The salary cap was supposed to create parity in the NHL. For the moment, it has succeeded. Three of the four teams that made the 2015 conference finals will not be competing in this year’s second round.
Nashville won its first-ever Game 7 and the Anaheim Ducks lost a Game 7 on home ice for the fourth straight season as the NHL postseason took on a decidedly fresh complexion with the exits of Anaheim, Chicago and the New York Rangers (not to mention the L.A. Kings).
Let’s get to the bests and worst of Wednesday’s two-game slate.
1. Pekka Rinne, G, Nashville: 36 saves in series-clinching win at Anaheim
2. Shane Prince, F, N.Y. Islanders: Two goals in a win over Tampa Bay
3. Ryan Strome, F, N.Y. Islanders: Two assists overshadowed taking out his coach with an errant deflection
Best game: Nashville Predators 2, Anaheim Ducks 1
The script was eerily similar to the past three seasons for Anaheim. Nashville scored two goals (Colin Wilson, Paul Gaustad) in the first 15:53 of play, then put the clamps on the Ducks to lower Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau’s record in Game 7s to 1-7.
In 2013, Detroit scored two goals in the first 16:37 in a Game 7 win at Anaheim. In 2014, L.A. had two goals in the first 8:48, and in 2015, Chicago had two goals in the first 11:55.
Anaheim won the Pacific Division for a fourth straight season, but the Ducks have little to show for that success in the postseason and that could precipitate some offseason changes.
Best individual performance: Pekka Rinne
Rinne hasn’t played like an elite goaltender in three of his past four seasons, and he didn’t look like one through the first six games of this series with a .901 save percentage.
When the Predators needed him most, however, he came through, stopping 36 of 37 shots to improve to 3-0 in games when his team has a chance to clinch a series.
Rinne won’t get much of a rest since the Preds open their second-round series in San Jose on Friday, but he came prepared.
“I packed for six days so I was ready for this one,” he told NBC’s Pierre McGuire.
Best visual: Filppula’s fill-up
Late in his team’s 4-3 loss to the Islanders, Tampa forward Valtteri Filppula reached for a drink of water. Either somebody played a prank on him or the Islanders are more cash-strapped than we imagined.
Best stat: Tampa’s suspect start
The Lightning did not allow a first-period goal in their entire first-round series against Detroit. They allowed three on Wednesday in Game 1 against the Islanders.
Worst timing: Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay
On the day Bishop was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy (as voted by NHL GMs), he allowed four goals on 13 shots and was pulled early in the second period after John Tavares scored from long range.
Best bet: Bruce Boudreau is gone
The Anaheim Ducks have lost a Game 7 on home ice four straight seasons. There were whispers last season when the Blackhawks rallied from two games down to defeat Anaheim in the Western Conference Final that the team had lost faith in its coach’s ability to manage big situations. Fair or not, somebody has to take the fall for the Ducks’ inability to win the big games. Boudreau is 1-7 all-time in Game 7s.
Worst time and place: Islanders coach Jack Capuano
Midway through the third period, Islanders forward Ryan Strome deflected a dump-in attempt from Tampa’s Alex Killorn and the puck caromed into the face of Islanders coach Jack Capuano on the bench. With blood clearly visible, Capuano was taken to the dressing room.
Capuano returned late in the third period with a cut on the bridge of his nose and a black and blue right eye.
Best quote: Coach Ken Hitchcock, to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on Blues fever hitting St. Louis
“I got back to the condo and there was signage everywhere — and it wasn’t ‘Get rid of Hitch,’ so that’s a nice sign.”
Best thing to look forward to Thursday: Ovi vs. Sidney, Game 1
It has been seven years since the Eastern Conference’s top two stars have met in the playoffs. That’s way too long.
When Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin met in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals, the two combined for 16 goals and 27 points. The Penguins won in seven games on their way to the Stanley Cup.
We can only hope the encore comes close when the two meet in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter