The first week of the NHL playoffs had no shortage of excitement as the league’s 16 best teams began their quest for greatness and Lord Stanley’s Cup. From Brawls between legends and rookies, to historic collapses of storied franchises, this first 8 days of action has seemingly had it all for hardcore hockey fanatics and casual observers alike. Check out the action in each of the eight playoff series with this synopsis.
Toronto 2 – Boston 2
These two division rivals link up in the first round for the third time this decade and for the second time in as many years, with each of the previous two contests needing the full seven games to decide a winner. Boston emerged victorious in both series, including in their 2013 run to the Cup Final.
This time around, Boston entered the series a heavy favorite, with many critics of the Leafs citing their team’s age and lack of postseason experience. The Leafs’ top three points leaders: Marner, Matthews, and Nylander are all 21 years old or younger and as such have limited reps in postseason play. In contrast, the Bruins bring the veterans Marchand, Chara, and Bergeron to the fray that have been integral to Boston’s eight trips to the playoffs in the last decade.
The Leafs spoiled the party in the Garden by stealing Game 1 on the road as Mitch Marner scored two of the Leafs’ goals in a 4-1 victory, including a penalty shot that blew by Rask to seal a victory for the visitors. Andersen wouldn’t be overshadowed by the Toronto offense as he was able to keep the Boston attack at bay and kept 37 of 38 shots out of the back of the net.
The script was flipped for Game 2 in Boston as Rask put the wall up in his own net, notching 30 saves of his own with just one goal against as the Bruins cruised to the 4-1 victory to even the series. Bergeron answered Marner’s performance with a multi-goal game as the Leafs were shut out until midway through third period.
The Leafs returned home to ice reeling after a poor offensive showing, and Toronto put on a show for their home fans with the icebreaking goal early in the second frame. Boston answered back less than a minute later when Krejci equalized. The Bruins couldn’t get out of their own way as they handed the man advantage to Toronto, and Matthews quickly capitalized with his first goal of the playoffs. Toronto held on to a single goal lead after a second power play goal to give the home crowd a victory and their second lead of the series.
The Game 4 showdown in Scotiabank Arena quickly spiraled out of control for the Leafs, whose confidence in their Game 3 performance was shaken to the core. McAvoy capitalized on an early Leafs penalty to break the ice just three minutes in, with Marchand following up later in the frame to make it 2-0 Boston. Boston would never let the Leafs back within one goal, thanks to a breakout game from David Pastrnak who scored a pair in the second. Auston Matthews would attempt a rally with his third goal of the series, but Boston coasted to a 6-4 win and will cross the border with the series tied 2-2.
Boston needs to lean heavily on their top line, as it has been the make-or-break component of the team so far, and Tuukka Rask has been one of the keys to the team’s success in both victories. Toronto, despite their youth and inexperience have shown a great deal of resiliency and have proven to be one of the more surprising teams in the tourney. If the Leafs can keep up the stingy defense and top-level power play, they’ll be able to get the series lead back and have a shot at eliminating their postseason nemesis.
Game 5 in Boston will be at 6 p.m. CT on 4/19 on NBCSN
Game 6 in Toronto will on 4/21
New York 4 – Pittsburgh 0
Two historic franchises clash in a Metropolitan division showdown, the Penguins just two years removed from a back-to-back championship run, and the Islanders returning to the postseason after a four-year absence, and hosting their first playoff series since 1988. Before this series, the teams had not seen one another since December 10th, due to a quirk in the schedule that placed all four contests 2018. Whether the unfamiliarity would benefit the veterans or newcomers was yet to be seen.
Game 1 in Nassau Coliseum had its share of offensive fireworks, with Tom Kuhnhackl scoring just a minute into the opening frame before getting waved off for offsides. Jordan Erberle was not discouraged by that development and proceeded to score the icebreaking goal to get the crowd on their feet in New York.
The Islanders led three times in the contest, with the visiting Penguins coming back to equalize each time. The Pens goals came from Kessel, Malkin, and Schultz as the visitors scored once in each period. The game went to OT knotted at three apiece, and Bailey netted the golden goal after an interference challenge to secure victory for the home team.
