Skip to main content

Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning gives up a goal to Derick Brassard of the New York RangersMike Carlson/Getty Images

If you tuned out when the Canadian teams left the picture, it's time to tune back in.

Round 3 of the NHL playoffs has been good. Very good. So much so that it has rescued what was a very underwhelming postseason through the first two rounds and 69 games.

The best part of these games – including Tuesday's 7-3 win by the New York Rangers to force Game 7 back at MSG on Friday – is you never know what you're going to get.

All bets heading into the Eastern Conference final were that Henrik Lundqvist and Ben Bishop would turn it into a goaltenders' duel; instead there have been 40 goals (!) in the six games.

Most bets heading into the Western Conference final were that the Chicago Blackhawks would prove too difficult for the Anaheim Ducks to contain; instead they're down in the series and have only managed to beat them in overtime.

There has also been plenty of scoring there as well, with 31 goals going into Wednesday's Game 6 in Chicago.

What all those goals have done is brought back the lead changes and momentum shifts that we didn't see nearly enough of in the first two rounds.

"It's been a good series. As a fan, especially," Chicago's Brandon Saad said on their day of rest. "It's emotional on the bench when you have goals and swings like that. Comebacks. We've been through it before, and it's exciting for fans and for the game of hockey."

"We've seen some pretty crazy endings the last couple of games," coach Joel Quenneville added.

Here's hoping there are more to come.

2015 playoff statistics (per 60 minutes)

After 80 games

Goals

Shots

Shot
attempts

Scoring
chances*

Round 1

4.79

57.7

111.4

20.2

Round 2

4.51

58.6

113.7

20.4

Round 3

5.71

60.2

115.0

22.8


This isn't typically how the NHL playoffs progress. Normally what you see is the postseason getting lower and lower scoring as it drags into late May, with only the hotter goalies going deep and the checking becoming suffocating.

Whistles disappear. So do the goals. By the finals, every night is a 2-1 slugfest.

The biggest reason for the rise in scoring this round has been a marked drop in save percentage. All four starting netminders have had rough games, with a series of blowouts punctuating the East final, especially.

Tampa's Ben Bishop, for example, has an ugly .889 save percentage this round. (That's not all on him. His team has been erratic defensively.) Henrik Lundqvist (.900) isn't that far ahead, while Corey Crawford (.918) is in average-ish territory.

Only Frederik Andersen (.924) is batting better than .920 after almost everyone in a mask did the first month of the postseason.

No one would have predicted that, either: The big Danish goalie with only 82 NHL regular season games played is the standout.

It fits Round 3's narrative by not fitting any.

But it's not only good goalies having tough nights that have turned things around. According to data compiled from war-on-ice.com, "high danger" scoring chances* are up this round, along with shots and shot attempts.

What it is is skill winning out, with high-event teams like the Blackhawks, Lightning and Ducks advancing, instead of a year like 2012 when the Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils mucked and grinded their way to the final four and the Dead Puck Hockey stories flourished.

Stars have been important. Firepower, throughout the lineup, and from the blueline, has been important.

It's some small affirmation that this is the better way to build a winning team in this rapidly evolving era, with skill (usually) triumphing. And it's 11 games that argue that maybe, just maybe, the goalies haven't won the war on goals yet. (Even if average save percentages hit an NHL record .915. during the season)

The trends on a more macro level in the game suggest this could merely be a blip, but at the very least, this round has given fans a better glimpse of what this league should strive to be. Letting smaller players like Tyler Johnson, Patrick Kane and Nikita Kucherov thrive matters. Having at least six goals a game does, too, at least in terms of the basic entertainment level of the sport.

Sometimes that seems to get lost in all the debates over officiating and obstruction, big goalies and bigger nets, and all the other talking points that come up every year around this time.

The NHL playoffs can still be great. They certainly have been of late.