Colorado Avalanche vs. Edmonton Oilers
It was a sweep, but there was a back-and-forth Game 1 and an overtime Game 4. It also showed glimpses of what will come when you load up teams with next-generation superstars. Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Evander Kane and Zach Hyman. These guys can play. These teams produced six of the top nine in playoff scoring. McDavid had a +15, which is really good for someone swept in the third round. Defense and goaltending are important, but offense is far more exciting. And just because many goals are scored doesn't mean those other things are bad. Beyond all the goals scored, it left many memorable moments like the Draisaitl hunching over on the ice and bench trying to gut out one more shift. It showed the determination and desire of the players to go all out for a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
The two blowouts notwithstanding, there were stretches of exceptional hockey during the four one-goal games, with two that ended in overtime. The stars didn't dominate the series either, which showed you how important it is to have balanced lines that can all score. It was a fitting way to end the season, with two of the best teams from the past three seasons finally meeting in the playoffs.
Honorable mention goes to the Tampa Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs and their final three games, which had drama in spades. Unfortunately, their first four were as unappealing as possible.
Most Dramatic Series
New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
When you have a series go seven games that began and ended with overtime, you have all the makings of an epic series filled with drama, but that was only the beginning. Game 1 went into triple overtime and featured a goalie change that Louis Domingue thought was a joke. He even ate his now infamous spicy pork and broccoli in between periods because he didn't think he would play. The Penguins won and were up 3-1 in the series. Many called for Igor Shesterkin to be pulled from the series despite making 79 saves in Game 1 and winning the Vezina this season. Many thought the series was over. But the second youngest team in the playoffs fought back and won three in a row even though they trailed in every one of those games, including the final overtime game. Domingue is now on the Rangers.
Best Game 7
Calgary Flames vs. Dallas Stars
The series was great, but this game was an instant classic. Even without Jake Oettinger's magical performance, it still would have been a gem. The Stars jumped out to an early lead, but it became 2-2 halfway through the game, and that would be it for regulation goals. Oettinger posted 67 saves, and many were truly eye-popping and memorable. Despite the lopsided shots, either team could have won the game. The Stars had quality chances, even if they were far fewer. It took fifteen minutes into overtime to break the tie when Johnny Gaudreau had an odd angle shot off a turnover to send the Flames into the next round. He was as stunned as everyone else when it went in. This isn't the first time the Stars let their goalie down in an overtime Game 7. They did it to Ben Bishop against the St. Louis Blues. They made it to the Stanley Cup finals the following season, so history may repeat.
Team on the Rise
Yes, I typed that. Despite not making the playoffs, the Senators have a lot going for them. They acquired Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat (more on him later) to pair with their young nucleus of Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stuetzle, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, and Thomas Chabot. Their most glaring weakness was goaltending, but they solved that too by trading for Cam Talbot. Talbot is very underrated and underappreciated. It's weird to see the Senators make all these big moves, as they are usually the ones unloading talent. But with their owner passing away, it's time for a fresh start. They're a team to watch out for next season.
Los Angeles Kings
Since I constantly rag on them, I'll give credit where it's due. If you had told me the Kings would be a game away from making the second round this year, I would have said you're crazy. But there they were. I'm not sold on them because Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, and Drew Doughty aren't getting any younger. Their younger players aren't there yet, and I'm not sold on Adrian Kempe and Phillip Danault being stars. The Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights should be better next season, so it's unlikely the Kings will make the playoffs again.
Matthew Tkachuk for Jonathan Huberdeau
I like the trade for both teams. The Florida Panthers realized they needed to do something to get better. Tkachuk brings grit and character and can match the scoring the Panthers lost in Huberdeau. He might help them get over the hump, but they're in a tough division, so there's no guarantee. I love the trade for the Calgary Flames because they saw what happened when Johnny Gaudreau left for nothing in return. After Tkachuk wouldn't commit long-term, it was best to get something back, and Huberdeau signed a long-term deal. However, it's not a great look that the Flames couldn't retain two top players they drafted. It delays building a championship team and makes free agents think twice before going there. This is a significant trade, too, because it's not often two players in the top eight in scoring get swapped for each other.
The Best Season in a long time
This season and postseason had so many things going for them. Coming off two weird COVID seasons helped, but it would also stand out next to any regular season. We had the most goals against since 2005-06 and the most scored since 1995-96. Eight players finished with at least 100 points. Although the ending wasn't compelling, all eight Eastern Conference playoff teams finished with over 100 points. The first time that's ever happened. The Western Conference playoff teams came down to the final week and the seeding to the last game. We had five game sevens in the first round, the most since 1992, and two went into overtime. We had a bunch of notable streaks too. The Pittsburgh Penguins made the playoffs for the 16th straight season, the longest active streak in sports. The Tampa Bay Lightning became the third team to win 11 or more consecutive playoff series. The Toronto Maple Leafs have now lost eight straight playoff series, making it much sweeter when they finally do.
We had a retiring class of Dustin Brown, Ryan Getzlaf, Duncan Keith, Tuukka Rask, and Jason Spezza. That's a pretty good starting lineup.
Connor McDavid became the second player in NHL history to record six multi-point games in a single playoff series. The first was Rick Middleton, so it doesn't happen often. But it probably will for McDavid, though.
Alexander Ovechkin scored his ninth 50-goal season, making him the oldest to do so and tying the record held by Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy. Surprisingly, he has not slowed down, and he'll probably break it next season. He also played in his 1000th game, with Nicklas Backstrom becoming the ninth pair to reach the mark.
Sidney Crosby scored his 500th goal and 200th playoff point, one of only six to hit the latter mark.
Jonathan Huberdeau recorded his 71st assist, becoming the all-time single-season leader in assists by a left winger because there are stats for everything.
Marc-Andre Fleury played his 900th game and picked up his 500th victory for third all-time. The two people above him in wins are exactly who you think they are.
Marc Staal joined brothers Eric and Jordan as the first trio of brothers in NHL history to each record 1,000 games played. Gee, I wonder why that doesn't happen often.