Stars, surprises, and storylines
by Lucas Aykroyd|03 AUG 2020
After scoring 12 points for the Czechs at the 2019 Worlds, Chicago rookie Dominik Kubalik set a record with five points in his first NHL post-season game.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
After a 142-day pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL is back in business inside its bubbles in the Canadian hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto. Here’s a closer look at some early historic moments and noteworthy trends in the post-season.

Two Penalty Shots, Two Flubs

As if it wasn’t strange enough for the league to resume play on 1 August in front of empty arenas, two penalty shots were awarded when the Montreal Canadiens edged the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in overtime.

The last time multiple penalty shots occurred in a post-season game was 29 March 1923. Cy Denneny and Punch Broadbent of the Ottawa Senators missed their attempts, as did Duke Keats of the Edmonton Eskimos. Ottawa won 2-1 in overtime en route to a two-game Stanley Cup final sweep at Vancouver’s Denman Arena.

The 2020 shooters were equally futile. Pittsburgh’s Connor Sheary missed with 3:01 left in regulation, and Montreal’s Jonathan Drouin put the puck wide at 6:46 of overtime.

“I had a shot in mind,” Sheary said. “When I tried to do the fake shot and tried to release it, it kind of fumbled on me, and obviously I missed wide.”

On a quirky international note, Drouin is the only NHLer ever to miss a penalty shot in playoff overtime who does not have an Olympic medal. Joe Juneau (1996, Washington) won silver with Canada in Albertville 1992. Alexei Morozov (1998, Pittsburgh) earned silver with Russia in Nagano 1998. And Aleksander Barkov (2016, Florida) claimed bronze with Finland in Sochi 2014.

A Tale of Two Olympic Champion Goalies

On Day One, Henrik Lundqvist was the surprise starter for the New York Rangers in a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. “King Henrik,” 38, backstopped Sweden to gold at the 2006 Olympics and 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, but most observers expected dynamic newcomer Igor Shestyorkin to open the series. However, the 24-year-old SKA St. Petersburg product sat out with an undisclosed ailment.

Meanwhile, Carey Price, who outduelled Lundqvist in Canada’s 3-0 victory over Sweden for Olympic gold in 2014, stole the show with 39 stops in Montreal’s opening win over Pittsburgh. The 2015 Vezina Trophy winner, also renowned in IIHF history for his 2007 World Junior gold medal, hadn’t won a post-season game since beating the Rangers 3-1 on 16 April 2017.

“He made some really big saves,” said Montreal’s Jeff Petry, who had the sudden-death winner. “He’s calm and collected back there, especially when a team is in on the forecheck and controlling the play.”

Finnish Netminder Novelties

Sunday was historic in opposite ways for two Finnish goalies. With 28 saves, Joonas Korpisalo recorded the first playoff shutout in Columbus Blue Jackets history in his post-season debut. In the 2-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 26-year-old Pori native’s highlight was a glove grab on Auston Matthews’ one-timer from the slot. (Coincidentally, Alex Stalock of the Minnesota Wild also enjoyed a 28-save first-time shutout, this one over the Vancouver Canucks, but the 3-0 victory was the 33-year-old American’s fifth career post-season game.)

Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators saw his club-record streak of 89 straight post-season starts – the fourth-longest in NHL history – come to an end. Juuse Saros appeared between the pipes as the Predators fell 4-3 to the Arizona Coyotes. Rinne, 37, had started every playoff game since a 4-1 first-round win over the Chicago Blackhawks on 16 April 2010. He also set a modern IIHF World Championship shutout streak record (237:05) in 2015.

Kubalik Runs Wild in Playoff Debut

Dominik Kubalik led Chicago with two goals and three assists in a 6-4 opening win over the Edmonton Oilers. The 24-year-old Czech rookie forward is the first NHLer ever to record a five-point game in his post-season debut.

“I felt really good, everything went my way, so obviously it’s nice, but it’s just the first game,” said Kubalik, who was one point short of Mikko Leinonen’s single playoff game rookie record with the Rangers in 1982 (six assists). “We’ve got to keep going.”

Interestingly, when Kubalik won the 2019 Swiss scoring title with HC Ambri-Piotta (57 points in 50 games), the Plzen-born star never had a five-point game. On Saturday, his fireworks helped the Hawks put up more goals in one game than in their entire last playoff run in 2017 (three goals). That year, Nashville swept Chicago in the first round.

Kubalik, a Calder Memorial Trophy finalist with 30 goals and 16 assists in the regular season, stole the spotlight despite three-point outings by Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Triple Gold Club Watch

Currently, the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club includes 29 players who have won Olympic gold, World Championship gold, and the Stanley Cup. Here are the six candidates who could make it in by capturing their first Cup as late as 4 October.

Montreal Canadiens: Shea Weber
Nashville Predators: Matt Duchene, Dan Hamhuis
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist
Pittsburgh Penguins: Patrick Marleau
Washington Capitals: Ilya Kovalchuk

The latter three have all lost one Stanley Cup final: Kovalchuk in 2012 (with New Jersey to Los Angeles), Lundqvist in 2014 (with the Rangers to Los Angeles), and Marleau in 2016 (with San Jose to Pittsburgh).

Health Is the Key

It’s early days yet, but the NHL has thus far avoided the spate of positive COVID-19 tests that have plagued major league baseball clubs like the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. Continued vigilance, of course, will be the key for all professional sports.

That said, old-fashioned injuries still occur. Winnipeg Jets fans are hoping that Game One injuries to star forwards Mark Scheifele (leg) and Patrik Laine (hand) will not kill their club’s offence during their play-in series. The dispirited Jets lost their opener 4-1 to the Calgary Flames, and agitator Matthew Tkachuk’s collision with Scheifele sparked anger from Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice, who called it an “absolutely filthy, disgusting hit.”