Heading into Friday night's opening game between the Lighting and Penguins, here are a few of the things we were pretty sure we knew. Pittsburgh were the favorites, not just to win the series but, according to oddsmakers, to win the Stanley Cup. Matt Murray was firmly established as the starter. With Anton Stralman and Steven Stamkos reportedly nearing returns, the two teams were remarkably healthy for a third-round series. And with little history to draw on, there wasn't much in the way of bad blood.
By the time the final horn sounded, all of that was out of the window, thanks to a bizarre Game 1 that was punctuated by several questionable hits and apparent injuries. That included Ryan Callahan's dangerous hit from behind on Kris Letang, one that drove the Penguin defenseman's head into the glass and left him lying on the ice.
Callahan was given five minutes (but oddly, not ejected), and Letang eventually returned. Later in the game, Chris Kunitz went knee-on-knee with Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat hit Brian Dumoulin from behind.
Despite all that, the game's most serious injury appeared to come on a harmless looking play. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop twisted his knee on his way back to the crease and went down in agony; he was eventually stretchered off of the ice.
By the time we went to sleep on Friday night, we figured that Bishop would be out for a while and Callahan would be suspended. By Saturday, we found out the Bishop was merely day-to-day and Callahan had been given the all-clear by the department of player safety. It was as if even the writers decided they'd gone a bit overboard on the pilot episode, and retconned a few of the weirder plot points out of existence in hopes we wouldn't notice.
(Oh, and the Lightning won the game, 3-1. It was easy to forget that detail with everything else that was going on, but it's possible that it turns out to be important.)
Thankfully, last night's Blues/Sharks opener was polite enough to mostly follow expectations. The two teams played a close game, one that was ultimately won by the Blues by a 2-1 final but could have gone either way, with the Sharks coming close to tying the game in the dying minutes.
It was a classic playoff contest between two relatively evenly matched teams. And more importantly, after Friday's chaos, it didn't feature anything especially weird, beyond an unfortunate early whistle that could have cost the Sharks the tying goal. Sure, Ken Hitchcock's awful decision to challenge an obvious goalie interference call early in the first was a little odd, but it didn't end up mattering. If that had happened during the Penguins/Lightning game, it would have guaranteed at least three disputed offside goals in the third period, and somebody would have speared the referee in the groin during the review.
So thank you, Blues and Sharks, for sticking to the script. We look forward to seeing what madness you're no doubt saving up for later in the series.
Celebrating those who've had the best week.
5. Colin Wilson—He's out now, eliminated along with the rest of the Predators in Game 7. But let's take a moment to recognize Wilson's 13 points in 14 games, a total that made him this year's official "Guy who gets picked in the last round of the office playoff pool and screws up the standings for everyone." Way to go, Colin!
4. The schedule—Typically, this is the time of year when the schedule goes off the rails. With just four teams left, the combined pressures of TV partners, arena availability and the league's weird insistence on just taking a few random days off every now and then means we get a schedule with lots of gaps and inconsistency.
But somehow, they got it right this year. Not perfect—the lack of a Saturday game over the weekend was disappointing. But from here on out, the schedule is pretty much ideal. There's a game every night, with the two conferences alternating days the rest of the way. No weird gaps, and no back-to-back games that everyone will complain about. Just a game every second night in both series, the way the hockey gods intended. And the NHL didn't even make us wait around for things to get started, with the Eastern final kicking off the day after the second round wrapped up.
The NHL has finally figured out how to schedule the playoffs. Either that, or its getting ready to really screw things up during the Stanley Cup final and is just getting us to let our guard down. Either way, we should enjoy it while we can.