The Pens notched the icebreaker in the second period of Game 2, with Gudbranson giving the Penguins their first lead of the series at the midway point in the game. The Islanders answered back with a goal of their own from Beauvillier just three minutes later. Lehner stopped all remaining Pens shots to add to his 33 total stops and the Islanders cruised to a 3-1 win with goals from Eberle and Bailey, both getting their second of the series.
As the series shifted to PPG, the Penguins once again kicked off the scoring in the first period. Their lead, and momentum, was erased by two Islanders goals within three minutes of the icebreaker as the Pens relinquished their lead for the remainder of the game. The Isles coasted to 4-1 victory as Jordan Eberle scored his third goal in as many games.
Desperation time for Pittsburgh came in the form of a Game 4 Wednesday night with a sweep seemingly imminent for the upstart visitors from Long Island. For the third straight game, the Pens broke the ice as Jake Guentzel cashed in on a rare mistake from Lehner just 35 seconds from puck drop. The crowd in PPG was quickly silenced as, just two minutes later, Jordan Eberle scored his fourth goal of the series to equalize. Game 4 carried into the night with a whimper rather than a bang as Pittsburgh failed to sniff the net for the rest of the game and the Islanders poured on two late goals to send the Pens packing.
New York is headed to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 26 years and the Penguins have been handed their first exit from the first round since 2012. Barry Trotz has eliminated the Penguins in consecutive season with different teams as he transitioned away from Washington after a championship season last Summer, and Pittsburgh is left heading into the offseason wondering if their dynasty has finally come to an end.
Pittsburgh’s back-to-back championships were the first such occurrence since Scotty Bowman’s Red Wings of the late 1990’s, but a lack of production from their offensive stars leaves the team wondering what could have been. The Pens only mustered one goal in each of the final three games of the season, with Sidney Crosby absent from the score sheet for the entire series.
Trotz and the Islanders are set to match up with the winner of the series between Washington and Carolina. The upstart Hurricanes who have had to overcome a postseason drought of their own to get to this point, and bring a similar youth and energy to the playoffs as they try to knock out the defending champs. The defending champion Washington Capitals have played as well as any team this season and many hockey fans are excited for the possibility of Trotz eliminating his former team.
Whatever happens, the Islanders will enjoy some much-needed rest as the remaining tickets to the second round are punched.
Washington 2 – Carolina 1
The world watched as the Washington Capitals overcame the ‘curse’ of the second round and won their first ever Stanley Cup last season, but it’s a new year and the Capitals come into the playoffs looking to defend their crown against the Carolina Hurricanes, who last made a postseason appearance in 2009. The Canes have captured the attention of fans of all sports with their ridiculous post-game celebrations, and the team looks to keep celebrating all the way to June. Both teams finished the regular season with 44 regulation and overtime wins, and were separated by a mere five points.
In Game 1, the Caps wasted no time in setting the tone for the series with Backstrom breaking the ice and then some to puts the home team up by a pair. Ovechkin piled on to make it 3-0 heading to the first intermission with two goals scored on the power play. Holtby put a lid on the Carolina offense and held the visitors scoreless through two and change. Carolina’s Svechnikov netted two goals in the dying minutes of the third period to give the team some life, but a Caps empty-netter quashed the storm surge from the Canes. Capitals win 4-2.
The second tilt in the nation’s capital proved to be a more exciting contest for both teams. Backstrom broke the ice again with an assist from Ovi three minutes in, and Oshie followed up to give the Caps another two-goal lead. Lucas Wallmark wouldn’t let the Canes head to the break empty-handed, scoring in the waning seconds of the frame to cut the deficit in half. Aho scored the equalizer in the second.
The battle continued in the third, with both teams trading blows and hitting hard against the glass. Tom Wilson scored for the Caps and Jordan Staal did so for the Canes with the man advantage. Washington and Carolina needed an extra frame to settle this one after 60 minutes of play, and Brooks Orpik scored without haste just 1:48 in to give the home team a hard-fought win and a 2-0 series lead.
As the series shifted south for Game 3, the momentum of the series seemed to shift as well. Foegele opened up scoring with a greasy goal over the head of Holtby, and tempers quickly flared as Ovechkin and Svechnikov dropped the gloves and traded haymakers. Ovi dropped the 19-year-old rookie without much resistance, and Svechnikov missed the rest of the game and is questionable for Game 4.
