EDMONTON — A wild Day 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Saturday left us wanting more from Day 2 on Sunday.
The first NHL games in August — and first since the League paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus — gave us something new and wonderful.
Staggered with the first game starting at noon ET and the last ending after 1 a.m. ET, the five Game 1s in the best-of-5 qualifiers Saturday created a must-watch feel like the early rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“I caught myself looking up at the screen all day long basically trying to check in on other games and just seeing what the scores were like,” Calgary Flames goalie Cam Talbot said after making 17 saves in a 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city, that capped the day. “But anytime you get game after game like that, it’s great for hockey to be back and we’re just so happy to be part of it.”
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin started the historic day by scoring the first NHL goal in August 1:01 into a 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city. Slavin joined an exclusive club that includes Jean Bealiveau, who scored the first May NHL goal in the Montreal Canadiens’ 4-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on May 1, 1965, and Jaromir Jagr, who scored the first June goal in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 6-5 win against the Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 1, 1992.
Then came the first of two upsets by a No. 12 seed against a No. 5 seed. First, the Blackhawks stunned the Edmonton Oilers with a 6-4 victory at Rogers Place.
Forward Dominik Kubalik paced Chicago by setting a League rookie record with five points (two goals, three assists) in his NHL postseason debut. A finalist for the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the League, Kubalik had three points (all assists) in the first period to also set an NHL rookie record for most points in the first period of his first postseason game.
The 24-year-old fell one short of the NHL rookie record for points in a postseason game held by Mikko Leinonen of the New York Rangers, who had six points (all assists) in Game 2 of the 1982 Division Semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers.
During a moving ceremony prior to the game, Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba made an emotional speech about fighting racism before dropping to one knee during the U.S. national anthem. Surrounded by Oilers and Blackhawks players, Dumba, who is Filipino-Canadian, was flanked by Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban and Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, Black Canadians who placed their hands on his shoulders.
“I know first-hand as a minority playing the great game of hockey the unexplainable and difficult challenge that come with it,” Dumba said. “The Hockey Diversity Alliance and the NHL want kids to feel safe, comfortable and free-minded every time they enter an arena. I stand in front of you today on behalf of those groups and promise you that we will fight against injustice and fight for what is right.”
After the seventh-seeded New York Islanders’ 2-1 win against 10th-seeded Florida Panthers in Game 1 of their best-of-5 series in Toronto, the Montreal Canadiens pulled off the second upset of the day by a 12th seed with a 3-2 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With Alex Ovechkin and some of his Washington Capitals teammates watching from their team suite at Scotiabank Arena, the Penguins erased a 2-0 second-period deficit with goals from Sidney Crosby and Bryan Rust before defenseman Jeff Petry scored 13:57 into sudden death to give the Canadiens the victory.
“I think it gives us a lot of confidence,” said rookie forward Nick Suzuki, who scored Montreal’s second goal.” I think a lot of people didn’t see us as contenders, so we want to show them that we can compete with anyone.”
The game featured penalty shots by Penguins forward Conor Sheary with 3:03 remaining in the third period and Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin 6:46 into overtime. Neither player scored, but it was second NHL postseason game to include multiple penalty shots and first since there were three penalty shots in Game 1 of the 1923 Stanley Cup Final between the original Ottawa Senators and the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada Hockey League.
The schedule Sunday includes five more games, beginning with Game 1 of the Western Conference Qualifier between the sixth-seeded Nashville Predators and the 11th-seeded Arizona Coyotes (2 p.m. ET; USA, NHL.TV, SN360, SN1, FS-TN, FS-A)) at Rogers Place. That will be followed by an Eastern Conference round-robin game between the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Arena (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS)) and a Western Conference round-robin game between the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues and the Colorado Avalanche in Edmonton (6:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS2, ALT, FS-MW) before two more Game 1s in best-of-5 series.
In the East, the eighth-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs will face the ninth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Arena (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVAS, FS-O). In the West, the seventh-seeded Vancouver Canucks will play the 10th-seeded Minnesota Wild at Rogers Place (10:30 p.m. ET; SN, NBCSN, NHLTV, SN, FS-N, FS-WI).
It will be difficult for those teams to surpass what we saw Saturday, but it will be fun to watch them try.