The Stanley Cup Playoffs is like two months of Christmas for hockey fans. In 2021, the first weekend of play did not disappoint.
For the first time in NHL history, the first three games of the playoffs went to overtime. In addition, the weekend’s fourth and final game was a close, back-and-forth game between in-state rivals.
Boston Bruins vs Washington Capitals
The playoffs kicked off in Washington D.C. with a 3-2 overtime win for the Washington Capitals over the Boston Bruins on Saturday. The much maligned Tom Wilson, who garnered a lot of attention for bodyslamming New York Rangers star Artemi Panerin on May 3 and subsequent lack of suspension by league officials, scored the first goal of the playoffs.
The biggest takeaway from this game is that Washington is down to their third string goaltender in net. Craig Anderson, who played in four regular season games this season, was thrust into game 1 when Capital’s starting goaltender Vitek Vanecek was injured stretching to try to save a shot from Jake DeBrusk. DeBrusk scored on the play and Vanecek is now listed day to day. Anderson did play well in the game, stopping 21 of 22 shots, but with Ilya Samsonov still out due to COVID protocol, he is the starter for the foreseeable future.
Washington would win in overtime when Nic Dowd deflected a T.J. Oshie shot from the point 4:41 into overtime.
One player to keep an eye on for Boston is trade deadline acquisition Taylor Hall. The 2018 Hart Trophy winner was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres after a dismal 37 game tenure where he scored 2 goals and had 19 points with a -21 +/- rating. In 16 games with the Bruins, Hall exploded with 8 goals and 14 points with a +15 +/- rating. Hall however had a -2 +/- rating in game 1 and only took two shots. He will need to come alive to keep the bruins from exiting early.
Boston led the season series with a 4-2-2 record. Game 2 is tonight at 7:30 p.m in Washington.
New York Islanders vs Pittsburgh Penguins
The first of three games on Sunday ended in a 4-3 overtime win by the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh.
The game started and ended with goals from the Islander’s trade deadline acquisition, Kyle Palmieri. Acquired from the New Jersey Devils along with center Travis Zajac, Palmieri only scored two goals and four points in 17 regular season games with the Islanders. Palmieri ended up matching his regular season total with the Islanders in game 1 as he not only scored the opening goal of the game but would score in overtime short side glove side high on goaltender Tristan Jarry.
Game 1 of this series marks the second career playoff start for Jarry. Jarry, who looked strong in the regular season with a 25-9-3 record looked human in game 1, giving up three arguably weak goals in regulation. All three were long range shots that appeared stoppable giving the run of play. He stopped 37 of 41 Islander shots. His goaltending counterpart, Ilya Sorokin, made his first career playoff start stopping 39 of 42 Pittsburgh shots.
The Islanders steal home ice advantage from the Penguins after going 2-4-2 against Pittsburgh during the regular season. Game 2 is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
Minnesota Wild vs Vegas Golden Knights
The first Western Conference game of the postseason was a goaltending duel between Minnesota’s Cam Talbot and Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury.
Vegas peppered Talbot with 42 shots, from breakout passes to set plays but Talbot would not yield a goal in the game. Minnesota’s chances were fewer with 30 shots, but they had about the same amount of quality chances with Fleury making flashy highlight saves of his own. One particular player that had good looks all game was Minnesota’s Ryan Hartman, who despite five quality shots could not beat Fleury.
Eventually, all good things must come to an end. Game 1 was won by Joel Eriksson Ek 3:20 into overtime as he converted on a broken play in the slot. Eriksson Ek scored 19 goals during the regular season, but his third career playoff goal is the biggest goal he scored all season.
While goaltending is the story of this game, it is important to keep in mind the potential for an offensively explosive game in this series. Both teams have high end talent for scoring. Minnesota’s rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov scored 27 goals and 51 points during the regular season. He’s at the top of everyone’s list to win the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year this season. Leading the way for Vegas is their captain, Mark Stone. He scored 21 goals and 61 points during the regular season
Despite Vegas being one of the hottest teams in hockey during the regular season, Minnesota has had their number all season long as the wild are 5-1-2 against Vegas this season. Game 2 will take place on Tuesday at 10 p.m. in Vegas.
Florida Panthers vs Tampa Bay Lightning
The final game of the weekend was the debut of the Battle of Florida in the playoffs. The defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning defeated their in-state rivals the Florida Panthers 5-4 in a back and forth game.
With four lead changes, Game 1 was full of high octane offense despite two of the league’s top goaltenders, Andre Vasilevskiy and Sergei Bobrovsky, being in net. Vasilevskiy led the NHL with 31 wins and is at 4th in shutouts, 6th in save percentage and 8th in goals against average. Bobrovsky hasn’t been phenomenal since moving to Florida last season, but the two-time Vezina Trophy winner still has the pedigree to play at a high level. Tampa’s Brayden Point would score the final two goals of the game, including the game winner to secure a series lead for the Lightning.
A big game changer for Tampa in game 1 was the return of Nikita Kucherov to the lineup. Kucherov, who won the 2021 Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP, missed the entire regular season after hip surgery. He scored two goals and three points in game 1 and was integral to Tampa’s offensive pressure all game long. On the other side, Jonathan Huberdeau had a game with a goal and three points of his own. Unfortunately his play was not enough to hold on to home ice advantage for the Panthers. Florida will need to be more defensive if they want to win their first playoff series since their Stanley Cup Final run in 1996.
Florida won the season series over Tampa with a 5-2-1 record. Game 2 will take place Tuesday at 8 p.m.