This would be the last highlight for the Caps as the Hurricanes offense quickly swirled into an unrelenting storm that poured five goals onto the visitors before all was said and done. Foegele and Hamilton both score twice with McGinn finishing the job to serve the defending champs a 5-0 loss.
With the dramatic turn that this series took when it moved to Carolina, the home team seems to have a marked advantage. The Caps have the benefit of home-ice advantage, but the Hurricanes are the type of team to show enough fight to steal a game on the road, as they nearly did in Game 2. Look for both teams to crank up the physicality in Game 4 as these two divisional rivals clash for a momentum-swinging opportunity, and the Hurricanes try to get revenge for that blow to Svechnikov.
Game 4 in Raleigh will be at 6 p.m. CT on 4/18 on NBCSN
Game 5 in Washington will be at 7 p.m. CT on 4/20 on NBC
Tampa Bay 0 – Columbus 4
Tampa Bay entered the postseason with all the momentum in the world, after completing the best season in franchise history and tying the all time wins record for any NHL team. With stars like Vasilevskiy, Stamkos, and Kucherov leading the charge and with a President’s trophy locked up before any other team had even clinched a playoff spot, it seemed like it would take nothing short of a miracle to stop this Lightning team. That miracle’s name? The Columbus Blue Jackets.
Game 1 stuck to the script in the first period, with Killorn, Gourde, and Cirelli all blowing by the Jacket defense to jump out to a 3-0 lead and the teams headed to the locker room without thinking twice about this series going any way except predictable. When Nick Foligno beat out Vasilevskiy off of an assist from Josh Anderson at the midway point of the game, things began to change.
The Lightning watched their lead evaporate as the Jackets stormed back to take a 4-3 lead in the final minutes of the game on the back of a goaltending clinic put on by Sergei Bobrovsky who was perfect in the final two frames. The fans in Tampa booed their team off of the ice after witnessing a team that had lost only nine games at home all year, and the Bolts looked to regroup for Game 2.
Regroup they did not and the Blue Jackets continued their momentum from Game 1 to shock the home crowd with an icebreaking goal off the sticks of Atkinson and Duchene. Tampa was blown out in Game 2 as they failed to beat Bobrovsky until the third period, but the game was already out of reach by then as the relentless Columbus offense crashed the party in the bay with a 5-1 victory.
The Jackets took a 2-0 series lead back to Ohio, where they looked to get a third win in a series for the first time in franchise history. The game got off to slow start with the teams heading to the break knotted 0-0, and a seemingly sluggish Tampa team had still yet to hold a lead since the opening frame of Game 1. Columbus broke through with two quick goals in the second and never looked back. The Blue Jackets take a commanding 3-0 series lead with a 3-1 playoff victory at home.
The last chance for the President’s Trophy holders came in the form of Game 4 in Nationwide arena Tuesday night, but the hosts were quick to snuff out any life the Bolts may have had left. Texier struck first for the Jackets with a power play goal just over two minutes into the game. A desperation push for the Lightning lit the lamp twice in the second period as Paquette and Point both scored to give their team hope, but a third goal was waved off and the spirits of the Lightning offense crushed as Columbus answered right back to lead it 4-3.
The cannons fired into the night as Vasilevskiy headed to the bench early in the third and the Jackets shelled the empty net for three more goals. Final score: 7-3. The Blue Jackets come away for their first playoff series win in franchise history and the team holding the cursed President’s Trophy is eliminated for the seventh straight year.
It’s safe to say that no team wants to face this Blue Jackets squad right now, and after decisively felling the league’s points leader, the sky is the limit. The Jacket’s sweep of the top-seeded Lightning is not at all dissimilar to the Predators’ sweep of the Blackhawks in 2017, a sweep that gave Nashville a wave of momentum that they rode all the way to the Cup Final.
Tortorella’s Jackets will square off with the winner of the Boston-Toronto series, and will enjoy some well-deserved rest as they wait for the rubble to clear in the first round.
