First round of NHL playoffs has been full of surprises
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) tends the net against Canadiens centre Tomas Plekanec (14) during the third period of Game 6 of their first-round NHL playoff series at in New York on Saturday, April 22, 2017. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo)
Chicago and Montreal failed to advance past the first round. The Penguins survived the first round without their starting goalie. And Connor McDavid and Zack Kassian temporarily swapped roles for the Oilers.
Beyond the upsets, the first round of the playoffs have been nothing short of surprising.
From Carey Price’s inability to cover up Montreal’s mistakes to Erik Karlsson almost singlehandedly steering Ottawa to the second round, here are 10 storylines that have come out of the first round.
Erik Karlsson is MVP
Karlsson may or may not win the Norris Trophy this season (I voted for him again, by the way). But if anything, these playoffs have demonstrated why he should be a Hart Trophy finalist. Karlsson, who picked up his sixth point in a 3-2 overtime win in the series’ clincher on Sunday, has been Ottawa’s MVP. He forced overtime with a beautiful pass in Game 2, assisted on the overtime winner in Game 3 and set up the winning goal in Game 4.
Bring out the brooms
Anaheim swept Calgary, but let’s be honest: most people didn’t think the Flames had a shot of beating the Ducks in the first place. The real shocker was the Blackhawks losing in four straight to the Predators. Goal scoring was obviously a problem, with Chicago getting shutout in two games and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews combining for two goals.
Price is right (Habs are not)
Poor Carey Price. The best goalie in the world allowed only 12 goals in six games against the Rangers. Normally, it should have been enough to advance the Habs to the second round. But with Max Pacioretty failing to score a single goal — and Montreal’s next top-three scorers combining for just two goals — it was a recipe for failure.
McDavid conquers Goliath
After winning the Art Ross Trophy with 100 points, all eyes were on Connor McDavid as he entered his first playoffs. So far, the 20-year-old has not disappointed. McDavid scored two goals and four points, including the empty-netter in a series-clinching Game 6 against the Sharks. But his best play might have been when he crushed Marcus Sorensen in Game 5, a hit that ended up sparking a comeback win in the game and series.
From Vezina to early vacation
It was bad enough that Sergei Bobrovsky allowed 20 goals in five games against the Penguins. What made it worse was hearing head coach John Tortorella’s critique of the Vezina finalist after Bobrovsky once again failed to advance past the first round. “The regular season is great,” Tortorella told reporters. “But the playoffs are what count. Listen, Bob isn’t that experienced in the playoffs. He hasn’t played a ton of playoff games.”
Role players playing important role
Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are atop the scoring race, as they should be, but it’s been the role players who have grabbed the spotlight from the stars — especially in overtime. Edmonton’s Zack Kassian scored two game-winners, while Washington’s Tom Wilson entered Game 6 on Sunday with three goals. Both players had seven goals each in the regular season.
Kids are all right
At times, it might seem as though Toronto has the market cornered on teenaged rookies. But the first-round was a coming out party for the league’s first-year players. Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel leads the post-season with five goals, Boston’s Charlie McAvoy (who was in college a few weeks ago) is among the ice time leaders, and Kevin Fiala scored twice, including an overtime winner, for Nashville.
The ghost of playoff pasts is alive, as Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau once again found out this year. Minnesota, a team that finished with the second-best record in the Western Conference, averaged 36.4 shots per game against St. Louis (26.8 shots per game). But whether it was bad luck or great goaltending from Jake Allen, it was the second straight year a Boudreau-coached team failed to advance to the second round.
Who needs the shootout — or 4-on-4, for that matter? Heading into Sunday’s schedule of games, overtime was needed to decide 16 games in the first round. The Toronto-Washington series alone featured overtime in four of five games. The longest game lasted 91 minutes and 53 seconds, when Leafs fourth-line forward Kasperi Kapanen scored in double-OT of Game 2.
Fleury in bloom again
A year ago, Marc-Andre Fleury was hurt right before the playoffs, and when he finally got better, another goalie had taken over the net. This year, it’s the reverse. After Matt Murray was injured in the warm-up before Game 1, Fleury stepped in, and with a .933 save percentage, he has not looked back. Murray’s status (lower-body) for the second round is unclear, but either way, it’s clear who Pittsburgh will have in net for Game 1.