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Saturday marked the first official NHL games since mid-March and the (re)opening weekend of the NHL was full of excitement, highlights, and lots of nail-biting.
With the first games of NHL action in nearly five months, there was little disappointment as the league’s Return to Play plan went off without a problem, bringing hockey and joy back to the lives of millions.
As the 16 teams of the qualifying round kicked off the eight best-of-five series, the other eight teams of the expanded postseason began their round-robin for overall seeding.
Immediate storylines were imminent and have arrived with 10 games played over the weekend, and one team’s fortune is another’s misery in the fight for the ultimate prize.
Jets Face Engine Problems
In a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames in Game 1, Winnipeg was without Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, and Mason Appleton by the end of the third period due to injury.
Scheifele, the top-line center and a key cog in the Jets’ offense, went down awkwardly following a check from agitator Matthew Tkachuk. The hit has been a topic of heated discussion due to both Scheifele’s prominence and Tkachuk’s reputation. Below, you can see Scheifele was visibly in pain and needed help off the ice. There have been no updates to his condition.
Top six winger Patrik Laine also left the game early following what appeared to be a wrist injury after a collision with Mark Giordano. He is projected to see a specialist in the coming days and is expected to miss Game 2.
Depth winger Mason Appleton also departed the game with less than a minute to play. Appleton, Scheifele, and Laine all missed Sunday’s practice.
The injuries come as significant blows to a heavily hyped-up team icing a Vezina Trophy nominee in Connor Hellebuyck, who is arguably the favorite for the trophy as the league’s best goalie in 2019-20.
Tuukka Rask ‘Unfit to Play’
Remaining in the goalie world, the Boston Bruins started backup Jaroslav Halak on Sunday following a team announcement that starter Tuukka Rask was deemed “unfit to play.”
The “unfit to play” label has been the one-all application issued by the NHL to refrain individual teams from releasing COVID-19 diagnoses. Prior to the start of the round-robin, Rask had a confirmed finger fracture and it is believed to be what kept him out of Game 1.
Along with Hellebuyck, Rask was also one of three Vezina Trophy nominees this season. His status for Wednesday’s Game 2 of the round-robin against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and third Vezina nominee and 2019 trophy winner, Andrei Vasilevskiy, is up in the air.
Dominik Kubalik Keeps Scoring
The always-threatening Chicago Blackhawks showed off their playoff experience with a 6-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, but it was inexperience that earned them the win.
Kubalik netted two goals and five points for the Blackhawks in his first NHL postseason game. He picked up right where he elf toff after a 30-goal rookie season that earned him a Calder Trophy nomination.
Kubalik bested opponent Connor McDavid’s four-point night.
Avalanche Skim A Win
The Colorado Avalanche pulled out a victory in their first game of the round-robin on what may be the closest goal call in NHL history.
Nazem Kadri scored the winner on the powerplay over the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues as the blurred puck crossed the line at 0.1 seconds remaining.
Kadri had missed a wide-open net just seconds prior, but wouldn’t relinquish a second chance as he carried his team to their first postseason win of the season.
It was the ultimate game of playoff hockey as each team’s defense was staunch, their offenses flew, and grit was inevitable.
The Avalanche will take on the Dallas Stars on Wednesday for their next round-robin game. The Blues will face the Vegas Golden Knights early Thursday.
Taylor Hall Makes His Case
Deadline acquisition Taylor Hall had two assists for the Arizona Coyotes to pull out a 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 1. It was just the sixth postseason game of his 10-year career. Hall now has eight points (2 G, 6 A) in those six games and the 2018 Hart Trophy winner is continuing to prove he can raise his play when it matters most.
Hall is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and has control over his next destination for the first time in his career, with Arizona being his third NHL team.
The 30-year-old’s postseason performance will be pivotal in negotiations for his next contract, where he’ll become an integral winger wherever he signs.
Columbus Shuts‘Em Down
In the 2019 playoffs, the Columbus Blue Jackets used Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Ryan Dzingel to win the franchise its first-ever playoff series victory.
With all four players leaving last summer, many wrote off the Blue Jackets in 2019-20 over the loss of premier talent. Instead, coach John Tortorella led the team to a 33-22-15 record before the termination of the regular season due to COVID.
Entering the qualifying round, analysts still pegged the team as dead in the water against the run and gun Toronto Maple Leafs and their loaded offense.
But after Game 1, the Jackets’ defense shut down the Leafs’ forwards, holding them to just 17 shots. Goaltender Joonas Korpisalo did the rest, stopping the other 11 shots from the Leafs’ defensemen and not letting any of the 28 total shots faced get past him.
Game 2 is set to be must-watch hockey.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.