We are witnessing one of the most amazing first rounds of recent years. In six series out of eight, the score was 2-2 – while the matches themselves in them most often turned out to be as one-sided as possible. Here, 6:1 and 5:1 defeats quietly coexist, where different opponents win. It seemed that after the crazy regular season, playoff hockey would remind us of the importance of defense, but so far we are seeing almost the same shugu-pugu.

Six playoff series now actually open new series within themselves, where they play up to two victories, and the price of mistakes, rebounds and accidents increases tens of thousands of times. Let’s figure out what the teams came up to by the second half of the first round.

The Expendables 22: No Time to Fly

Pittsburgh took a surprising 3-1 lead in the series against the more highly regarded Rangers. “Washington” was two minutes and a few centimeters from the same 3-1, but conceded in the game “Florida” with an empty net and made life very difficult for themselves. However, not everyone expected two victories from the Capitals in the series with the regular hegemon. Crosby and Ovechkin, which seemed to have already ended, are again as close as possible to the next taken round.

Most of all, I feel sorry for Igor Shesterkin. The whole season was saying: Igor is the Rangers, if not for his historic season in goal, no Panarin passes and Kreider’s sniper records would have even helped a team with a negative xG difference to get into the playoffs. Of course, a team that rides on one goalkeeper is much more at risk of screwing up in the spring if something goes wrong with the goalkeeper.

But first of all, things are going wrong for the Rangers as a whole. The score of scoring chances in the fourth game is horrendous: 1-20. Pyatak “NYR” is blown through with all the winds, and all four games of the series “penguins” hard push the opponent on it, concentrating their throwing attempts directly near the gate. Perhaps the team is currently lacking checkers Goodrow, Mott and Ble – but even so, almost all the team’s outfield players fail the series. None of them have an xGF indicator higher than 50% (Panarin, by the way, is the best of the forwards – but he also has only 44%).

Pittsburgh vs. Rangers in 2022 playoffs

Pittsburgh vs. Rangers in 2022 playoffs

Photo: www.nhl.com

The difference between Florida and Washington is best seen when comparing the experience of the coaching staffs. Andrew Brunette and his team have four 28 seasons as NHL coaches, Peter Laviolette’s staff has 73. In the playoffs, where you’re sorting out the same opponent, tactical experience is crucial. In the regular season, Florida’s mega-talented roster could take apart each individual opponent in the class – here they began to work against them personally from match to match.

Trite, but “Washington” needed a good goalkeeper – and Ilya Samsonov, who appeared at the gate after the third match, proved that he could save at moments when it was most needed. Without this, the tight forecheck and power game of the Capitals, their constant desire to run away to counterattacks and a solid game in the middle zone would have no sense.

Drama at the end of an NHL game!  Bobrovsky made the most important save and lifted Florida to a comeback
Drama at the end of an NHL game! Bobrovsky made the most important save and lifted Florida to a comeback

“Washington” sees in front of itself a team that “Washington” itself was about 10 years ago – a good attacking system that has little defensive structure and can crumble in a tight game. Oddly enough, but the experience of the “Capital” was not enough for patience in the fourth game and the actual closing of the series. Now, in decisive moments, this experience should help.

Winged swings fly, fly, fly

The thesis about a series of defeats in different directions is clearly visible on the example of the battle “Tampa” – “Toronto”, where 5:0 from Toronto turned into 3:7 a week later. The “leaves” turned out to be unexpectedly collected, while some of the most daring forecasts generally expected 0-4 from them. However, giving up immediately without willpower is still not the style of the modern Toronto: usually this team willlessly squander the advantage.

The seriality with which Toronto scored and conceded is interesting. After the first goal in the first match, the team flew and scored twice more in nine minutes, but the day before yesterday, after a missed goal at the start of the game, it quickly got 0:3. Emotions are Toronto’s main fuel in this series. After the first match, the players noted the energy that the Leafs’ home arena charged them with.

