If there has been one lesson that this year's edition of the playoffs has taught us it's that, no matter how well your goaltender is playing or how good your forward corps is, if you don't have a calm puck moving defence you can't win. The first round of the playoffs had clear examples of this in each series victory in both the East and the West.
In the San Jose (1) vs. Colorado (8) series, the tentative Sharks were tied up at 2-2 in the series when Dan Boyle, who had scored the game winner on his own net in game 3, stepped up his game in a big way along with Douglas Murray and Marc-Edward Vlasic. With these three elevating there game's the Colorado Avalanche were never able to get on prolonged offence going in San Jose's end while Colorado's defence simply isn't that good (John-Michel Liles, Adam Foote, Kyle Cumiskey, Scott Hannan, Tom Preissing, Kyle Quincey, Brett Clark and Ruslan Salei? Blech). In the Chicago (2) vs. Nashville (7) series the Predators were able to take the Blackhawks to 6 games (and might have beaten them if not for some suspect officitating on Marian Hossa's mugging of Dan Hamhuis and their porous power play) even with no real legitimate goal scoring threat with Patrik Hornqvist on the shelf and Alexander Radulov abandoning the team for the KHL is because they probably have the best defence in the NHL. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are both legitimate #1 dmen with Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Klein, Cody Franson, and Denis Grebeshkov they formed what is an enviable defence and with Jonathan Blum and Mike Green clone (albeit I think he's overrated and that his play in this past year's World Juniors showed that PK Subban made him look good the previous year) Ryan Ellis coming this isn't going to change. Chicago's much publised D with Olympic duo Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith along with Brian Campbell, Nik Hjalmarsson, and Brent Sopel is just a step below Nashville's. In the Vancouver (3) vs. Los Angeles (6) series, beyond Drew Doughty, LA's defence did not play well. Jack Johnson has been a dissapointment so far in his NHL career, Matt Greene wasn't effective, Sean O'Donnell showed his age and Rob Scuderi wasn't nearly as good as he was in Pittsburgh last year. Vancouver's D, while unspectacular, was very steady and didn't make mistakes which made a huge difference. In the Phoenix (4) vs. Detroit (5) series, Phoenix's defence was the better of the two for the first 6 games which allowed the Coyotes to take the more talented Red Wings to 7 games before getting pummeled in game 7.
In the Eastern Conference it was the same story. The Pittsburgh Penguins (4) were able to defeat the Ottawa Senators (5) not just because of Sidney Crosby (although don't tell the Canadian media that) but also because their D is alot better. With Philip Kuba on the DL the Senators simply couldn't move the puck out of their own zone while Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang, and Alex Goligoski did to great effect. Lou Lamirello's insistence on not spending any money on his defence once again blew up in his face this spring. With the heavily favoured New Jersey Devils (2) going down shockingly easily to the Brian Boucher goaltended Philadelphia Flyers (7), defence was once again at the forefront. The Devils once upon a time had a defence that included the likes of Scott Niedermayer, Bryan Rafalski (whom the Devils refused to pay), Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko has become one of the worst in the league and was weakened even further when the traded Johnny Oduya to the Atlanta Thrashers as part of the package for Ilya Kovakchuk who did not work in "The Swamp". Beyond the undersized Andy Greene they couldn't move the puck to save their life while the Flyers, with the likes of Matt Carle, Kimmo Tiomenen, Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent, and of course the all-world Chris Pronger, didn't give the Devils many second chances or the oppurtunity to cycle down low because they moved the puck out too quickly. The Boston Bruins (6) were able to defeat the Buffalo Sabres (3) for two reasons: Buffalo's power play couldn't manage a single goal and their defence was far superior to Buffalo's. Zdeno Chara was his usual self, Dennis Wideman steadied himself after a poor year, Matt Hunwick quietly does a good job moving the puck out of his own end and Johnny Boychuk (whom Chara has made look good because he's his partner) has had the time to move the puck. Beyond Tyler Myers, Buffalo's defence simply doesn't have enough talent to win. Finally, in the biggest upset of the playoffs in years, the Montreal Canadiens (8) managed to come back to defeat the President's Trophy winning Washington Capitals (1) in 7 games because of Jaroslav Halak and because their defence was better then Washington's. While Joe Corvo played well, Mike Green has solidified his reputation as the Joe Thornton of defensemen as for the 3rd straight playoff year he was brutal. Shaone Morrison, Milan Jurcina, John Erskine and Jeff Shultz aren't great at moving the puck and Tom Poti, who had been their best dman (that's right Oiler fans) through the first 5 games was knocked out of the series with a broken orbital bone and was not replaced. John Carlson, who was also great through the first 5 games, really started to fall off in the effort department after that and so his effectiveness plummeted. Andrei Markov, while unspectacular, managed to badly outplay his counterpart in Mike Green while Josh Georges and Hal Gill became the top shutdown pair in the NHL playoffs as they shut down Alex Ovechkin and Nik Backstrom. Roman Hamrlik was brutal through the first 5 games until his buddy Jaro Spacek (who had been very steady) went down with an illness and next seasons Calder Trophy winner (you heard it hear first!) PK Subban was called up. Subban got increasing ice time and controlled the play when he has been on the ice. The Capitals never got any second chances because the Habs D cleared the puck after Halak made the first save while the Caps D couldn't do the same.