5 Takeways from Day 1 of the 2022 Stanley Cup PlayoffsMay 3, 2022
Frederik Andersen jumped on to the scene as a young goalie in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Anaheim Ducks had lost trust in their No. 1 goalie, Jonas Hiller, and instead turned to their rookie netminder.
Fast-forward to 2022, with Andersen now with the Carolina Hurricanes but injured to begin the playoffs, many wondered whether this would be the moment for another rising rookie, 22-year-old Pyotr Kochetkov. Instead, the net went to veteran goalie Antti Raanta, and he delivered in his first-ever playoff start, backstopping Carolina to a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of their first-round series.
The Carolina goaltending situation was one of the biggest storylines to come from the first night of the2022 NHL playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs' decisive win over the Tampa Bay Lightning was another.
Here are five takeaways from the first night of postseason action.
New Year, New Narratives
It's been nearly 20 years since the Maple Leafs have won a playoff round, but a 5-0 thrashing of the reigning Stanley Cup champs twice over has the Leafs faithful eager for more. If they advance past the first round, you will likely be able to point to the five-minute power play they killed off Monday as a catalyst.
Early on, Kyle Clifford received a five-minute major and a game misconduct penalty for boarding Ross Colton, but Toronto actually generated more scoring chances than it surrendered during seven shorthanded minutes in the first period. David Kampf scored a shorthanded goal in the second period. The vaunted Tampa Bay power play went 0-for-5.
Matthews and Marner faced significant criticism last year when the Maple Leafs were eliminated in seven games by the Montreal Canadiens. Two key team leaders and two major components to the lineup, Matthews scored only a single goal and assisted on five, while Marner scored none, which was the same amount he scored in the 2019-20 postseason.
It's too early to see if the curse has been lifted, but there is such immense pressure on the Maple Leafs to get out of the first round, and yet Toronto thrived under it.
Prior to the series starting, Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe gave us what could be the quote of the postseason:
"I expect it to be a very physical, borderline violent series in a lot of ways," he told reporters in Toronto. "And our guys will be ready for that."
A total of 122 penalty minutes were doled out in Game 1, so clearly the Leafs were, in fact, ready. A line brawl even broke out midway through the third period involving two longtime NHL tough guys in Corey Perry and Wayne Simmonds.
The ESPN2 cameras cut away for a commercial during the post-whistle scrum, but there were skirmishes in other games as well. A suspension could also be coming from the department of player safety for Clifford's hit from behind on Colton. It would be unfortunate for Toronto, who relies on Clifford, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, to bring energy on the fourth line, but the Leafs proved they could win without him on Monday.
This is the time of year when the levels of intensity and physicality go up a few notches. This is when you hear players say they need to "play between the whistles." The key is making sure the emotions don't boil over to the point that it becomes detrimental.
Speaking of which…
The Minnesota Wild clinched home-ice advantage against their Central Division rivals St. Louis, but it didn't help much. David Perron scored a hat trick for the Blues in a 4-0 win, and Ville Husso became the first St. Louis goalie to record a shutout in his playoff debut, but all of that was overshadowed by a late penalty for a crosscheck by Jared Spurgeon.
With 1:34 left in the game, Spurgeon was tied up with Pavel Buchnevich. Frustrated by his inability to connect on the puck with Buchnevich upending him, he crosschecked the back of the Blues forward's legs, slamming his stick down with considerable force. It didn't really matter that the Wild was left shorthanded for the rest of the game—it was lost well before the penalty—but it was a dangerous play that is going to get reviewed by the department of player safety and could land him a suspension.
It was also uncharacteristic and unbecoming of a captain. Spurgeon was a Lady Byng finalist last season and is a perennial candidate for the sportsmanship award given to the most "gentlemanly" player combined with a high standard of playing ability.
A captain goes down with the ship. He doesn't put himself in a position to sit out games.
The Blues are 13-1-1 in their last 15 games against the Wild. Ouch.
The Bruins have a relentless forecheck. Carolina did its best to stop it, but if you look at the underlying numbers, you'll see this was a pretty evenly matched game. Shot attempts at 5-on-5 were 56-48 in favor of Boston, scoring chances were 24-23 and high-danger chances were 11-11. But the power play woes resurfaced for the Bruins. Despite the fact that Boston generated chances on the first two power plays, the third didn't even yield a single shot attempt.
There was also some consternation in the Bruins net. Linus Ullmark made the start for Boston and at one point gave up a goal off his mask. Do the Bruins go with rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman in Game 2? Ullmark started because Swayman struggled down the stretch, going 4-6-0 with an .877 save percentage in the final 10 games.
It's possible he hit a wall and these last few days off have been beneficial for him. But there is no doubt a tandem that once looked strong is suddenly in doubt.
But the story today is Raanta.
"For me, it was obviously the first start in the playoffs in the NHL," Raanta said in his postgame press conference. "I was just trying to focus on the things that have (allowed me) to be successful. It was working nicely. But it's only one game, one win, and now it's just regrouping and getting ready for Wednesday."
Connor McDavid did very Connor McDavid-like things against the Los Angeles Kings. You can call it an odd-man rush because technically one is an odd number, but it was a 1-on-5 with McDavid as the lone man in an orange and blue jersey in the offensive zone.
With the Kings up 2-0 in the final minute of the first period, McDavid picked up the puck in the defensive zone and picked up some serious speed. He went 1-on-everyone and skated coast-to-coast, going down the boards and cutting through two defenders while another two failed to pick up his movement and another watched helplessly as he sniped one past Jonathan Quick from the edge of the right circle.
It was an absurd goal scored by one of the most elite players in the world. He just completely walked the Kings' entire five-man unit.
But when Leon Draisaitl scored around the 10-minute mark of the second period to tie the game at 3-3, it underscored the fact that McDavid and Draisaitl can put a team on their backs and win on their own. The Oilers don't have to be fantastic, but they don't completely roll over, this team will stay in games.
However, staying in games isn't good enough for McDavid, who is desperate for a championship. And that desperation may be needed after the Kings grabbed a late goal to take a 1-0 series lead.
Phillip Danault scored after an incredible sequence that saw Mike Smith turn the puck over off the back of the boards, then dive back to the crease to make a save before Danualt tipped Sean Durzi's point shot into the net.
"I was just trying to make something happen," Smith told reporters in his postgame press conference. "Obviously, just trying to do too much there. In a tight game like that, you can't afford to make mistakes like that. It ended up costing us the game."
Smith has lost his last 10 playoff games, including all six he has played for the Oilers.