OPINION: Stanley Cup Playoffs in review: Round 1 - Eastern Conference

A look back at the action that was in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

(WGR 550) - Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs officially wrapped up Monday night with the final Game 7 taking place between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils in Newark, N.J.

Following Monday's action, four teams are moving on to the Second Round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. We'll see the highest remaining seed in the conference in Carolina playing host to Lindy Ruff and an upstart Devils, as well as a Toronto team that has finally broken through in the playoffs taking on a Panthers squad that pulled off, arguably, one of the greatest upsets in NHL history.

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Let's first recap the Round 1 that was in the Eastern Conference Playoffs:

Carolina Hurricanes
Photo credit Wendell Cruz - USA TODAY Sports

Hurricanes blow away Islanders, 4-2

The New York Islanders continue to remain one of the more boring teams in the NHL. Probably has to do something with the fact they employ one of the more archaic executives remaining in hockey with general manager Lou Lamoriello.

Aside from Game 3, where they found on offensive burst with five goals, it just didn't seem the Islanders had any sort of answer to counter the Hurricanes when they needed it most. Their top scorers in the series were Brock Nelson (2+3) and Kyle Palmieri (2+3) each with five points in six games played.

Other than that, Mat Barzal only scored twice, Bo Horvat registered just two points (1+1), Anders Lee only scored once, and J.G. Pageau and Zach Parise were complete no-shows.

Ilya Sorokin could only do so much in goal for the Islanders with a lack of offense in front of him. He posted a 2-4 record for New York with a respectable .929 save percentage and a 2.60 goals-against average. It's hard to throw blame on one of the top young goaltenders in the NHL when he doesn't exactly have the firepower up front to keep the team competing night-in and night-out.

Although, he did give up quite a soft goal in Game 6 that punched Carolina's ticket to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As for the Hurricanes, they continue to play as one of the more formidable opponents in the NHL with the combination of play at both ends of the ice.

Sebastian Aho leads the way as one of the most underrated players in the entire NHL with seven points (4+3) in the series. Meanwhile, veteran Paul Stastny chipped in significantly this series with three goals on four total shots, including the series winner in Game 6.

While goaltending wasn't exactly perfect in the series, Antti Raanta didn't have to be with the Islanders' lack of offensive prowess. In his five games played (Frederik Andersen getting the other game), Raanta was 3-2 with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.

Carolina may have had the easiest First Round matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they cannot let their guard down against one of the higher-scoring teams in the league in Round 2.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo credit Mike Ehrmann - Getty Images

Maple Leafs exercise demons against Lightning, 4-2

After 19 years without a playoff series victory, dating back to the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally get the monkeys off their backs.

This series was set to swing in a number of different ways from the start. After the Lightning embarrassed the Maple Leafs in Toronto in Game 1, it was the Maple Leafs who responded with a resounding Game 2 win to even the series.

Then back in Tampa Bay, the Lightning had Toronto right where they wanted them both in Game 3 and 4 at Amalie Arena to take command of the series. However, a late game-tying goal from Ryan O'Reilly in Game 3 and a comeback from down 4-1 in the third period by Toronto helped force overtime on both occasions, with the Maple Leafs also winning both times.

Even after a Game 5 win back in Toronto to extend the series, the Lightning still failed to take advantage of home ice, as the Maple Leafs finally shed their demons with another overtime win in Game 6 to punch their long-awaited ticket to Round 2.

Over the last few years during their Stanley Cup runs, Tampa Bay got scoring up-and-down the lineup with their top players getting the job done in the clutch. They came up relatively dry in this series with Anthony Cirelli (3+3) and Nikita Kucherov (1+5) leading the way in scoring with six points.

It was a disappointing showing from the likes of Brayden Point (2+2) and Steven Stamkos (2+2), while injuries to Victor Hedman, Tanner Jeannot, Erik Cernak and Michael Eyssimont didn't help matters at all.

In addition, the bionic wonder in goal that is Andrei Vasilevskiy was not anywhere close to the netminder he has been in past years. During the six-game series, Vasilevskiy was 2-4 with a 3.56 goals-against average and an .875 save percentage.

Meanwhile, aside from Game 1, Toronto finally had all cylinders firing in sync throughout the series to finally get the Maple Leafs over the top.

Mitch Marner continued to carry his stellar play from the regular season to the playoffs with 11 points (2+9) in six games played. Toronto also got some quality scoring from its other top offensive weapons like Auston Matthews (5+4), Morgan Rielly (3+5), John Tavares (4+3), William Nylander (2+5) and Ryan O'Reilly (2+5).

