The first round of the 2010 NHL playoffs has come and gone, and there were a lot of surprises.
The Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, and Buffalo Sabres were all upset in the East, paving the way for the Pittsburgh Penguins to return to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Western Conference has arguably the four best teams remaining in the postseason going up against one another. Two rookie goalies will be going up against seasoned veterans in what will be two of the better series in the playoffs.
And did anyone else realize that one of every seed made it into the next round? I don’t know if that has ever happened before.
A number of players have stood out in the first round, and it’s never too early to take a look at some potential Conn Smythe Candidates—so here are the top five potential candidates for the playoff MVP.
Trying to out-duel Vezina Trophy-favorite and Olympic MVP Ryan Miller is not an easy task for any goalie in the first round. The task would be even more daunting for most rookies—but not Rask.
While Rask did not play as many games as most starting goaltenders, he still led the league in goals-against average and save percentage in the regular season.
Rask finished the first round with a 2.18 GAA and a .927 save percentage—.001 better than that of Miller.
“As good as he was, he was arguably facing the best goaltender in the league, if not more,” Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien told the Associated Press after their first-round victory. “He obviously made a reputation for himself. For him to go head-to-head and come out the winner, I think it speaks volumes for how Tuukka’s played.”
If the Bruins plan on advancing any further, Rask will have to be even better from here on out.
The Vancouver Canucks signed Samuelsson in the offseason to a three-year, $7.5 million contract because of his playoff experience—and the Vancouver front office certainly looks good now, don’t they?
The 33-year-old was a major role player for the Detroit Red Wings in the last four postseasons.
Samuelsson led all players in the first round with seven goals, was second in plus/minus (plus-eight), and was tied for fourth in shots (28).
Samuelsson had at least one point in every game and scored a goal in five of the Canucks’ six games against the Los Angeles Kings. He was also a plus-one or better in every game in the first round.
While Samuelsson’s 35 points in 69 career postseason games heading into this year’s playoffs was good, it was nowhere near the almost two points per game he is currently producing.
The Sedin twins will definitely be a factor, but Samuelsson may carry Vancouver to the Cup if he keeps this up.
Of the 16 starting playoff goaltenders, Boucher’s 2.78 GAA and .899 save percentage during the regular season made him the worst statistical goaltender entering the postseason.
But it is simply amazing what one round of playoff hockey can do for a goaltender.
Boucher’s 1.59 GAA and .940 save percentage in the first round against the Devils makes him the best statistical goalie in the playoffs. Not to mention that his 28-save series-clinching shutout in Game Five really put an exclamation point on things.
The revival of Boucher in the first round only brings back memories of the playoff run he made with the Philadelphia Flyers a decade ago.
“People have asked me if this takes away what happened 10 years ago. Not really,” Boucher told the Associated Press after his Game Five shutout. “That stings. We were on our way to the Stanley Cup finals and we lost. This feels nice to move onto the second round. It’s a whole new situation.”
Boucher would like nothing more than to finally raise the Cup with the same team he came so close to doing it with 10 seasons ago.
“The Kid” has really distinguished himself as “the” elite player in the NHL with his tremendous first-round production.
Crosby’s postseason performances in the past speak for themselves. He had 63 points in 49 career playoff games coming into this postseason. His peak performance came last postseason when he finished with 31 points in 24 games and led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup.
So far this postseason, Crosby has 14 points in just six games. His 2.33 points per game average is just slightly below the pace of 2.61 that Wayne Gretzky put up during his record 47-point postseason in the 1985 playoffs.
The 22-year-old Crosby has distanced himself in the “Who is the best player in the NHL” debate, and with the Pens as the top seed left in the East, he will be looking for a second consecutive Stanley Cup.
There are few goaltenders that have carried their team on their back and single-handedly won a playoff series when being down three games to one, but never has an eight-seed done it—until now.
And never has a goalie responded so well to being pulled, and then benched.
After being yanked in Game Three and watching Carey Price lose Game Four, Halak stepped back into the net and won three straight games for the Montreal Canadiens. He stopped 131 of the 134 shots he faced in the final three games of the series, which translates to an incredible save percentage of .978.
“If that goalie can play the same way as he played the last three games,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told the Associated Press after Game Seven, “anything can happen.”
While Halak’s play early on in the series was nothing spectacular, he finished the series with arguably one of the greatest playoff performances in the first round by a goalie ever.
Halak has taken down Ovechkin, if he can take down Crosby, he will elevate his status to “legendary.”