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Hits, goals and comebacks help to open this playoffs

by John Kreiser
The first five days of this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs have been good ones for fans of physical hockey, goal-scorers and teams coming from behind.

Ice bags are probably in short supply in many locker rooms. There were 44 hits in the average regular-season game in 2009-10; that number is up to 63 in the playoffs, a jump of 43 percent. Anyone who's watched the playoffs so far might think even that number is a little low.

Despite all that tight checking and physical play, offense is up so far this spring. Through the first 20 games, teams were combining for an average of 5.7 goals per game, up from 5.1 last spring and a slight increase from the regular-season average.

Those goals have been spread pretty evenly. All eight series saw the teams split the first two games -- the first time that's happened since the opening round went to a best-of-7 format in 1987.

Through Saturday, all but one of the games played were decided by one goal (excluding empty-netters), and the teams were tied or within a goal of each other for 53 minutes -- up 30 percent from last year's playoffs. One reason is that defensemen are joining the play; blueliners scored 21 goals in the first 20 games.

Getting to the game early and staying late is also a good idea. There have been five goals scored in the first 77 seconds after the opening faceoff -- and nine within the first five minutes (All three games in the Ottawa-Pittsburgh series have had a goal scored within the first 3:03). There have also been seven overtime games, including two that were sent into OT in the last 90 seconds.

Comebacks have also been the order of the day. The winning team in 13 of the first 20 games trailed at some point in the contest. All three of Saturday’s winners -- Boston, Washington and Los Angeles -- came back to win after trailing 2-0, and the Caps made up a 4-1 deficit on their way to a 6-5 overtime win.

Visiting teams are 10-10 (.500) through the first five days of the playoffs and are on pace to equal the highest winning percentage by road teams in the opening round since the best-of-7 format was adopted 13 years ago. Home teams were 25-20 (.545) last season.

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