminated.

Looks can be deceiving, and this postseason so far has been no exception. Last Friday was perhaps the best night of hockey I’ve ever seen, with five games decided with less than five minutes in the 3rd period or overtime.

If you don’t have Versus (which you probably don’t considering it isn’t available on Mercyhurst cable), get your homework done early and get out to a restaurant or watering hole.