Nashville 2 – Dallas 2
The Central Division champion Nashville Predators play host to the Stars, who make their first trip to the postseason in three years. Both teams bring their patented style of stingy defense and elite goaltending to the tournament, making goals at a premium in this series more than any other. With two of the best environments in hockey serving as the setting for the opening round tilt, look for both teams to attempt to play the crowd to their favor and steal momentum on the road.
Game 1 in Nashville began with trademark Preds hockey, with Roman Josi beating Dallas netminder Bishop from deep to give the home team an early lead. Penalties quickly became an issue for the Predators as the Dallas power play proved to be Nashville’s undoing. 19-year-old Miro Heiskanen scored a power play goal to equalize in the second period, and the wind was taken out of the sails of both the home fans and team. Radulov and Zuccarello both struck early in the third to put things out of reach for Nashville, and a late goal by Subban was not enough to complete the comeback. Dallas stole Game 1 by a tally of 3-2 to take a series lead.
Game 2 in the music city proved to be the same song, but a different verse. A low-scoring affair saw both teams scoreless after one period, with the fireworks coming in the second. Jamie Benn lit the lamp just two minutes into the second frame, with Rocco Grimaldi answering back with an equalizer another two minutes later, Watson and Jarnkrok with the assist. The horn blew at the end of regulation with no winner decided, and Craig Smith was the hero for Nashville in OT with another assist from Jarnkrok. Ben Bishop had 40 saves, but the offense just couldn’t get going as Nashville’s patented defense clamped down.
The series shifted to Big D tied 1-1, living up to its reputation of low-scoring and hardnosed hockey. For the second straight game, the first period ended scoreless, but Grimaldi netted his second goal of the series in the opening ticks of period two. Nick Bonino caught the Stars napping as he lifted a cross-ice pass to a wide-open Forsberg, who extended the Preds’ lead to two. Zuccarello and Seguin teamed up to equalize the game at 2-2, with Mikael Granlund spoiling the party to grab the eventual game winning goal. Nashville gets one on the road with Rinne getting a 40-save game of his own.
A pivotal Game 4 wasted no time in turning up the excitement. Dallas scored four goals in the first period, with two power play goals in the first five minutes of the game giving all the momentum to the home team. Zuccarello netted his third goal of the series on the man advantage to force Rinne to the bench. Dallas scored more goals in the first period than any either team had scored in the entirety of the previous three games. Nashville is sent home with their tails between their legs after a 5-1 defeat, looking to use home ice to their advantage in Game 5.
Game 5 in Nashville will be at 2 p.m. CT on 4/20 on NBC
Game 6 in Dallas will be on 4/22
Calgary 1 – Colorado 3
Calgary locked up the top seed in the West riding an explosive offense as they attempt to win their first playoff game since 2015. The Flames match tricks with Colorado, who just edged out Arizona for the final wild card spot. Both teams operate at the mercy of their top lines, who have no problem bearing that load as half of the forwards on the ice at any given time made the trip to San Jose for the All-star Game. The Flames have a marked advantage in the netminding of veteran Mike Smith, who has shown to have consistency that Colorado’s Grubauer has lacked, and may be the difference in an offensively stacked series.
Game 1 brought the promised offensive fireworks for Calgary, while the Avs were left out in the cold. Speed and defense were the themes of the first as both teams failed to score, and both goalies kept the all-star lineups at bay. Andrew Mangiapane broke the ice near the midway point of the game with an unassisted blast, and the fans in Calgary had no reason to stop cheering for the rest of the night. Tkachuk and Backland both scored on the power play as the Flames’ lead swelled and Colorado was served up a shutout defeat in game one. Calgary wins 4-0.
The second contest started as a carbon copy of the first, scoreless after the first period thanks to an equally stellar performance by Smith and Grubauer. Calgary looked to take momentum with a power play that had been so effective in Game 1, but Matt Nieto crashed the party with a shorthanded goal for the Avs. Calgary answered with a power play done right that equalized the game, and Compher and Monahan traded goals early in the third to keep things equal after 60.
As the game moved to OT, both teams had their chances and near misses. Calgary had a chance that got the crowd on their feet, but an errant pass sent the puck towards Nathan MacKinnon who silenced the crowd with a coast-to-coast toe drag that beat out Smith. Series tied 1-1.
