An all-or-nothing phenomenon has permeated this first round of the playoffs. Three series ended in the minimum four games while two are going the distance and two others may still go seven depending on the Monday night outcomes in Calgary and Anaheim. With so much action remaining, the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks will still have several more days off thanks to their respective sweeps.
Now, teams covet time to rest and recover at this time of year, but surely over a week off will negatively impact these three teams at the start of the next round. The experienced Red Wings have the best chance to pick up where they left off. Their performance in the conference quarterfinals served notice that the defending champs know exactly where the intensity switch is. In dispatching the Columbus Blue Jackets in four-straight, the Red Wings' played with more attention to detail than at any point during the regular season.
The Canucks, however, had goaltender Roberto Luongo locked in and playing the best goal in the business, so too much time off can impact his game sharpness. On the other coast, the Bruins rolled over historic rival Montreal and their hottest player was cast-off Canadien Michael Ryder. Not that anyone expects his pace of seven points in four games to continue, but when a player has it going on like that, he wants to play, not practice. Also, the Bruins have several young players who are key contributors. This layoff will certainly challenge their ability to reestablish the necessary focus and drive.
Regarding the notion of focus and drive, it is easier to recognize those traits -- or the lack thereof -- in a team than it is to define the necessary degrees. Heading into Game 7, the Washington Capitals have never wavered despite once being down 3-1. The New York Rangers on the other hand never seemed secure in themselves even when they held that series lead. Now they appear tired, confused and in disarray while the Capitals are playing with supreme confidence.
The other Eastern Conference Game 7 has the Carolina Hurricanes venturing back to New Jersey to take on the Devils one last time. The 'Canes won Game 6 on home ice in impressive fashion and have the memory of winning a necessary Game 2 on the road to draw strength from. The Devils, though, are comfortable in close games and have a long established identity to prop them up in a must-win situation. This series has been so close that neither has won two in a row. The Devils hope the pattern continues: It is the only thing of certainty to emerge through six games.
The most up-and-down series thus far has been between the Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames. Both have frittered away substantial leads. The Blackhawks' 5-1 victory in Game 5 was the most complete statement by either to date. Based on that outing, the Hawks look poised to go into Calgary and close out the series. But that was only one game. Repeatability is far from a given, especially for a young team. Just ask the veteran Devils who had the same opportunity and played like they had another tomorrow. It can be easy to give a desperate opponent one last chance when you hold a 3-2 lead and are playing on the road.
Finally, there is the case of the San Jose Sharks. Facing elimination after a woeful effort in Game 4, conviction became the calling card of their top players. Joe Thornton demonstrated on-ice passion and emotion, leading to his first three-point playoff performance ever. Captain Patrick Marleau scored the eventual game-winner in overtime by getting to the net and battling in the crowded confines atop the goal-crease. The increased focus and drive of the Sharks' top two players was very noticeable to observers. Now, the key is that Thornton and Marleau recognize it in their self-assessment as they prepare for Game 6 in Anaheim against the Ducks.