TORONTO — The first round of the NHL playoffs weeded out any pretenders in quick fashion, with only the Boston Bruins needing seven games to advance. Along the way, there was an abnormal amount of blowouts, a merry-go-round of goaltenders trying to steal a win and an increase in disciplinary action among the early post-season narratives.
Here are five storylines that could carry over into Round 2.
SUSPENSIONS ON THE RISE — This year’s playoffs have already had more suspensions than 2017’s post-season despite only being one round deep. Vice-president of player safety George Parros, who is in his first year at the helm, suspended four players totalling six games in Round 1. Toronto’s Nazem Kadri received the heaviest suspension, three games for boarding, while Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey earned a one-game ban for cross-checking despite not being called for a penalty on the ice. Los Angeles defenceman Drew Doughty and Nashville’s Ryan Hartman received one-game suspensions each for checking to the head. With the intensity only increasing as the playoffs go deeper, it’ll be interesting to see if Parros continues to crack down on players breaking the rules or if the rules loosen with each game.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS SHOWING THEY’RE FOR REAL — The Golden Knights became the first expansion team in any major North American professional sport to win their division and make the post-season in their inaugural year. Despite all their early success, doubters said the true test would come at playoff time. Well, Vegas responded with a four-game sweep over the L.A. Kings. The Golden Knights are the lowest-scoring team of the eight to advance, averaging only 1.75 goals per game, but also had the best goaltender of the first round in Marc-Andre Fleury, who leads all netminders with a 0.65 goals-against average and .970 save percentage. A series win over Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks would add another chapter to their magical season, while a loss cannot be considered a disappointing end at this point.
OFFENCE, NOT DEFENCE, WINNING GAMES — Seven of the eight teams that advanced to the second round averaged at least 3.20 goals per game, with only Vegas making it out of Round 1 relying on goaltending. The defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins scored the most at 4.67 goals per game to eliminate the Philadelphia Flyers in six games. Meanwhile, 27 goaltenders made an appearance in the first round and Philadelphia used three different netminders in an effort to find a solution. Four of the eight teams still alive called upon their backup at some point, even for relief in a blowout, but all have a bona fide No. 1 they should be able to turn to from here on out.
NO NEED FOR OVERTIME — Just five of the 43 first-round games needed extra time to decide an outcome this year, and four of those happened in the Washington Capitals’ six-game series win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. In comparison, last season’s first round had 18 of 42 games go to overtime, with all eight series needing OT to determine at least one contest. Much of the post-season so far hasn’t needed extra time because many games haven’t even been close. There were just 11 one-goal games in the opening round. Vegas and L.A. were in on four of those, all going the Golden Knights’ way. No one will complain about more OT hockey especially now that the games are expected to be more intense.
WINNIPEG LAST CANADIAN TEAM STANDING — Winnipeg’s second-round matchup with the Nashville Predators is highly anticipated after the regular season both teams put together. The Predators finished first in the NHL standings, three points ahead of the Jets, and are last year’s Cup finalist. Winnipeg is in uncharted territory after winning the franchise’s first playoff series in five games against the Minnesota Wild. The series also features two Vezina Trophy finalists in Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. The Jets will have more national eyes on them against Nashville as they are the only team remaining north of the border after the Toronto Maple Leafs were eliminated by the Bruins.