Early winners and losers on quest for Stanley Cup

Veteran goalie Mike Smith entered Game 1 of the NHL playoffs with the Calgary Flames’ fan base wondering if he was the right man to be the team’s No. 1 goalie.

He is 37 and hadn’t played a playoff game in seven seasons. His save percentage this season was .898, well below the NHL average. He heard too many boos this season in Calgary

But everyone in Calgary turned into a Smith admirer Thursday night when he posted a 26-save shutout to power the Flames to a 4-0 win against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal.

Fans chanted “Smitty, Smitty, Smitty” as the big saves piled up. “I haven’t heard anything like that in my career,” Smith said.

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Smith was a major winner in his Game 1. Here are other winners and losers after the NHL’s opening games of the playoffs:

► Winner: Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella: The video of Tortorella’s pre-game speech and the Blue Jackets’ comeback in Game 1 is a reminder that historically Tortorella’s teams overachieve in the postseason. 

Loser:  Tampa Bay Lightning stars: Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point didn’t register a point in the opening game against Columbus. 

► Winner: Nassau Coliseum: The old barn was rockin’ in Game 1 and the Islanders seemed to feed off the energy in the building. It’s as if the clock had been turned back to the early 1980s when the Islanders ruled the NHL. Having this smaller, but charming, older arena back in the game is fun. 

Loser:  Nashville Predators forwards: The biggest concern about the Predators coming into the playoffs was whether forwards would score enough. The Preds did nothing to allay fans’ worries in Game 1. No forward scored a goal.

► Winner:  Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen: How long have we heard that the Maple Leafs’ defensive group wasn’t good enough? The Leafs played well enough on the back end in the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win in Game 1.

Loser:  Boston Bruins: Brad Marchand said after losing Game 1 that the Bruins may have underestimated the Maple Leafs. He was right. The Bruins were not close to being at their best in this game. 

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► Winner: Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom: The two goals were crucial, but the two shot blocks he made in the closing minutes against Carolina were more memorable. They were symbolic of how hard the Capitals worked to hang on when the Hurricanes mounted a charge.

► Loser:  Vegas Golden Knights: Last season, the Golden Knights gave up five goals only once in 20 playoff games. This season, they surrendered five goals in their playoff opener against the San Jose Sharks.  Golden Knights don’t quite have the same magic this season.

► Winner:  Dallas Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen: The rookie defenseman scored two goals in his first NHL playoff game. The Stars believe that he may have as much impact on their franchise as Rasmus Dahlin will have on the Sabres franchise.

Loser: Winnipeg Jets’ offense:   Winnipeg’s top two lines didn’t produce a goal. Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele only had one shot on goal each. Kevin Hayes didn’t have any shots on net. The Jets just haven’t been the team we thought they would be this season.


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