This year's playoffs have showed the power of momentum shifts and perhaps the shortened season has had a lot to do with that. It seems like teams have struggled with consistency and could have rounded into form easier during the post-season had they gone through a full 82-game campaign.
The Boston Bruins are a great example of this as they stumbled down the stretch and essentially gave the division title to the Montreal Canadiens. Then after looking like they were going to dispatch of the Toronto Maple Leafs rather quickly, they were almost bounced by the Leafs until that Game 7 debacle. That huge comeback has sparked the Bruins and since then they have gone 8-1, including four wins in one-goal games.
How crucial has Tuukka Rask been to the Bruins success in the playoffs? After being passed over for a Vezina nomination, Rask has posted a .943 SP and a 1.75 GAA, to go along with two shutouts. He has to be very high on fantasy boards for next season.
Nathan Horton is a ridiculous plus-21 in the post-season.
As good as the big names have been for the Bruins, it's their depth that is making the difference. Their fourth line is arguably the best in hockey as Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille have both averaged over 11 minutes of ice per game in the playoffs, with Shawn Thornton getting close to eight. Not only is it a big help when your fourth line can kill penalties, but having them play that many minutes leaves your stars rested for a late-game push. It remains to be seen if the loss of Campbell will hurt them in the finals.
The offense the Bruins have been getting from their blue line is also unreal. They have 15 goals from defensemen in the playoffs and to put that into perspective, the Colorado Avalanche only had five the entire season. Torey Krug has chipped in with four and Johnny Boychuk has five.
What in the world happened to Pittsburgh? After averaging over four goals a game during the playoffs they scored just two in the Bruins series. It's hard to blame Evgeni Malkin for a lack of effort though. He leads all skaters in the post-season with 67 shots, including three separate games where he fired 10 pucks at the net.
Kris Letang didn't have a particularly strong series being held pointless and going minus-5. Playing over 40 minutes in Game 3 and averaging over 27 a night in the playoffs may have had something to do with it. He seemed like he was wearing down a bit.
The Blackhawks have also been propelled by their comeback against the Red Wings. They have looked like a totally different team since they went down 3-1 to Detroit.
I know everyone is excited about Bryan Bickell and he certainly is going to get a big contract, but teams should be cautious. I'm not trying to rain on his parade, but it's a lot easier to perform on a team that has forwards like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Shape, and Marian Hossa on it. Should Bickell go somewhere and be vaulted into more responsibility, he could be headed for a tough season.
Niklas Hjalmarsson is quickly emerging into a top defenseman. Despite having a name that is difficult to spell and pronounce, he is one of Chicago's most important players and only Duncan Keith is getting more ice-time than Hjalmarsson.
Kane finally came alive late in the Kings series scoring four goals in the final two games, including a hat-trick in the clinching victory.
Los Angeles really started to show the effects of the first two series during the Western Conference Finals. The battles they had with the Blues and Sharks were gruelling, and those series could have gone either way. The just didn't have enough left in the tank to beat a team as strong as Chicago.
Jonathan Quick also wasn't as spectacular as he was in the first two rounds. He gave up a few rough goals in the series that were very uncharacteristic.
In my Wild West column this week I took a look at Anaheim's goaltending situation, which is in good shape. Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth were solid in 2013, but it might make sense to try and deal Hiller in the off-season if they can. Fasth could be unpredictable as he is already 30 and has only played in 25 career games, but John Gibson looks poised to take over that position sooner rather than later. Someone also commented that Frederik Andersen deserves some consideration as well. He was solid in the AHL this season