2012 NHL Playoffs: Ranking the Best Performances of the First Round

Kevin W. Ryan@@kevry88Contributor IIIApril 26, 2012

2012 NHL Playoffs: Ranking the Best Performances of the First Round

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    The first round of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs was complete with numerous unpredictable events, from the Flyers 20 goals in three games being answered by a 10-goal performance by the Penguins, to Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings upsetting the top-ranked Vancouver Canucks—who were fresh off a nine game point streak en route to the Presidents' Trophy.  

    With the first round massacres in the books, three Stanley Cup favorites were knocked out in the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks.

    Looking ahead to the second round of the playoffs, here are the top 15 individual performances of the first round in 2012... 

15. Alexander Ovechkin

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    Alex Ovechkin is the LeBron James of the NHL.

    Win, lose or tie Ovi never really gets the credit he deserves. I take his over-scrutinized play as a compliment to his unmatched talent. However, this talent is expected to provide highlight-reel goals and a Stanley Cup to many of the Capital faithful.  

    Ovechkin has had a successful playoffs thus far, having put up five points in the Capitals upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. 

    His aggressive style of play is finally clicking with new head coach Dale Hunter, a relationship Caps fans can only hope will be everlasting.  

14. Flyers Teenage Core

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    The Flyers-Penguins series was easily one of the most incredible back-and-forth series in recent history. In the six-game series, the Flyers outscored the Pens an incredible 30-26 with budding star Claude Giroux stealing the show. 

    Aside from Giroux, the Flyers underrated teenage core led by Brayden Schenn, Sean Coutourier and Matt Read contributed 13 points for the Flyers during the six games. 

    Coutourier finished the series with three goals and one assist, Schenn added two goals and four assists, while Read compiled two goals and two assists.  

    These kids are so young they can't even grow a playoff beard yet. 

13. Cory Schneider

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    Though Canucks backup goalie Cory Schneider lost Game 5 and the series for Vancouver, his stats will stay on the league leaders page throughout the entire playoffs. 

    Having only played in three of the five games against the Los Angeles Kings, the former first-round draft pick posted a 1.31 GAA with a .960 save percentage, leading all goalies in the playoffs. 

    I am a firm believer that if coach Alain Vigneault started Schneider every night, the Canucks would still be fighting. 

    Schneider is one of the hottest names on the free agent market this coming offseason. With new rumors of trading Roberto Luongo, there's no telling exactly where Schneider will land come July. 

12. Tim Thomas

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    Tim Thomas anchors the Boston Bruins, plain and simple. Before Wednesday's Game 7 against the Capitals—when Thomas was facing elimination—he was 8-2 and posted a 1.92 GAA, .939 save percentage, three shutouts and one skipped White House visit. 

    As controversial as Thomas is off the ice with his outlook on Government intervention, his on-ice play is purely historic.  

    During the 2011 playoffs, Thomas was 3-0 in Game 7's including a shutout on the road to win the Stanley Cup.  

    This playoffs, however, it's clear the Bruins have lacked an offensive spark. Thomas' play kept the Bruins alive in 2012, and now that they're knocked out of the playoffs, there's a lot of chatter as to Thomas' future in Boston

11. Danny Briere

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    Although Danny Briere scored one of the most controversial goals of the playoffs in Game 1, he finished the series strong with five goals and three assists to help propel the Flyers into the second round of the playoffs.  

    Briere was a huge part of the first series against the rival Penguins and is sure to have an even larger impact on the Flyers run to this year's Stanley Cup. 

10. Evgeni Malkin

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    Though he was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, Malkin played every shift of the six games like the league's MVP would. 

    Malkin was a big part of the incredible Game 4, posting two goals and an assist in the 10-3 mauling of the Flyers.  

    Malkin has the unique ability to strike fear in the hearts of his opponents every time he touches the puck and is a truly fantastic player to watch. 

9. Craig Anderson

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    Craig Anderson became a Senator when the club swapped him with Brian Elliot, a trade that heavily favors the St. Louis Blues (from Colorado) as Elliot has blossomed into an NHL superstar. 

    Following the trade, Anderson filled his role as the franchise goalie by putting the Sens on the map. No one could have predicted a first round Game 7 against the mighty New York Rangers.

    The Rangers were more dominant in every sense of the game until Anderson posted numbers incredibly similar to their goalie Henrik Lundqvist—going in to Game 6 Henrik's goals-against average was 1.78 compared to Anderson's 1.79. 

    If Anderson can pull off a win against the much stronger New York Rangers, he'll certainly deserve a higher spot than No. 9 on this list. 

8. Jordan Staal

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    The Penguins only won two out of the six-game series, yet Jordan Staal still managed to rack up six goals and three assists—numbers only out dueled by Claude Giroux through the first round of the playoffs. 

