It’s time to recap what has happened so far in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including two sweeps, an early exit for the Washington Capitals, a devastating injury and quick updates on the rest of the matchups.
Sweeps are so difficult to predict in the NHL playoffs, a time when it seems any team can get hot and go on a run. That is why I am always so hesitant to predict that a series will be decided in four games, but if it was going to happen this postseason, the Colorado Avalanche would’ve been the most likely to do it. On Sunday, the Avalanche defeated the St. Louis Blues for the fourth straight win, eliminating them in dominant fashion.
In the four games, Colorado outscored St. Louis 20-7, winning each game by three or more tallies. Nathan MacKinnon led the Avalanche with six goals and nine points, while Philipp Grubauer was excellent in net, sporting a .936 save percentage throughout the series. The Blues simply didn’t have the talent to compete with the juggernaut that is the Avalanche and were also hindered by injuries to forward David Perron and defensemen Vince Dunn, Robert Bortuzzo and Justin Faulk. Faulk was taken out with a brutal check courtesy of forward Nazem Kadri, who received an eight-game suspension for the hit. These are two teams trending in opposite directions, as the Blues feel centuries removed from their cup win in 2019, while the Avalanche are knocking on the door of greatness.
While the Avalanche’s sweep was not entirely shocking, the Winnipeg Jets’ sweep of the Edmonton Oilers and arguably the best player on Earth, forward Connor McDavid, was. On Monday night, Jets forward Kyle Connor scored the triple-overtime winner to send the Oilers packing after their great regular season campaign that saw them finishing second in the North division. The Jets recovered from a horrific finish to the regular season and pulled off the upset via timely goals and great play from their world-class goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck.
Three of the Jets wins came in overtime, including Sunday night’s epic three-goal, third-period comeback that was put to bed by Nikolaj Ehlers halfway into the first overtime frame. On the other hand, the Oilers were devastated by the monumental collapse on Sunday night. To be up 4-1 in the third period and then lose the game in overtime took the wind out of their sails and put them in a 0-3 hole that would’ve been nearly impossible to overcome. The series-ender was no less heartbreaking, coming in triple overtime after the team rode defenseman Darnell Nurse with over 60 minutes of ice time. Despite plenty of quality chances, the Oilers could not solve Hellebuyck, who outdueled Mike Smith for the entirety of the series.
Washington’s early exit…
After losing the first game of their series, the Boston Bruins won four straight games to take down forward Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. The Capitals could only muster 10 goals over the course of the first round and were often stifled by goaltender Tuukka Rask, who outplayed the Capitals’ combination of Vitek Vanacek, Craig Anderson and Ilya Samsonov, all of whom made starts in net during the series.
While the first three games were decided in overtime, the last two would only require 60 minutes for the B’s to claim victory. Many questions will be raised in Washington this offseason, as Ovechkin’s contract is up and the team is looking like its championship window may have closed. There is very little doubt Ovechkin will re-sign in the nation’s capital, where he has spent the entirety of his legendary career, but perhaps two consecutive first-round exits with a combined two wins will lead to some shuffling of the roster.
On the winning side of things, the Bruins are benefiting greatly from the trade deadline acquisition of forward Taylor Hall, who has rejuvenated the second line. They are also getting excellent netminding from Tuukka Rask, and their top line of forward David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand has looked dynamic and, at times, unstoppable. Now, they await the winner of the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins series, who they will battle for the East division crown.
John Tavares’ scary injury…
Just ten minutes into their first game against the Montréal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs captain forward John Tavares suffered a horrific blow to the head. The collision was accidental and via the knee of Canadiens forward Corey Perry, who tried to hop over the 30-year-old forward. Immediately following the hit, it was evident that Tavares was in deep trouble. He collapsed after an initial attempt to stand up and was eventually carted off on a stretcher and transported to a nearby hospital. Luckily, the team has reported that Tavares was able to go home to his family and is recovering from a concussion and knee injury.
The Leafs would go on to lose the game to the Canadiens, who played a very good game and were supported by the outstanding play of goaltender Carey Price. Forwards Josh Anderson and Paul Byron scored the two goals on the way to a 2-1 victory. In Games 2 and 3, the Leafs have rebounded and played well for their injured captain, now sporting a 2-1 series lead heading into their game Tuesday.
The rest of the first round…
In other news, out in the East division, the New York Islanders have claimed a 3-2 series lead over the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins and are heading back to Long Island for the sixth game. The Islanders will look to send the Penguins home and start preparing for a date with the Boston Bruins. While the Penguins have outplayed the Islanders for much of the series, goaltending is again the x-factor, as is so often the case. The Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin has played much better than Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry, who cost his team the win in Game 5 with a questionable play in double overtime.
After falling in the opening two games against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Nashville Predators have rallied back with two straight double-overtime wins at home to tie the series. Both teams are getting great goalie play, for Nashville with Juuse Saros and Carolina with standout rookie Alex Nedeljkovic. Game 5 is tonight in Carolina, where the Hurricanes won both of the first two games.
In Florida, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a 3-2 series lead over their in-state rival Florida Panthers. The Panthers stayed alive last night with a win on home ice fueled by rookie netminder Spencer Knight, who allowed a goal on the first shot he faced, but stopped all 36 shots afterwards. The Bolts are now heading back home to try to close out the series, while the Panthers will look to stave off elimination one more time and force a Game 7.
Out west, the Minnesota Wild also avoided elimination last night despite being drastically outplayed by the Vegas Golden Knights, who still carry a 3-2 series lead into Game 6, to be played Wednesday night in Saint Paul.