HOCKEY FEVER: A Captivating Finish to the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs - The Jewish Voice
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Sunday, July 3, 2022

HOCKEY FEVER: A Captivating Finish to the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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By: Marvin Azrak

The first round of the vigorous 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs ensnared fans worldwide to the apex, where a humongous deputation of casual fans has parachuted back into hockey. The stanza produced just a single sweep, two game 6’s, and a goddy five-game 7s.

Two series finales were decided in overtime, and one had a series comeback for the ages.  It has us all glad Monday’s an off-day because the last 14 days, especially this past weekend, have been as riveting as this rapid sport gets with 51 out of a potential 56 games of opening-round playoff hockey in the back of the net.

So here’s what we took away from a bodacious 72 hours of hockey.

 

EAST: ‘COMEBACK CATS”, PANTHERS WON THEIR FIRST SERIES SINCE  1996

It was a long time coming for the passionate fans of sunrise, who belatedly embraced streak-snapping hero and series MVP Carter Verhaeghe, who single-handedly helped the Panthers rally from a 2-1 series deficit for a rousing 2-4, 5-1, 1-6, 3-2(OT), 5-3, 4-3(OT) victory over the Washington Capitals. Florida was down 2-1 late in game four when the presidents’ trophy winners effectively entered the playoffs and knotted the series before rallying from a 3-0 deficit in game five on the four-point back of Verhaeghe, before advancing to round two with a 4-3 extra-time win in the nation’s capital, as Verheage capped off the best series in franchise history with the clincher. Unfortunately for the Cats, Mason Marchment may miss game one of the Sunshine state rematch with the Lightning in round two, which begins on Tuesday in Sunrise, due to injury.

SERIES MVP: Carter Verhaeghe (6 goals, six assists, 12 points)

UNSUNG HERO: Claude Giroux

 

CHAMPIONSHIP METAL, LIGHTNING “BOLT” PAST LEAFS IN 7:

Well, I got this one precisely right. Tampa Bay did it again and rallied back from a 3-2 series deficit and persisted with the indomitable Maple Leafs for their ninth straight series victory dating back to 2020. Nick Paul played hero with his two goals in the 2-1 game seven win in Canada being his first career postseason goals. As for Toronto, they gave a valiant effort but ultimately fell to 0-10 in close-out games in the last decade and extended their series-winless drought to 18 seasons, as well as their cup drought to 55 years.

Luckily for us hockey fans, we get a sunshine state battle between the two-time reigning champions in Tampa and the presidents’ trophy winners in Florida. The two clashed in the playoffs last year, with the Lightning defeating the Panthers in six games en route to their second straight Stanley Cup. Brayden Point may miss game one for the Lightning after slamming into the boards early in game 7. Point previously saved the Bolts seasonably, scoring the OT winner in the 4-3 game, six victories that set up the exhilarating encounter on Saturday, which they won as well.

SERIES MVP: Nikita Kucherov (2 goals, six assists, 8 points)

UNSUNG HERO: Nick Paul

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) celebrates with teammate Victor Hedman (77) after knocking the Toronto Maple Leafs out of the Stanley Cup playoffs in Game 7 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series in Toronto, Saturday, May 14, 2022. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

HOME ICE ADVANTAGE TO RALEIGH:

For the contingent of fans that say home-ice advantage doesn’t matter, show them this series.

Carolina subjugated the Bruins in all four games at PNC arena by an 18-6 aggregate, including a tidy  3-2 victory in game seven. But in Boston, the Bruins throttled the Canes 14-6 in the three wins. However, when it boiled down to game seven, Max Domi socked his first two career playoff goals, and veteran Anti Raanta secured his maiden playoff series conquest at 32 years of age with 27 saves and was immense down the stretch to send the Metropolitan division champs to round two. It was an emotional series for the netminder, who was injured in game two but returned in game four. Of the eight first-round series, this is the lone one I got wrong because, as a Rangers fan, I didn’t want to see them against Carolina, and now that distasteful matchup will indeed be taking place in round 2.

SERIES MVP: ANTI RAANTA, 3-2, .927 save%, 0.70 goals saved above expected, which means based on the shot type and volume, how many would an average NHL goalie give up.

UNSUNG HERO: Max Domi, two goals in game 7.

 

NO QUIT IN NY:

This team truly does embody that social media motto. New York became the first team in playoff history to win a series by claiming three consecutive comeback victories while facing elimination. They were down 2-0 in game five and 3-1 in the series and got fortunate with Sidney Crosby leaving the game due to injury.

Then, 25 minutes from extinction, the Rangers promptly scored three straight goals within four minutes and received an exquisite third from Igor Shesterkin in net to help the Filip Chytil go-ahead power-play tally stand up in a 5-3 win. Two nights later, they rallied again, down 2-0 via four points from Mika Zibanejad(Two goals and two assists) and two goals from Chris Kreider, including the game-winner with 1:24 left. However, the play of the contest was from Shesterkin, who sent a beautiful 120-FT tape-tape pass to Mika Zibanejad, who set up Chris Kreider for the Blueshirts’ third of the game, giving them a 3-2 lead at that juncture in the second period.