It was the Avalanche’s turn to party as the series moved mile-high, and the offensive explosion finally arrived for the home team. Nathan MacKinnon netted his third and fourth goals of the series with two power play goals in midway through the first, and Matt Nieto was the beneficiary of a Flames mis-skate when he scored his second shorty of the series. The Avs cruised to a 6-2 win in which 10 different Colorado skaters recorded a point.
For the third time this series, the first frame was dominated by defense as both teams laid an egg on the scoresheet in Game 4. Calgary’s lethal PP beat out Grubauer to take the lead in the opening minutes of the second period, and with another goal from Ryan the Flames looked to head home with the series tied. Colorado had other plans as the Avs stormed back and Mikko Rantanen capped the comeback with a power play goal.
The teams headed to the second overtime of the series tied 2-2, and the defense took the lead as neither team had success in sniffing the golden goal. At the 10:23 mark in OT, Mikko Rantanen (once again) finished off his night to remember as he lifted the Avs to their second overtime win, leaving the Flames wondering if their top-seeded counterpart in the East had foreshadowed their fate.
With the Avs taking three straight from Calgary, they’ll just need one more to pull off the upset. While critics of the Avs cited their one-dimensional style of play, the top line has done more than pull its own weight, and the series featuring the likes of offensive all-stars Johnny Gaudreau and Nathan MacKinnon has been surprisingly low-scoring. The Flames have dug themselves a deep hole that they’ll have to win in Denver to escape, but luckily the home crowd will be on their side for Game 5.
Game 5 in Calgary will be at 9 p.m. CT on 4/19 on NBCSN
Game 6 in Denver will on 4/21
Winnipeg 2 – St. Louis 2
The Jets were barely edged out of a division title by the Preds, but the top three teams in the Central all finished within a point of one another. Winnipeg looks to make up for a disappointing performance in the Western Conference Final last season, with all of the key components to last year’s success returning for another go. The other 99-point team in the Central is the St. Louis Blues, who were probably thinking more about their top draft pick rather than a playoff push back in January when they sat dead last in the NHL with Ottawa. The resurgent Blues have found success from their veterans like Tarasenko and Pietrangelo, as well as new faces such as Jordan Binnington who is minding the net in Jake Allen’s stead. This series should be about as close as these teams’ finish, with road wins coming at an absolute premium.
White out conditions for the series opener in Winnipeg saw Patrick Laine break the ice with an assist from Byfuglien to get the crowd rocking in Manitoba, but the tank ran out early as both teams’ offenses ground to a halt. David Perron smoked Hellebuyck in the opening minutes of the third to tie, and nothing doing for the Jets as Binnington put up a wall with 25 saves. Bozak saved his squad from OT has he took the breath out of the Iceplex with a stick-side one-timer in the dying seconds of the game.
With defense dominating the first tilt, both teams were anxious to score first in Game 2. Sundqvist got that first goal for his Blues and the level of anxiety for the Jets wasn’t helped. Blake Wheeler answered for Winnipeg and the game was tied 1-1. The teams traded blows in the second, each netting two goals. The Jets struck first and last with a pair of power play strikes from Laine and Scheifele, and the Blues getting theirs in between as Sundqvist scored his second. Once again, the last laugh belonged to the Blues in the third period as O’Reilly scored the go-ahead goal to escape Winnipeg with a 2-0 series lead.
The Blues seemingly couldn’t be stopped as they returned to home ice with a decisive lead, but Winnipeg had other plans. When St. Louis’s Perron scored with a man advantage in the final minute of the first period, Blues fans were probably polishing off their brooms, but a three-goal second period from the Jets flipped the script. Eight different Jets recorded a point in the second, with Laine receiving two on the back of his third goal of the series. The Jets coasted to a 6-3 win and the Blues found themselves reeling after a poor performance from their defense and Binnington.
With the road team victorious in all three contests so far, Game 4 seemed like the Jets’ game to lose, and both teams showed little signs of life as the patented Central Division defenses stepped up and held each other scoreless through 40 minutes of play. With a fresh sheet of ice in the rink, St. Louis hoped to take a commanding 3-1 lead, and Winnipeg looked to get back home with the series tied 2-2.
