Columnists, Sports

Dropping the Gloves: Experienced NHL teams fall short in 2017 playoffs

Jonathan Toews and the No. 1 seeded Blackhawks were swept by Nashville, losing in the first round for the second straight year. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is nearly over, and experience has not been a requirement to do well so far.

The Washington Capitals have made it to the playoffs eight times in the past nine years, but the team has never been able to bring home the Cup. Washington is known for its playoff issues, and it is not the biggest surprise that they have struggled against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

That being said, the Capitals have had Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby on the team for years. Star Justin Williams joined the club in 2015, but he has been in the league since 2000.

Ovechkin has won the Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league’s most valuable player, three times. He also won the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2006, which is awarded to Rookie of the Year, and the Art Ross Trophy in 2008, awarded to the player with the most points.

Williams is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, once with the Carolina Hurricanes and twice with the Los Angeles Kings. Williams also won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014, awarded to the most valuable team player in the playoffs.

Holtby won the William M. Jennings Trophy this year, awarded to the goalie with the least number of goals scored against him.

Washington’s players have done well individually, but they are certainly struggling to get a win for the whole team.

They are currently facing the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team with limited playoff experience. The Leafs have not reached the playoffs in four years, somewhat of an eternity for fans who were used to the team’s dominance years ago.

Not to mention the team is completely different than it was four years ago. Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner were in high school the last time the Leafs were in the playoffs. Frederik Andersen, Matt Martin and Zach Hyman were recent additions in the last two years and are now integral parts of the team.

The Leafs are young and inexperienced in the playoffs, but it has not stopped them from competing against the Capitals. Only time will tell if the Capitals will choke again this year, but the Leafs have a great shot at moving on to the next round.

Another team notorious for choking in the playoffs in recent years is the New York Rangers. Like Washington, New York has made it to the playoffs in eight of the last nine years and each year they have fallen short.

New York is currently playing the Montreal Canadiens, who did not even make it to the playoffs last year. Montreal has a roster that has not had tons of experience playing together. Although the players are new to each other, it is almost impossible to tell because of their performance against the Rangers.

The Rangers look tired on the ice compared to the enthusiastic Canadiens. It seems as though two different leagues are playing.

Commentator and former player Jeremy Roenick said the Rangers had one of the worst playoff performances in Game 3 he has ever seen by a team that was tied 1-1 on home ice. New York looked sloppy and out of place against the fairly inexperienced Canadiens.

However, the Rangers did manage to bounce back against Montreal on Wednesday, as they won 3-2 in overtime. New York now leads the series 3-2 and will host Montreal in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden.

It is hard to say what the future will hold for the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago has won three Stanley Cup Championships in six years, unprecedented in this century.

But now, they have been swept in the First Round by eighth-seeded Nashville. The Predators may be underrated, but no one anticipated this sweep, as Chicago was shutout by Nashville in the first two games and only managed three goals in the four games.

Even Chicago’s first championship team from 2010 is somewhat still intact. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been in Chicago since the beginning. The team is pretty much the definition of playoff experience.

Fans at the United Center expect wins from their team and it did not happened this playoff season.

The Predators have only existed since 1998, so compared to the Original Six Blackhawks, Nashville has barely made a mark on the league.

Chicago lost in the first round last year to the St. Louis Blues, but the time off was supposed to be a good thing for them. Chicago has exhausted every moment of the regular season and the playoffs since winning in 2010, so the extra bit of summer was meant to be relaxing.

Unfortunately, the Blackhawks will have another long summer.

The NHL playoffs are always an exciting time, but it seems more likely that an inexperienced team is going to come away with the Stanley Cup.

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