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.
How can we not start with the Predators? What a series. Pekka Rinne had two shutouts and allowed three goals in four games. He also had two assists. But the fact that he was able to shut down the high-powered Chicago Blackhawks offense speaks volumes. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dennis Rasmussen were the only players to score in the series for the Blackhawks. The Predators outscored them 13-3 in the series.
They got key contributions from almost everyone. Ryan Johansen who was acquired in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Seth Jones last season, is the No. 1 center they needed. Johansen had six points (one goal, five assists) during the series. Filip Forsberg had five points (two goals, three assists) and Viktor Arvidsson had four points (two goals, two assists). For them to get out of the first round against the No. 1 team in the Western Conference has to be a great feeling. After trading cornerstone defenseman and captain Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman P.K. Subban in June, you knew they were going to take some heat if the move didn't work out. But so far it has for both sides.
As far as the Blackhawks, they needed contributions from beyond their core stars, including their rookies. They don't have players like forwards Andrew Ladd, Bryan Bickell or Kris Versteeg who were contributors in their previous Stanley Cup runs. And that makes a huge difference. It's a different team but maybe they need these growing pains.
Video: NSH and PIT move on, EDM and NYR's win in overtime
Top-line center Ryan Getzlaf is dialed in. He had a great second half to the regular season, and when I'm watching him right now, he is at his best. He was all over the ice during the sweep of the Calgary Flames in the Western Conference First Round. He's getting involved physically but staying disciplined. Hitting, doing a good job on faceoffs, winning board battles, providing good defensive-zone support, making plays, but also shooting the puck, and we know he's a pass-first guy. For the Ducks to go on a run, they need Getzlaf to play like he has been.
The play of forwards Rickard Rakell and Patrick Eaves also has helped. Rakell emerged as their top goal scorer during the regular season with 33, and Eaves had 11 in 20 games after he was acquired in a trade with the Dallas Stars. Both of those guys can score and it helps take some pressure off forward Corey Perry. And let's not forget center Ryan Kesler, who is a finalist for the Selke Trophy. He plays an excellent 200-foot game, offensively and defensively, and is a huge part of that team.
What else can you say? The stars are the stars every night. Center Evgeni Malkin had 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in the five-game series win against the Blue Jackets. Center Sidney Crosby had seven points (two goals, five assists). Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was excellent when called upon after the injury to Matt Murray. He made 49 saves in the clinching Game 5 on Thursday. You have to give general manager Jim Rutherford a lot of credit for retaining Fleury. I knew the Penguins didn't want to trade him and he didn't want to be traded so the best news for all parties involved is that they didn't trade him.
We saw what forwards Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary did last year for the Penguins, and that's what forward Jake Guentzel is adding this year, with five goals in five playoff games. On the defensive side, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley came back from injuries and have played very well. They have been able to offset the injury to defenseman Kris Letang, which isn't easy to do.
Columbus had a really good season. There are a lot of players who really took it to the next level. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky had a Vezina Trophy-like season. As Alex Tanguay pointed out on NHL Network on Thursday, maybe it's not the worst thing for them to have lost this series. Maybe they were ahead of schedule and will be a little hungrier heading into training camp.
Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm5: Pens, Blue Jackets exchange handshakes
You have to give them a lot of credit. After the San Jose Sharks drubbed them, 7-0 in Game 4, the Oilers responded in Game 5. It was a complete game and the 4-3 overtime victory was a complete team effort. They had 48 shots on goal and 107 shot attempts in the game.
Goaltender Martin Jones stood on his head to keep the Sharks in the game; they were outshot 14-2 in overtime.
The young Oilers needed to win this game and they did. And the overtime winner wasn't from Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, but rather role player David Desharnais.
I thought the Buffalo Sabres had a good finish to the regular season, and when center Jack Eichel came back from his ankle injury, he had an excellent season. Forwards Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen were good night in and night out and goalies Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson combined for a .921 save percentage, so firing general manager Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma was surprising to me. I have to think that former Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter and former Sabres defenseman and current Predators assistant coach Phil Housley are in the mix to be the next coach, but we'll see how things shake out.
Flames goaltending questions
The Calgary Flames had a good season but have some questions to answer. Goalies Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson can become unrestricted free agents July 1. The Flames can reset their goaltending if they want to, and there likely will be some goalies out there.
Maple Leafs have been impressive
Without defenseman Roman Polak around for the Toronto Maple Leafs, I'd expect more ice time for Capitals forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and their other top players, but that hasn't been the case. The Maple Leafs' young players have proven they aren't afraid of the stage so Game 5 in Washington on Friday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports 2, NBCSN, CSN-DC) should be a good one.