The Stanley Cup playoffs brought the first round to an historic end on April 30. Hockey fans had the rare treat of seeing three Game 7's in one night, raising the bar for the rounds that will decide the Stanley Cup. The playoff field is now down to just eight teams, as the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings joined the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Ducks and Montreal Canadiens on the next level..
The Kings made the biggest headlines by being the fourth team in Stanley Cup playoff history to cap a 3-0 series comeback, due to a 5-1 triumph over the San Jose Sharks. But on paper, the bigger upset was the Wild beating the Central Division champion Colorado Avalanche on a 5-4 overtime win. Only the Rangers held serve at home with a 2-1 nail biter over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Instead of the Sharks, the Kings will move on to play the Ducks, due to scoring four goals in the last 20+ minutes to cap their comeback. Meanwhile, the Wild will be the surprise opponent for the Blackhawks, as they erased four one-goal deficits and overcame an injury to goaltender Darcy Kuemper. The oft-maligned Ilya Bryzgalov finished in net for Minnesota as Jared Spurgeon tied Game 7 late in regulation, before Nino Niederreiter won it in overtime.
The Rangers advanced on the strength of two second-period goals, although Steve Mason kept the Flyers in range virtually by himself. Yet after Philadelphia cut the lead to 2-1, it was Henrik Lundqvist's turn to withstand barrages. Because he did, the Rangers will get a shot at the Penguins in the second round.
The only set second round series in the Stanley Cup playoffs before April 30 starts the round on May 1. The Bruins and Canadiens will begin the next stage of the postseason at 7:30 p.m. est in Boston. Afterwards, the Rangers-Penguins and Wild-Blackhawks series begin on May 2, with the Ducks and Kings starting the next day.
It has already been a grueling postseason for many of these clubs, but it all begins anew now. Only an elite eight have survived to get here, with a final four about to get halfway to the Cup in two weeks.
The accompanying list ranks the best teams left in the Stanley Cup playoffs, although it is quite subject to change.