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First week of playoffs spawns eight great storylines

by Tal Pinchevsky /

With about a month's worth of playoff action packed into seven days, the first week of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs was one for the record books. The best may be yet to come, but there are specific reasons why the first week of the 2012 playoffs was truly unforgettable.

1. No lead is safe: No lead is ever safe in the NHL, but it wasn't long before teams realized it was going to be that kind of week.

In the Stanley Cup Playoffs opener this past Wednesday in Pittsburgh, the Flyers came back from an early 3-0 deficit before Jakub Voracek completed the comeback in overtime, shocking the Penguins and setting the tone for a stunning series of developments that sees Pittsburgh on the verge of being swept.


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Six days later in New Jersey, the Panthers trailed 3-0 barely six minutes into Game 3 before rattling off four goals in a 10:23 span and holding on for the win. That finish was tame compared to the rest of the week.

Chicago and Phoenix's "cardiac quarterfinal" opened with Brent Seabrook tying Game 1 with 14.2 seconds remaining in regulation. The Hawks dropped that game in OT, but Seabrook did it again two nights later, firing a point shot that Patrick Sharp redirected to again tie the Coyotes, this time with six seconds remaining. That goal made Chicago the first team in NHL history to earn tying goals with less than 15 seconds remaining in consecutive games of a playoff series. Just for good measure, the teams went to OT again in Game 3 on Tuesday, becoming the fourth series in history to have the first three games decided in overtime. Speaking of which...

2. Overtime: In a week of playoff madness that yielded 10 overtime periods, the wealth was distributed evenly. Of the eight opening-round series, five saw at least one overtime game. But overtime wasn't a deal breaker in Week 1. In the three series that didn't see OT, nine of their 10 games were either one-goal contests or featured an empty-net tally to establish a two-goal margin.

Last week's eight overtime games were also decided by eight different scorers, meaning that when it comes to extra time...

3. Heroes came from everywhere: Heroes are crowned every postseason, but this year's first week saw a new hero crowned practically every hour. Whether it was Voracek netting the OT winner on his first career playoff tally or Stephen Weiss notching two power-play goals in just the second postseason game of his nine-year career, heroes have emerged from the unlikeliest of precincts.

After being a non-factor in last year's playoffs, Brian Boyle has scored three goals, including two game-winners, in the Ranger's first three games against Ottawa. Despite a .858 save percentage and 4.14 GAA for his playoff career coming into the season, Brian Elliott of St. Louis allowed one goal in his first 95:51 of postseason action last week after coming in as an injury replacement. And then there is Braden Holtby. The Capitals goaltender -- with 21 games of NHL experience -- just posted a .942 save percentage and 1.77 GAA against the defending Cup champions.

Florida fans celebrated their first playoff win in 15 years in unique fashion. (Photo: Getty Images)

4. The fans brought it: As if there was any doubt that hockey fans were the most rabidly loyal sports nuts on the planet, the crowds attending this year's playoffs have been staking their claim. It started in Nashville, where one quirky Preds fan kicked off the playoffs by tossing a large catfish onto the ice.

In Florida, Panthers fans put the finishing touches on their first playoff victory in 15 years by sending toy rats cascading onto the ice. Minutes after TD Garden erupted following Chris Kelly's overtime goal in Game 1 against Washington, a large pane of glass was actually dislodged and fell on David Krejci, who missed practice the next day but appeared in Game 2.

5. Almost everyone is still in it: Once the first two games were in the books for each series, six of the eight matchups were tied at a game apiece, compared to only four of eight series last year. All eight series in 2010 were tied after two games, the only time that has happened since the best-of-seven opening-round format was adopted in 1987. But excluding the 2010 playoffs, the six series tied 1-1 is the most since 1998.

So just about every team showed flashes of a potential playoff run, except of course…

6. Shocking upsets: The first round isn't done yet, but few people could have expected the Penguins and Canucks to both be down 3-0 heading into Game 4. The choices of many to come out of their respective conferences, the Canucks and Penguins finished the regular season with 111 and 108 points, respectively. As a result, this is the first time in the modern era that two teams with more than 105 regular-season points have been on the verge of being swept out of the first round.

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Quick
Goalie - LAK
RECORD: 3-0-0
GAA: 1.33 | SVP: 0.965
7. New stars became new legends: This past season saw the emergence of new marquee players who have now been tasked with leading their teams in the playoffs. And it's two young stars in particular who appear ready for their close-up.

After leading the Kings to the League's second-lowest goals-against total during the regular season, Jonathan Quick allowed just four goals in his first three games against Vancouver, good for a playoff-best .965 save percentage against the team with the best regular-season record two years running.

If Quick has secured the crease, Claude Giroux starred everywhere else. The NHL's third-leading scorer was unstoppable in the postseason's first week, registering eight points in three games. His six points in Game 2 also established a new Flyers playoff record.

8. Captains showed who's boss: In Week 1, countless captains carried their teams atop their "C-stitched" shoulders. Exhibit A: Jonathan Toews.

After missing the last 22 games of Chicago's season due to injury, Toews returned to open the scoring in the Hawks' Game-1 overtime loss. He didn't register a point in Game 2, but did set the screen on Sharp's game-tying goal.

In fact, of the 14 team captains who have laced them up this postseason (the Panthers and Flyers don't have a player wearing the "C"), seven are either alone or tied for their team's playoff scoring lead. That list doesn't include Ryan Callahan, who has been a stalwart for the Rangers so far in his first postseason as team captain.

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