The first round of the 2014-15 playoffs is inching towards the end as we already know a few second-round matchups. Now’s a great time to reflect and evaluate which teams are rolling with momentum and which are not. Let’s start with the positives here.
New York Rangers
Some people forget just how big of a challenge the Pittsburgh Penguins matchup was for the Rangers last postseason. Remember? The Pens were up 3-1 in the second round before the Rangers roared back. The fact that they took care of business in four games this time around not only shows the growth (and deterioration) of both teams, but it shows that this Rangers team is very focused.
The Rangers won six of their final regular season games to roll into the playoffs with momentum and there was nothing Pittsburgh could do to dull that. The Rangers rolled them with four 2-1 victories. Did the Rangers offense struggle a little bit? Yes. However, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist played extremely well and if the Rangers can score slightly more, they are going to be one heck of a tough out, so don't overlook this fact when checking the NHL betting odds.
The Rangers only gave the Penguins 11 power plays in the whole series and they killed off their last eight. And now a team that’s been there, done that and knows just how much energy they are going to have expend, gets to rest for a little bit. They’re experienced and now they’re refreshed.
If they can work out their offensive kinks for Round 2, they should have no problems disposing of either the Washington Capitals or the New York Islanders – whichever team survives that seven-game slugfest.
Did the Anaheim Ducks have a bit of a layup in Round 1? Yes, the Winnipeg Jets were probably one of the weaker teams involved in this tournament of 16. But remember that Anaheim has been a bit of a playoff disappointment in previous postseasons, getting ousted in the first-round by Detroit in 2013 and Nashville in 2011. Even last year, they had some trouble with the Dallas Stars before they finally advanced to the second round but even then, the second round is as far as the Ducks have gone in a long time.
Why the Ducks have momentum is it finally looks like they have some solid play between the pipes. Sure, Frederik Andersen had one rocky game – the 5-4 win in Game 3 – but that was when Winnipeg threw everything they had at the Ducks. Other than that, Andersen allowed just five goals in the other three games. Anaheim showed a playoff toughness that we haven’t seen from them before. They won close games, they showed they can hold leads, they came from behind, they protected home ice and they won on the road. Most importantly, they got a rest.
This Ducks team looks focused and more importantly, different than from previous seasons, don't count them out when placing your NHL picks.