Finishing as high as they could in the NHL standings this season didn’t help several clubs in the playoffs this season as there were a number of upsets in the first round. For the first time in league history all four division champions were knocked out in the opening round by the four wildcard teams. In addition, four of the last nine Stanley Cup champions have now been sent packing in the first round the following season with each of them bowing out in seven games.
The biggest surprise was seeing the Tampa Bay Lightning swept in four games by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Tampa led the league in points this season as they topped the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division. Their 62 season wins also tied a league record. On the other hand, Columbus made the playoffs on the last weekend of the season as the second wildcard team in the East. Columbus came back from a 3-0 deficit in game one in Tampa to win 4-3 and won the second game 5-1. They then took care of business at home by scores of 3-2 and 7-3.
The Calgary Flames, who won the Western Conference and Pacific Division, were eliminated in five games by the Colorado Avalanche, who also made the postseason in the last week of the campaign and finished as the second wildcard club in the West. Calgary shut Colorado out 4-0 at home in game one, but were then beaten 3-2 in overtime in the second game in Calgary. The Avalanche then won 6-2 and 3-2 in overtime at home and 5-1 in Calgary to end the series in just five contests.
The Nashville Predators managed to win a close battle to top the Central Division this year by edging out the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues. However, they dropped their series in six games to the Dallas Stars who were the first wildcard team in the West. Dallas edged Nashville 3-2 on the road in the first game with the Predators bouncing back for a 2-1 overtime victory in game two. Back in Dallas, Nashville won 3-2, but then lost the next three games by scores of 5-1 in Dallas, 5-3 in Nashville and 2-1 in overtime in game six in Dallas.
The Washington Capitals, who were the reigning Stanley Cup champions and winners of the Metropolitan division, went the full seven games against the Carolina Hurricanes who were the first wildcard team in the East. The first six games were all won by the home team as Washington won the first two games 4-2 and 4-3. Carolina were 5-0 and 2-1 victors in games three and four with Washington winning game five 6-0. They had a chance to win the series but Carolina bounced back with a 5-2 win to force game seven. The Capitals blew leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in the decider and were eventually beaten 4-3 in double overtime.
The St. Louis Blues finished the season in third place in the Central Division with the same points as the second-place Winnipeg Jets and therefore gave up home-ice advantage. There wasn’t much of an advantage in this series though as the first five games were all won by the visiting team. St. Louis then broke the trend by winning game six at home. The Blues won 2-1 and 4-3 in Winnipeg and then dropped a 6-3 and 2-1 decision in overtime at home. St. Louis won 3-2 in Winnipeg and at home in game six to take the series with all three of their wins and one of their losses being by just one goal.
The New York Islanders may have finished above the Pittsburgh Penguins by a few points in the Metropolitan Division, but considering the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017 their four-game sweep was generally considered and upset. The Islanders were making their first postseason in three years and won the first game at home 4-3 in overtime. They followed up with wins of 3-1, 4-1 and 3-1 to knock out Sidney Crosby and company in the minimum games needed and allowed just six goals against.
The other two series also went seven games and almost produced upsets, but the higher seeds ultimately prevailed. The Boston Bruins finished second in the Atlantic Division this year with the Toronto Maple Leafs coming third. They were meeting for the second consecutive season in the playoffs and for the third time since 2012/13. Like their last two clashes, this series also went the full seven games with Boston emerging victorious at home.
Boston lost home ice advantage in the very first game by losing 4-1 but then rebounded with their own 4-1 triumph in game two. The Leafs won 3-2 at home but gave home ice back to Boston by losing game four 6-4 at home. The teams took turns winning though so Toronto retook home-ice advantage with a 2-1 win in the fifth game. They had two chances to eliminate Boston but couldn’t do it as they were downed 4-2 at home in game six and 5-1 in game seven with the Bruins scoring two empty-net goals.
The San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights finished in second and third place respectively in the Pacific Division and this series proved to be the most dramatic. The teams split the first two games in San Jose with the Sharks winning 5-2 and Vegas 5-3. Vegas then took a stranglehold on the series by winning 6-3 and 5-0 at home for a 3-1 series lead. The Sharks bounced back with a 5-2 home win and a 2-1 double overtime win in Vegas in game six via a shorthanded goal. The Golden Knights held a 3-0 lead in the third period of game seven when they received a controversial five-minute major penalty with just over 10 minutes to play.
The Sharks took advantage of the situation by scoring four power-play goals in the span of 241 seconds to take a 4-3 lead. However, Vegas fought back and forced overtime by scoring with 47 seconds remaining in the third period with their goaltender pulled for an extra attacker. The Sharks then won the game and series late in overtime to become just the second team in NHL history to erase a three-goal deficit in the third period of a game-seven playoff game and win it.
Ten games in the first round went to overtime while only seven contests needed an extra period last season. There are no Canadian-based teams left in the playoffs and three of the eight series went the full seven games. The Bruins, Islanders and Sharks are now the only top-10 teams from the regular-season remaining in the playoffs. The round two matchups will see the Boston take on Columbus and Carolina face the Islanders in the East. Over in the West we have Colorado facing San Jose and Dallas taking on St. Louis.