Which of the eight teams to lose Game 1 needs to win Game 2 the most? We rank them in order of desperation.
If you’ve just lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs or if you’re annoyed at the header of this article, you’re likely thinking, “Sheesh, it’s one game, this is not news, mountain out of a molehill,” etc. And you’d be right in certain cases. You’d be wrong in others, however. No two series are created equal, and some Game 1 defeats were more alarming than others.
Here’s a brief rundown of the Game 1 losers, ranked from most justified in panicking to least.
1. Nashville Predators
The missed opportunity of Game 1 can and will come back to haunt the Preds. Lose at home to Chicago: check. Blow three-goal lead: check. Chase Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Corey Crawford after one period and still lose: check. Fail to score once on backup netminder Scott Darling: check. Lose in double overtime: check.
It’s rare to see the fine-tuned Chicago Blackhawks play sloppier than they did in the first half of Game 1 – and they still won. They’ll only improve going forward – and going back home to the Madhouse on Madison after one more game. Patrick Kane shook off the “rust” of a broken clavicle with two assists. Maybe he regresses after riding adrenaline in Game 1 – or maybe he remembers he’s Patrick Kane and gets even better. The revamped Preds have a bright future – but their relatively young, inexperienced squad is in clear and present danger if it drops Game 2. Potential saving grace: maybe Crawford is rattled after his Game 1 hook and the Preds sneak a couple past him early again, only to hold on and win this time.
2. St. Louis Blues
It goes beyond simply losing Game 1 at home as the Central Division champ. No team has battled the playoff heebie jeebies in recent years like the St. Louis Blues have. As I’ve said before, they’ve endured a four-game, season-ending losing streak in three straight post-seasons and possess one player who’s escaped the second round of the playoffs in his career. Everything about the on-paper St. Louis Blues suggests they should be fine, as they’re absolutely loaded, but there’s a creeping doubt about their mental fortitude.
Also unsettling was the way Minnesota, a popular Stanley Cup darkhorse after a second-half standings charge, controlled Game 1. The Wild outshot the Blues 29-21, and the puck-possession chasm was wide in the Wild’s favor during the second period before the Blues pushed back in the third. This defeat wasn’t like Tampa’s we-couldn’t-have-controlled-the-play-more-yet-still-lost effort. The Blues were shut down on their home ice. Coach Ken Hitchcock should feel the most stress of anyone, as a third straight first-round exit would loosen the latch on his trap door out of town. Potential saving grace: The Blues’ superior talent wins out, proving every team is inexperienced until it’s experienced.
3. Washington Capitals
The Capitals/Islanders matchup looks like a seven-game war, and it wouldn’t be remotely surprising to see the teams alternate wins throughout. But the Isles have an emotional X-factor up their sleeve: the Nassau Coliseum. I don’t care how good the Caps’ power play is. They cannot arrive in Long Island down 2-0. Potential saving grace: Braden Holtby shakes off the flu, Ovie catches fire and the Isles miss Travis Hamonic.
4. Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks don’t face crushing pressure in that they weren’t a heavy favorite to beat the Calgary Flames. Blowing a third-period lead to lose Game 1 stings, though, and the Flames have so much team-of-destiny juju going that they would be tough to topple if they stake a 2-0 advantage heading back to the Scotiabank Saddledome. Another loss would further muddy Vancouver’s goaltending picture, too. Willie Desjardins might swap Eddie Lack out for Ryan Miller, who is still shaking off a knee injury and would have a tough assignment starting the post-season on the road. Potential saving grace: The Flames’ anti-analytics fairy dust suddenly wears off. The Canucks outshoot them 78-6 in Game 2 and roll from there.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
Speaking of outshooting teams 78-6…Tampa Bay almost did that to Detroit, putting 46 pucks at Petr Mrazek while the Wings mustered 14 at Ben Bishop. Naturally, Detroit won 3-2. Sigh. Tampa has to hope the hockey gods felt like playing a prank in Game 1 – and not that Bishop’s lack of playoff experience played any role. Potential saving grace: The Bolts were the far better team in Game 1 and should win if they keep outchancing the Wings so much. And while Bishop had no post-season starts entering the series, neither did Mrazek, Lack, Ondrej Pavelec, Devan Dubnyk, Jake Allen and Andrew Hammond.
6. Ottawa Senators
The Sens can’t panic too much about losing Game 1 in that they were the underdog facing a division winner on the road. That said, their late-season run was so magical, so improbable, that any disturbance threatens to derail it. Was a four-goal loss no big deal for Andrew Hammond? Or does it carry extra weight considering it was his second regulation defeat in 24 career starts and the second time he’d ever allowed four or more goals? What if the loss is the equivalent of a pitcher losing a perfect game in the eighth inning, then getting knocked around by the next few batters he faces? Mark Stone’s wrist microfracture throws a wrench in things, too. Potential saving grace: This series got ugly quickly, and that played into Ottawa’s hands against Montreal two years ago. Also, this Ottawa team has surprised us so much this year that we can’t rule out any comeback from any deficit.
7. Winnipeg Jets
The Jets hardly embarrassed themselves in their first playoff game since the Atlanta era. They still don’t face a ton of pressure in Game 2, as nothing can take away from the joy they’ll bring to Winnipeg when they rock the MTS Centre for Games 3 and 4. Potential saving grace: Maybe the Jets reveal the biggest home-crowd advantage in the playoffs, making them impossible to topple in Winnipeg. All they’d need, then, is a single road victory…
8. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens didn’t limp into the post-season. They didn’t crawl. They asked a friend, a.k.a. the Buffalo Sabres, to roll them over the finish line in a wheelbarrow. No pressure to win Game 1 on the road against the Stanley Cup favorite New York Rangers. No pressure to win Game 2. No pressure to do anything this post-season. The weight will fall on GM Jim Rutherford to pick up the pieces this off-season. Potential saving grace: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin carry the Pens on their back. Unlikely, though. Two players can’t turn a series around in this day and age.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin