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2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Surprises from Round 1

26 days ago

An action-packed first round has nearly come to a close. So far, the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs have been full of twists and turns, massive comebacks, and the beginnings of some interesting storylines to follow. Part of the excitement is seeing which players or teams step up in a big way or get on a hot streak at the perfect time to help propel their team to new heights.

So, as we close off the first round of these playoffs, here are a few surprises from the Division Semi-Finals that made a huge impact on the outcome of their team’s series.

Evan Bouchard, Edmonton Oilers

Right now, Evan Bouchard is playing the best hockey of his career. Not only has his offensive game stepped up, but he has also become an incredibly reliable defender paired alongside Mattias Ekholm.

Through the first round, where Bouchard’s 10 points helped guide the Oilers to victory in six games over the Los Angeles Kings, he averaged 23:08 of ice time per game, second amongst the team’s defenders.

The Oilers’ powerplay converted at a 56.3% success rate against the Kings. Bouchard, having taken over the top powerplay unit after the trade deadline, was a significant part of that, with eight powerplay points in the series to lead the league in that category.

After what was, at times, a rocky season for Bouchard, he has stepped up his game to a completely new level. He was good after the trade deadline. But in round one of these playoffs, he has been excellent.

Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

Mitch Marner has always taken a lot of flack for his postseason performances. He often found himself at the centre of the criticisms for the struggles the Toronto Maple Leafs have faced in the playoffs.

But things were different this season. Marner has already set a career-high for points in a single postseason, with 11 in six games through the first round. Not only has he been producing offensively at a higher rate, but his impact in the games has also changed. For the better.

Marner stepped up his defensive game through the regular season and kept the trend up in this series. He was taking more shot attempts in this series than he usually does in the postseason. And even though he does not normally take many penalties to begin with, in past postseasons, he had a tendency to take unnecessary penalties at bad times, which stood out. So far, he has not taken a penalty.

All of these little things have combined together to completely turn the tables on what has been expected of Marner in the postseason.

Matthew Tkachuk, Florida Panthers

What is surprising about Matthew Tkachuk’s performance is not that he has 11 points in seven games. It really comes as no surprise that he is playing as well as he has been. It’s the fact that he has, almost singlehandedly, been the main driving factor behind keeping the Panthers in their series against the Boston Bruins.

It is no secret that Tkachuk is possibly the best in the league at managing the momentum and energy levels within games and hyping up the team in the locker room. And he is showing his mastery of skills in this area.

Florida was more or less expected to get swept out of the first round, and maybe they’d win a game at home. But the Panthers managed to get this series all the way to seven games, even staving off elimination in two consecutive games after going down 3-1.

In big moments, Tkachuk has come up clutch in this series. He had the overtime winner in game five to keep the Panthers’ season alive. And he had another three points in game six, including the tying goal midway through the third period.

Tkachuk was such a key factor in this series and the main reason why the Panthers were surprisingly competitive against and managed to beat Boston.

There are a few big surprises from round one of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Who would you add to this list? Drop a comment down below!

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