The Chicago Blackhawks and the Montreal Canadiens, with the fewest wins of any NHL playoff teams, ignited the rink returning from a COVID-19 hiatus with upset triumphs in Saturday openers.
NHL Rookie of the Year candidate Dominik Kubalik inspired the Blackhawks to a 6-4 victory over the Edmonton Oilers in game one of their best-of-five qualifying series at Edmonton, Alberta, scoring two goals and assisting on three others.
“We were ready to go, and I think the game was pretty good,” Kubalik said. “I felt pretty good and everything went my way, so it’s nice, but it’s just the first game, so we’ve got to keep going.”
Montreal’s Jeff Petry scored with six minutes, three seconds remaining in overtime to give the Canadiens a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh in their opener at Toronto after each team had missed a late penalty shot.
Other playoff games on the first day of the NHL’s return from a March 12 COVID-19 shutdown saw the Carolina Hurricanes edge the New York Rangers 3-2, the New York Islanders beat the Florida Panthers 2-1 and the Calgary Flames defeat the Winnipeg Jets 4-1.
Edmonton is the Western Conference hub city and Toronto the Eastern Conference hub city for quarantine bubbles being used to help safeguard NHL players from the novel coronavirus, which halted the campaign with three weeks remaining in the season.
A dozen teams from each conference are in the playoffs, the top four season finishers in each city playing one another to determine seeding order for the first round of the playoffs.
The other eight clubs in each conference meet in qualifying best-of-five matchups to decide the other four teams that will reach the first round of the best-of-seven playoffs.
At Toronto, Montreal’s Carey Price made 39 saves for the 12th-seeded Canadiens to stun the fifth-seeded Penguins.
Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary missed wide left on a penalty shot with three minutes, three seconds remaining in the third and Montreal’s Jonathan Drouin missed a penalty shot on a backhand at six minutes, 46 seconds of overtime.
At Edmonton, Jonathan Toews scored twice for Chicago, while Brandon Saad and Dylan Strome added goals for the 12th-seeded Blackhawks and Corey Crawford made 25 saves.
“It just was not good enough, all around,” Edmonton star Connor McDavid said. “Game one is important. We lost it. Nothing we can do about it now. All we can do is focus on game two.”
“We did a better job as the game went on of keeping it simple. That’s what our team needs to do, ultimately, is be simpler,” he said.
AN NHL FIRST
Minnesota Wild’s Matt Dumba became the first NHL player to kneel during the US national anthem when he did so before the opening playoff game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks in Edmonton, Alberta.
Dumba knelt at center ice on Saturday, while fellow black players Malcolm Subban of Chicago and Darnell Nurse of Edmonton each stood with a hand on one of his shoulders. Several teams this week stood together during the US and Canadian anthems, with some players locking arms to show solidarity.
With the message: “End racism” on video screens around him, the Wild defenseman made a passionate speech about racial injustice on behalf of the NHL and the Hockey Diversity Alliance.
“During this pandemic, something unexpected but long overdue occurred: The world woke up to the existence of systemic racism and how deeply rooted it is within our society,” Dumba said. “Racism is everywhere and we need to fight against it.”
Dumba and a handful of other black hockey players formed the Hockey Diversity Alliance in June in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in policy custody in Minnesota.
Afterward, Dumba received support from around the hockey community.
“I think everyone in the league stands with those guys,” Colorado forward Matt Nieto said. “There’s just no room for racism in our sport or any sports or just in general for that matter.”
Additional reporting by AP
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