Roberto Luongo, Marcus Kruger

Backing up the buzz: This year’s first round really was special

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Hockey fans can find something to enjoy in almost any playoff year, but there was a feeling – maybe intangible – that this first round was special. Maybe it was the steady stream of overtimes and stunning array of dramatic comebacks. Perhaps it was the intense physicality and exciting style of play.

By my own subjective accounts, there was only series that could be considered a relative “dud”: the Detroit Red Wings’ sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes. Yet even in that case, hockey fans were given the chance to marvel at the sublime skills of Pavel Datsyuk and the locomotive force that is the Red Wings’ offense.

Ultimately, the Blackhawks-Canucks, Canadiens-Bruins and Sabres-Flyers series were everything we hoped they could be while Kings-Sharks and Lightning-Penguins matches exceeded most peoples’ expectations. There was plenty to like in the Predators-Ducks and Rangers-Capitals clashes as well, as the former series was surprisingly wide-open while the latter featured suffocating defense.

Whatever series or factors drew you in, the NHL’s willing to back up our feelings with concrete facts.

* The four Game 7s were the most in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1995.

* Each of the final nine days of the first round featured an overtime game, an unprecedented streak. There were 12 OTs in that span.

* The 14 total overtimes were the most since the record 15 in 2001.

* The 49 total games matched the most ever in the first round.

* There were two Game 7 overtimes, tying the pair in 1997 as the most ever in the first round.

* Seven of the eight series had a game decided in overtime.

* Three of the eight series ended with an overtime goal.

* Road teams posted a winning record (26-23), one victory short of the most ever in the first round.

* Following a 2010 first round in which each of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference were toppled, the top three seeds in both the East and West survived the first round for the first time since 1996.

Obviously, with four series instead of eight, it’s unfair to ask the second round to match the first from a quantity standpoint. With that in mind, the question is: can the semifinals hope to bring the same level of quality hockey? It’s a tough mark to hit, but hockey fans will enjoy finding out.

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”