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First round of playoffs revealed these 16 things

by Dan Rosen

The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs enter the second round Thursday, but before the eight teams begin their battle for the final four spots, let's take a look back at a first round that featured two series that went the distance and one that ended in four games.

Here are 16 things we learned in the first round:

1. Kane is just fine -- The Chicago Blackhawks did not rush right wing Patrick Kane back from his fractured collarbone. He had seven points (two goals, five assists) in a six-game series win against the Nashville Predators. Kane returned for Game 1 after missing the final 21 games of the regular season, and his idea of shaking off the rust was getting two assists on power-play goals in the third period to help Chicago push the game to overtime. It won 4-3 in double overtime.

2. The Rangers' power play is better with four forwards -- The adjustment was made in the third period of Game 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers went with four forwards on their top power-play unit, and the result was a goal at the end of a power play that had seven shots on goal and 10 shot attempts. The same unit worked again in Game 5 to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead in a series-ending win. They had a shot-first mentality and forwards crashing for rebounds.

Clayton Stoner
Clayton Stoner
Defense - ANA
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 0
SOG: 4 | +/-: 3
3. Stoner can hold his own -- Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau scratched defenseman James Wisniewski in favor of rugged, stay-at-home Clayton Stoner, and it worked against the Winnipeg Jets. Stoner averaged 18:09 of ice time in four games and was a plus-3. His physicality was an asset in the first round sweep, but Boudreau has to figure out if he wants to add speed to his lineup against the Calgary Flames in the second round. If he does, Wisniewski would go back in.

4. Newest Canadiens can be difference-makers -- The Montreal Canadiens acquired four players prior to the NHL Trade Deadline; they all were important in helping the Canadiens get past the Ottawa Senators in six games. Forward Brian Flynn had three points, including the game-winning goal, in Game 1. Center Torey Mitchell had a goal in Game 1, two assists in Montreal's 2-1 overtime win in Game 3, and won some important defensive-zone faceoffs on his strong side late in Game 6. Forward Devante Smith-Pelly was credited with 22 hits and 16 shots on goal, and Jeff Petry led Montreal defensemen with a 47.76 shot-attempts percentage when leading (SAT% Ahead) and a 63.75 SAT percentage when trailing (SAT% Behind).

5. Minnesota can score on the power play -- The Minnesota Wild started to get better on the power play late in the regular season; they went 9-for-42 in their final 16 games (21.4 percent) to finish 28th in the NHL. That was a sign of things to come. Minnesota went 4-for-12 on the power play (33.3 percent) in a six-game series against the St. Louis Blues. The Wild scored a power-play goal in three of the games, including two in a 4-2 win in Game 1.

Evgeny Kuznetsov
Evgeny Kuznetsov
Center - WSH
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 4
SOG: 22 | +/-: 0
6. Washington has a second-line center -- Evgeny Kuznetsov put his skill, skating and creativity on display in the first round, more proof he is the second-line center the Capitals have needed since Sergei Fedorov retired after the 2008-09 season. Kuznetsov scored the series-clinching goal at 12:42 of the third period in Game 7 against the New York Islanders. He had three points on two goals and an assist in Washington's 5-1 win in Game 5.

7. Bennett can play in the NHL -- There was no indication that Calgary Flames rookie Sam Bennett would be an important player against the Vancouver Canucks, but he provided a small taste of what's to come. Bennett, the fourth pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, played in all six games and had two goals and one assist. His first NHL goal was the game-winner in Game 3. His first NHL point was a secondary assist on defenseman Kris Russell's game-winning goal in Game 1.

8. Coburn is important to the Lightning D -- No one knew the impact defenseman Braydon Coburn could have on the Tampa Bay Lightning because he played four games after getting traded from the Philadelphia Flyers before a lower-body injury knocked him out of the lineup for the last 14 games of the regular season. A healthy Coburn was a difference-maker for the Lightning against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7. Not only did he score the winning goal at 3:58 of the third period, but he was impactful in other areas of the game. Coburn appears to be finding his stride and his timing after a long layoff. He has the ability to play a strong, physical, two-way game and provide some offense. He led Lightning defensemen with 18 shots on goal against Detroit, and is starting to show why general manager Steve Yzerman wanted him prior to the NHL Trade Deadline.

