2011 NHL Playoffs: Momentum Swings

The 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs have been spectacular and can be summed up in two words: Momentum swings.

What is momentum though? The dictionary defines momentum as the impetus and driving force gained by the development of a process or course of events. Although I have faith in the dictionary, momentum is much more than that.

Momentum is something that can’t be seen, only felt. It’s like a breeze on a hot sunny day. You can’t see the breeze, but you sure can feel it.

It can start with simple plays such as an elegant display of skill or a bone-crushing collision. Or it can come from staring elimination in the face and playing with a sense of urgency. It rises the fans from their seats followed by the “ooohhhs” and “aaahhss.” The chants of the home crowd grow throughout the arena. The fans feel it. The players feel it. Everyone feels it. The tide is turning.

As a player, I remember the indescribable feeling. It’s an adrenaline rush within a second. The cheers from the crowd give you an energy like none other. It’s these moments, within a game, a series, a season, that can make all the difference in the world.

In the 2011 NHL playoffs, three teams have captured these momentum swings and taken full advantage of that indescribable feeling. The San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks have seized the moment and are riding the wave of momentum through the first round.

The Sharks looked to be in danger of getting blown out in Game 3 against the Los Angeles Kings and falling behind in the series 2-1. Down 4-0 in the second period, the Sharks dominated the Kings the rest of the game and won 6-5 in overtime. The Sharks used the momentum swing to their advantage and won Game 4 by the score of 6-3 to take a 3-1 series lead heading home to the Shark Tank.

The Bruins headed to Montreal for Game 3 being down 2-0 in the series after being swept at home. The Bruins turned the tide on the Canadiens and won Game 3 by the score of 4-2 and then won Game 4 in overtime, 5-4. The Bruins head home with the series tied 2-2 and look to continue to maintain momentum by winning a critical Game 5.

Momentum swings have been the microcosm of the Blackhawks season. After winning the Stanley Cup last year, they started the 2011 as a lock for the playoffs. The Blackhawks were once out of the playoff picture, then in by a hair, then all the way up to a 5 seed and then eventually squeaked in on the last day of the season. In danger of getting swept by the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks played with a sense of urgency and won Game 4 convincingly, 7-2. The domination didn’t stop there. In Game 5, the Blackhawks won 5-0. The Blackhawks have all the momentum heading back to Chicago for Game 6 and look to continue their epic comeback.

A team with a ton of confidence and momentum that no one is talking about is the Detroit Red Wings. The team that many placed on “upset alert” in the Western Conference, swept the Phoenix Coyotes and are the only team to have moved on to the second round.

As a Red Wings fan, I would have only changed one thing in their series. Call me psychotic, insane, stupid and soft, but I wish the Red Wings would’ve won the series in 5 games, not 4.*

* I would have wanted the Coyotes win Game 4 only if it was a guarantee that the Wings would win Game 5 and there wouldn’t be any injuries to the Wings. I know that isn’t possible to guarantee, but hear me out.

There are three main reasons why I wish the Wings would’ve won in 5 games.

1. Close Out at Home:

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems the Red Wings never close out at home. They won the Stanley Cup on the ROAD. The next year, they lost the Stanley Cup at home. In 2010, they won Game 7 on the ROAD in the first round against the Phoenix Coyotes. In 2011, the Wings won Game 4 on the ROAD and advanced to the second round. I know I’m probably being silly, but it would be nice for the Wings to close out at home.

2. Bye Bye Momentum:

After dominating the Coyotes in 4 games, you just wish the Wings could continue to play playoff hockey, and sooner rather than later. The Wings have a certain swagger to them right now and they are playing well. With Chicago making the Vancouver match-up a series and the Ducks-Predators battling it out, we are already headed to two Game 6’s. If Los Angeles can steal Game 5 in San Jose, we will be headed to a third Game 6.

While all these teams are playing, the Wings are practicing. Granted, I know they are getting healthy, but having two less days of rest wouldn’t of killed them. Jimmy Howard seems focused and is playing well enough to give the Wings a chance to win the Stanley Cup. The last thing the Red Wings need is for anyone to lose focus. Whenever the Wings resume playing, they will have to come out sharp and ready to go. I’m just not sure a long layoff is what the doctor ordered.

3. The Phoenix Coyotes

This is where many of you will call me soft and wonder if I know anything about sports, that is, if you haven’t already reached that point. I wish the Red Wings would’ve lost Game 4 in Phoenix, for the sake of the Phoenix Coyotes. Many rumors concerning the future of the Coyotes have been swirling around and whether or not the Coyotes will stay in Phoenix is uncertain. I wish the Coyotes would have been able to win what might be their last home game. EVER.

Before you bash me, put yourself in their shoes. For me, that was difficult to accomplish. The sports teams of Detroit have never faced the threat of being re-located. I’ve never had to deal with having one my teams taken away from me. Even when the Lions struggled to make first downs, there was no thought of the Lions disappearing, as much as some of us would have liked them to.

The only thing I could vaguely relate to this situation is graduating high school. I was happy to be moving on to college, but sad to be leaving behind the sports aspect of high school. I had connected with the fans and the school. My teammates and I were all heading in different directions. I remember wanting nothing else except to win my last home game.

As fans, we try to relate to athletes. Because of what they do, they almost seem super-human. We try our best to make them “human”. As much as I dislike Shane Doan, I felt for him at the end of Game 4. You could see the emotion in his watering eyes. You could feel the disappointment in his body language. You could tell how badly he wanted to win through his play in the series. You could see how much he cared as he fought back tears skating off the ice. At that point, Shane Doan was a “human” again. I could relate to Shane Doan and I am sure he was not the only Coyote feeling that way. I feel for the fans of the Coyotes. The images of the fans holding signs that begged and pleaded for the Coyotes to remain in Phoenix were touching. If that is the last home game for the Phoenix Coyotes, it would’ve been nice for them to go out with a win.

Nevertheless, the Wings won Game 4, advance to round two, and can enjoy a nice, long lay-off to get healthy for their next opponent.

With all but one match-up still in progress, there is plenty of more hockey left to be played in the first round. Here are your updated match-ups:

Western Conference:

1 Canucks vs 8 Blackhawks: 3-2 Canucks

2 Sharks vs 7 Kings: 3-1 Sharks

3 Red Wings vs 6 Coyotes: 4-0 Wings advance

4 Ducks vs Predators: Tied 2-2

Eastern Conference:

1 Capitals vs 8 Rangers: 3-1 Capitals

2 Flyers vs 7 Sabres: Tied 2-2

3 Bruins vs 6 Canadiens: Tied 2-2

4 Penguins vs 5 Lightning: 3-1 Penguins

If you want to reference my picks, click here!  So far, they are doing well, but that can change with one swift breeze, one swing of momentum. Enjoy the end to round one and look ahead to the potential second round match-ups.

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