The first round of the 2016/17 NHL playoffs have concluded with the Toronto Maple Leafs being both the last team to make the postseason and the last team to be eliminated in the first round. The Leafs were one of the top stories of the opening round, but there’s no doubt the Nashville Predators pulled of the most unlikely upset by ousting the Chicago Blackhawks in a four-game sweep. Yes, Leafs fans will have you believe their team deserved all the headlines, but it’s par for the course for the Toronto franchise to ultimately let their fans down once again. After 50 years of the same old thing they should be used to it by now.
The Leafs’ penchant for blowing leads cost them in their series against the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals as they held a 2-1 series lead and then lost three straight. They also had a 1-0 lead in the sixth and final game with just over seven minutes to go, but couldn’t hang on to it. It was quite a roller coaster ride for their fans though as all six games were decided by one goal with an NHL record-tying five games going into overtime. This rookie-laden Leafs team could be a force to reckon with in the future with the addition of one or two good defenceman and another experienced forward.
And speaking of overtime, the first round saw an NHL record 18 games to into an extra period. The Toronto vs Washington series accounted for five of those games and the Ottawa vs Boston series featured four overtime contests with Ottawa winning the series in six games. But no matter what angle you look at it, Nashville’s four-game sweep was certainly more surprising than the Leafs taking Washington to six games, especially when you consider the problems the Capitals have had in the playoffs over the past few seasons.
Nashville was the lowest ranked of the 16 playoff teams this season with 94 points, one fewer than Toronto. They took on the Central Division and Western Conference champions in Chicago and had dropped the regular-season series 4-1 to the Hawks. However, goaltender Pekka Rinne shut the Hawks out in the first two games in the Windy City even though the Predators possessed the worst road record of all 16 playoff teams this season. This was the first-ever four-game series win for the Predators franchise and it was the first time in NHL history that an eighth-seeded team swept and top-seeded team in a conference series.
The 36-year-old Rinne allowed just three goals against all series and only one of those came at even strength. He stopped 123 of 126 shots against for a save percentage of 97.6. It’ll be interesting to see if Nashville’s youngsters and Rinne can keep it up in the second round as they’ll be taking on the St. Louis Blues, who eliminated the Minnesota Wild in five games in the first round. Other first round series saw the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games and the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the Eastern Conference.
In the West, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Calgary Flames in four games and the young Edmonton Oilers ousted the San Jose Sharks in six. The second round matchups are the Washington Capitals vs the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators vs the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, St. Louis tangles with Nashville in the West while Anaheim will battle it out with Edmonton. No matter what happens from now on in the playoffs, the Predators have earned a spot in the history books with their first-round performance against Chicago.