Top 10 moments in the Stanley Cup playoffs this week: Upsets, comebacks and a marathon man

·11 min read

With just under two weeks of Stanley Cup playoff action in the books, only two first-round series remain. The Toronto Maple Leafs still have unfinished business with the Montreal Canadiens, while the Vegas Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild look to end things in Game 7 on Friday night.

The first round of the playoffs has been thrilling, and here are some of the top moments from the past week.

10. Willy’s going wild against the Canadiens

Often the subject of criticism from some members of the Maple Leafs’ fan base, William Nylander is certainly the most polarizing player on the team. Regardless of your stance in the overdone and annoying Nylander debate, there’s no questioning that he’s shown up for his team thus far in the postseason.

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“Willy Styles,” as the kids call him, has recorded four goals — one in each of the first four games of Toronto’s series against the Montreal Canadiens. The Leafs lead their series against the Habs 3-2, and will play Game 6 in Montreal in front of a crowd of up to 2,500 people.

9. Islanders fans take over Nassau Coliseum in Game 6

New York Islanders fans, I’ve got to give it to you, you showed up big time for your team in its series-clinching Game 6 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. From “Jarry” chants to “Hey Bailey,” the place was absolutely rocking, especially during the stretch of the second period where the Isles scored three goals in just under three minutes. I thought the 9,000 fans in attendance were going to blow the roof off of the old Nassau Coliseum.

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Admit it, though, you may have gotten a little bit ahead of yourselves in the third period with the “We want Boston,” chants.

We’ll see how well this ages.

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8. Spencer Knight stars in his first NHL playoff game

Spencer Knight, the highly-touted 20-year-old goaltender for the Florida Panthers, may not have gotten the first NHL playoff experience he had dreamed of, but he sure made the most of his opportunity.

Despite carrying around some impressive pedigree as a 2019 first-round pick, Knight was essentially the team’s last resort against the Tampa Bay Lightning. With the Panthers trailing 3-1 in their series against the Lightning in part due to subpar play from $10-million man Sergei Bobrovsky and backup Chris Driedger, the team turned to Knight in Game 5. Things started off poorly for Knight, as he allowed a goal on the first shot he faced. After that, however, he was perfect.

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Knight made 36 consecutive saves after his early blemish, lifting the Cats to a 4-1 victory. Unfortunately for Knight and the Panthers, the team went on to lose Game 6, ending their season. The future looks bright between the pipes in Florida, though.

7. Sebastian Aho closes out series against Predators with OT winner

The series between the Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes was hard-fought, as the teams went to overtime in each of the final four games. Just like in Game 5, the Hurricanes tied up Game 6 late in the third period to force overtime. In the extra frame, it didn’t take long for Canes star forward Sebastian Aho to put the series to rest.

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After winning the faceoff, Aho scurried straight to the front of the net where he was able to tip a Jaccob Slavin point shot past Juuse Saros to end the game and series. Aho continues to be one of the best postseason performers, as he’s now recorded 31 points through 29 playoff games.

Following the victory, head coach Rod Brind’Amour made a surprise phone call to his parents as it was his father’s birthday. This led to an impromptu ‘Happy Birthday’ serenade from the Canes.

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A very cool moment as Carolina now gets ready for its Round 2 opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

6. Tristan Jarry’s mistake costs the Penguins Game 5

Goaltender Tristan Jarry has become the punching bag for Penguins fans for his poor play in the team’s Round 1 loss to the Islanders, and it’s hard to feel like the blame is being misplaced. Jarry had some really rough moments in the series, but the worst by far was his costly turnover in double overtime of Game 5.

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Jarry tossed a massive pizza up the middle of the defensive zone that was intercepted by Josh Bailey. The Isles forward didn’t waste the opportunity, burying the game-winning goal shortly after to give New York a 3-2 series lead.

5. NHL, hockey community rally around Ethan Bear

In Game 4 of the Edmonton Oilers’ series against the Winnipeg Jets, Ethan Bear had a game he’d like to forget. A costly turnover and a poor line change helped contribute to a pair of Jets goals, including the game-winning marker. It was a bad game, he made some mistakes, but every player does. Bear, who’s from the Ochapowace Nation in southern Saskatchewan, was subjected to numerous racist comments on social media following the loss. The hockey community immediately came to Bear’s defense.

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While the hate he has received is truly horrible and disgusting, it’s important to focus on the support and the number of people and organizations that have stood by Bear. It’s the uplifting comments that ultimately deserve recognition, not the negative ones.

4. Darnell Nurse was a busy man

Nobody, absolutely nobody, had a busier week than Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse. In his team’s season-ending Game 4 loss to the Jets, the blueliner logged an outlandish 62:07 of ice time — the most of any player in a game during the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs thus far. Anybody who registers that kind of run certainly deserves a long, uninterrupted night of sleep, but it appears Nurse likely won’t be seeing many of those anytime soon.

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Later that same day following his impressive yet exhausting performance, his fiancé Mikayla gave birth to their first child, a boy named Aiden. What a wild time for Darnell, who’ll have quite the story to tell Aiden about the day he was born.

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3. Pastrnak submits his bid for goal of the playoffs

Given the tight-checking nature of the Stanley Cup playoffs, NHL fans don’t see nearly as many highlight-reel goals compared to the regular season. Teams are afraid to make mistakes, which in turn leads to some pretty conservative, low-risk hockey. In Game 5 of the series between the Bruins and Capitals, however, forward David Pastrnak took advantage of the space given to him by Capitals defenders to put home this absolute beauty.

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“Pasta” slipped by Nic Dowd with a nice between-the-legs move and then outstretched goalie Ilya Samsonov to tuck the puck home while Caps blueliner Nick Jensen watched on, likely in awe of what he had just seen. The goal helped the Bruins win Game 5 and close out their series against Washington. Right now, I don’t think we’ve seen a prettier goal this postseason.

2. Connor finishes off the Oilers in 3OT

The series between the Oilers and Jets shockingly lasted just four games. In an even more surprising turn of events, it was the underdog Jets who waltzed their way to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in short order. While the series didn’t last long, what did was Game 4 between the two teams. It took six periods to decide a winner before Kyle Connor put the game - and series - to rest.

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Connor, who was understandably a little slow getting back on the play, actually found himself in the perfect spot to receive a Neal Pionk clearing attempt. Connor’s goal put an abrupt end to Edmonton’s season, something that caught ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith’s attention. Smith laid into Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for failing to win a game in the postseason despite finishing first and second in NHL scoring during the regular season.

1. Jets pull off absurd third-period comeback against Oilers in Game 3

Allow me to set the scene. There are less than 10 minutes remaining in Game 3 between the Jets and Oilers, and the latter leads the game 4-1. Edmonton, trailing 2-0 in the series, is less than a half period away from drawing back into the fight with a win. Then, for some reason beyond my realm of comprehension, Oilers forward Josh Archibald decided to throw a low, dangerous hit on Jets defenseman Logan Stanley. Archibald was penalized (and ultimately suspended) for the hit, but his recklessness helped fuel the best comeback of the postseason thus far.

Winnipeg would score on the power play, while adding two more in a span of just over three minutes to miraculously tie the game 4-4 and push it into overtime. With all the momentum on its side, Nikolaj Ehlers scored the game-winning goal in the extra frame, giving the Jets a 5-4 win and 3-0 series lead. Winnipeg eventually went on to win the series 4-0, and this game surely proved to be a major turning point.

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