Top 10 Highlights from Week 1 of 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Action
The truncated regular season is in the history books, and the real season has started.
The Stanley Cup playoffs bring 16 teams a chance to make a legitimate claim toward a championship. Critics may point dismissive fingers at the eventual champion because the qualifying season was reduced from 82 to 48 games, but hockey players know that they have to pay a huge price to survive and advance.
The first week of Stanley Cup hockey was noted for defense, goaltending, clutch scoring and tension.
The latter is a key ingredient in all postseason sporting activity, but it seems to be in greater supply in the NHL than it is in the other major league professional sports.
The drama has already started to play out, and there have been a number of noteworthy developments in the first week of action.
Blackhawks Pick Up Where They Left Off
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After a stellar regular season in which they won the Presidents' Trophy, the Chicago Blackhawks started the playoffs as the top dog in the Western Conference playoffs.
Yet, there was still plenty of tension as the playoffs began in Chicago. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, the Blackhawks were eliminated in the first round in each of the next two years.
Their 2012 exit to the Phoenix Coyotes was noted for the team's failure in overtime games, as the Blackhawks lost three games that went past 60 minutes.
In their opening game against the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks were forced into an extra session after Marian Hossa tied the score in the second period and the third period was scoreless.
Goalie Corey Crawford was under scrutiny, and he passed his first test when Zach Parise fired a vicious wrister that was ticketed for the far corner about 15 minutes into the extra session. Crawford extended and deflected the puck into the corner with his blocker.
Moments later, defenseman Johnny Oduya sent a perfect pass high off the glass to speedy Viktor Stalberg, who set Bryan Bickell up with a perfect pass. Bickell made a deft move to his backhand and tucked the winner under Minnesota goalie Josh Harding.
The Blackhawks were off and running and would win two of their first three postseason games.
Sid the Kid's Return
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The gifted one has returned.
Sidney Crosby is back on the ice for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had been out since March 30 after suffering a broken jaw when a deflected shot ricocheted into his face.
He missed the last 12 games of the regular season and the first game of the Penguins' postseason series against the New York Islanders.
Crosby returned for the second game, and his impact was felt immediately. Crosby showed his perfect timing and tendency to be in the right place at the right time as he scored two first-period goals.
The Penguins could not parlay Crosby's return into a victory, and the Islanders won the game 4-3. Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury struggled and allowed the Islanders to register a surprising victory that squared the series.
Ducks Show Their Strength
The Anaheim Ducks were one of the most surprising teams in the league during the regular season, but as the playoffs got underway, there was little respect for head coach Bruce Boudreau's team.
Many thought the Ducks were wide open for an upset at the hands of the experienced Detroit Red Wings. The Ducks haven't won anything yet, but they have shown a toughness and resiliency that should not be overlooked.
The Ducks won two of the first three games in the series, and their comeback in their Game 2 5-4 overtime loss may go a long way toward helping them survive this series.
After losing Game 1, the Red Wings were playing near perfect game in building a 4-1 lead. However, the Ducks rallied for their three-goal, third-period deficit to tie the score and send it to overtime.
A late third-period penalty gave Detroit the man advantage in overtime, and it took advantage of it to score the winner. If the Red Wings had not, the Ducks almost certainly would have had the momentum to steal the game.
After that loss, the Ducks went into Detroit and registered a 4-0 shutout.
That's a strong response by an excellent team.
Bruins Show Signs of Life...
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No team went into the playoffs with a worse record over its last 10 games than the Boston Bruins.
They had recorded a 3-5-2 mark and seemingly lost their ability to score and rarely used their size and strength to put an imprint on the game.
However, in the first game of their playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins spotted the Leafs a 1-0 lead and then roared back to take a 4-1 victory.
Skilled center David Krejci led the Bruins with a goal and two assists as the Bruins dominated the game with puck possession, scoring opportunities and physical play.
It was their best playoff game since the 2011 Stanley Cup-clinching game against the Vancouver Canucks.
While the Bruins have to show they can sustain that type of game over a full series, it demonstrated that Boston can still play a complete game that few other teams can match.
...Phil the Thrill Makes His Mark
Phil Kessel has become one of the NHL's most reliable goal scorers since the Boston Bruins traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009.
His speed, quick release and opportunistic positioning gave him a slew of goal-scoring opportunities. However, when he played his former team, Kessel could not break free.
He had scored just three goals in four years against the Bruins. In Game 2 of the series between the Leafs and the Bruins, he was in need of a change of fortune.
That happened early in the third period when he went in alone on Boston goalie Tuukka Rask. Kessel beat Rask between the legs, and the goal gave the Leafs a two-goal margin in what eventually would be a 4-2 triumph that evened the series.
When the Maple Leafs needed a spark and a key goal in their return to the playoffs, Kessel gave it to them.
The Capitals Make a Statement
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The turnaround continues in Washington.
The Capitals played solid hockey throughout the second half of the regular season and surged into the playoffs as the Southeast Division champions.
Still, they did not receive much respect even though Alex Ovechkin had regained his scoring touch and he led the league in regular-season scoring. Hard-shooting defenseman Mike Green was also lighting up opponents with his dangerous shot.
Many expected the sixth-seeded New York Rangers to beat them in their first-round series.
The Capitals have been efficient in building a 2-0 lead after two games at home. A 3-1 victory in the first game featured a triggering goal by Ovechkin and a suffocating defense.
The Caps may have gotten the Rangers' best defensive effort in the second game, and they were kept off the scoreboard for 60 minutes.
However, the popgun Rangers couldn't score either. When the Rangers took a penalty in overtime, the dangerous Washington power play did not miss. Mike Ribeiro faked a shot and passed it to Green inside the blue line. With no Ranger player ready to block his shot, Green sent a rocket past Henrik Lundqvist for the only goal of the game.
It seems the Caps are getting little respect for their all-around game. That's fine with them, because they continue to win key games under rookie head coach Adam Oates.
Islanders Make a Statement
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The New York Islanders are not just happy to be in the playoffs.
They finished as the eighth seed and drew the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. The Penguins were clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference this year, and it seemed like they had too much firepower for the plucky Islanders.
Pittsburgh rolled to a 5-0 victory in the opening game, and it appeared to be the dominant team.
Sidney Crosby came back for the second game, but the Penguins dropped a 4-3 decision as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury struggled in net.
However, that game was kind of fluky. It seemed that Fleury would shake off that performance and the Penguins would get back to business as the series shifted to Long Island.
That did not happen. The Penguins won the third game 5-4 in overtime on a Chris Kunitz goal, but it was a fight for survival.
Pittsburgh fell behind 2-0 before storming back for a 4-2 lead. However, the Islanders rallied with two goals in the third period to send the game to an extra session.
The Islanders may have finished in eighth place, but they are not intimidated by the high-scoring Pens.
St. Louis Blues Looking for Revenge
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A year ago, the St. Louis Blues were the team on the rise in the NHL. They finished second in the Western Conference, and when they won their first-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks, they had home-ice advantage against the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings rolled to a shocking four-game sweep of the Blues. While the Kings would go on to win the Stanley Cup, it was a painful finish for the Blues.
This time around, the Blues will not go willingly into the dark night. They won Game 1 in overtime when Kings goalie Jonathan Quick lost the puck behind his own net and Alex Steen took it and put it in the net for the game-winner.
In the second game, the Blues struck late again as Barret Jackman whistled a wrister past Quick with 51 seconds remaining to give St. Louis a 2-1 victory. It was the first postseason goal of Jackman's career.
The Kings showed it would not be a complete reversal when they scored a 1-0 victory at home in the third game.
This series seems likely to be nasty and physical the rest of the way, and it would not be surprising to see the series go seven games.
Meltdown for Montreal
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The first-ever series between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators seemed likely to go in the Canadiens' favor.
They finished second in the Eastern Conference behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, and they had a boatload of offensive talent to complement their defense and Carey Price in goal.
The Senators were gritty and had overcome injuries throughout the season, but they appeared to lack firepower. They were the lowest-scoring team playing postseason hockey.
After the two teams split the first two games in Montreal, the series turned dramatically in the third game.
Ottawa played a tough, physical game, and the Canadiens responded by trying to goad the hosts into fights and brawls.
After Ottawa took a 2-1 lead into the third period, the Canadiens got steamrolled. The Senators outscored them 4-0 in the third period as rookie Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored a hat trick against the beleaguered Price.
As the Canadiens fell apart, they decided to brawl and take cheap shots.
They lost their cool, and head coach Michel Therien did little to quiet the situation.
The Canadiens may be in big trouble if the they cannot control their emotions from this point forward.
One Last Run for the Sharks
Antti Niemi may be the most underrated performer in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
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The San Jose Sharks have often been one of the favorites to win the Western Conference.
Loaded with talent, they have never made it to the Stanley Cup Final. Few believe they have the team to get there this year.
While the Sharks may no longer be favorites, they came out of the gates roaring with two road victories against the third-seeded Vancouver Canucks.
The Sharks trailed 2-1 in the final minute of the third period of Game 2, but Patrick Marleau tied the score with 56 seconds remaining.
Aggressive Raffi Torres then scored the winner against his old team less than six minutes into overtime.
They followed with a 5-2 win at home to take control with a 3-0 series lead.
Same old Sharks? Not this time around.