With Boston’s elimination of Toronto in Game 7 — again — Wednesday night, the book is closed on a first round that was in parts predictable and others pretty wild.
On the predictable side, Pittsburgh moved on to face Washington in the second round — for the third time in three springs. The Pens beat the Caps in 2016 and 2017, which doesn’t look good for Ovie and Co.
On the wild side, no one say San Jose sweeping Anaheim aside like they did, limiting the Ducks to just four goals in four games, too. Or for that matter Vegas taking the minimum, and allowing even fewer goals (3) to send the Los Angeles Kings to the golf course.
The second round shapes up to be a doozy and the series to watch is going to be Nashville vs. Winnipeg. Two of the league’s best are on nearly equal footing all the way around, from the netminders to the defence and scoring.
The first round bears a look back, then, at some very noteworthy performances — some from unexpected sources. Most of these guys will be ones to watch in the second round and beyond, too.
15. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks — Goaltending
The Sharks were able to manhandle the Anaheim Ducks because they got great goaltending, period. Martin Jones, who was fairly brilliant in getting San Jose to the finals in 2016, was at it again in a virtuoso first round performance. A middle of the pack guy in the regular season (2.55 goals against, .915 save percentage), Jones got the ball rolling by stopping all 25 shots he faced in a 3-0 Game 1 win in Anaheim. He allowed two goals in game two, one on the powerplay, allowing San Jose to escape the Duck Pond with a 3-2 victory. His game 3 performance, even though it wasn’t a shutout, was his best. A desperate Anaheim squad peppered him with 46 shots, but could only beat him once in a 8-1 blowout loss to the host Sharks. He sealed the deal in game 4, stopping 30 of 31, including 14 in the second period as San Jose triumphed 2-1. Jones will have to keep his game tight against Round 2 opponent Vegas, who he had a 1-3 record against this season, allowing 14 goals.
14. Colton Sissons, Nashville Predators — Five On Five Play
NHL playoff history is rife with players who, while not their team’s superstars, come to play in the post-season. For the Predators, that guy is third line left winger Colton Sissons. No one would ever confuse the North Vancouver native of being an elite playmaker, given that he has 47 points in 190 regular seasons games, the bulk coming this season (27 in 81 games). However, through the first six games of this year’s march to the Stanley Cup, he has seven points (3 goals, 4 assists). Including last year’s 22 games, Sissons has tallied 19 points. What makes this spring’s output remarkable is that all but one of his points has come playing 5-v-5. Even more intriguing is that he has logged just 15:46 average ice time per game, which is actually down 20 seconds from the regular season. His line, with Nick Bonino and Austin Watson (more on him later) will be key to the Preds’ fortunes as the playoffs progress.
13. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins — Face-Offs
That Patrice Bergeron has eight points through six games is fairly noteworthy (he had 70 points in 101 previous playoff games), but even more significant is his work at the face-off dot. The four-time Selke Trophy winner (likely to add a fifth later this spring) was hell on the Toronto Maple Leafs on draws. Through the first round he is the leader in face-offs taken at a whopping 146, which is 17 more than next closest guy, Sidney Crosby. Of those draws, Bergeron won 89 for a 61 percent success rate, which is nearly four points higher than his regular season rate (57.3). In game 5 alone (which Boston lost 3-1), Bergeron took 29 face-offs and won an amazing 23 of them. One reason the Bruins were able to outlast the Maple Leafs was in puck possession, directly attributable to face-off control. Bergeron’s importance to his team in the near future can’t be underestimated.
12. Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs — All Around Play
Auston Matthews is a great talent, but for our money, Mitch Marner will be the Leafs true leader in the future. While Matthews was quiet offensively in the seven-game series with Boston, Marner was hell on wheels, causing havoc for the Bruins at just about every turn. The wily second-year man led all Leafs in scoring with nine points, including seven assists. When the Leafs were down 2-0 and needed to get back into the series, Marner delivered in game 3. He deftly set up veteran Patrick Marleau for two goals, both at even strength, in a 4-2 victory. Then in game 6, with Toronto still facing elimination, Marner was even better, scoring the winner and adding an assist as Toronto hung on to beat Boston 3-1 and send it to seven. The team may be in the doldrums right now, but with Marner leading the charge into next season, there is reason for optimism.
11. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins — Goals
The Omaha kid certainly has a flair for the dramatic. Jake Guentzel, who is in just his second season of NHL hockey after being drafted in the third round of 2013 draft out of his hometown university, is a playoff performer with few peers. Last season, he piled up 21 points in 25 playoff games for the reigning Stanley Cup champions, including 13 goals. He has built on that, big time, after a first full season that saw him record 48 points in 82 games. He is the remarkable co-leader in post-season points right now with superstar teammate Sidney Crosby, both of them logging six goals and seven assists. Guentzel’s incredible first round started with a four-point performance (1 G, 3 A) in a 7-0 whitewash of Philadelphia in game 1. He had a goal and three assists in the next four games, then blew away the hockey world in a decisive game 6. With his team down 4-2 and facing an unenviable game 7 with a determined Flyers team, Guentzel went to work. He assisted on a goal by Patric Hornqvist and then tied it with his third goal of the series. In the third, he silenced a raucous Philly crowd by scoring three more, all in succession, to lead the Pens to a 8-5 series-winning victory. Wow.
10. Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers – Bad Goaltending
A list of only good things would be just a bit boring, in our opinion. The Philadelphia Flyers could likely have beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins if they had gotten a few clutch saves from Brian Elliott (and then Michal Neuvirth). As it was, Elliott, who was much, much better in previous forays into the playoffs, laid an egg in game 1 to set the tone for the series. He allowed five goals on the 19 shots he faced and was yanked mid-way through what would be a 7-0 loss. He redeemed himself, somewhat, by surrendering just one goal on 35 shots as Philly squared the series in game 2. Any of that good will he created was squandered at home in game 3, when he was again beaten for five goals on 26 shots including three on 13 shots in the second period as the Flyers lost 5-1. Elliott’s last hurrah came in game 4, when he was again pulled — this time for the remainder of the series — after being beaten for three goals on 17 shots. Overall, Elliott had disappointing numbers, including a 4.74 GAA and .856 save percentage.
9. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning – Power Play Goals
Through just five games of the NHL playoffs, Tampa’s Alex Killorn has already surpassed his regular season output of two powerplay goals. The sixth-year third line winger has fired three of his four playoff markers with the man advantage. Even more impressive is that Killorn has accounted for 60 percent of the Lightning’s powerplay output — on a team that features snipers Steven Stamkos (one PP goal), Nikita Kucherov (no PP goals, but 10 points) and J.T. Miller (five PP goals in 19 regular season games with the Bolts). Killorn is another of those remarkable post-season performers who has scored 19 goals and 19 assists in 52 total playoff games, while slightly less prolific in the regular season (221 points in 435 games). He wasn’t credited with the winner in a 5-3 game 2 triumph over New Jersey, but his second powerplay goal of the game, and third of the series, was a late second period dagger. Tampa’s power play will need to click against Boston and Killorn’s production will be welcome.
8. John Carlson, Washington Capitals – Power Play Points
As of Thursday, Washington defenceman John Carlson was tied with Boston’s David Pastrnak for the lead in playoff assists with eight. That may seem fairly normal for a player who had a career high 53 assists in the regular season, but it’s significant in that the nine-year veteran has almost eclipsed his career high in playoff points (12) which he accumulated in 12 games during the 2016 playoffs. And, seven of those points came on helpers, so he has a career high now, in six games. Washington was able to sideline Columbus in six games based on their no. 1 ranked post-season powerplay, which clicked on nine of 27 opportunities. Carlson’s lone goal in the six-game series came with the man advantage and he assisted on seven others. Even more interesting is the fact that Carlson leads the Capitals in points (9), one ahead of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. If the Capitals want to get the King Kong sized monkey of futility off their back against Pittsburgh off their back, Carlson and the boys will have to continue to score with the man advantage.
7. Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins – Goals
In a 2015 draft that yielded Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Mitch Marner, among others, it wasn’t difficult for Jake DeBrusk to be an afterthought at no. 14. But, with his impressive performance in the first round against Toronto, he can’t hide anymore. After a season of marinating with Providence in 2016-17, DeBrusk put in a pretty good first season, tallying 43 points and a +13 in 70 games, while playing just over 14 minutes per game. The son of former NHLer Louie announced himself loudly against the Maple Leafs, scoring five goals and two assists. Through the first six games of the series, DeBrusk played an up tempo game on veteran David Krejci’s line, potting three goals and adding two assists. In Game 7 Wednesday night he added to Boston Bruins lore, scoring the second of his two goals on the night just over five minutes into the third on a beauty rush down the ice. It was the eventual winner and the dagger through the hearts of the Maple Leafs.
6. Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs – Bad Defence
We hate to pick on one defenceman from any team specifically, but veteran Maple Leaf Jake Gardiner, who improved offensively this past season, laid an egg defensively when his team needed him most. The author of just two assists in seven games (after 47 in the regular season) and a veteran of the 2013 game 7 debacle against these very same Bruins was horrid in this year’s edition. A plus player for the second straight season at +9, Gardiner was -1 entering the pivotal seventh game Wednesday night. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that number, as he logged nearly 23 minutes of ice time per game. On Wednesday, entrusted with 24 minutes, Gardiner wore the goat horns, getting beat to pucks time and again and looking lost in coverage. He ended up a -5, for an overall lousy -6. Counting that nightmare game in 2013, Gardiner is -7 in game 7’s.