Even though Ilya Samsonov was no where near perfect in this series, he still provided some solid play in goal with his 4-2 record, a .900 save percentage and a 3.14 goals-against average.

While goaltending will certainly be a question mark going forward for the Maple Leafs, if they can continue to perform at the rate they did against the Lightning and continue to capitalize in clutch situations, they could be in position to make a deeper run than they have had in several years.

Florida Panthers
Photo credit Bob DeChiara - USA TODAY Sports

Panthers complete comeback against Bruins, 4-3

While the Panthers were able to complete the comeback from down 3-1 in the series against Boston, this will certainly be played out more about the Bruins' collapse after a record-setting regular season.

After appearing to take command of the series following a 6-2 trouncing in Game 4 in Florida, the Bruins completely choked away the series with a number of critical errors on and off the ice that doomed them in the end.

While Boston was battered left and right with some critical injuries to the likes of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Linus Ullmark, a number of other factors went into their demise after being in full control of their fate through four games.

Feel free to take a look at a breakdown of Boston's historic collapse from WEEI's Scott McLaughlin for more perspective:

While the Panthers certainly did not play their best hockey in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they did get some timely contributions across the lineup.

Matthew Tkachuk was an absolute monster in this series for the Panthers, accounting for 11 points (5+6) in the seven game series. He was a force to be reckoned with in front of the Boston net, he was physical all over the ice, and was a huge reason why Florida was able to fight back in the series and win.

Others up front like Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett all stepped up their contributions in order to help carry the load offensively for the Panthers, especially in Games 5, 6 and 7.

Meanwhile, Brandon Montour may have had the biggest impact of any defenseman for their team in the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs in Round 1. The former Buffalo Sabres blue liner scored a whopping five goals for Florida, including two in Game 7, with one being the game-tying goal with 59 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime.

Where the Panthers may run into trouble heading into Round 2 against Toronto is goaltending, as they started the series with Alex Lyon in net before eventually turning to veteran Sergei Bobrovsky. While Bobrovsky wasn't all that great in goal for Florida, he did bring some stability in the five games he played, going 3-1 with a 3.94 goals-against average and an .891 save percentage.

Unless the goaltending situation finds a way to improve in their next series with the Maple Leafs, Florida will have to be ready to score at will and have an all-out offensive push.

New Jersey Devils
Photo credit Bruce Bennett - Getty Images

Devils outlast Rangers, 4-3

For a while, it was lining up to be a series of the road teams coming away victorious as neither the Devils or Rangers played all that great in front of the home crowd. That changed in Game 5 when the Devils re-claimed home ice advantage, and New Jersey was able to move on.

The Rangers got out to a flying start in the series with their two wins in Newark, outscoring the Devils, 10-3. However, their momentum heading into the rest of the series crashed and burned, other than their Game 6 win in New York to push the series to seven games.

Chris Kreider and the rest of his teammates exploded on the scene in Games 1 and 2, with the veteran winger accounting for five goals in the opening three games. Despite a three-point night in Game 6 (1+2), Kreider was silenced in the rest of the series, unable to help New York over the top.

While NHL Trade Deadline acquisitions Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko did contribute for the Rangers in the series, they were unable to factor in when needed the most.

Despite losing in seven games, Igor Sheshterkin showed the NHL world why he is set to factor into the Vezina Trophy equation for several years to come. The reigning NHL Goalie of the Year really was stellar throughout the series with a 3-4 record, a 1.96 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.

However, there was one goalie in this series that was better than Sheshterkin, and he didn't even get the start for New Jersey in the series.

Akira Schmid was the reason why New Jersey turned things around in the series once it went to New York in Game 3. The 22-year-old ended up playing five games for the Devils, going 4-1 with a 1.38 goals-against average, a .951 save percentage and two shutouts in Games 5 and 7. In the five games he played for New Jersey, Schmid faced 142 shots on goal and only gave up seven goals.

In Game 3, Schmid made 35 saves on 36 shots faced to help extend the game to overtime, where defenseman Dougie Hamilton scored an overtime winner to get New Jersey back in the series.

From there, New Jersey's offense came to life with the likes of veterans Erik Haula (4+2), Ondrej Palat (2+3) and Nico Hischier (0+5) being a firm stepping stone for youngsters like Jack Hughes (3+2), Jesper Bratt (1+3) and Dawson Mercer (2+1) to flourish.

As the Devils get ready to face the Hurricanes in Round 2, they will need to bring the same intensity they did in the final five games of their series with the Rangers, while also relying on Schmid to bring some solid goaltending. If so, they certainly have a chance to knock off Carolina.

Photo credit Losi and Gangi
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