The Washington Capitals traded Vitek Vanecek and didn’t give a qualifying offer to Ilya Samsonov in part because of the goaltenders’ lack of success in the playoffs.
The move appeared to backfire because Washington’s new tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren missed the playoffs and Vanecek helped end the New Jersey Devils’ playoff drought. Samsonov went 19-3-3 at home for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season.
Both goalies faltered, though, in their playoff debuts Tuesday night. Vanecek’s Devils trailed 2-0 after one period of a 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers. Samsonov yielded a Tampa Bay Lightning goal 78 seconds in and was pulled after giving up six goals through two periods.
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“I’ll be better. I played like (expletive) today,” said Samsonov, who fell to 1-7 in the playoffs. Vanecek has a 4.17 career postseason goals-against average.
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Every 2023 playoff team has played one game. Though things could easily change in those series, here are the winners and losers from the opening games:
The second-year Kraken won their playoff debut against the defending champion Colorado Avalanche. They carried the momentum that led to a 40-point improvement from their first season. Goaltending had been a weakness during the regular season, but Philipp Grubauer beat his former team with a 34-save effort. Eeli Tolvanen, a waiver pickup, scored the first playoff goal in franchise history.
Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar
The Kings captain had a four-point night on Monday as L.A. rallied from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to beat the Edmonton Oilers in overtime. He tied the game with 16.7 seconds left in regulation by pouncing on a loose puck in the crease. The Kings need him to come up big with Kevin Fiala out of the lineup.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Maybe you can flip a switch. The Lightning had three separate losing streaks of four games or more after the All-Star break, but they were dominant in a 7-3 win against the Maple Leafs. Stars Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov chipped in goals but so did depth players Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Corey Perry and Ross Colton. The only issue is that Victor Hedman, Erik Cernak and Michael Eyssimont were injured during the game.
Boston Bruins depth
Captain Patrice Bergeron missed Game 1 because of an illness, but the Bruins merely shifted their lines around and beat the Florida Panthers 3-1. That’s why Boston is the favorite after setting NHL records with 65 regular-season wins and 135 points.
The Western Conference playoffs are wide open and some had the Stars getting to the Stanley Cup Final. Losing forward Joe Pavelski on a big hit from Minnesota’s Matt Dumba hurts their cause. Pavelski banged his head on the ice, and his status is up in the air. “He seems OK, but we left him at home,” coach Peter DeBoer said Tuesday. The Stars are deeper this season, but losing Pavelski and his leadership and on-ice contributions would be tough for a team trying to overcome a 1-0 deficit after losing in double overtime.
Florida Panthers goalie Alex Lyon
He was big down the stretch to get the Panthers into the playoffs and he made some big saves in Game 1, but he also allowed a couple fluke goals. On the first one, he misplayed a shot from Boston’s Brad Marchand that went in off his glove. On the second, the puck was perched on his leg pad and Jake DeBrusk managed to poke it into the net. The Panthers are going to have to win the goaltending battle to have a chance against the Bruins.
The Oilers were shorthanded six times in their loss and took penalties at the worst time, with less than two minutes left in regulation and during overtime. The Kings scored on both of those to turn the game. Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting faces a hearing on Wednesday because of his late hit to the head against Cernak.
Vegas Golden Knights’ Jack Eichel
The veteran had no points, posted a minus 3 rating and won only a third of his faceoffs in his long-awaited playoff debut, a 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.
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