TRAIKOS: What you may have missed from the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs

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Raise a glass to the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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It never disappoints. It only reaffirms why the NHL’s post-season is the best post-season in all of sports. This year was no different. Whether it was the number of series that have gone the distance, the jaw-dropping skill and scoring on display or the physicality that reminds you that you’re not watching the regular season, the first round will probably end up being the best round.

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Here’s what’s gone down so far:

Seventh Heaven

Is there anything better the playoffs than a Game 7? It doesn’t matter who you are rooting for, there’s something about a winner-take-all elimination game that brings out all the emotions. This weekend, we’re in for a treat. There are three Game 7s scheduled for Saturday, one after the other, beginning with Boston versus Carolina at 4:30 p.m. (ET), followed by Tampa Bay versus Toronto at 7 p.m., then Edmonton versus Los Angeles at 10:30 p.m. Based on the outcomes of Friday night’s action, we could be in store for another three Game 7s on Sunday. Fingers crossed it happens.

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Colorado remains the favourites

Darryl Sutter was right. Well, sort of. When asked about the challenge of facing Colorado in the first round of playoffs, the Calgary Flames head coach had this simple warning for whoever ended up as the wild card team in the West: “It’s going to be a waste of eight days.” Turns out he was off by two days. It took only six days for the Avalanche to sweep the Nashville Predators. In the process, Cale Makar (3 goals and 10 points) reminded everyone why he might be the most exciting offensive defenceman since Paul Coffey. 

Toronto’s Big 4 showed up

Regardless of what happens in Game 7 on Saturday, the Leafs are not going to blow up their core. After all, every single one of them showed up in a big way this time around. Auston Matthews leads the team with four goals and eight points; Mitch Marner has two goals and seven points; William Nylander has three goals and seven points; John Tavares has three goals and six points. Combined, they have scored 12 of the team’s 23 goals, which is far more than they have done in the past. As we said countless times, if the Big 4 are Toronto’s Best 4, then they should be able to advance to the second round … right?

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Goonery won’t go away

It wouldn’t be a first round without the obligatory head shots, suspensions and the kind of blood-curdling violence that is usually reserved for Quentin Tarantino movies. Toronto’s Kyle Clifford kicked things off in Game 1 when he was suspended for his hit-from-behind on Tampa Bay’s Ross Colton. Since then, we’ve had multiple line brawls and plenty of questionable hits. Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse was suspended for head-butting Los Angeles’ Philip Danault in the face, while Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby was knocked out of a game after being elbowed in the face by New York’s Jacob Trouba, who somehow escaped supplemental discipline. 

Refs, you suck!

The playoffs are never easy for referees, simply because playoff hockey is so much more physical than regular season hockey. To the refs’ credit, they appear to be calling the game from the book, which has resulted in a parade of players to the penalty box. And yet, they are still getting things wrong. Toronto fans were complaining on Thursday night after a phantom high-sticking penalty resulted in Tampa Bay tying the game. But Tampa Bay fans were chanting “Refs, you suck!” after Steven Stamkos was mugged in overtime with no penalty called. 

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Scoring is up

This was a great year for goal-scoring in the NHL. Eight players reached the 100-point mark, while four scored 50 or more goals. The best part? It’s continued in the playoffs. After teams averaged 3.14 goals per game in the regular season, it would be natural to think that the offence would dry up in the tighter-checking style of the playoffs. Instead, it’s been the opposite. Forget about 2-1 games. We’ve seen six games where a team scored seven goals already. As a result, teams are averaging a whopping 3.31 goals per game in the playoffs — the highest-scoring opening round since 1995 (3.40).

The stars are shining

The reason scoring is up so high is because we might be witnessing the new Golden Era for goal-scoring. I don’t remember another time when there was this much talent concentrated in the league. You’ve got the new guard, which includes Connor McDavid, who leads the playoffs with 12 points, Cale Makar (10 points) and Auston Matthews (eight points). But you’ve also got the old guard still kicking around making an impact, like Brad Marchand (11 points), Sidney Crosby nine points) and Victor Hedman (seven points). Add it all up and it’s a great time to be a hockey fan — but not so much fun to be an NHL goalie.

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God help the goalies

It started with the injuries. So, so many injuries. It got so bad that at one point, there were three teams relying on their third stringer for the No. 1 job. Beyond that, there haven’t been too many stand-on-your-head performances outside of Calgary and Dallas. Quite the opposite. Vezina Trophy favourite Igor Shesterkin was pulled twice. Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner, has a .885 save percentage. Marc-Andre Fleury, who Minnesota acquired at the trade deadline, lost his starting job for a must-win Game 6, which the Wild lost. 

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