Underdogs coming through in 2010 Playoffs

If you are unable to keep up with all the amazing action of the first round of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, well, you do not know what you are missing.

Faces split open from blocking shots, saves made on diving stops, goals scored on perfectly placed shots and physicality that would impress the masses are just a few of the terms that can be used to describe the events that have taken place to date. Unless one of the teams you take pride in cheering for all season long is part of this first round action, it is widely known that everyone loves them an underdog.

Well, for the underdogs this first round has been nothing short of pure excitement. 

Top seeded teams skate into the first round of the playoffs with high expectations. Teams like the Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks and the Chicago Blackhawks were all figured to have an automatic ticket punched into the second round. Aside from game one of the Capitals – Canadiens series, we all know by now there is no express lane to head into round two.

The Capitals return to DC tonight for game five with the Canadiens on the brink of elimination being down three games to one. If I were a betting man, I’d have the deed to my home sitting on my bookies table; betting the house on the Caps. The Sharks and Blackhawks are involved in a situation which, as of right now, could be a seven game series for both top seeded clubs and therein lies a chance that both can be upset within this first round of play.

Colorado Avalanche netminder Craig Anderson has provided his team with brilliance. A new playoff record was set by the underdog netminder from the eighth seeded Avalanche team during game two of this Western Conference best of seven series. Anderson stopped 50 shots during regulation time without surrendering a goal to set a new record for most saves in regulation play. The Avs went on to win 1-0 in overtime on a fluke goal. Sure, the Avs are now on the brink of elimination after being handed a 5-0 loss by the Sharks last night.  However, I would not count them out just yet. 

The Chicago Blackhawks were able to tie up their first round series at two with the Nashville Predators last night as well. The second seeded Blackhawks have been outplayed for a large portion of this series, aside from last night.

The Phoenix Coyotes, the NHLs feel good story of the year, are also in a series that has been nothing short of greatness.

The Los Angeles Kings, a team many felt were too young and too inexperienced to advance in these playoffs, are showing that they will not be skated past with ease. The Kings and Canucks are also knotted at two games a piece in their first round battle. That series, due to the lack of discipline and a few misforuntes from the refs, have the Kings skating on clouds. There is a very good chance that this Kings club, with a victory this evening of course, could knock the heavily favored Canucks out of these playoffs in six games.  It’s a prediction I’ve personally made and stand true to until proven otherwise.

Jonathan Quick has been very good when he has been relied upon. But, that Kings power play is lethal and right now is the biggest story of this series. The man advantage, which is 9-for-16 thus far, has become the Kings greatest weapon. For the Canucks, in order to escape the upset, they must stay out of the sin bin.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were not able to eliminate the Ottawa Senators on home ice in a thrilling three overtime affair last night. Pascal Leclaire, who has just one palyoff game of experience throughout his brief NHL career, made 56 saves in his second playoff game to help the Sens escape and head back home for what is shaping up to be a very exciting sixth game. Yes, we all know the Penguins will be out for blood in Game 6, but a repeat performance by Leclaire could set the stage for a Game 7 which many never saw coming.

Outside of Pittsburgh, everyone loves the underdog.

The Boston Bruins have given the No. 3 seed Buffalo Sabres a very difficult time as well. Currently, the Sabres are on the brink of elimination as the Bruins, led by rookie netminder Tuukka Rask, have captured victories both on home ice as well as on the road. 

Up three games to one it will be a difficult task to close the series out on the road. However, Rask has been brilliant, as has Ryan Miller and this series has seen some of the best saves of the playoffs.

The Bruins have one key element playing in their favor in this series: experience. Even with last year’s Vezina trophy winner now playing the role of back up, the team has fought off adversity as well as a determined Sabres team.

It has been a much closer series than the record shows. Three of the four games have all been decided by one goal. All three of those games were Bruins victories.
One more win for Boston and we will witness yet another upset by an underdog.

Last night, the first underdog team in these playoffs stood tall. The first team to advance into the second round of postseason play were the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Despite how the team dominated the Devils during the regular season, many felt this series would be one of, if not, the best series in these 2010 opening round playoff matchups. The Flyers shocked the hockey world in taking the Devils out four games to one.

Aside from a brilliant first round by Mike Richards, Dan Carcillo, Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux and Daniel Briere, one name stands out above the rest: Brian Boucher.

A stunning record of 4-1 to start the playoffs comes as a surprise to
many. The biggest surprise to this writer are the statistical numbers
Boucher has earned. As of today, #33 has faced 134 shots during the first
round of play, allowing only eight goals.  His save percentage is a
stunning .940 and his goals against average even more impressive at
1.59.
All that coming from a, technically, third string goalie.

Unable to even keep a back-up role most of the season with the Flyers; an unfortunate injury to Michael Leighton presented the Flyers with no other choice than to give Boucher the starting job. Game No. 82 of the regular season however, provided Boucher with all the confidence he needed heading into the playoffs. 

The Flyers, the first underdog to shine, have advanced to the second round of these 2010 playoffs. Hoping to follow in their footsteps are the Kings, Avalanche, Senators, Predators, Coyotes and Boston Bruins.

There is still, potentially, a lot of first round action left to be played. I know I’ll be glued to it.

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