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.

After lopsided loss, Julien says it’s ‘not about the young D’

Claude Julien

The Boston Bruins’ young, makeshift defense failed to come through Thursday night as the B’s were thumped, 6-2, on home ice by the Winnipeg Jets.

Without injured veterans Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, the defensive pairings were as follows:

Torey KrugAdam McQuaid
Joe MorrowKevan Miller
Matt IrwinZach Trotman

And let’s just say, turnovers were a factor:

That was Irwin getting checked off the puck there.

“I had the puck behind the net, and I went to one side of the net, and then I just didn’t use the net to my advantage,” he explained afterwards, per CSN New England. “He got his stick in there, obviously stripped me of the puck, and we all know what happened after that. I take full blame for that one.”

But head coach Claude Julien wasn’t willing to blame inexperience for the poor outing.

“It’s not about youth. It’s not about the young D,” said Julien. “It’s about our game without the puck. I think we might have gotten a little excited here about our offense and forgot about the other part of our game.”

And to be fair, even Boston’s more accomplished d-men had their challenging moments.

Here’s Krug failing to get position on Nicolas Petan in front of the Bruins’ net:

All in all, it was a tough night.

“We’ll correct those [mistakes] tomorrow in practice,” said Irwin. “We’re a confident group in here. We liked our offense. We liked the chances we were getting. All those mistakes, D-zone, are something that we’re going to work on and get better every day.”

The Bruins host their rivals from Montreal on Saturday.

Greene named 11th captain in Devils history

Dion Phaneuf; Andy Greene
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Andy Greene has been named Bryce Salvador’s successor as New Jersey’s team captain.

Greene, an undrafted free agent that’s spent his entire nine-year career with the Devils organization, becomes the 11th captain in the franchise’s history and third American to wear the “C” (Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner were the others).

A former standout at Miami of Ohio, Greene — who served as an alternate captain in each of the last two seasons — has developed into a steady, durable blueliner that hasn’t missed a game in three years. He’s also locked into the Devils long term, having signed a five-year, $25 million extension with the club last summer.

That deal kicks in this season, and runs through 2020.

As for the rest of the leadership group, four players will serve as alternate captains this season: Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Mike Cammalleri, and Adam Henrique.

Elias and Zajac both wore an “A” in New Jersey last year, while Cammalleri and Henrique are first-timers.