The Blues took the first step towards their objective as Tarasenko beat out Hellebuyck in the opening possession of the third period, as the Jets’ penalty kill continued to struggle. Scheifele would tie game off of an assist from Blake Wheeler, and both goalies would hold down the line as both teams were content to head to an extra period tied 1-1. Kyle Connor would spoil the fun for St. Louis fans as he put the puck in the back of the net for the third time of the series, and the all-important golden goal.
Winnipeg will return home with the series an effective best two out of three with the road team stealing all four games in the series so far. It seems that if the Blues want to pull off the upset, they will need to keep the scoring to a minimum, as it will be difficult for them to keep up in into another offensive death match like Game 3 with the crowd against them. For the Jets to succeed, the key will be breaking the will of Binnington before he can establish confidence. The Blues’ goalie will thrive in a low-scoring situation, and Winnipeg has the weapons to prevent that.
Game 5 in Winnipeg will be at 7:30 p.m. CT on 4/18 on USA
Game 6 in St. Louis will be at 6:00 p.m. CT on 4/20 on NBCSN
San Jose 1 – Vegas 3
The Sharks linked up with the Knights in the second round of last years playoffs after both teams swept their first-round opponents, with the Knights winning in six. The Sharks have historically underperformed in the postseason, despite a talented roster, with a trip to the Cup Final in 2016 the lone exception. Vegas, on the other hand, has done nothing but exceed expectations since the puck dropped in their first game 18 months ago. The defending Western Conference champs have a new look for this postseason, with some new faces in the lineup alongside ‘veterans’ Fleury and Karlsson. Look for this series to be a snapshot of two clubs heading in different directions.
Game 1 in the tank kicked off with a Pavelski goal assisted by Brent Burns as the Sharks jumped on top. It seemed like the Sharks had fixed the issues that they faced against the Knights last April, and continued the offensive flurry. Burns and Vlasic piled on and the Sharks never looked back after taking a 3-0 lead. Thomas Hertl finished the game with a +3 and a goal of his own to show for it as San Jose took game one decisively. Sharks win 5-2.
In Game 2 Vegas wasted no time in getting the action going, scoring in the first minute of the game. A shorty from Miller and another at full strength from Pacioretty had the Sharks reeling. Couture, Hertl, and Thornton all crashed the net to light the lamp three times in the final four minutes of the frame. Just like that, San Jose had wiped away a three-goal deficit and looked poised to score a fourth at the onset of the second period, but goalie interference would put the Sharks on the penalty kill rather than in the lead. Mark Stone took this opportunity to score his third goal of the series on the ensuing power play for the Knights and San Jose never sniffed the net again.
With a pre-game show almost as impressive as the offensive prowess of the home team, there’s nothing like playoff hockey in Las Vegas. Getting off to a quick start would fast become a theme in this game as Vegas would score within 60 seconds of the puck dropping in every period this game. Mark Stone would get the party started with his fourth goal of the series, and the Knights led 2-1 thanks to another power play strike from Pacioretty. The second quick goal came from Paul Stastny in the second, he scored on the PP again to make it 4-1. Mark Stone once again with his fifth goal in just three games blew the doors off of this one early in the third period. Knights take the series lead with a 6-3 win.
Max Pacioretty kept the party going in Game 4 as he took the opportunity to score in the first minute of the first frame for the fourth straight period. The Knights put the clamps down on the Shark offense as Fleury made 28 saves to earn his 15th playoff shutout. Pacioretty stole the show with two goals and two assists on the night, and Vegas skated to their third straight win in the series. Final score: Knights 5, Sharks 0.
The Golden Knights have made a living out of silencing their doubters in the past two seasons, and this offseason has been no different as Vegas has overcome the odds once again to find themselves teetering on the brink of a second quarterfinal appearance in as many years of existence. It’s desperation time from the sole representative of California in the postseason, as the window closes on their level of talent and patience of players. Game 5 will be a test of if they Sharks have anything left in the tank, or if the Knights are ready to be launched towards another conference title.
Game 5 in San Jose will be at 9:00 p.m. CT on 4/18 on NBCSN
Game 6 in Las Vegas will be on 4/21