NHL Power Rankings: Most surprising playoff performances

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we jump into the time machine to take a look at surprising performances from past postseasons.

Specifically, some of the most surprising postseason performances. Completely out of nowhere performances from players that no one really saw happening.

The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs were supposed to have started this past week, but with the season temporarily paused we are not sure when they are going to begin. In the meantime, we can always take a stroll down memory lane.

Which performances make the cut this week?

To the rankings!

1. John Druce, Washington Capitals (1989-90). This is the surprising playoff performance that all other surprising playoff performances are measured against. The Capitals reached the Wales Conference Final during the 1990 postseason, and it was Druce’s 14 goals in 15 games that helped drive them to the NHL’s final four. Dino Ciccarelli (eight goals) was the only other player on the team that scored more than four goals that postseason. It was so surprising because at the time Druce had scored only 16 career goals in 93 career games.

2. Fernando Pisani, Edmonton Oilers (2005-06). The Oilers were a Game 7 away from winning the 2005-06 Stanley Cup and there were a lot of big contributors that helped them get there. Chris Pronger was at the top of his game and a game-changer on defense. Dwayne Roloson arrived at the trade deadline and solved their goaltending issue. And the leading goal-scorer in the entire playoffs was … Pisani? He scored a very respectable 18 goals in 80 games during the regular season, but ended up pacing the entire league in the playoffs with 14 goals in 24 games. It helped him get a four-year, $10 million contract with the Oilers. Prior to the 2007-08 season he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, missed 27 games, and was never really the same after that.

3. Marcel Bonin, Montreal Canadiens (1958-59). Bonin won four Stanley Cups with the Canadiens throughout the 1950s as a role player. But it was the 1958-59 championship where he ended up taking on a starring role due to the absences of Rocket Richard and Jean Beliveau (only three playoff games each). Bonin finished with 10 goals and 15 total points in 11 playoff games and was the hero of the Stanley Cup run. That performance came after he scored just 13 goals in 57 regular season games. For his career, he only scored one playoff goal in 49 playoff games outside of this run. His 10 goals in 11 games remains one of the best goal-scoring performances in NHL playoff history.

4. Ville Leino, Philadelphia Flyers (2009-10). Leino arrived in the NHL prior to the 2008-09 season with much fanfare and was supposed to be a huge addition for the Detroit Red Wings. It did not work out as planned, and after a rather uninspiring start to his career was traded to the Flyers during the 2009-10 season. It was with the Flyers that he absolutely went off in the 2010 postseason, finishing with 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 19 games to help lead them to the Stanley Cup Final. It was the high point of his career, and was a big part of why he ended up getting a huge free agency contract with the Buffalo Sabres.

5. Jaroslav Halak, Montreal Canadiens (2009-10). Nothing changes the playoffs more than a hot goalie, and during the spring of 2010 no goalie was hotter than Halak. At the time, Halak was in a 1A-1B situation with Carey Price and ended up securing the top job going into the playoffs for the No. 8 seed Canadiens. All he did was single handedly steal back-to-back series against the Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Canadiens were clearly the inferior team in both series based on which teams carried the play, but Halak was the X-Factor.

6. Johan Hedberg, Pittsburgh Penguins (2000-01). Early in the 2000-01 season Mario Lemieux came out of retirement for the Penguins and helped make them a Stanley Cup contender again. The only flaw: They needed a goalie. Instead of going for a big-name goalie at the deadline, they made the under-the-radar move to acquire Hedberg — with zero games of NHL experience at the time — from the San Jose Sharks. After starting just nine regular season games following the trade, he went into the playoffs as the unproven starter and ended up backstopping to the team to the Eastern Conference Final.

7. Alyn McCauley, Toronto Maple Leafs (2001-02). The last Maple Leafs team that wasn’t a colossal postseason disappointment was the 2002 team that went all the way to the Eastern Conference Final, and it was McCauley that helped drive them there with a stunning offensive performance. He was the team’s second-leading postseason scorer with 15 points in the 24 games. He had just 16 points in 82 regular season games.

8. Bryan Bickell, Chicago Blackhawks (2013). The 2013 Blackhawks were a monster that dominated the league from start to finish. Their overall depth was on display in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that year when superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane both went through extended scoring slumps and it still never slowed them down. The reason it never slowed them down? Players like Bickell stepped up with nine goals and 17 total points in 23 games. Just for some perspective on that performance: In Bickell’s career his 82-game regular season average was 13 goals and 26 points.

9. Chris Kontos, Los Angeles Kings (1988-89). This was a big year for hockey on the west coast because it was the year Wayne Gretzky arrived in Los Angeles. The Kings made the playoffs upset and Gretzky’s former team (the Edmonton Oilers) in the first round, winning a seven-game series before being swept in the second round. For as great as Gretzky was that year, the Kings’ leading playoff goal scorer was Kontos with nine goals in 11 games. Kontos appeared in seven regular season games that year and scored two goals. For his career, he scored 54 goals in 230 games (and 24 of those came in his final year as a member of the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning).

10. Dave Lowry, Florida Panthers (1995-96). John Vanbiesbrouck’s goaltending was the biggest factor in the third-year Panthers making a miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final. But there was also Lowry’s performance to help carry the offense with his 10 goals and 17 points in 22 games. For his career he was good for about 10 goals and 20 points over 82 games.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

flyers trade
Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

— Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

— Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

“We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

“I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

“Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.

Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — No team in over 25 years has been more dominant than the Vegas Golden Knights through the first two games of a Stanley Cup Final.

They have outscored the Florida Panthers by eight goals, including a 7-2 victory in Game 2 that put the Knights two wins from the first championship in the franchise’s short six-year history.

It will take a rare rally for the Panthers to come back as the series shifts to Florida for Game 3 on Thursday. Teams that took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era, but the Panthers opened the playoffs by storming back from 3-1 down to beat the heavily favored Boston Bruins.

Florida will have to significantly up its level of play to beat a Vegas team that won by three goals on Saturday and then five in this game. The last team to win the first two games of a Cup Final by more than eight combined goals was the 1996 Colorado Avalanche – who outscored the Panthers by nine.

“I think our depth has been a strength all year,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It is the biggest reason we are still here, why we beat Winnipeg, Edmonton, Dallas. I just feel that we have the best team from player one through 20.”

Jonathan Marchessault scored twice for the Knights and started an early blitz that chased Sergei Bobrovsky, the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie.

Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all of them coming after the first round. The only player with more following the opening round was Pavel Bure, who scored 13 for Vancouver in 1994.

“They want to set the tone with being undisciplined like Game 1 and we set the tone back,” Marchessault said. “It was scoring that first goal there. But we’re still pretty far from our goal here.”

Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

It was too much for Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, carried Florida through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, he had won 11 of his past 12 starts with a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage during that stretch. But he’s given up eight goals in 87 minutes against Vegas, compiling a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage in the series.

“We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Knights. Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

“He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

A group of four fans behind one of the nets wore sweaters that spelled out his last name, and Hill has often received the loudest cheers from Knights fans, reminiscent of when Marc-Andre Fleury was in goal for Vegas in its first three seasons.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hill said. “I’m just enjoying it, cherishing every day. It’s been awesome to be part of the journey with this team.”

The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

“We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

“I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

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MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.