Round 1 has officially come to a close, thus inaugurating the annual first wave of NHL Playoff MVP speculation. Undoubtedly, there are those who will claim that it’s simply to early to judge, but we’re pretty sure that even such purists secretly guess-timate as to which first round fire will keep burning. What can we say, we simply can’t help ourselves. With that, here in no particular order are this blogger’s top 7 playoff performers so far.
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Brendan Gallagher - Montreal Canadiens.
Gallagher is the only member of this list besides Rask whose team did not endure a series of at least 6 games, making the performance of his team a little bit harder to gauge. That being said, Gallagher’s impact on his team was palpable in their sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The things which made him a force during regular season play became amplified in that series, as Gallagher crashed and banged and quite literally willed himself to the dirty spots, including - you guessed it - the front of the net. He registered 5 points in 4 games, including 3 goals, all of which seemed to be timely for his club, while giving everything he could every shift to help secure his team’s victories. Gallagher is quickly becoming the type of player that is capable of swinging momentum in his team’s favour with just one impact shift, and it’s that kind of play that will be vital for Montreal in the coming rounds, especially against their next opponent.
Darcy Kuemper - Minnesota Wild.
The rookie tender displayed the kind of poise which made him so dependable during stretches of the regular season during Minnesota’s first round series against Colorado. With the up-start Avalanche quickly seizing momentum with the first two victories on home ice, pressure shifted onto the Wild, and Kuemper, who replaced Ilya Bryzgalov as the starter early on and never looked back. He gave his team the confidence to hold their ground and eventually rally for a 7-game series crown, showing tremendous maturity and mental strength and posting a sparkling 2.03 GAA and .913 save percentage in 6 games along the way. His ability to calm his teammates is his greatest asset, and expect it to be on full display in the next round.
Ryan Getzlaf - Anaheim Ducks.
Staying with Saskatchewan boys, Ryan Getzlaf proved why he should be considered among the NHL’s best leaders in his team’s 6-game dispatching of the Dallas Stars. One of the more lasting images of the first round of these NHL playoffs, by the players’ own admission, may well have been the rather bleak mood which enveloped the Ducks dressing room following Game 1, despite being victorious, because of the unknown condition of their captain, who had absorbed a hard shot to the face late in the game. A myriad of stitches later, Getzlaf picked himself and his team up and willed the Ducks to a hard-earned series win, scoring 7 points in 5 games, including a big Game 2 performance just 48 hours after the injury marked by an inspiring individual-effort goal.
Jonathan Toews - Chicago Blackhawks.
‘Captain Serious’ was at it again in Chicago, admirably leading by example as the ‘Hawks settled down after an 0-2 hole against the St. Louis Blues to take that series in 6. Toews picked up right where he left off after coming back from an injury as he consistently played in all situations for Chicago while logging at least 20 minutes of ice-time every night. He tied for the team lead in points while leading his team’s relentless forecheck, killing penalties and was great in his own end. With Toews however, it’s usually the little things which make the biggest difference - the intangibles which he brings with his on-ice presence are arguably the most deeply felt and influential of any player in the league. This guy was simply born to play in the playoffs.
Anze Kopitar - Los Angeles Kings.
In what was easily the most remarkable series of the first round, a man named Kopitar shone. Slovenia’s greatest export stepped up big time when his team needed him the most, down 0-3 against a seemingly unstoppable San Jose club, and scored 7 of his 10 points in that series during the final 4 games as the Kings shocked the Sharks. Kopitar also demonstrated the kind of dependable two-way play which earned him a Selke Trophy nomination, winning at least half of his face-offs or better in the critical final 3 games of the series, killing big penalties for his team and posting a +/- rating of 3 over 7 games which saw the Kings still concede over 20 goals.
Zach Parise - Minnesota Wild.
The Son of Minnesota queued his team’s outlasting of the Colorado Avalanche and propelled their never-die attitude with his persistent play and consistent offense. His 10 points over 7 games lead his team by at least 4, as do his 27 shots on goal. His 7 assists are good for 4th in overall playoff scoring. His 4-point performance in a pivotal Game 6 win on home ice, which helped the Wild tie the series before setting the stage for the series victory, is worthy of MVP honours all by itself. His speed, tenacity and leadership are absolutely crucial for Minnesota going forward.
Tuukka Rask - Boston Bruins.
Things could have gone sour for Boston after losing the opening game of their series on home ice to a highly motivated and rather pesky (sorry sens fans) Detroit Red Wings team. However, Tuukka Rask helped settle his team down after that with extremely solid and consistent play in goal. Following first round play, Rask led all goaltenders in save percentage and goals-against average and tied for first with 1 shutout. This is of course what many have come to expect of the Bruins prized number one goalie - that being said, everyone’s performances become magnified during the playoffs, with some players responding better than others. A strong playoff pedigree to complement an already impressive regular season resume will further cement Rask’s position among the NHL’s elite tenders.
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