Roundtable: First Round impressions; potential Second Round upsets

Which player or team impressed you the most during the First Round?

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Does it have to be a player from a team that won? Because Jake Oettinger was unbelievable. Not only in Game 7, but that entire series. I never would have guessed he would take over the job so quickly, especially given the way their depth chart looked at the start of the season, but that net is his now and he looks sensational. What a performance. He almost single handedly willed that team to the Second Round.

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Jake Oettinger impressed me the most in the opening round. He was absolutely sensational, especially in Game 7 when he stopped 64 shots as the Flames threw everything but the kitchen sink at Dallas. It’s too bad the Stars started Oettinger in the minors to start the season, playing Braden Holtby and Anton Khudobin, as they could have finished higher than the first wild card which would have given them possibly an easier matchup.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL contentConnor McDavid. Considering the circumstances, he delivered arguably the best two games of his career in Games 6 and 7 with his team facing elimination against the Kings. In Game 7, with Leon Draisaitl injured and having a reduced impact, McDavid played a whopping 27:23 and factored on both goals in the 2-0 win. Time will tell how much further he can carry the Oilers.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

James O’Brien, NHL writer: As great as Cale Makar was, Connor McDavid was absolutely superhuman. Deep down, I’m not sure how anyone can truly believe that he isn’t the best player in the NHL.

From a team-wide perspective, the Avalanche look like the juggernauts we expected.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Carter Verhaeghe showed us during the regular season he’s a very good player and that performance rolled over into the postseason with 12 points in six games against the Capitals. The loaded Lightning didn’t have room on the roster for him so the Panthers signed him and he’s blossomed with them, becoming one of their most valuable contributors in a lineup that is built to win a Stanley Cup. All of Verhaeghe’s points came at even strength with two of his goals coming via overtime.

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Which Second Round series has the biggest potential to end in upset?

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The Blues/Avalanche series. St. Louis has the depth and talent to hang with Colorado, especially after the Blues pretty easily dismantled the Wild to close them out (outscoring MIN 15-5 in Games 4-6). The question mark I have with the Avs is with their mental fortitude – this group has yet to prove it can overcome adversity within a series and still emerge victorious – so if Jordan Binnington can channel the best version of his game and steal one or two wins early on, maybe things will tilt in St. Louis’ favor.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: I’m going to go ahead and cancel out either team in the Battle of Florida, as that seems like cheating.

Despite a pile of serious injuries, the Rangers looked awful against the Penguins, yet advanced for the same reason I picked them to win: they’ve been really, really lucky this season. Few remaining teams maintain those elements of luck like the Rangers still do: a power play that can get hot, some dangerous high-end talent, and Igor Shesterkin. Shesterkin could only do so much last round, but absolutely has the ability to swing a series.

Most of the truly flawed playoff teams fell in the First Round, so buckle up for a fun ride.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: I am going to take the easy way out here and say Florida-Tampa Bay because, well, I am not really sure who the upset would be? I could see either team winning it, and depending on who you see as the favorite (Florida for the better regular season record; Tampa Bay as defending back-to-back champions and with the experience) it could end up as an upset in your eyes. Florida is probably the favorite on paper this season, but I see Tampa Bay winning it. 

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: I don’t know if I would consider it an upset, but the Tampa Bay Lightning finished 12 points behind the Florida Panthers. The Lightning are the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and seem to be able to turn it on when they need to. The Panthers will need outstanding goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and I am not sure he is capable of doing so in the playoffs.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: During many postseasons we get a hot goalie — someone who will carry a team through a few rounds, maybe even to a Stanley Cup. As wild as it might be, is it crazy to think Mike Smith can’t keep up this heater he’s been on since April? In 16 regular season and playoff games played since the start of April, Smith has a .943 5-on-5 save percentage and a 2.19 goals saved above average, per Natural Stat Trick. The Flames already almost got goalie’d in the First Round by Jake Oettinger. Maybe Smith can hold the fort while McDavid, Draisaitl, Kane, and Oilers power play lead the way?

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    Blue Jackets acquire D Damon Severson from Devils after he signs 8-year deal

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils on Friday after the veteran defenseman and soon-to-be free agent signed an eight-year $50 million contract.

    Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sent a third-round pick, 80th overall, in this month’s draft to the Devils for Severson, who will be under contract through the 2030-31 NHL season.

    Severson had 58 goals and 205 assists in 647 career appearances with the Devils since making his NHL debut in 2014-15. He scored seven game-winning goals and averaged more than 21 minutes of playing time during his nine seasons. The 28-year-old had seven goals and 26 assists this season, including two game-winning goals, in 81 games.

    “Damon is a versatile defenseman who has great vision, moves the puck extremely well, has good size and can play heavy minutes at both ends of the ice,” Kekalainen said.

    The Canadian was selected in the second round in the 2012 draft. He has collected 30 or more points five times in his career and twice notched 11 or more goals. He played in every game in three straight seasons from 2018-21 and has played 80 or more contests four times in his career.

    With the addition of the third-round pick, New Jersey now has six selections in the draft, including its own picks in rounds two, four, five, six and seven.

    Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

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    Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

    The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn’t return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

    Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe‘s OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.

    The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

    “I felt great – I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

    Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour‘s goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

    Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida’s power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

    At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

    “You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

    Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

    “He’s going to come back no matter what,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

    Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

    The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn’t get an assist on Verhaeghe’s goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

    Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

    “It was fine,” he quipped.

    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.