The Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning. The New York Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners of back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017. The San Jose Sharks upended the Vegas Golden Knights, last year’s Western Conference representative in the Stanley Cup Final. The Carolina Hurricanes upset the defending champion Washington Capitals, ousting them in double overtime Wednesday night. The Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins also advanced. In the end, five of the eight teams with home-ice advantage in the initial round were eliminated, all four wild cards teams won – a first for North American sports – and it was the first time in NHL history the two top seeds were eliminated in the first round.
“Crazy playoffs, right?” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams told Alex Prewitt of Sports Illustrated. “Everyone says you just get in, just get invited to the dance, and it’s anyone’s game.”
Our postseason preview did warn you there would be some upsets and correctly picked the Islanders, Blues and Stars to advance, giving the latter two teams the fourth- (8%) and seventh-best (6%) chances to win the Stanley Cup, respectively, before the playoffs began. It also projected a seven-game series for Washington and Carolina with each getting the same chances (7%) for a championship run. That might not sound like something to brag about but consider that eight out of the top 11 betting favorites for the title are now reserving tee times on the golf course.
Now that the first-round dust has settled, the team to beat is the Bruins. Boston finished third overall in the regular-season standings (49-24-9, 107 points) and has the best record of the remaining playoff teams, giving the Bruins home-ice advantage through the rest of the playoffs. Their top line, featuring Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, dominated opponents in goal differential, 56 to 39 at even strength, with almost 100 more scoring chances than their opponents, per data from Natural Stat Trick. Marchand finished the first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs with nine points. David Pastrnak and David Krejci were stellar on the second line, outscoring opponents 21 to 17 with a 182-to-118 edge in scoring chances during the regular season. Against Toronto they managed a combined four goals and seven assists.
The West remains wide open, although the winner of the second-round matchup between the Blues and Stars should tell us who advances to the Stanley Cup Final. Since the All-Star break, St. Louis and Dallas have been two of the best defensive teams at even strength, giving up the fourth- and seventh-fewest scoring chances per 60 minutes, respectively, per Natural Stat Trick. The Blues will need to be at their best defensively to stop the Stars’ top line of Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin. Those three outscored the Nashville Predators 6 to 0 at even strength, with three of those goals originating in the slot or crease.
“Our line’s all about work,” Seguin told the Dallas Morning News’ Matthew DeFranks. “It’s about will. Obviously, we have the skill and the talent there. But when we’re working hard, we’re happy to go up against anybody.”