The first week of the Stanley Cup playoffs is almost in the books, and there's been no shortage of entertainment. As always, the first round has provided fans with some pretty incredible moments, and here are the top 10 from the last seven days.
10. Alexander Ovechkin starts the playoffs with a BANG
The Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals opened the Stanley Cup playoffs as the only matchup on the card this past Saturday. With the hockey world starving for playoff hockey, a lot of eyeballs were fixated on this intriguing matchup between two of the league’s heavyweights. Wasting no time in setting a physical tone was Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin, who lowered the boom on Bruins forward David Krejci.
The hit was monstrous and had the crowd at Capital One Arena fired up. It also seems like the check has affected Krejci’s performance, too. Despite scoring 10 points in his final six games of the regular season, the veteran forward has been limited to just one point through three games in this series.
9. Nikita Kucherov is back and doesn’t care that you’re crying about the salary cap
A lot of hockey fans are upset by the way Tampa Bay seemingly manipulated the NHL’s salary cap by waiting until the playoffs to activate Nikita Kucherov from long-term injury reserve. With Kucherov on LTIR recovering from hip surgery, the cap-strapped Lightning got out from under his $9.5-million salary and avoided having to move out bodies to stay under the cap. Well guess what? If your favorite team could, you better believe they’d do the exact same thing, so quit complaining! Now that the former Hart Trophy winner is back in the lineup, however, it didn’t take him long to remind everyone that he’s one of the best players in the world.
In Game 1, Kucherov scored a pair of power-play markers to help the Lightning earn a 5-4 victory over the Florida Panthers. Through three games in the highly-entertaining Battle of Florida, Kucherov has recorded five points and is a big reason why the Bolts are up 2-1 in the series.
8. Gabriel Landeskog stands up for Mikko Rantanen, drops the mitts with Brayden Schenn
There really weren't a lot of scenarios in which the St. Louis Blues could conceivably beat the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs. The one way I thought St. Louis may have a chance in this series was if the play got a little greasy and the team took this matchup into the alley. Early on in Game 1, Blues forward Brayden Schenn took a good run at Avs star Mikko Rantanen, but instead of letting things linger, captain Gabriel Landeskog immediately came to his teammate’s aid and settled the score with Schenn.
Landeskog did a pretty good number on Schenn, and silenced any questions of whether or not Colorado would allow St. Louis to push them around in the series. Since the incident, it's been all Avalanche as they’ve opened up a 2-0 lead in the matchup while outscoring the Blues 10-4.
7. Tom Wilson sends Curtis Lazar to the bench with monstrous hit
Whenever the words “Tom Wilson” and “hit” are in the same headline, you’re likely expecting a dirty body check that warrants some sort of suspension. While in most cases your assumption is correct, that wasn't the case this time. In Game 2 of the Capitals’ series against the Bruins, Wilson darted towards Curtis Lazar and sent the forward flying into his team’s bench.
It’s unlikely we’ll see a more powerful hit this postseason than this one.
6. Cam Talbot earns the first shutout of the postseason
In the best goalie duel we’ve seen in the playoffs thus far, Minnesota Wild netminder Cam Talbot outlasted Vegas Golden Knights' Marc-Andre Fleury to earn a 1-0 win in overtime during Game 1. Talbot certainly wasn’t eased into the Stanley Cup playoffs, either, as he faced 19 shots in the first period alone and made several key stops.
In total, Talbot made 42 saves in the contest before Joel Eriksson Ek potted the game-winning goal in OT. In Game 2 and 3, Talbot was bested by Fleury between the pipes and the Wild are now trailing 2-1 in the series.
5. Wait for it… Dominic Toninato scores his first NHL playoff goal
Dominic Toninato, a 27-year-old journeyman, has bounced around the Winnipeg Jets organization this season. He’s spent time on long-term injury reserve, waivers, the main roster, the taxi squad and the AHL. With Nikolaj Ehlers and Pierre-Luc Dubois absent from Game 1 of the team’s series against the Edmonton Oilers due to injury, Toninato, who had played just two games for Winnipeg in the regular season, found himself in the lineup, and did he ever come through.
Toninato scored his first-ever playoff goal in his eighth postseason contest, but similarly to the opportunities he’s received in the NHL, it took a while. The officials originally ruled that the puck did not cross the line, but the buzzer abruptly halted play shortly after. Sure enough, Toninato deflected Logan Stanley’s point shot past Mike Smith and into the net and the goal held up as the game-winner in Winnipeg's 4-1 victory.
4. Bryan Rust does his best Ben Roethlisberger impersonation
Bryan Rust has become a dependable forward for the Pittsburgh Penguins over the past couple of seasons, fitting in nicely with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel on the top line. Late in Pittsburgh’s Game 2 contest against the New York Islanders, however, the winger had a lapse in judgement that almost proved costly.
With his team clinging onto a 2-1 lead with less than two minutes to go, Rust closed his hand on the puck in the defensive zone and chucked it like he was Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Like Roethlisberger, who owned an average completed air-yard distance of just 4.6 yards in 2020, his throw didn’t get him very far. Rust was awarded a penalty and had to anxiously watch the rest of the game in the penalty box. Luckily for him, Pittsburgh hung on to win, but that could’ve been an unfortunate turning point in the series had the Islanders capitalized.
3. Paul Byron scores game-winning goal on his knees while short-handed
The NHL allowed a lot of time for anticipation to build between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens as their playoff series didn’t start until Thursday. Most of the discussion stemming from Game 1 centred around the horrific injury to John Tavares, but in a surprising turn of events, the Canadiens defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1 thanks to a goal from an unlikely source that came in improbable fashion.
Paul Byron, who scored just five goals in 46 games for the Habs this season, blew by defenseman Rasmus Sandin and buried a short-handed, game-winning goal from his knees in the third period. The goal also took a lot of pressure off of teammate Tomas Tatar, who was serving a penalty at the time.
2. Ilya Samsonov, Justin Schultz combine for crucial blunder in double overtime
The Washington Capitals have started three different goalies in the three games they’ve played so far against the Boston Bruins, with the latest being Ilya Samsonov. The Russian netminder was playing his first game since May 1 after being placed in the league’s COVID-19 protocol. Through four periods in Game 3, he was having an excellent outing and was the biggest reason why the Caps were still in the game. In the second overtime frame, however, a lack of communication between him and teammate Justin Schultz ended poorly.
Schultz was expecting a pass from his netminder, but instead, Samsonov left the puck behind the net. Bruins forward Craig Smith, who had just hopped over the boards, corralled the loose puck and tucked home a wraparound on an unsuspecting Samsonov to end the game. It was a brutal way to lose and nobody was more upset than Alex Ovechkin, who smashed his stick over the boards in frustration and was chewing someone out as the Capitals rushed to the locker room.
With NHL rinks across the United States upping the capacity limit for sporting events, the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs have felt pretty darn close to what we’re accustomed to. I could try to describe the atmosphere, but you can see it for yourself.
The Caniacs have made their presence known this postseason, helping the Carolina Hurricanes win both home dates against the Nashville Predators to start the series.
Often the punchline to attendance jokes in the past, nobody is poking fun at how Florida Panthers fans have been supporting their team at the BB&T Center.
Ol’ Nassau Coliseum got mighty loud after the Isles tied it on Thursday night, as well.
I certainly can’t forget Vegas, as Golden Knights fans have been making T-Mobile Arena one of the best home rinks in the league since the team joined the NHL.
It’s just nice to have hockey fans back where they belong: in the stands.
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