The Boston Bruins fell behind early, but were the better team the rest of the way in their 4-1 Game 1 win over Toronto. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Why Boston won: Because, after the Leafs jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 1:54 into the game, the Bruins exploited Toronto’s inexperience – defensemen Mark Fraser and Mike Kostka were abysmal and a combined minus-4 – dominated in terms of puck possession (limiting the visitors to just 20 shots on Tuukka Rask) and wore down a heavily-worked James Reimer (who stopped 36 of 40 shots) with a slew of high glove shots. Boston looked nothing like the team that searched in vain for its mojo late in the regular season and looked everything like the series favorite most hockey people believed them to be.
Why Toronto lost: Because out of the entire Leafs team, only a pair of James’ (Reimer and van Riemsdyk) looked prepared to compete on the same level as the Bruins. Virtually everyone else – including Phil Kessel, who was pointless in many senses of the word and had just one shot on net; and Nazem Kadri and Dion Phaneuf, who both were turnover factories – was a non-or-negative factor. And coach Randy Carlyle’s decision to dress enforcers Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren did nothing to help Toronto’s comfort levels near the Bruins net.
Play of the game: With the score tied 1-1 late in the first period, van Riemsdyk hit the post; on the ensuing rush into the Leafs zone, Nathan Horton tipped the shot of D-man Wade Redden past Reimer for a power play goal just 12 seconds before the intermission buzzer sounded. The Bruins had controlled the play for minutes before the go-ahead goal, but the Leafs never attacked the Boston zone with any notable effort after it.
1. David Krejci – Skilled center led all players with a goal and three points and was one of the emotional leaders for his side.
2. Milan Lucic – Big winger’s two assists were big, but his four hits were just as big. His game was as robust as it’s been all season.
3. Johnny Boychuk – Defenseman scored Boston’s final goal and his thundering hit on Mikhail Grabovski underscored the physical edge the Bruins need to push back at chippy Leafs.
What's Next: If the Leafs don’t return to the structured, calm approach Carlyle instilled in them for most of the regular season, this series could be over quite quickly. They need Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Phaneuf and others to have some degree of urgency to their game – but not at the expense of unsound decision-making. Boston, on the other hand, has every reason to feel they still have Toronto’s number. For the first night, at least, there was more than enough mojo to go around. - Adam Proteau
Why Pittsburgh won: On top of the fact the Penguins are more skilled at every position, they came out and played like the more experienced group. Pittsburgh was loose and moved the puck as a team with no fear, especially transitioning from their own end (on the few occasions they found the puck back there). This is a confident bunch and it showed.
Why New York lost: For the first two periods the Islanders had trouble sustaining offensive pressure, which put strain on their 'D' that doesn’t match up well against the Pittsburgh forwards to begin with. Fending off the Penguins talented forward corps is tough enough when you spend half the game in your own end, never mind 70 percent of it.
Play of the game: With the Penguins already up 2-0 and on a two-man advantage, Kris Letang showed the poise and precision that only a handful of players, never mind defensemen, possess by stepping in off the left dot and snapping a perfect shot right under the bar. 3-0. Game over. Evgeni Nabokov's look said it all.
1. Kris Letang - You got a good look at why he'd be the Norris favorite ahead of Ryan Suter if he was healthy all year and not buried a bit in the Crosby/Malkin buzz.
2. Marc-Andre Fleury - Perfect outing to wash away the bad memories of last year's clunker.
3. Pascal Dupuis - Sidney? Who needs him. Two goal effort paces white wash.
What's next: The Islanders needed two things to keep this series competitive: great goaltending and to dominate the special teams game. Neither of those happened in Game 1 and the result was an embarrassing and eye-opening start to this showdown. Things can only go up from here for New York, which is a better team than the one that showed up Wednesday. Nabokov, who's been great all year and has been to the playoff dance before, will bounce back. And the Islanders power play will make the Pens pay if they continue to take careless penalties. It won't be enough to win the series - maybe not even a game - but at least it won't be the cringe-worthy. - Edward Fraser
Why the Sharks won: San Jose was supposed to be a faster team after they made their trade deadline moves and they certainly looked fierce in Game 1. Their depth lines laid down the body and carried the momentum for the first part of the game, but it was the more recognizable names, Couture, Marleau, Boyle and Pavelski who brought the game-winning offense in the third.
Why the Canucks lost: The Sedins were neutralized – Daniel even had two glorious, wide-open opportunities, but didn’t get a shot out of either. Roberto Luongo did all he could to keep them alive, but his defense didn’t do him any favors and got caught running around and out of position on the goals. Dan Hamhuis was late to the front of the net on two goals against, which was very uncharacteristic. If Vancouver is going to beat San Jose, Jannik Hansen and Dale Weise can’t always be their best skaters.
Play of the game: With a heck of a goal and two drawn penalties already under his belt, Logan Couture gets to the puck behind the net before Jason Garrison and passes it out so quick, Garrison didn’t have a chance to defend and Dan Hamhuis was caught with his pants down. Patrick Marleau buried the goal – and the Canucks.
1. Logan Couture – Great shot on his goal. Nifty pass on his assist. Terrific, difference-making game for the Sharks’ best player
2. Antti Niemi – Roberto Luongo kept the Sharks from pulling too far ahead, but Vezina candidate Niemi did a better job making sure the Canucks didn't tie up a game they didn’t deserve to.
3. Roberto Luongo – If he takes any criticisms after his performance in this surprise start it will, as usual, not be deserved. Luongo did all he could, had no offensive support, and can’t possibly be on the hook for any of the goals against.
What’s next: Well, the elephant in the room is Vancouver’s goaltenders. Just how injured is Cory Schneider? How healthy does he have to be to return? Or, does Luongo even deserve to sit after his Game 1 showing? At this point it’s not a controversy – it’s a part of Vancouver’s identity. And it shouldn’t even be a concern: whoever plays, it won’t matter unless the Canucks get their house in order against a really well-balanced and determined Sharks squad. San Jose’s top players stepped up when it mattered – Vancouver’s must answer. – Rory Boylen
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