5. Tyler Myers, Winnipeg Jets – Goals
Don’t look now, but Winnipeg defenceman Tyler Myers is tied with Finnish sniper and teammate Patrik Laine in goals this spring. Now, it’s not likely to continue, but Myers’ two goals in four games are proof the Jets are a deep team to be reckoned with and that regular season numbers mean squat. Eleven different players lit the lamp for Winnipeg in their five-game series with Minnesota, Mark Scheifele coming out on top with four. Myers, who scored all of six goals in 82 games this season and who had just three goals in 17 previous playoff games, opened the scoring in a 4-1 game 2 win, and assisted on Laine’s second goal of the post-season later in the game. Myers’ second goal was significant, albeit in a loss, as he fired an unassisted marker early in the second to cut Minnesota’s lead to 3-2 in the only game the Wild would come out on top.
4. Marcus Sorensen, San Jose Sharks – Deadly Shooting
Is San Jose Sharks unheralded rookie Marcus Sorensen this year’s Jake Guentzel? Tune in to the Sharks-Golden Knight second round series and find out. A former fourth round pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2010, the native of Sodertalje, Sweden spent five seasons in Sweden before coming over to North America. In the last two years, he has split time between the Sharks and AHL affiliate San Jose Barracuda. This season, he scored seven points (five goals) in 32 games with the big club, after four points in 19 games the season previous. In six playoff games last year, he had a goal and an assist. This year, he is a revelation in the playoffs, already notching three goals in four games and adding an assist. What is most extraordinary about those three goals is that he has taken just five shots, for a ridiculous 60 percent success rate. The fourth liner comes by it honestly, having scored his five regular season goals on 25 total shots.
3. Austin Watson, Nashville Predators – Points
On a team that has uber-talented playmakers like Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, P.K. Subban and Ryan Johansen, it seems weird that third line lunch pail guys like Colton Sissons and Austin Watson are tied for the playoff scoring lead. Watson, who went 18th overall to the Preds in 2010, spent considerable time with Milwaukee of the AHL after a great four-year OHL career with three different clubs. Up until last season, scribes who were following Watson were probably branding him a first round bust, in that he had played just six NHL games before the 2015-16 season. After spending three games on the farm in 2016-17, Watson was called back up and has stuck. The rugged forward scored 17 points in 77 games and followed it up with an impressive nine points in 22 playoff contests. This season, the Ann Arbor, MI born Watson had 19 points (14 goals) in 76 games, along with 123 penalty minutes. Working on that third line in the playoffs with Nick Bonino and Sissons, Watson already has a team high four goals (matching his total from the 2017 post-season), along with three assists and a +7 in six games. He has also dished out 18 hits and blocked six shots.
2. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins – Playmaking
The Pasta man was large in helping the Bruins get “pasta” Maple Leafs. At present, Boston’s David Pastrnak is tied with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel for the post-season lead in scoring. He was brilliant in the seven-game series against Toronto, scoring five times and adding a playoff high eight assists. In a 5-1 game 1 win, Pastrnak and his elite linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were all over the Leafs. He had three of the trio’s six points in that game on a goal and two assists. Then, in game 2, he added his name to a distinguished list of playoff scorers when he tallied three goals and three assists in a 7-3 blowout victory. Not only was Pastrnak just the sixth player in NHL history to have three goals and three assists in a post-season game, he was the youngest to do so too at 21 years, 324 days. Wayne Gretzky was the previous most fuzzy faced player to do it, at 22 years, 81 days.
1. Marc Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights – Next Level Goaltending
There have been so many things go right this season for the expansion Knights, they are too numerous to mention. Gerard Gallant has this team playing like a champion and guided them to a 4-0 sweep of the veteran laden and playoff hardened Los Angeles Kings. One of the Golden Knights old workhorses, who has intimate knowledge of winning a Stanley Cup, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, has delivered so far. During the regular season, the Knights goaltending was in a state of flux, with the team using five different goalies and Fleury missing 25 games to injury. Considering some of his past playoff history after winning a title in 2009, his shortened season and advanced age (33), there was chatter that his playoff performance could go either way. He put all those silly notions to rest right away, recording a 30-save shutout in a 1-0 game 1 win over L.A. In game 2 he gave up one goal on 30 shots in a 2-1 double OT thriller. He had his toughest match in game 3, having to stop 37 of 39 to get Vegas a 3-2 triumph and he capped the sweep by stopping all 31 shots he faced in game 4 for another 1-0 win.