One Timers

NHL Playoffs Roundup: Wednesday’s Bests and Worsts

(Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)

A battle of backups, Nikita Kucherov’s brilliance and another overtime between the Blues and Blackhawks highlighted Day 1 of the NHL playoffs.

Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and St. Louis came out on top in their respective Game 1s, but there were oodles of details to discuss within those games. On to Wednesday’s bests and worsts.

Best game: St. Louis 1, Chicago 0 (OT) — We labeled this the best series of the first-round and it lived up to its billing in Game 1. The Blues have defeated the Blackhawks four times this season. Every win required extra time.

St. Louis captain David Backes scored on a lucky bounce off Chicago defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk at 9:04 of overtime to lift the Blues to a 1-0 series lead, but the story of the game was Blues goaltender Brian Elliott, who stopped 35 shots for his first solo playoff shutout (he shared one with Jaroslav Halak in 2012).

Elliott took turns robbing Chicago’s stars on point-blank attempts. He stopped Calder Trophy candidate Artemi Panarin with his shoulder on a partial breakaway, he stopped Patrick Kane at the right doorstep, he stopped Hawks captain Jonathan Toews at the other post and he also stopped Toews on a breakaway in the second period.

“(Kevin Shattenkirk) didn’t want to take a penalty coming back on him,” Elliott told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of the stop on Toews. “He just pressured him to not be able to make a move there. I just tried to stand my ground.”

Goaltending has been the most consistent thread in the Blues’ recent playoff failures. If Elliott can keep producing like he did in the regular season and on Wednesday, the Blues may finally be able to escape the demons that have limited them to one playoff series win in the last 12 years.

Best individual performance: Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins — Hornqvist had never recorded more than four points in his four previous playoff seasons. Against the New York Rangers, the eight-year pro reached four points in a single game.

Hornqvist notched his first career playoff hat trick and added an assist on Sidney Crosby’s breakaway goal as the NHL’s hottest team kept it rolling with a Game 1 win over its recent playoff nemesis. Pittsburgh has won 15 of its last 17 games.

Best visual: Crosby’s breakaway goal — Remember all the criticism that Crosby doesn’t score enough in the postseason? Pity poor Rangers backup Antti Raanta as he watches this horror unfold.

Best goal, Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — Kucherov staked the Bolts to a 1-0 lead over Detroit at 6:23 of the first period when he took a cross-ice feed from Tyler Johnson at the top of the circle and one-timed an absolute laser into the upper corner of the net.

The line of Johnson (two assists) Kucherov (two goals, assist) and Alex Killorn (goal, assist) was a force all night, accounting for seven points.

Worst check (or best choreographed dance move): Justin Abdelkader, Detroit Red Wings — Abdelkader goes for the big hit on Tampa’s Ondrej Palat but Palat sees him coming and deftly ducks out of the way, relegating Abdelkader to a low-bar Fosbury Flop.

Worst moment: Lundqvist’s injury — With the Penguins already without starting goalie Marc Andre-Fleury for Game 1 of their series against the Rangers, New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist left the game after one period when teammate Marc Staal speared him in the eye while Lundqvist was stopping a shot from Pittsburgh’s Ian Cole.

Lundqvist writhed on the ground for a while and then went to the bench where the training staff put drops in his eye. Shortly thereafter, the Penguins scored their first goal when Hornqvist went 5-hole with 18 seconds left in period.

Best performance under pressure: Andrew Ladd’s wife — Prior to game time, Chicago forward Andrew Ladd’s wife went into labor and he was in Chicago. The Blackhawks were in St. Louis. The Sun Times reported that the baby wasn’t due until May 23 and apparently Ladd’s wife, Brandy, convinced the baby to stick to that schedule. The baby didn’t arrive, Ladd made it to St. Louis and he was in the lineup for Game 1.

While in Winnipeg in 2014, Ladd took heat from a few idiots for missing a regular-season game the Jets ended up losing for the birth of one of his children. Fortunately for Ladd, he didn’t have to choose between priorities this time.

Best quote: Jeff Zatkoff, Pittsburgh Penguins — With Fleury out, Zatkoff had to make his playoff debut and he stopped 35 of 37 Rangers shots in a 5-2 win. “That definitely sent chills through me,” he told reporters. “It was a special moment, it’s one I’ll always remember.”

Biggest turning point/worst effort: Ben Lovejoy’s stick work and Rick Nash’s loafing — The Rangers had already scored one goal on a 5-on-3 power play to slice Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-1 early in the third period. They were hammering away for the equalizer when Derick Brassard ripped a shot from the point that caromed off Zatkoff’s right pad and headed straight to Dan Boyle with a yawning net awaiting. At the last second, Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy swatted it away, the Pens went the other way and Tom Kuhnhackl scored shorthanded to end any thoughts of a rally.

On the goal, Rangers forward Rick Nash had a chance to get back in the play to defense. Instead, he headed to the bench for a line change.

Best thing to look forward to Thursday: Flyers-Capitals Game 1 — Cinderella meets the NHL’s No.1 overall seed, riding the emotional roller coaster that comes with the death of former Flyers chairman Ed Snider at age 83 after a long battle with cancer. In half a century, Snider touched a remarkable number of current NHL executives, coaches and players. Whatever tribute NBC and the Caps cook up for Snider, who grew up in D.C., will be well deserved.

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