Mikheev's historical double!  The Russian beat the NHL champion with unusual goals in the end
Mikheev’s historical double! The Russian beat the NHL champion with unusual goals in the end

But Tampa has another strength: in two championship playoffs, the team has never lost twice in a row and has invariably rebuilt itself after failures. Given the ease with which teams have taken advantage and brought games to a close, this resilience should be key. Also, Toronto’s goaltenders look very insecure again.

Toronto vs Tampa in 2022 playoffs

Toronto vs Tampa in 2022 playoffs

Photo: www.nhl.com

What happens in the Edmonton and Los Angeles episodes defies explanation at all. In games number 2 and 3, the Oilers, taking advantage of the inexperience of the opponent’s defense and the absence of Doughty, threw a total of 14 goals on the opponent and seemed to be going to a confident victory. However, in the next match, the opponent’s young forwards turned on their legs, power and crushed the opponent with pressure and tight individual custody – Edmonton did not score for the first time under a new coach.

In some ways, young Los Angeles is similar to Toronto here – the running team needs an early goal to dictate its unshakable will to the opponent. If Edmonton scores first, then there is a collapse on the go. The key in the next games is not to miss first and close McDavid. LAC, if anything, has a recognized specialist in neutralizing foreign leaders – Phillip Dano, who has not really been released against Connor so far.

Banal talk about goalkeepers

There is only one thing you need to know about the Colorado-Nashville series: Nashville had a chance to take one match only with a healthy Juus Saros. It was expected that he would return at least for the third game at home, but it did not work out. After that, there were no expected chances, although young Ingram tried his best at the gate.

But the best in terms of statistics is suddenly Jake Ettinger of Dallas with a fantastic 96.9% save rate in four games. He, along with Joe Pavelski, drags the team, on which Calgary is expected to beat with a hail of shots. 2-2 is a very big disappointment for the Flames. Many attribute the slow start to the fact that the “lights” were more busy fighting and power than the desire to score the puck. However, in the fourth game, Sutter’s team came out ultra-feisty, throwing 54 shots on target and seemingly unfolding the series before the home game.

Two matches of potentially the most interesting series of the Minnesota playoffs – St. Louis spoiled the fact that Ville Husso missed the first shots on goal. Prior to this, the Blues started the match quite confidently, clamping the opponent in the zone, but after the very first outing of the “savages” they opened an account and switched to a mode convenient for themselves. “Minnesota” does not particularly strive to often sit in a strange zone – they create moments not only out of thin air, but sometimes Kaprizov and his troika are enough for this.

“St. Louis” lost half of the main defenders due to injuries, but structurally the team does not crumble – this is the same tough team that can play creatively in a foreign zone due to two-way forwards of the level of O’Reilly or Buchnevich. Coach Craig Berube even said hello to Jordan Kayre, saying that instead of a double, he could have done poker as well. The fourth game was also taken thanks to the reliability of Binnington, who, after the 2019 championship, freaked out more often than really saved.

Minnesota vs. St. Louis in the 2022 playoffs

Minnesota vs. St. Louis in the 2022 playoffs

Photo: www.nhl.com

Boston went 0-2 at the Carolinas, and it ended up in that position in large part because of the goaltender. It was expected that Tuukka Rask, after a long treatment, would be able to return in the middle of the season – however, after recovering, he failed several matches and ended his career rather quickly. The first number in the playoffs was Linus Ullmark – and the ex-Buffalo player let in enough light pucks, although statistically the “bears” were better. After that, both home matches were won with a young Jeremy Sweiman – and with a crazy audience that brought down the barrier glass.

The NHL playoffs could have been a nightmare.  Man nearly killed by glass
The NHL playoffs could have been a nightmare. Man nearly killed by glass

Two excellent defensive systems met in the series, which are among the top five defenses of the regular season – due to the fact that both clubs can smear the opponent on the sides and play with aggressive pressure, it will not be possible to create a lot of chances. This does not mean that the series will turn out to be boring – but the keepers cannot sleep here. Pastrnak’s sabotage for a short period of time left the rival Carolina, which already played without Andersen, also without Antti Raanta – and Pyotr Kochetkov was not the first keeper in the KHL either.

No matter how the results turn out, all rivals will exhaust each other to the maximum – and this makes any potential outcomes of the second round even more unpredictable.


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