First round defined by OT, individual performances
The first week of the postseason should have been indication enough that the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs was going to be something special. In the end, it took 48 games, a record 16 overtimes, and countless unforgettable moments to make this a first round that fans won't soon forget.
1. More overtime: Could there have been a more appropriate ending for the first round than the double-OT finale between the Devils and Panthers on Thursday? Of the three Game 7s in the first round, two required overtime, and three of the eight first-round series ended with an overtime goal.
In fact, if this postseason is remembered for anything, it might be extra time. The 16 overtime finishes in the first round established a new record for a single playoff round, previously set in 2001. Fortunately, all this overtime didn't keep everyone up too late. Only three of the 16 overtime games required more than one extra period.
2. Boedker's double: What's more amazing than 16 total overtimes, including the first five games of a single series for the first time in League history, which happened between Phoenix and Chicago? How about Mikkel Boedker scoring the overtime winner in consecutive games? The winners -- Boedker's only two goals of the series -- followed a regular season in which the 22-year-old forward scored just 11 goals in 82 games. He hadn't scored in consecutive games until the final two of the regular season. With his twin winners, Boedker became the first player to notch overtime goals in consecutive playoff games since Joe Sakic in 2004.
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How rare was the feat? While last year's playoffs saw three players (Alexandre Burrows, Nathan Horton and Devin Setoguchi) score two overtime goals, no player scored more than one overtime goal in the previous two postseasons. If Boedker scores again in OT this spring, he'll become the third player, after Maurice Richard and Mel Hill, to score three in a playoff season.
3. The Real Deal: When two teams score 56 goals in a six-game series, it takes a lot for any one highlight to stand above the rest. But a beauty from James Neal was a microcosm of a wild intrastate matchup.
With the teams skating four-on-four and the Pens trailing 3-1 in Game 3, Neal made a fantastic move around Andreas Lilja and Matt Carle before beating Ilya Bryzgalov with a quick shot. The goal gave the Penguins new life, but as was the case throughout the series, the team couldn't maintain that momentum. Just 23 seconds after Neal's beauty, Matt Read replied for the Flyers, leading Philadelphia to an 8-4 win and a 3-0 series lead.
4. Bryz-y does it: One wouldn’t expect many highlight-reel saves in one of the highest-scoring series in League history, but Bryzgalov's stunning post-to-post grab on Kris Letang in the second game may have shifted control of the series.
At the time, the Flyers were down 2-0 in the first and the Penguins appeared determined to even the series after squandering a 3-0 lead in Game 1. With his monstrous save, Bryzgalov showed that, in a series where big saves were at a premium, he could be counted on to hold the fort when needed. The Flyers keeper looked shaky in Games 3 and 4, but allowed four goals in the final two games of the series, providing renewed confidence in the Flyers' crease.
5. Western union:Pekka Rinne's .944 save percentage was a major reason the Predators knocked off the Red Wings in five games. It also ranked him last among the four goalies remaining in the Western Conference. Jonathan Quick (.953), Mike Smith (.950), and Brian Elliott (.949) all outranked Rinne in an incredible opening playoff round. Rinne's 1.81 goals-against average equaled Smith but trailed Elliott (1.37) and Quick (1.59).
The best statistical goaltender of the playoffs didn't even make it past the first round. Despite a .960 save percentage and 1.31 GAA in three starts, Vancouver's Cory Schneider -- who replaced starter Roberto Luongo to start Game 3 against Los Angeles -- wasn't able to keep up with the rest of the Western Conference pack.
6. Changing of the guard: The second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs looks very different from years past. All four of last season's conference finalists are gone, including Cup Finalists Boston and Vancouver, who were upset in remarkable overtime finishes.
While the Canucks and Bruins failed to make the second round for the first time since 2008, the Red Wings are out in Round 1 for the first time since 2006. That five-year run was the longest current streak in the NHL and the second-longest in the history of the conference format. The Wings set the record when they made the second round in six straight postseasons between 1995 and 2000.
In place of the old standbys are teams that are unfamiliar to the second round. Like the Coyotes, who won their first playoff series since 1987, when the franchise was in Winnipeg. There's also the Blues and Kings, who won their first postseason series since 2002 and 2001, respectively, and the Capitals, who won their first series as a lower seed since 1998.
7. Gi-Whiz: With the first round done, Flyers center Claude Giroux owns practically every League statistical lead, topping the Stanley Cup Playoffs in goals, assists, points, and plus/minus. As if that wasn't enough, Giroux was a constant thorn in the side of Penguins fans and his hit on Sidney Crosby off Game 6's opening faceoff set the tone for a series-clinching win.
Giroux's His 14 points against the Penguins was one shy of the team record of 15 set by Tim Kerr in the 1989 Patrick Division Semifinals -- also against the Penguins. In fact, the 14 points is the most in a series since Sidney Crosby had five goals and nine assists against Ottawa in the first round of the 2010 playoffs. Giroux's six-game outburst is more than half the total for the playoff scoring leader in 13 of the last 16 playoffs, including last year's leader, David Krejci, who had 23 points.