Each Friday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.
Columbus Blue Jackets-Tampa Bay Lightning
The Blue Jackets didn't get off to the start they wanted against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Lightning in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Wednesday, but they stayed with it and didn't panic. Sergei Bobrovsky, who is well known for his playoff struggles, made some big saves and kept them in it when they were down 3-0 and 3-1. Columbus got huge goals by Nick Foligno, Josh Anderson and Seth Jones, and Bobrovsky was able to stymie the NHL's top offense for the final two periods in a 4-3 comeback win.
It was one of those games that can swing the confidence in the direction of the Blue Jackets, who can take a 2-0 series lead on Friday; even if they don't, they've at least stolen home ice. The Lightning took a 3-0 lead in the first period and thought it would be an easy game. It wasn't, and they learned it the hard way. The regular season is over. Tampa Bay's 62 wins, which tied the NHL single-season record set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings, is nice, but if the Lightning don't win the Stanley Cup, this season will be viewed as a failure.
Video: Blue Jackets rally past Lightning in Game 1 stunner
St. Louis Blues-Winnipeg Jets
Rookie goalie Jordan Binnington seemed unflappable in his playoff debut and helped the Blues come away with a 2-1 road victory against the Jets in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round on Wednesday. He made several huge saves, including one on Mark Scheifele in the final seconds of the third period to preserve the win. Binnington is calm, has the right mentality and is the perfect goalie for the Blues. The defense was great and has played much better since Binnington took over the crease in January.
The Jets played a good game but allowed two goals in the third period, which cost them. The good news is that forward Patrik Laine scored, so maybe that can help him after he struggled to put the puck in the net down the stretch during the regular season. Laine had 18 goals in November but finished with 30, his lowest total in three NHL seasons. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck needs to play at the level he played at last season in order for the Jets to have a chance in this series.
Video: Binnington, Bozak lead Blues by Jets late in Game 1
Toronto Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins
Forward Mitchell Marner scored two goals for the Maple Leafs in their 4-1 win against the Bruins on Thursday in their Eastern Conference First Round opener. Center John Tavares had a goal and an assist, and forward William Nylander scored a goal. Frederik Andersen was very calm in net, especially after allowing the first goal of the game to Patrice Bergeron. The Maple Leafs played a great road game and beat a much deeper team.
I think the Bruins might have underestimated the Maple Leafs in this game and I think you'll see a different team in Game 2. They fought all season for home ice in this series, something they had last year when they defeated the Maple Leafs in seven games. Boston's top line will need to show up, and the Bruins need a quick start in Game 2 in order to get their confidence back.
Video: Discussing Marner's performance vs. Bruins in Game 1
This is going to be a good series for offensive defensemen, as we saw in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round. Stars rookie Miro Heiskanen had a goal and an assist and John Klingberg had an assist. Defensemen P.K. Subban and Roman Josi scored for the Predators, and Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm each had an assist. Heiskanen is 19 and I was told by Stars coaches that they haven't had to have one meeting with him all season. They trust him, and he's rewarded that faith all season.
Ben Bishop continued his stellar play, making 30 saves and acting like a third defenseman handling the puck. He can be the difference-maker in this series. The Predators were 0-for-4 on the power play and need to fix that. The power play has been a huge problem for Nashville throughout the season and could be a reason they lose the series. It shouldn't be this bad with all the talent up front and on the back end that the Predators can put out on their two units.
Video: DAL@NSH, Gm1: Bishop denies Smith and Turris
How about Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith making 26 saves in a 4-0 shutout against the Colorado Avalanche in his first playoff start in seven years? Coach Bill Peters had a choice to make in starting Smith or David Rittich; he went with the 37-year-old and it paid off for the Flames.
The Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals were very methodical in their series-opening 4-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes. They took a 3-0 lead before the first period was over and didn't have to chase a lot. They played within their structure, but give credit to the Hurricanes who didn't back down and got within 3-2 in the third period.