Back at a raucous  MSG for game seven with Sidney Crosby, Rikard  Rakkell, and back in the fold for the Rangers season was hanging in the balance, as they trailed 3-2 with just under 6:00 remaining before the profound Mika Zibanejad, who agreed to an eight-year deal worth $68 million before the season, ripped, gripped and snapped a shot past Pittsburg goaltender Tristan Jarry, who appeared in a game for the first time since April 14th due to a broken foot. Pittsburg would have its chances towards the end of regulation.

Still, Shesterkin stood tall as the Vezina winner and Hart candidate has done throughout the season,  to the tune of the rowdy Garden crowd chanting his name. The game would head into overtime, with the shots 40-27 in favor of the Pens, who were outplaying the Rangers in the finale and the series. But it was the Blueshirts who delivered in the sudden-death extra frame, as Keandre Miller drew a penalty on Brock McGinn, before the capitalization by the previously struggling Artemi Panarin, who punctuated the Blueshirts historic comeback by sneaking a wrister past Jarry, which implored many of the  18,006 fans inside   “The jungle” as Chris Kreider called it to go bananas.

SERIES MVP: Mika Zibanejad(3 goals, eight games, 11 points)

Unsung hero: Igor Shesterkin, .911 save % in series, and rebounded from a letdown in games 3&4 where he was pulled due to performance, with 29 saves in game 5, 35 saves in game six plus an assist, and an astonishing 42 saves in game 7  to become victorious in a playoff debut.

This was an infiltration of resilience and luck for the Rangers, primarily because the Pens were banged-up throughout the last two weeks, aside from game 7. However, the resiliency of this group, including Shesterkin, who’s had to be the backbone all year long in goal, to rally down 3-1 in the series, as well as deficits in the last three contests, only bodes well for the future of this young team beyond this year’s playoffs. What they just did against a formidable and seasoned Pittsburg squad can’t be underscored, as it was many of the young  Rangers players such as Miller, Shesterkin Filip Chytil, Braiden Schneider, Alexi Lafreniere(4 points in RD1), and among a slew of others first tastes of playoff hockey too.

I wholeheartedly expect the Hurricanes to manhandle the Rangers in round two in five games, for I don’t think New York has nearly enough depth nor experience to take down this buzzsaw who, as Brad Marchand quipped, are the “Toughest team in the East.” However, the Blueshirts have exceeded expectations this year is enough for fans to latch onto when they head into summer.

 

WEST:  WINNINGTON

Blues fans’ acquired nostalgia dating back to when their team won the cup in 2019, and the preeminent catalyst to their turnaround was the same player that ultimately saved this series for ST Louis in goalie Jordan Binnington. Ville Husso was between the pipes in game one, flourishing with a 4-0 road shutout on a night where David Perron recorded a hat trick.

But he struggled in games 2&3, as Minnesota bounced back convincingly with 6-2 and 5-1 victories. Looking to knot the series on home ice, the Blues went to Binnington. It unlocked the dominance of their Central division rivals from the regular season, as they posted 5-2, 5-1, and 5-1 wins in succession to clinch the series in six games and advance to face the juggernaut that is the Colorado Avalanche in round two, who is coming off a first-round sweep of the Nashville Predators last week.

The two clashed in last year’s first round, where the Avs mopped them for four straight nights. Still, this year’s Blues team looks a bit different with Pavel Buchnevich, the emergence of Jordan Kyrou, and a galvanized Binnington, among others, where they’ll be able to put forth an effort that would push them six games.

SERIES MVP: Joran Binnington (3-0, .943 save %, 2.10 goals saved above expected.)

 

WE FINALLY GET THE BATTLE OF ALBERTA!

That’s more of a round two headline, but you get the jest. The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were both pushed the distance in their first-round gauntlets, but both emerged victorious, setting up a playoff series between the two bitter rivals for the first time in 31 years.

It was expected to be a luxury for the Oilers, especially after their magisterial combined 14-2 wins in games 2&3. However, kudos to the burgeoning Kings, who pushed them to the brink with two straight victories and a 3-2 series advantage.

Edmonton had to gibe in games six and seven but pulled through on the back of 30 saves from Mike Smith and two goals from Evander Kane in the 4-2 game six wins, preluding them returning to their home country and posting a gladdening  2-0 triumph, where the 40-year old Smith recorded a shutout. Conner Mcdavid added a staggering goal to clinch his first series win since 2017 with the Oilers.

SERIES MVP: Conner McDavid (4 goals, ten assists, 14 points)

UNSUNG HERO: Evander Kane (7 goals, two assists, 9 points, and had a hat trick in game three)

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