Playoff outlook different after opening round?

762766.png

Playoff outlook different after opening round?

My, how the postseason landscape has changed since the playoffs first started. A big part of that is due to the earlier-than-anticipated exit of the Bulls, who were fully intact at the beginning of the opening round, then had to endure the devastating season-ending injury to Derrick Rose in Game 1 of their first-round series against Philadelphia and a severely sprained ankle to Joakim Noah that left him out of commission, eventually leading to their ouster by the 76ers.

Ostensibly, that makes Miami's road to a repeat NBA Finals appearance much easier, though they should still have their hands full with a big and physical Indiana team, as well as a potential conference-finals matchup with a veteran Boston squad that should take care of the young Sixers in the second round. Whether the Celtics have enough in the tank to make another run to the Finals is an interesting proposition, but given the way they handled Miami in the regular season, it's certainly feasible.

The Western Conference has mostly held serve, save for the Clippers' mild upset of the Grizzlies in the first round. After last year's postseason run, the Grizzlies were expected to be a spoiler in some circles, particularly with power forward Zach Randolph in the lineup and a potential rematch with the top-seeded Spurs, whom they upset a year ago. However, now a clash of the old guard and the new school is on tap, as San Antonio's aging corps, like Boston's in the East, will look to make one more trip to the promised land, with the All-Star duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin standing in their way.

Then, there's the Thunder-Lakers grudge match, coming on the heels of the late regular season elbow heard around the world, Metta World Peace's concussion-inducing blow to the head of Sixth Man of the Year winner James Harden. Subplots aside, the young Thunder, led by three-time reigning league scoring champ Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, will be tested by the Lakers' interior size -- if Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol come to play every night, something that didn't always happen in their first-round series against Denver, in which a deep and athletic Nuggets squad took them to the limit -- as well as the annual playoff exploits of one Kobe Bryant.

With the way the Thunder dispatched the defending-champion Mavericks in four games and how the Spurs were all business in sweeping a young Jazz team, plus added rest as they waited for the second-round opponents to get through grueling seven-game opening round series, the West's top two seeds should move on, setting up a fantastic conference finals, one which Oklahoma City, if indications that they're ready to make the leap from good to great are real, should survive behind Durant's brilliance. Despite the Celtics' experience, how they appear to click on all cylinders on certain nights and All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo's masterful offensive orchestration, the sheer dominance of new league MVP LeBron James simply can't be accounted for, which give the Heat a second straight crack at the Finals, an opportunity they're unlikely to squander again.

Fast Break Morning Update: Jimmy Butler named NBA All-Star starter

Fast Break Morning Update: Jimmy Butler named NBA All-Star starter

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

CSN Chicago will live stream Cubs, White Sox games in 2017

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade rumors abound

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Bulls' Jimmy Butler voted All-Star Game starter

A safety at No. 3? Historically it's a reach, but maybe not for Bears in 2017

As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

High School Lites Week 8 basketball capsules

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Blackhawks: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Blackhawks fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Blackhawks Pulse