We have reached another pivot point in the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs: Each Round 2 series has made it through four games, and the next matchup will be played at the higher seed’s arena.
In the East, the Carolina Hurricanes have built a 3-1 lead over the New Jersey Devils, and the Florida Panthers have done the same vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs. Meanwhile, the two series in the West are both deadlocked at 2-2, as the Dallas Stars beat the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday night and the Edmonton Oilers bested the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.
What have we learned from these first 16 games of Round 2 — and what comes next? Let’s hear from Ryan S. Clark, Kristen Shilton and Greg Wyshynski:
You like goals? Good
You’ve noticed it. So have your family, friends, coworkers and anyone else who is paying attention. Goals are being scored — and lots of them. Maybe more than there has been over the previous few years. Or at least it feels like more.
Well, there’s no “feeling” about this. It’s a fact. Entering May 10, the average playoff game has seen 6.40 goals scored, which is not only an increase from last postseason (6.32) but also in line to be the most the NHL has seen since the 1993 postseason.
From 2006 to 2021, teams scored an average of 5.39 goals per game in the playoffs. Last postseason, that average jumped to 6.32, a rise of nearly one goal per game compared to the previous season (5.49). And through the first 66 games of these playoffs, there have been 423 goals scored (6.40 per game).
In addition, there have already been 102 power-play goals, and teams are converting at a rate of 24.2%. If that rate holds, it would be the highest in more than 40 years. There have also been more short-handed goals scored this postseason (17) than last postseason (15), putting it on pace to become the first playoffs since 2006 with more than 20. — Clark
A lack of drama?
The offensive boom in the 2023 postseason has led to exciting moments. What it hasn’t always produced is competitive games — and that trend is only getting worse in the second round.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, around 36% of first-round games saw teams take a lead of at least four goals at any point. Through Tuesday night, 57% of the second-round games saw leads of four goals or more. First-round games were tied or within one goal for 69.7% of the time. Through Tuesday, that number was down to 53.4% in the second round.
In addition, first-round games had a team leading or trailing by three or more goals for only 11.9% of the time. That number has grown to 30% in the second round.
The average margin of victory in the playoffs through 64 games is 2.4 goals. That’s slightly down from last season (2.5), which was the highest average for this point in the postseason since 2018 (2.4).
Why is this happening? The surge in goal-scoring that Ryan chronicled is one reason. The 20 empty-net goals scored so far in the playoffs helps increase that margin of victory as teams are aggressively pulling their goalies sooner.
But in one particular case, it’s the growing pains of a young team. The Devils have lost six games in the playoffs to the New York Rangers and Hurricanes. In those losses, they’ve been outscored by an incredible margin of 32-7. When they lose, they lose big.
“We get down and then every game’s kind of been like that for us. Just grows and grows,” defenseman Dougie Hamilton said. — Wyshynski
Margins as big as the Pacific
Edmonton and Vegas in particular might be incapable of playing a close game. The swings in their series have been monumental, with copious amounts of scoring from both sides.
First it was the Golden Knights winning 6-4 in Game 1; then it was matching 5-1 outcomes in Games 2 and 3. Game 4? Just a casual three-goal first period by the Oilers that would lead to a 4-1 Edmonton win.
For those keeping track at home: Vegas won Games 1 and 3 by an 11-5 margin, and Edmonton won Games 2 and 4 by a 9-2 margin.
Blowouts are certainly fun once in a while. But a whole series of them? Less enjoyable. Will we see some tight-checking, defensive-minded hockey in the next few outings? Perhaps a game that’s not decided in the first 20 minutes? A chaos-happy hockey fan can only hope — Shilton
Rogers Place goes wild as Oilers score their 3rd goal of the period
Mattias Ekholm finds the back of net as the Oilers pad their lead to 3-0 in the first period.
A new goaltending star is born
Forget the Maple Leafs’ “Core Four.” Toronto’s true star of the moment is Joseph Woll.
When starter Ilya Samsonov was injured in the second period of Game 3 — when the Leafs already trailed Florida 2-0 in their series — it could have been the final nail in Toronto’s coffin. Rookie backup Woll entered, and gave the Leafs every chance to win that night, if only anyone could have provided some goal support.
To stave off elimination in Game 4 without Samsonov available required a top-tier goaltending performance from Woll, and he delivered in a 24-save showing that gave the Leafs life. Woll was calm, composed and completely unintimidated by a massive moment.
Toronto can and should take an enormous amount of confidence from its goaltending into Game 5 — and maybe beyond? — Shilton
Can Dallas survive Robertson’s scoring slump?
Five straight games. That’s how long Dallas Stars star winger Jason Robertson has gone without a goal. Roberton’s most recent goal came in the Stars’ Game 5 win against the Minnesota Wild in the first round.
Since then, Robertson — who has two assists in the series against the Kraken — has been stymied despite having 14 shots on goal, raising questions about why a 46-goal scorer has been shut out in this series.
The Stars leveled their second-round series with a 6-3 win Tuesday due in part to the contributions they received throughout the lineup. Five players scored goals, proving the Stars have depth, something that was lacking at times in the playoffs.
This is a bit reminiscent of what happened to Robertson earlier this season. He went seven games in December without a goal. Dallas won four of those games, with the three losses being one-goal decisions. So yes, there has been a seven-game stretch in which the Stars won four games without goals from their leading scorer.
Could that be the case in Round 2? Or does Game 5 provide Robertson the opportunity to reinforce why the Stars remain a serious threat to win the Western Conference? — Clark
Roope Hintz restores the Stars’ 4-goal lead
Roope Hintz scores on the rebound for the Stars’ fourth goal of the second period.
These ain’t your older cousin’s Hurricanes
The Hurricanes being one win away from the Eastern Conference finals shouldn’t be a surprise. Coach Rod Brind’Amour led them there in his first season and got them to the second round in each of the past two seasons. The Stanley Cup playoffs are tailor-made for the Canes’ aggressive, defensive, physical style. Throw in home-ice advantage, and they’re very tough to beat in a seven-game series, as the Devils are discovering currently.
But what is surprising is that they haven’t played a series consisting mostly of grinding, 2-1 games. Carolina is averaging 3.7 goals per game, tied for fourth highest in the playoffs. That’s almost a full goal per game more than their previous best offensive postseason under Brind’Amour (2.82 in 2021).
Remember when lack of offense was supposed to be their undoing? The Hurricanes entered the postseason with forwards Max Pacioretty and Andrei Svechnikov out because of injury. Then they lost Teuvo Teravainen after he appeared in just two postseason games. But Carolina hasn’t just endured offensively; they’ve thrived.
Sebastian Aho has done his part, with 10 points in 10 games. Ditto Seth Jarvis (eight) and Brent Burns (seven). But others have also stepped up when necessary. Forward Jordan Martinook had 11 postseason points in his career entering these playoffs. He now has nine through 10 games, all of them in the second round.
“We lost a lot of key guys, and we need scoring from everywhere,” Martinook said after the Canes’ 6-1 win in Game 4 vs. the Devils. “I feel like in the games we’ve won in this series we’ve been getting it from everywhere, and that’s what we need moving forward.” — Wyshynski
Stanley Cup playoff takeaways after 16 games of Round 2