I don’t know about you, but the first round of the NHL’s 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been absolutely off the chain. From Nazem Kadri losing his cool and nailing Jake DeBrusk with his stick, to Alex Ovechkin taking heat for knocking out 19-year-old Evgeny Svechnikov in a fight, there have been plenty of hard-hitting moments thus far.
However, nothing – or no one – has had a bigger impact on the playoffs thus far than the Columbus Blue Jackets and the New York Islanders. The John Tortorella-led Blue Jackets stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning, while last year’s Stanley Cup winning coach, Barry Trotz, helped the New York Islanders bid Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins adieu.
Both victor’s, as you know by now, only needed four games to sweep away their more than worthy opponents. Even though the Islanders were, in terms of points, higher ranked than the Penguins, seeing them send Crosby and company home so fast was definitely surprising. However, watching the Blue Jackets overwhelm the Harlem Globetrotters of the 2018-19 regular season was a next-level experience altogether.
In the immediate aftermath of these series, many are wanting to know how the 62-win Lightning could crash so hard. Others, meanwhile, have begun to wonder if it’s time for the Penguins to make seismic roster adjustments.
Personally, I don’t really care about either of those points. What I ultimately care about is the intrigue in which the series wins by the Blue Jackets and Islanders have given to this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Thanks to both, we have fresh stories to keep an eye on.
For the Islanders, this is only the second time the team has made it through the first round of the playoffs since the 1992-93 season. As for the Blue Jackets (est. 2000-01) this is the first time the team has ever won a playoff series. Yes, some people would rather see recent playoff powerhouses like the Chicago Blackhawks soldier on, but I sure appreciate seeing other teams find their footing.
You can also look at the previously maligned players who got it done for both the Blue Jackets and Islanders. Picked up at the deadline from the Ottawa Senators fire sale, Matt Duchene had an incredibly productive first round (3 goals, 4 assists), after many wondered if the talented forward could move the needle for the Blue Jackets. Then you have Jordan Eberle who exited the cesspool that is the Edmonton Oilers after the 2016-17 season and led the Islanders in first round scoring (4 goals, 2 assists).
Now, as the playoffs progress in the Eastern Conference, we’re going to likely see matchups that we never anticipated. This leads to unsung heroes appearing out of the blue and surprising storylines taking shape. Basically, it adds a level of excitement almost at par with the Vegas Golden Knights’ magical run to the Cup Final in 2017-18.
Yes, the NHL may be very much viewed as a conservative league that doesn’t always do well with change. Fortunately, some very motivated teams and players have found a way to add some exceptional energy to what the most thrilling part of every hockey season should be.
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