The opening round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be a tough act to follow.
The Montreal Canadiens
capped a memorable 15 days of playoff hockey by stunning the top-seeded Washington Capitals
2-1, adding the latest chapter in the storied franchise's playoff history by becoming the first No. 8 seed to win a series by rallying from a 3-1 deficit.
For a fortnight and a day, NHL fans were treated to a roller-coaster ride of eight hotly-contested series. There were no sweeps, and only one series (Philadelphia New Jersey) was decided in as few as five games. The 49 first-round games matched the most played in the conference quarterfinals since the current format was adopted in 1994.
Among the highlights:
- Road teams went 27-22, the most games won by visiting teams in the first round. Three series (Montreal vs. Washington; Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa and Detroit vs. Phoenix) tied the NHL playoff record for wins by a road team with five. The Boston Bruins were the only of the eight clubs to advance by clinching the series on home ice.
- Comebacks were commonplace. The winning team in 24 of the 49 games trailed at some point in the contest. Five teams won after trailing by two or more goals. A club trailing in the third period came back to win nine times.
- Teams combined to score an average of 5.90 goals per game, the highest for an opening round since 1996 and a 36% increase over 2004 (4.34), the last playoff year before the adoption of rule changes designed to limit obstruction. The first-round scoring average also topped that of the 2009-10 regular season (5.53), marking the first time that's happened since 1994-95.
- Twelve of the 49 games went to overtime, the most in the opening round since 2001, when 14 games were decided in OT. Seven of the eight series had at least one game go into overtime.
- Scoring the game's first goal wasn't as much an advantage as advertised. The teams scoring first lost five of the six games in the Vancouver-Los Angeles series. The Buffalo Sabres opened the scoring five times against the Boston Bruins -- but went 2-3 in those games.
Every club that survived the first round had to overcome some adversity -- none of the eight had it easy.
- Down 1-0 in the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins were tied 1-1 with Ottawa late in the third period of Game 2 until captain Sidney Crosby took over. His dive through the crease to swat away an Anton Volchenkov shot that had eluded goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury preserved the tie with 9:13 left in regulation. Later, he outmaneuvered Jason Spezza behind the Senators' net before setting up Kris Letang for the game-winning goal with 4:12 left in regulation.
- The Boston Bruins were down 1-0 in their series and 2-0 in Game 2, then trailed 3-2 after two periods against a Buffalo team that was 31-0-0 leading after two periods. The Bruins rallied for three goals and a 5-3 victory to even the series.
- Montreal trailed 3-1 in its series against Washington after losing Games 3 and 4 at home. But Montreal coach Jacques Martin went back to Jaroslav Halak in net -- and Halak turned in back-to-back-to-back brilliant performances to lead the Canadiens to three consecutive victories -- two at Verizon Center in Washington. Montreal became the first No. 8 seed to win a playoff series after trailing 3-1. In a performance reminiscent of famous playoff showings by Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, Halak stopped 131 of 134 shots in the three victories (.978)
- The San Jose Sharks were on the verge of trailing their series with the Colorado Avalanche 2-0 heading to Denver until center Joe Pavelski tallied the game-tying goal with 31.8 seconds remaining in regulation of what became a 6-5 overtime victory at the Shark Tank. Pavelski came up with more heroics by getting the overtime winner in Game 4 to even the series 2-2 and scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6.
- The Chicago Blackhawks were seconds away from dropping Game 5 of their series against the Nashville Predators to force a must-win Game 6 on the road -- they trailed 4-3 and were down a man. But with the goaltender pulled, Patrick Kane scored a shorthanded goal with 13.6 seconds remaining to tie the score -- the first shorthanded, sixth-attacker goal in the final minute in playoff history. Hawks forward Marian Hossa, who took the penalty, completed the comeback by scoring 4:07 into overtime. "Nothing tops it," Kane said when asked if that was the biggest goal of his young career.
- The Vancouver Canucks trailed their series against the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 and fell behind 1-0, 2-1 and then 3-2 entering the third period of Game 4. The Canucks rallied thanks to a brilliant Roberto Luongo save, three assists from Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin's game-winning goal with 2:52 remaining in a 6-4 victory, then went on to wrap up the series in six games.
- The Detroit Red Wings trailed their series against Phoenix 1-0 and 2-1, and were beaten decisively by the Coyotes 5-2 in Game 6 with a chance to wrap up the series at home. Undaunted, the Red Wings came back two nights later in Phoenix with a flawless 6-1 victory to capture their first Game 7 on the road since 1964.