Duncan Keith
Duncan Keith
Defense - CHI
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 7
SOG: 19 | +/-: 3
9. Separating Keith and Seabrook gives Blackhawks' balance -- Chicago coach Joel Quenneville found a way to give himself options with a defense that isn't as deep as he's had in the past. The key is separating Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to pair Keith with Michal Rozsival and Seabrook with Kimmo Timonen. When paired together, Rozsival and Timonen can be problematic. When separated and put with all-stars Keith and Seabrook, their deficiencies are masked and the Blackhawks have better balance, particularly because they still have Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya together.

10. Mrazek's time has come -- The Jimmy Howard trade watch will likely be on this summer because Petr Mrazek showed in the first round he can be the Red Wings' No. 1 goalie. Mrazek was in net for one goal in a 2-0, Game 7 loss to the Lightning and finished with a .925 save percentage and 2.11 goals-against average. He allowed 14 goals on 186 shots, and had shutouts in Games 3 and 5 after giving up a combined seven goals in Games 2 and 4. He never appeared rattled by giving up a goal or having a tough game, even if the goal or tough game weren't necessarily all his fault.

11. Ottawa's run was more than Hammond and luck -- Ottawa rallied behind goalie Craig Anderson, not Andrew Hammond, and almost came back from 3-0 down to push Montreal to Game 7. Coach Dave Cameron made a tactical adjustment to play a more patient game after the Senators lost the first three games. It nearly worked, and it's that type of coaching that should give Senators fans hope going into next season.

12. Fleury is the least of Pittsburgh's problems -- The Penguins have some issues that need to be ironed out, but goalie Marc-Andre Fleury should no longer be considered a playoff problem. He was the Penguins' best player against the Rangers to the point where his teammates let him down, not vice versa, as had been the case in previous playoffs. Fleury had a .929 save percentage and 2.12 goals-against average against the Rangers. He allowed 11 goals; the Penguins scored eight goals and lost four times by a 2-1 score.

Matt Donovan
Matt Donovan
Defense - NYI
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 0
SOG: 1 | +/-: 0
13. Islanders' defensive depth is strong -- The Islanders took the Capitals to seven games without three of their top-six defensemen. Matt Donovan and Scott Mayfield played smart and performed well in Games 6 and 7, albeit in sheltered minutes. Griffin Reinhart struggled in Game 5, but his future is bright. So is Ryan Pulock's, with a big shot from the right side. With Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, Reinhart, Pulock, Mayfield, Brian Strait and possibly Thomas Hickey and Donovan, the Islanders should feel good about their defensemen going into next season. Hickey and Donovan can become restricted free agents on July 1.

14. Flames can get by doing it the hard way -- Even Calgary general manager Brad Treliving has said constantly having to mount comebacks in the third period is not a recipe for long-term success. Well, it worked for the Flames in the regular season and continued to work in the playoffs. Calgary won Games 1 and 6 with third-period comebacks. It outscored Vancouver 9-4 in the third period after getting outscored 10-9 through the first two. The Flames were an NHL-best plus-36 in goal differential after the second period in the regular season; they were minus-16 in the first period.

15. Wild's speed can give a team fits -- Minnesota isn't considered to be as fast as the Rangers or Lightning, or the Dallas Stars for that matter, but they are mobile and do not give the opposition much time and space anywhere. St. Louis, typically a strong puck-possession team, didn't have the puck as often as it would have wanted in the first round. The Wild hunted the puck quickly and put the Blues on their heels when they got in their transition game.

16. Ward fits with Ovechkin and Backstrom -- Joel Ward looks like he belongs on the right wing with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Ward's ability to get to the net and force the defense to keep tabs on him opens room in the offensive zone for his linemates. His presence in front of the net in overtime of Game 4 blinded Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak enough that Backstrom's wrist shot snuck through to win the game. Ward had four points on one goal and three assists in the series.


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