The NHL Playoffs — wait, I mean the Stanley Cup Playoffs — got underway last night in bizarre fashion. There were three blowouts: the Hurricanes erasing their demons of two playoff losses in the past three years at the heads of the Bruins with a 5-1 opening win; the Maple Leafs earning one day of non-panic for their fans with a 5-0 drumming of the defending champion Lightning; and the Blues shutting out the Wild 4-0 in an excellent road game. The fourth game saw the Kings beat the Oilers 4-3 on a late goal that was everything the Mike Smith carousel offers — he made a brutal giveaway from behind is own net, made up for it with a spectacular game-saving diving save, but then the winning goal came seconds later because Edmonton just couldn’t get set defensively after the turnover.
Tonight the other four series get underway, so let’s get right to it.
Game 1: Pittsburgh Penguins @ New York Rangers (7 PM)
Just as we all predicted to start the season, the Rangers beat the Penguins and Capitals (as well as the Trotz-coached Islanders) to finish second in the Metropolitan Division and earn home-ice advantage. Seriously though, Igor Shesterkin staked his claim for Hart Trophy in leading the Rags this far, and his reward is facing a Penguins team that is mostly healthy (except for starting goalie Tristan Jarry), including a Sidney Crosby who scored 12 points in his final nine games before the playoffs.
Game 1: Washington Capitals @ Florida Panthers (7:30 PM)
Can I just start by saying I appreciate that the NHL is staggering the starts of these series? Anyway, if you like goals, watch this series. In one corner, we have the Panthers who scored a staggering 4.11 goals per game this season, which includes future Senators legend Claude Giroux who came in at the trade deadline and put up 23 points in 18 games. In the other corner, we have the Washington Capitals, where Alex Ovechkin somehow hit 50 goals again, and is healthy for Game 1. I’d put the over-under for total goals in tonight’s game at 9.5.
Game 1: Nashville Predators @ Colorado Avalanche (9:30 PM)
The Colorado Avalanche were the class of the West, being the first team to clinch a playoff spot for what felt like months. But ask the 2018-19 Lightning how much that matters. The Predators have firepower, led by defenseman Roman Josi who scored the most points (96) by a d-man since Phil Housley in 1992-93. You know, back when lockouts were things only baseball did. That being said, this Avs team is really, really good. 23-year-old Cale Makar scored 86 points, which would be the most since Brian Leetch in 1995-96 if not for Josi. Nazem Kadri went point-per-game for the first time in his career with 87 points. And that’s forgetting MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog.
Game 1: Dallas Stars @ Calgary Flames
The Flames come in as heavy favourites after many had them written off to start the year, given the instability in coaching and uncertainty surrounding pending free agents Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. They only lapped the Pacific Division en route to a first-round matchup against a Stars team led by Joe Pavelski’s 81 points at 81 years of age, and 79 points by Jason Robertson at 7 years of age. Can Calgary withstand the pressure of actual expectations? Can Dallas put their ever-insecure fanbase at ease? We shall see.