Winners and Losers of the NHL Playoff Weekend
It was a spectacular weekend for the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings.
All three teams advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with hard-earned first-round victories.
Perhaps the Penguins breathed the loudest sigh of relief. They were pushed hard by the New York Islanders and were driven to overtime in Game 6.
They got the series-clinching goal from the most unlikely of sources: defenseman Brooks Orpik, marking his first goal all season.
Here's a look at the winners and losers from this weekend.
Winner: Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings showed they were not going to fall victim to a first-round playoff defeat like the last two defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Chicago Blackhawks got bounced in the first round in 2011 while the Boston Bruins were beaten in the opening round a year ago. Both teams could not match the intensity or consistency that they had displayed in their successful Stanley Cup campaigns.
The Kings looked like they might follow that pattern when they dropped the first two games to a very good and hungry St. Louis Blues team. However, there's some real mettle to the Kings.
Once they got home to the Staples Center, they picked up their game considerably. They took advantage of their scoring opportunities, and Jonathan Quick once again looked like a dominant goalie. The Kings won the next four games of the series to advance.
Quick was at his best in Game 6 Friday night, stopping 22 of 23 shots. He was a wall in the third period protecting a one-goal lead, and that's a good sign for the Kings moving forward.
Loser: St. Louis Blues
The first-round showdown with the defending champion Los Angeles Kings seemed like it would be a coming-of-age moment for the Blues.
After losing in four straight to the Kings a year ago, head coach Ken Hitchcock saw his team play hard, physical hockey to take advantage of Los Angeles' mistakes and take the 2-0 series lead.
But while they did not fall apart, they made at least one more mistake than the Kings did over the next four games.
Friday night, that mistake was made by goalie Brian Elliott, as he gave up the eventual series-losing goal to Dustin Penner on a lengthy shot at 19:59 of the second period.
While Elliot's teammates mounted a great attack in the third, they couldn't get the tying goal. It has to hurt a very good and talented team that had dreams of advancing much further.
Winner: Tomas Vokoun, Pittsburgh Penguins
It was not a difficult call for Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma when he inserted goalie Tomas Vokoun into the starting lineup in place of Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury was suffering through a nightmarish series with the New York Islanders, and Bylsma had seen that before. Just a year ago, Fleury was horrendous in a first-round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Bylsma called Vokoun's number, and that put the pressure squarely on the backup goalie's shoulders.
He responded with a 4-0 shutout in Game 5 to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead in the series, and he did his part in helping the Penguins capture a 4-3 overtime victory at Nassau Coliseum in Game 6 to capture the series.
Vokoun was solid in the series clincher and made the key saves to earn the victory. The Islanders were playing with great speed and fired 41 shots at net. Vokoun played with confidence, however, and his teammates fed off it in the latter stages of the game.
Vokoun's presence allowed the Penguins to steady the ship, who now move on to face the Ottawa Senators.
Winner: John Tavares, New York Islanders
Throughout the season, John Tavares told his New York Islanders teammates to get on his back and that he would carry them.
He had a stellar season and is a legitimate MVP finalist alongside Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Based on the standard definition of "most valuable player," it should be a runaway for Tavares; the Islanders would be lost without him.
They pushed the Penguins to six games and fell just short of seven. Tavares scored the Game 6 opening goal and was involved in numerous chances after that, ending the series with three goals and two assists. He was the player-head coach Jack Capuano looked to throughout the series, and while he could not lead the Islanders to the upset, he made the heavily favored Pens sweat.
Tavares is the Islanders' top offensive option, and he needs to be accounted for by the opponent every time he steps on the ice.
Loser: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin finished the regular season on a substantial roll.
He was scoring goals on a near nightly basis and finished with 32 goals in the 48-game season. He was dominant in the second half of the year as the Capitals rose to first place in the Southeast Division and took the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
But you may remember that Ovechkin's fast finish followed an awful start.
Against the New York Rangers, Ovechkin's production is akin to his early-season performance. While he is playing with much greater effort than he did then, he has but one goal and one assist in the first six games.
If he gets held in check in Game 7, the Caps' superb comeback in the regular season could all be for naught.
Winner: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
The Washington Capitals had the New York Rangers' backs against the wall.
They had taken the 3-2 series lead Friday night with a 2-1 overtime win and the Rangers went back to Madison Square Garden knowing that if they lost, their season was over.
So they left their fate in the hands of the best goalie in the world, Henrik Lundqvist.
The King made one goal stand up as he blanked the Caps, 1-0, for the seventh postseason shutout of his career Sunday night. Lundqvist stopped 27 shots and was simply dominant for the desperate New Yorkers.
Needless to say, if Lundqvist can emulate his performance Monday in Washington, the Rangers will survive and advance.
Loser: Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins
Tyler Seguin is supposed to be the Bruins' most dynamic scorer. The second choice in the 2010 draft has eye-catching speed that produces highlight-reel goals.
However, instead of being a game-breaker in the Bruins' series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he is in a deep funk. Through the first six games, Seguin is scoreless. No goals, no assists.
He is skating and working hard, but he often treats the puck as if it were coated with butter. He fumbles it, he loses it and he has failed to take advantage of his scoring opportunities.
The Maple Leafs are one game away from completing a comeback from the 3-1 deficit. If Seguin can't wake up from his slump, Toronto may end the Bruins' season Monday night.
Winner: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have rallied from the depths to tie their first-round playoff series with the Boston Bruins.
Both victories came by 2-1 scores and goalie James Reimer keyed both wins, but the Toronto defense regularly forced the Bruins to shoot from the outside and the Maple Leafs did a good job of clearing traffic in the slot area.
The Bruins had beaten the Maple Leafs in nine of their last 10 regular-season meetings and had taken three of the first four games in the series.
Head coach Randy Carlyle kept the team focused and confident. All of Toronto is praying for another victory in Game 7 in Boston.
Winner: Detroit Red Wings
What the Detroit Red Wings did in the late stages of the regular season was impressive. What they have done in the playoffs is amazing.
The Red Wings went 4-0 in the final week of the season in order to secure a spot in the postseason. Once there, however, they appeared to be in way over their heads against the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks.
After falling behind 3-2 in the series, the Red Wings won the sixth game at home Friday night in overtime on a goal by Henrik Zetterberg, and then secured the series by registering the 3-2 victory in Anaheim. It was the only game the Red Wings won in the series that did not go into overtime.
While the Red Wings struggled to find consistency this year, they are playing their best hockey at the most important time of the year.
They now get to continue their season against another heavily favored team in the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks.