Changing of the Guard

If anyone told you they expected the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks, and San Jose Sharks to all be eliminated in round one, their pants would have most likely been on fire.

While for many hockey fans a second round without these perennial powerhouses will be a disappointment, there is an upside to this turn of events.  Teams in non-traditional hockey markets get to experience more playoff hockey which should help grow the game.  You can’t really describe Nashville, Los Angeles, and Phoenix as hockey hotbeds and while St. Louis can’t necessarily be lumped in with the other three, it’s more known for baseball than anything else.

Each team does have unique story however, and it will be interesting to see how things play out in the West.  Here are five reasons to stay up late in the second round.

Goaltending

Between Jonathan Quick, Pekka Rinne, Mike Smith, and the tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, there were 38 shutouts recorded this season.  Quick and Rinne have been nominated for the Vezina Trophy and you could have even made an argument that Smith should have been nominated as well.

Quick stood on his head in the first round and just about single-handedly eliminated the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks.  Meanwhile Smith out dueled Corey Crawford to get the Coyotes past the heavily experienced Chicago Blackhawks.

Smashville

Bridgestone Arena in Nashville is slowly becoming one of the toughest buildings to play in.  A sea of fans wearing mustard colored shirts is giving the Predators a real home-ice advantage.  The Preds finished with the sixth best home record during the regular season and their strong play on home ice has continued in the playoffs.  Nashville’s love affair with hockey seems to be just warming up.

Coyotes Fighting for Survival

It’s hard to believe a team that’s still competing for a Stanley Cup as we head towards May, may not even be in Phoenix next season.  The team is still owned by the National Hockey League and continues to be subsidized by taxpayers.  According to Forbes the Coyotes have the lowest NHL valuation at $134 million, but you would have to think a lengthy playoff run could persuade a potential buyer to keep the team in Phoenix.

Carter and Richards

The duo of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were made the scapegoat by the Flyers for their playoff struggles last off-season.  Management felt they needed to change the culture of the locker room going forward.  Carter was sent to the Blue Jackets, but later reunited with Richards in Los Angeles at the trade deadline.  Could you imagine if the Kings were to face Philadelphia in the Cup final?

Alex Pietrangelo

Pietrangelo may be the best young defenseman nobody outside of St. Louis knows.  He averaged nearly 25 minutes of ice-time per game this season and put up 51 points.  The blueliner from King City, Ontario was also a plus-16 and added six game winning goals.  Look for Pietrangelo to be a Norris candidate sooner rather than later.

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