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First-round review: Highlights, lowlights, everything in between

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer
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They took it down to the last shift in the last minute of the last game, but ultimately the Washington Capitals managed only a monumental collapse while suffering one of the biggest upsets in playoff history.

Still, it was a breathtaking finish and a fitting end to a captivating first round of action, one that only strengthened the argument of those who believe the NHL playoffs are the most exciting in sports. In all, 24 of the 49 games played featured comebacks, with nine coming in the third period, and there were more goals per game (5.90) scored than in any first round since 1996.

Not a bad start to the spring and with plenty more to come. In the meantime, here's a look back at some of the first round's top games, top moments, top heroes and even its top zeroes.

The best of 7 (games)

Game 7: Detroit at Phoenix: The feel-good story that was the Coyotes came to a crashing end as the veteran Red Wings made like the Harlem Globetrotters taking on the Washington Generals in one of the most one-sided Game 7s ever.

Game 6: Washington at Montreal: A second opportunity to close things out goes by the wayside for the Caps in spite of the 54 shots they fired because Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak turns in a game for the ages.

Game 5: Nashville at Chicago: The defensive-minded Predators have a chance to go home with the series lead, but find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Patrick Kane ties the game with 13 seconds left -- while Chicago was shorthanded -- and the 'Hawks win in overtime.

Game 4 Vancouver at Los Angeles: Down 2-1 in the series and 3-2 heading into the final period, the Canucks explode with four goals in the final period to turn the series around.

Game 3: San Jose at Colorado: Craig Anderson stops 51 San Jose shots for a shutout, while Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov turns back 16 Avs drives, only to be beaten by his own defenseman in overtime.

Game 2: New Jersey at Philadelphia: The New Jersey Devils bounced back from an opening game defeat despite giving Philadelphia seven power plays. Devils coach Jacques Lemaire grimaces all the way through, but gets the last win of his illustrious career.

Game 1: Ottawa at Pittsburgh: A heavy underdog, Ottawa goes into Pittsburgh and beats the reigning Stanley Cup champions. The result causes some concern in Steel City because the first-game winner had won the most recent two playoff meetings between the teams.

Plays of the (two) weeks

The goal: Sidney Crosby played catch-me-if-you-can with Ottawa's rangy center Jason Spezza, faking him out of his jock strap while going back and forth twice behind the Senators net in Game 2 before dishing off to Kris Letang, who scored the winning goal.

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The save: Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo was lying on his back, out of position and saw Los Angeles forward Ryan Smyth staring at a wide open net. The Kings were ahead in the game and trying to force a Game 7, but Luongo somehow managed to stick out his glove and snare the high shot. Vancouver came back in the third period and wrapped up the series.

The hit: Mark Recchi is the oldest player in these players at 42, but he still has some spring in his step and power in his shoulders. In Game 3 he used both to separate Buffalo's Tim Kennedy from the puck deep in the Sabres end, retrieving it and setting up Patrice Bergeron for the winning goal that turned the tide in the series.

The goof: Fortunately the San Jose Sharks won their series against Colorado because otherwise Dan Boyle wouldn't be able to live down his unfortunate miscue in Game 3. Of course, putting the puck in your net in overtime is the kind of play that will live on forever on YouTube.

The call: Referee Brad Watson has had his share of controversies in recent playoffs, but the latest will make him less welcome in Washington than a Democrat at a Tea Party rally. Watson disallowed a goal by Alexander Ovechkin early in the third period of Game 7 because of goalie interference. That would have tied the game and perhaps changed the outcome of the series.

Unsung heroes

Brian Boucher: He won a shootout on the final day to get the Flyers into the playoffs, but Boucher was still seen as the weak link in Philadelphia's chain. But he led all first-round goalies in save percentage and goals-against average and his team past division champ New Jersey in just five games.

Miroslav Satan: He looked so washed up that nobody wanted to take a chance on the forward who was one of the league's top snipers before the lockout. Boston was desperate though and signed him to a bargain basement deal in January, and Satan repaid the faith by scoring two game-winners in the Bruins' first-round victory over division champion Buffalo.

Mikael Samuelsson: Everyone talks about the Sedins and Luongo in Vancouver, and for good reason. But the former Red Wing signed as a free agent last summer went on a tear after being snubbed by Sweden for the Olympics and kept things up by scoring a league-high seven goals in the first round.

Hal Gill: How often did you see Alex Ovechkin get to the middle of the ice against the Canadiens? Don't worry, no else did either, in large part because of the way the six-foot-seven Gill was in his face. Collectively, Montreal's defensemen were a big reason for the team's first-round upset, with Gill (and partner Josh Gorges) setting the tone with their stick work and ability to keep the high-flying Caps forwards on the perimeter.

Jimmy Howard: It's hard enough to play goal in Detroit, and even harder when you're a rookie that many people believe can bring your team down. Howard wasn't necessarily overworked by the Phoenix Coyotes, but he was extremely steady and came up big in situations when his team really needed him.

Big zeroes

Alexander Semin: He's a 40-goal scorer who disappeared again in the playoffs. Semin took a lot of shots, most of them from places he wouldn't have to take a hit, and extended his postseason scoreless drought to 13 games.

Martin Erat: After scoring two big third-period goals in Game 5, Erat made a mindless play in the dying seconds with Nashville clinging to a lead and on the power play. Erat passed blindly from deep in Chicago's end, creating a turnover that led to the tying goal of a pivotal game the Blackhawks won in overtime.

Joe Thornton: Big Joe proved once again why he is known as little Joe in the playoffs. The Sharks' franchise player didn't score, managed only three assists and was a minus-4 in the opening round.

Brian Elliot: He was a big reason the Senators got to the playoffs and a bigger reason they were bounced so fast. Elliot appeared in four games and had a 4.14 goals-against average and an .853 save percentage.

Derek Roy: He was the Sabres' leading scorer during the regular season but an offensive no-show during the playoffs with just two assists.

The great eight (Early Conn Smythe contenders)

Jaroslav Halak: Well duh. The Montreal goalie stole the series, stopping 131 of the final 134 shots he faced over the last three games.

Sidney Crosby: The first round scoring leader with 14 points, Crosby came up with several big goals and even stopped one by Ottawa at a crucial time with a great diving save.

Joe Pavelski: Unlike Thornton, he's gone from being little Joe to big Joe. Pavelski led San Jose with eight points, and his five goals that included a last-minute tying goal, an overtime winner and a series clincher.

Henrik Zetterberg: This is his time of year. Zetterberg led the Wings in scoring, no surprise since he averages nearly a point per game in the playoffs and scores in just about one of every two games. Detroit usually wins when he does too.

Daniel Sedin/Henrik Sedin: You can hardly tell the twins apart when looking at them, so why try to separate their value now? The duo combined for five goals and 18 points. As they go, so do the Canucks.

Mike Richards: The Flyers captain and heart-and-soul leader had a great first round against New Jersey, doing it all on both sides of the puck.

David Krejci: Boston didn't want to let Phil Kessel go, but they knew they couldn't let Krejci get away. His first round showed why.

Jonathan Toews: A slow start but a strong finish to the first round for the Blackhawks' young captain and leader. Toews got his points, played solid defense and was very good in the faceoff circle.

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