First week of NHL playoffs full of fast starts and blowouts

May 10, 2022, 1:50 AM | Updated: 5:35 pm
Washington Capitals left wing Johan Larsson (22) chases Florida Panthers left wing Ryan Lomberg (94...

Washington Capitals left wing Johan Larsson (22) chases Florida Panthers left wing Ryan Lomberg (94) during the third period of Game 1 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

(AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

Turns out a two-goal lead is the safest lead in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

A three-goal lead? Insurmountable. Fall behind at all in a game? Well, good luck.

The first week of the NHL playoffs has been a stark contrast to the regular season that was full of multigoal comebacks and furious finishes. The team that scores first has won an astonishing 26 of 32 postseason games. Only one team — Pittsburgh — has erased a deficit of more than a goal and won. And 14 games have been decided by two or more goals (excluding empty-netters).

And there have been plenty of those, too.

“In the first period, you can turn it off, which is somewhat unfortunate and somewhat unexpected,” back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “This is an aberration for me because, to me, in a sport that has the greatest two months of playoff action that any sport can deliver, this has probably been one of the more underwhelming playoffs we’ve seen.”

Underwhelming perhaps game to game, with just three going to overtime through Monday and just two others decided by one goal at the final horn of the third period. But six of eight series were tied at 2 through four games — matching the most in league history in a single round.

An increase in penalty calls and power-play goals combined with the quality of teams involved has contributed to an uneven start to the playoffs following a regular season that featured 42% of games resulting in a comeback win of some sort. Every team but the Philadelphia Flyers rallied from two-goal deficits, while teams overcame three-goal margins 19 times.

“Good teams know how to close out games,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said Tuesday. “In the regular season, you’re just not as dialed in and you have some teams that just don’t do it that often. This time of the year, guys know what needs to be done: You’ve got to manage the puck at the blue line, you have to be willing to get in the shooting lane, you might have to take a punch in the head. I think it’s just what you do in the playoffs.”

With the notable exception of the rough-and-tumble Dallas-Calgary series that more closely resembles old-school playoff hockey, goals are not hard to come by. Scoring is even up compared with the regular season: 6.5 goals per game compared with 6.2, which was the highest since the salary cap era began in 2005.

How goals are being scored is drastically different, however.

Almost a quarter of all goals have come on the power play, up from 19% in the regular season. The league reported 78% of goals during the season came at even-strength — tied for the second-highest since the expansion era began in 1967 — compared with just 62% in the playoffs.

Asked why so many games have been lopsided, Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang said: “We see a lot more power plays in the postseason than we used to in previous ones. Maybe that’s one of the factors.”

The 8.22 power plays per game is a significant increase from the average of 6.39 over the past five playoffs and the 5.78 during the regular season. That’s a direct result of more minor penalties being called: More than 10 per game, up from under 6.5 during the season.

That has made a strong power play and penalty kill even more important than it typically is this time of year.

Take Colorado, for example. The Avalanche scored a playoff-leading seven power-play goals on 16 chances on the way to sweeping the Nashville Predators and becoming the first team to move on to the second round.

They are the exception so far. Even though the combined score of games has been 156-54, empty-net goals have inflated the margins and made a lot of close games look like they got out of hand.

“You can throw the scores out,” Minnesota coach Dean Evason said midway through his team’s series against rival St. Louis. “Every game has been close. There’s been a separation once the end of the game is finished, but I can tell you from our end of the games that we’ve won, they’ve been tight right to the end.”

The extra eyeballs on hockey back that up. Turner Sports said ratings are up nearly 50% from last year and 2019 and ESPN reported a 27% increase in viewership from the first round in 2021.

“I’ve been mentally drained because it’s been so emotional,” said Turner Sports analyst Anson Carter, who played 698 NHL games from 1996-2007. “The emotional roller coaster has been unbelievable.”

The roller coaster has not included a lot of comebacks, though. Known for being the “Comeback Cats” during the season, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers have done it just once, though it came at a crucial time to even their series against Washington.

Falling behind just isn’t a recipe for success in the first round, which could be explained by all eight teams in the Eastern Conference putting up 100-point seasons and most of the West being even.

“The elite teams are playing now,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Tougher to come back.”

___

AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell, Aaron Beard and Will Graves contributed.

___

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Bump & Stacy Show

AP

FILE - New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner stops to talk to the media before attending a meetin...
Associated Press

Steinbrenner realizes may take record price to keep Judge

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner realizes there is a chance the price may be going up to sign Aaron Judge to a long-term contract after the star slugger’s outstanding first half. Judge turned down an eight-year contract worth $230.5 million to $234.5 million, cutting off talks ahead of the April 8 opener and saying he wouldn’t […]
1 day ago
FILE - Noah Gragson prepares on pit road for the NASCAR Xfinity Series auto race at Daytona Interna...
Associated Press

NASCAR penalizes Gragson for intentional Road America crash

NASCAR on Wednesday penalized Noah Gragson for a deliberate and dangerous crash he caused in the Xfinity Series race at Road America. Gragson, who turns 24 later this month, was docked 30 points and fined $35,000 by NASCAR for intentionally crashing into Sage Karam on Saturday at the road course in Wisconsin. Gragson’s swerve into […]
1 day ago
FILE - Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield walks on the field before an NFL football game a...
Associated Press

Browns trade quarterback Baker Mayfield to Panthers

CLEVELAND (AP) — Baker Mayfield’s rocky run with Cleveland officially ended Wednesday when the Browns traded the divisive quarterback and former No. 1 overall draft pick to the Carolina Panthers for a future draft pick. Mayfield, who was pushed out of his starting job by the Browns’ pursuit of Deshaun Watson, is going to Carolina […]
1 day ago
Australia's Nick Kyrgios lies on the ground after defeating Chile's Cristian Garin during a men's s...
Associated Press

Nick Kyrgios reaches 1st Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Give Nick Kyrgios credit for honesty: Even he did not think this day ever would arrive. The talented, tempestuous Australian is a semifinalist at Wimbledon. Kyrgios became the first unseeded and lowest-ranked man to get to the final four at the All England Club since 2008 by playing what, for him, […]
1 day ago
U.S golfer Colin Morikawa playing the 9th hole during the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor, Ireland...
Associated Press

Morikawa caring less about No. 1 and more about winning

NORTH BERWICK, Scotland (AP) — Collin Morikawa was one round away from reaching No. 1 in the world, staked to a five-shot lead in the Bahamas and needing only to win. Seven months later, No. 1 feels like a mile away. Morikawa shot 76 in the final round last December and began the new year […]
1 day ago
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a heari...
Associated Press

Biden tells Griner’s wife he’s working to get her home

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden spoke Wednesday with the wife of detained WNBA player Brittney Griner, who is on trial in Russia, to reassure her that he is working to win Griner’s freedom as soon as possible, the White House said. Biden’s conversation with Cherelle Griner followed Brittney Griner’s personal appeal to the president […]
1 day ago
First week of NHL playoffs full of fast starts and blowouts