Nashville pulled off a similar did-that-just-happen job on Detroit, bogging down the speedy Red Wings to win in five games.
The Predators will face the Coyotes, who pulled off what many considered an upset despite being the higher-seeded team against Chicago in the first round.
Division champions for the first time in the NHL, the Coyotes got in the flying Blackhawks' way and pulled out a tense and tight series in six games for their first trip into the second round since 1987, back when the team was still in Winnipeg.
St. Louis also made quick work of the San Jose Sharks to face Los Angeles in the second round, and Washington stretched the run of no repeat Stanley Cup champions to 14 straight years by beating Boston in a Game 7 overtime thriller.
Ottawa and the New York Rangers were set to play a Game 7 Thursday night, a game that will determine whether Canada gets shut out of the postseason or the U.S. loses its biggest hockey market. And if Florida were to beat New Jersey in the other Game 7 Thursday, the NHL would have four teams below the Sun Belt still in the hunt.
If Ottawa and Florida both win, every team that has won the Stanley Cup in the past 35 years will be gone.
“You know the Detroits and the Vancouvers, they’re gone now, and Pittsburgh, so everybody’s going to think, `man, we’ve got a chance of a lifetime here,’” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “It gets amped up because of that, not because of nastiness or anything like that. That’s just the desperation of hockey at this time.”
Desperation seems to define everything the Coyotes do.
Playing without an owner for the third straight season, Phoenix used a big run in March and a five-game winning streak to end the regular season to claim its first division title in 33 years as an NHL franchise.
Supposedly overmatched by Chicago’s cache of skaters, the Coyotes clogged up the neutral zone and rode the goaltending of Mike Smith to end a 12-series streak of losing in the first round.
They didn’t make it easy on themselves, either, giving up goals in the closing seconds of regulation three times, playing five overtime games and winning three times at Chicago’s United Center, including the 4-0 clincher Monday night.
“This is certainly a step forward,” Maloney said. “It’s exciting and it’s really a reflection of the ineptitude of the franchise, if you think about it. For 33 years, this is only the third time that we advanced? You shake your head about it. But fortunately, we’re where we need to be.”
Coach Terry Murray was fired in December and the team struggled to score all season, finishing second-worst in the league. The Kings did have Vezina Trophy finalist Jonathan Quick, though, and they started to score a little more toward the end of the season to sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed.View Entire Story
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