    Staal and the Penguins put up a record-tying 10 goals in one game on the road against Philadelphia with much of the credit going to Staal on both sides of the rink.

    The Penguins marched into the 2012 playoffs destined for another Stanley Cup at 3/1 favorites, and no Penguin other than Staal had a better playoff performance.

7. Henrik Lundqvist

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    Hank, as usual, has played amazing hockey.

    He has lived up to his expectations—individually posting a remarkable 1.82 GAA and a .942 save percentage—yet his Rangers find themselves in a must-win Game 7 against the No. 8 seeded Ottawa Senators. 

    In their three wins, much credit needs to be given to the Rangers strong core of defenders for the support up front, making rebounds tough and forcing the Sens to snipe from the outside—something the Senators snipers are certainly capable of doing, as we saw with Kyle Turris' overtime rocket.   

    However, the Eastern Conference's top-seeded Rangers should not even be in this Game 7 on Thursday. Their offense has failed to produce in the clutch, losing two games in overtime then getting shutout to drop three games to two in the series. Henrik also had some "choice words" following their Game 6 win in Ottawa. 

    If the Rangers can squeeze out a win in Madison Square Garden tonight and carry on through the rest of the playoffs as expected, Veznia favorite Henrik Lundqvist will be the likely winner of the Conn Smyth Trophy as well.  

6. Braden Holtby

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    Meet my main man Braden Holtby. The dude is an absolute machine.

    Holtby was the Capitals third-string goalie until Head Coach Dale Hunter started him against the defending Stanley Cup Champions in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.

    Much of the credit must go to Hunter for even believing that the 93rd overall pick in the 2008 NHL entry draft would vault the Capitals past the Bruins, but regardless the 22-year old Holtby will carry his "quiet confidence" and strong will into the second round of the playoffs.

5. Dustin Brown

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    Dustin Brown purely dominated all five games of the Vancouver series.

    He completed a rocky regular season by finishing with 23 points in the final 21 games, only to continue leading the Kings to an incredible 4-1 series win over the President's Cup champion Vancouver Canucks. Brown tallied five points in the first three games of the series, including the only goal in their 1-0 shutout in Game 3. 

    The Kings will look to Brown to continue his dominance in the second round as they face the streaking St. Louis Blues. 

4. Mike Smith

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    Mike Smith is by far the biggest surprise of the playoffs. 

    Smith has truly answered his calling in snagging the Pacific Division title only to continue his "brick wall" like success against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. Chicago is stacked with consistent goal scorers in Patrick Kane, Jonathan Towes, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, yet Smith held all four to a combined nine points.

    The Coyotes face a Nashville Predator team extremely similar to the Phoenix Coyotes. Both teams like to press on offense to get the early lead then lock down defensively and work the clock. 

3. Nashville's Anchors on D

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    Nashville's defensive core is clearly the best in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Preds are anchored by Veznia Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne, with Norris Trophy candidate and team-captain Shea Weber and Ryan Suter leading the defense. This is perhaps the last year all three will be playing together.  

    However, as long as all three are suited up together, they're a true Stanley Cup threat.

    Nashville's defense was so good that following their Game 5 win, their entire team landed near the top of the league leaders in plus/minus. 

    It was absolutely incredible of the Preds to knockout the mighty Red Wings in five games, a scenario that almost predicted. Their defensive core shut down Detroit—the team that was good enough to set an NHL record with their 21-game home win streak

2. Jonathan Quick

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    Quick simply shut down one of the most productive offenses in the league in just five games.

    The Canucks stack their offense with the untouchable Sedin twins, only to add snipers Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows to create one of the most lethal power-play rosters in the league. 

    Quick, unfazed as always, upset the top-ranked Canucks with a league-leading 1.59 GAA and .953 save percentage in his four wins. His 1.59 goals-against average and .953 save percentage lead the league for goalies who have started more than three games. 

    Perhaps the Kings just got lucky like in 1989. 

1. Claude Giroux

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    Giroux has been the epitome of a franchise player during the playoffs.

    First he sets a Flyers record for tallying six points in one playoff game, combining for 14 points in all six games (six goals and eight assists).

    He also leads the entire NHL playoffs in plus/minus, further proving his first round dominance of the Penguins. 

    Giroux and the Flyers started off leading three games to none before getting smoked for ten goals in Game 4 and falling in an extremely close Game 5. 

    Going into a pivotal Game 6, Giroux asked Flyers coach Peter Laviolette to start him. He began the game by blasting Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby and taking the puck down the ice to absolutely snipe Marc-Andre Fleury—setting the tone just 32 seconds into the game. 

    If he keeps this style of play en route to a Stanley Cup for Philadelphia, Giroux will be a shoe-in for the Conn Smyth award.