Sports Hockey

NHL PLAYOFFS

Hot goalies, semi-obscure names emerge in first week of NHL playoffs

By Torben Rolfsen

Oilers forward Zack Kassian (44) celebrates after scoring the eventual game-winning goal against the Sharks during the third period in Game 3 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Sunday, April 16, 2017. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Oilers forward Zack Kassian (44) celebrates after scoring the eventual game-winning goal against the Sharks during the third period in Game 3 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Sunday, April 16, 2017. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Less than a week into the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs and already several storylines have emerged: some surprising, some not.

Need a playoff hero? Oh, you know, just the usual names: Zack Kassian, Jake Guentzel, Kasperi Kapanen.

And congrats on your superb, six-month regular season grind to secure home-ice advantage. Now meet a hot goalie and prepare for an early exit.

And Canadian teams are back in a big way. They are starring in some of the best opening series pairings, and potentially epic second-round matchups loom ahead.

While plenty of familiar names are starring early (Crosby, Price), a number of semi-obscure young guns have stepped up their games and broken through.

Kassian’s emergence in Edmonton is an especially good story after his career floundered in Vancouver and Montreal.

What is the NHL’s 82-game regular season for?

Beleaguered Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau must be wondering that, along with Chicago and Columbus, as three of the league’s top five teams (record-wise) are on the ropes.

Time and time again, we’ve seen the difference a hot goalie can make in a short, best-of-seven series.

Currently, the top five goalies in playoff save percentage play for the teams doing the best so far: Predators, Blues, Oilers, Penguins and Canadiens.

Canada’s wait to return to the playoffs has been well rewarded.

While they likely won’t all advance, fan passion in Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton is threatening to blow the roof off the arenas in their respective cities.

If teams leading their series can close out first-round victories, some classic matchups are on tap for the next round, particularly in the Eastern Conference.

If the Canadiens can beat the Rangers, a meeting with the Senators-Bruins survivor would have a white-hot intensity.

Ditto for the Penguins versus the Maple Leafs-Capitals winner.

Interest in either of those second-round series would be off the charts.

Throw in the fact that seven of the first 20 games have gone into overtime, and the nation’s sports fans have the perfect entertainment antidote to the Toronto Blue Jays worst-case scenario April.

Hang on -- we’re just getting started. So far the playoff hype has been justified, and it’s about to get dialed up a notch or two.