The Stanley Cup playoffs have been somewhat in the shadows of the NBA playoffs so far. But while the NBA has had more thrilling first round action than ever before, the NHL isn't too far behind. In fact, the Stanley Cup playoffs will cap their first leg with a triple header of Game 7 action on April 30, which the Philadelphia Flyers locked up on April 29 from blowing out the New York Rangers by 5-2.
The Flyers did just what the Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild did the previous night, by staving off elimination with a convincing Game 6 home victory. Wayne Simmonds was the star for the Flyers in their Game 6 win, racking up a hat trick while Steve Mason locked the Rangers down for the second straight time in Philadelphia.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, Game 7 is in New York, giving the Rangers a slight edge back. Whoever gets the edge in the end will have to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, so both Philadelphia and New York have to hope they aren't too exhausted.
The Flyers and Rangers will begin the last night of first round action at 7 p.m. est. Unless they go to overtime, they will be done before the second and third Game 7's get under way. The Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild start their finale at 9:30 p.m. est in Colorado -- which doesn't bode well for Minnesota since the road team is 0-6 in this series.
The last Stanley Cup playoff game of the first round could be the most historic, if the Los Angeles Kings complete a fourth straight win over the San Jose Sharks. The third and last team to ever erase a 3-0 series deficit was the 2010 Flyers, with current Kings Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, so it would be ironic if both the Flyers and Kings won a Game 7 on the road in the same night.
Whoever the last three teams to advance into round two are, the Stanley Cup playoffs are already setting the bar for the championship rounds to come. The accompanying list details the highlights of the first round so far, with at least a few more coming tonight.
Triple overtime opener
April 17: The St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks didn't play the first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs, or even the first overtime game. Yet their opener proved why they were expected to have the biggest series of the first round, as the Blues forced overtime late and then waited until the start of the third overtime to cap their comeback. But there would be even more extra periods to come in this series.
Mighty Bruins blanked in opener
April 18: The Boston Bruins cruised through the regular season and took the Presidents Trophy, but the Detroit Red Wings weren't impressed. In their first Stanley Cup playoff game as an Eastern Conference team, the Red Wings pulled out a 1-0 upset that seemed to set the tempo for more surprises to come. And they would -- just not in this series once the Bruins woke up.
Mackinnon's star-making turn
April 19: The Colorado Avalanche's 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon has already become the breakout star of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He cemented his new legacy with a highlight reel goal in Game 2 against the Minnesota Wild, to cap off a seven-point performance through two games. For good measure, McKinnon beat the Wild in overtime of Game 5 -- yet even that hasn't been enough for the Avalanche to avoid a Game 7.
Hit changes Blackhawks-Blues momentum
April 19: The Blackhawks seemed ready to rebound from their Game 1 triple overtime loss, until Brent Seabrook laid out Blues' captain David Backes late in the third, leading to St. Louis's tying power play goal. A second straight Blues overtime win and a three-game suspension for Seabrook looked likely to finish off the Blackhawks -- yet it didn't turn out that way.
Blue Jackets enter playoff win column
April 19: The Columbus Blue Jackets were winless in their Stanley Cup playoff history before facing the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins. Blowing a two-goal lead in Game 1 and facing an early two-goal deficit in Game 2 didn't bode well for Columbus, yet it fought back to force overtime. Finally in the second overtime, the Blue Jackets became postseason winners for the first time.
Blue Jackets improbably draw even
April 23: A series of comebacks was defined by an improbable Game 4 rally by the Blue Jackets. Despite being up by 2-1 in the series and 3-0 in Game 4, the Penguins clung to a one-goal lead with seconds left. Then a misplayed puck behind the net by Marc-Andre Fleury set up the tying goal, with the winning goal coming in overtime for the Blue Jackets - yet it turned out to be the wake-up call the Penguins needed.
Blackhawks find overtime magic after all
April 25: Two straight home wins by the Blackhawks -- with Game 4 coming in overtime -- set up another Game 5 grudge match in St. Louis. For the fourth time in the series, the Blackhawks and Blues would go to overtime, but a road team would win one for the first time. It was Jonathan Toews who broke away to get revenge for Chicago in St. Louis, as the Blackhawks wouldn't need another overtime or another road trip to finish this series.
Ducks go from Game 7 to second round
April 27: The Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars had won all of their home games, with Game 6 unlikely to be an exception. Yet over two minutes before the Stars locked up a Game 7 trip to Anaheim, the Ducks woke up and quickly forced an extra session. Just as quickly, that session and the series ended for Dallas on a Nick Bonino tally.
Kings erase 3-0 hole
April 28: The Los Angeles Kings were falling far short of their Stanley Cup playoff standard from the last two years -- at least in their first three games with the San Jose Sharks. The last three have gone much better for the Kings, culminating on a 4-1 Game 6 win triggered by a Justin Williams goal that should have been ruled dead early. That kind of luck may lead to the fourth 3-0 series comeback in NHL history.