Ranking the Biggest Surprises in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2017

Ranking the Biggest Surprises in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The opening round of the 2017 NHL playoffs brought plenty of surprises. Among the notables were the Nashville Predators upsetting the Chicago Blackhawks and the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals needing six hard-fought games to eliminate the underdog Toronto Maple Leafs. 

    There were also some unexpected individual performances. Aging New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist proved he still had some playoff magic left. Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel turned into a goal-scoring leader.

    But which one ranks as the best? Find out as we examine the eight biggest surprises in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs. 

8. Clarke MacArthur an Overtime Hero for the Ottawa Senators

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Clarke MacArthur's series-clinching overtime goal for the Ottawa Senators in their opening round against the Boston Bruins capped an impressive comeback for the 32-year-old left wing. Indeed, it's remarkable that he was even playing in this series.

    Concussions sidelined MacArthur for all but eight games since 2015-16. On Jan. 20, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reported the Senators decided to shut the veteran winger down for the remainder of the season. His playing career appeared to be over. 

    MacArthur, however, refused to quit. He was medically cleared to play in the final four games of the regular season and skated in all six games in the series against the Bruins. Tallying the overtime goal that vaulted his club into the second round could be the crowning moment of his career. 

7. Shea Theodore Steps Up for the Anaheim Ducks

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    The Anaheim Ducks swept the Calgary Flames in their first-round series, but it was the play of young Ducks defenseman Shea Theodore that raised eyebrows. With two goals and three assists for five points, the 21-year-old finished the series sitting among Anaheim's leading scorers

    Since 2015-16, the promising Theodore has had difficulty earning a regular roster spot on the crowded Ducks blue line. He saw action in just 34 regular-season games this season, netting only nine points. But with regulars Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen sidelined entering the playoffs, Theodore made the most of his opportunity. 

    Because of the Ducks' blue-line depth, they risk losing a skilled defenseman to the Vegas Golden Knights in the June expansion draft. Theodore, however, is exempt from that draft. His solid play against the Flames suggests he'll be ready for a full-time role next season.

6. Edmonton Oilers Bite the San Jose Sharks

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    Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

    Despite the Edmonton Oilers finishing ahead of the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division standings, the veteran-laden Sharks entered their first-round series carrying considerable playoff experience. But it was the Oilers, led by postseason neophytes such as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who prevailed in six games. 

    This was very much a team win for the Oilers. McDavid was held to four points in six games, but lesser lights such as Zach Kassian, David Desharnais and Anton Slepyshev netted game-winning goals. Except for a 7-0 blowout loss in Game 4, the Oilers defense did a good job containing the Sharks' scorers, while Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot outdueled San Jose netminder Martin Jones.

    The Oilers' opening-round elimination of the veteran-laden served notice they're a promising young club on the rise. They went on to drive home that point with a 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 of their second-round series. 

5. St. Louis Blues Goaltender Jake Allen Shuts Down the Minnesota Wild

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen struggled at times during the regular season. A strong start fizzled through December and January. After the Blues replaced Ken Hitchcock as head coach on Feb. 1 with Mike Yeo, the 26-year-old Allen regained his form. Still, he had yet to win a playoff series as his club faced off against the Minnesota Wild in the first round.

    But in a classic goalie showdown against Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, it was Allen who prevailed as the Blues took the series in five games. While Dubnyk played well, finishing with a 1.86 goals-against average and .925 save percentage, Allen sported a 1.47 GAA and .956 SP in the series.  

    Despite the Blues being outshot 182 to 133 by the Wild, it was Allen's goaltending that made the difference in their five-game series victory. He picked up his first NHL playoff series victory, maturing into a reliable postseason netminder. 

4. Henrik Lundqvist Outduels Carey Price

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Montreal Canadiens were expected to have a goaltending edge over the New York Rangers in their opening-round series. Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. Lundqvist's stats for the Rangers (2.74 goals-against average and .910 save percentage) placed him outside the top 10 among this season's starters.  

    Lundqvist struggled against the Canadiens during the regular season, but he was superb in this series as the Rangers took the series in six games. Both goaltenders played well, but Lundqvist (1.70 GAA, .947 SP) outdueled Price (1.85 GAA, .933 SP). 

    The 35-year-old Lundqvist may be aging, but he proved against the Habs that he still has some playoff magic left. That bodes well for the Rangers' chances against the Ottawa Senators in their second-round series. 

3. Penguins Rookie Jake Guentzel Leads the Postseason Goal-Scoring Race

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    As the second round of the NHL playoffs began, it would be expected to find an NHL superstar such as Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin or Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby leading all postseason goal scorers. As of April 26, however, it was Guentzel, a Penguins rookie, sitting atop the leaderboard with five goals.  

    The 22-year-old Guentzel enjoyed a solid debut season with 16 goals and 33 points in 40 games. Injuries to veteran left wings Chris Kunitz and Carl Hagelin saw the youngster pressed into service as Crosby's linemate. Guentzel rose to the occasion as the Penguins eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games. Of his five goals, two were game-winners, one of them in overtime. 

    Entering the second-round series against the Washington Capitals, Guentzel could face heightened pressure to continue his high-scoring ways. Playing on the Crosby line could give him that opportunity to prove his opening-round heroics were no fluke. 

2. Toronto Maple Leafs Push the Washington Capitals to 6 Games

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    Molly Riley/Associated Press

    The opening-round series pitting the Washington Capitals against the Toronto Maple Leafs appeared to be a mismatch. The Capitals, winners of the Presidents' Trophy for the second straight season, were the dominant team in the regular season. The underdog Leafs, meanwhile, qualified for the playoffs in their penultimate game of 2016-17. 

    Despite being heavily favored, the Capitals needed six games to eliminate the Leafs. Every game was decided by one goal, with five of them requiring overtime. Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen and Capitals netminder Braden Holtby were outstanding. Young Leafs forwards such as Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Nazem Kadri played well against Capitals stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

    The rebuilding Leafs came out of this series having gained valuable playoff experience. While the Capitals advanced, this was the second straight year they struggled to dispatch a lesser-talented opponent from the opening round. 

1. Nashville Predators Sweep the Chicago Blackhawks

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Led by former playoff MVPs Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, the Chicago Blackhawks appeared to have the edge over the Nashville Predators in their opening-round series. En route to finishing atop the Western Conference standings, the Blackhawks took four of five games from the Predators in their season series. 

    But it was the Predators who dominated, needing just four games to eliminate the Blackhawks. Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne was outstanding and finished the series with a 0.70 goals-against average and .976 save percentage. His teammates outskated, outhit and outhustled the Blackhawks. 

    The Predators' stunning sweep of the Blackhawks ranks as the biggest surprise thus far in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. They made the once-formidable Hawks appear old and slow, demolishing the notion that Chicago's aging core had enough left for another championship run. 

    All stats (as of April 27) via NHL.com.