Matt Dumba of the Minnesota Wild stole the show on the first day of the Stanley Cup playoffs with an emotional speech before the Edmonton Oilers v Chicago Blackhawks game. Dumba, a founding member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, gave a rousing speech against systematic racism and racism in hockey, with his voice visibly cracking at times under the emotions as he made a stand for the future of Hockey to be more diverse. He then took a knee for the National Anthem with Malcolm Subban of the Blackhawks and Darnell Nurse of the Oilers either side of him placing their hands on his shoulders in a sign of support.
The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers kicked things off in the Toronto bubble for the Eastern Conference and after exhibition games midweek both teams raised the intensity with big hits and a goal by Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin all within the first minute. It was exactly the start not only the Hurricanes wanted but also the NHL as casual sports fans tune in for possibly the first time. Unfortunately for Rangers fans, Artemi Panarin was not at his best today and defensively they looked weak, giving up 37 shots. The veteran goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, could not be blamed for any of the three goals as the Hurricanes ran out 3-2 winners and at times kept his side in the game. Going forward the Rangers will need more from Panarin while the Hurricanes will look to their defense to continue limiting high danger chances.
Remember how I said the Blackhawks could cause an upset if the Oilers took them for granted in my Western Conference preview? Well, it didn’t take them long! While the game finished 6-4 in favor of Chicago the game was never really that close and only two late third period goals made the scoreline more respectable. At the end of the first period, Chicago was up 4-1, and Edmonton looked totally shell shocked. Mike Smith looked like he wanted to cry in the Oilers net and Jonathan Toews owned McDavid and his linemates with three of their four goals coming while that line was on the ice. The fact Mike Smith started the second period (or finished the first for that matter) was baffling and it came as no surprise when he was pulled after Chicago made it 5-2. Calder Trophy nominee Dominik Kubalik finished the game with two goals and three assists for a five-point night.
Unfortunately for the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers, the first two periods clashed with the Edmonton v Chicago game which was just too much of a car crash to take your eyes off. Jonathan Huberdeau made it a game early in the third period by cutting the Islanders 2-0 lead in half, but it was Bobrovsky who was the busier goaltender as the Panthers pushed to tie the game up. It didn’t happen and despite pulling their goaltender with less than a minute left to add an extra attacker the Panthers failed to test Semyon Varlamov in the Islanders net and ended up on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline.
The first eleven minutes of the Pittsburgh Penguins v Montreal Canadiens was probably the most lopsided of the day’s fixtures with Sidney Crosby and company peppering the Canadiens net only for Carey Price to come up big each and every time. Therefore it wasn’t a surprise when we finally got a goal, but the end at which it was scored was mind-boggling. It went in off Jesperi Kotkaniemi but what he knew of it is debatable. A shot from the blue-line by Jeff Petry was bundled into his path and as he was pushed to the ground the puck hit him and rolled over the line. They all count though. The Penguins found their way passed Price twice in the second period but couldn’t find one more as the Canadiens took game one 3-2 in Overtime.
The Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames game was marred by the early loss of Jets captain Mark Scheifele after a collision with Matthew Tkachuk. What seemed like an innocuous challenge against the board left Scheifele rolling in agony on the ice and replays show Tkachuk lifted his skate at the last minute, catching Scheifele’s calf with his blade. Tkachuk pleaded his innocence but Blake Wheeler, Scheifele’s linemate, wasn’t buying it and during the next shift dropped the gloves with the young forward. Jets coach Paul Maurice also wasn’t buying Tkachuk’s explanation that it was an accident after the game saying “It was intentional. Count it as a filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg. He went after the back of his leg. Could have cut his Achilles. Could have ended the man’s career. It’s an absolutely filthy, disgusting hit.” The loss of Scheifele and later Patrik Laine proved too much for the Jets despite Connor Hellebuyck standing on his head and the Flames ran out 4-1 winners. The big question now will be how long will the Jets be without Scheifele and will the NHL Department of Player Safety hand out any supplemental discipline to Matthew Tkachuk.