Bottom-seeds the Chicago Blackhawks, the Montreal Canadiens and the Arizona Coyotes completed shocking upsets in the NHL qualifying round on Friday to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs, the worst teams in the competition eliminating favorites.
However, the Toronto Maple Leafs might have pulled off the biggest stunner of all by staying alive in the championship quest with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik scored the game-winning goal 8 minutes, 30 seconds into the third period to give the 12th-seeded Blackhawks a 3-2 vicory over Western Conference fifth-seeded bubble hosts the Edmonton Oilers and a 3-1 victory in their best-of-five play-in series.
“We’re going to keep getting better as we go along,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said.
Other rink upsets saw East 12th seed Montreal down the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0 to claim that series 3-1 and West 11th seed Arizona edge the Nashville Predators 4-3 in overtime, the Coyotes winning their first post-season series since 2012 by 3-1 as well.
East bubble hosts Toronto made a fightback for the ages to defeat the Blue Jackets on an Auston Matthews power-play goal 13:10 into overtime, leveling their play-in matchup at 2-2 to force a decider today.
Columbus led 3-0 before Toronto’s William Nylander scored with 3:57 to play, John Tavares followed 51 seconds later and Zach Hyman netted the equalizer with 23 seconds remaining in regulation — each score coming with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker.
“This group has to be unbelievably proud. What a comeback,” Matthews said. “We just tried to flip the script, stay with it. We just kept plugging away and forced a game five.”
The NHL return from its COVID-19 shutdown saw 12 teams each enter quarantine bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton — four top teams from earlier games deciding playoff seedings and eight others playing a qualifying round for playoff spots.
Photo: John E. Sokolowski / USA TODAY
Toews cleared the puck from behind the goal to set up Kubalik’s decisive slap shot.
The Blackhawks face the West top seed, either the Colorado Avalanche or the Vegas Golden Knights, in the first best-of-seven round of the playoffs, which are to open on Tuesday.
Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen opened the scoring with 4:11 remaining in the third period as the Canadiens, who had the worst record of the 24 returning NHL teams, spoiled the 33rd birthday of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, a three-time NHL champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
“It was an important goal for sure,” Lehkonen said. “We showed up to the camp ready to play and knew we would have a chance. Now we’ve just got to move on to the next one.”
Carey Price made 22 saves for Montreal for his sixth post-season shutout, his first since 2015, the last year the Canadiens had won a post-season series.
Shea Weber scored an empty-net goal with 32 seconds remaining to create the final victory margin for Montreal, who face a first-round playoff series against the East top seed, either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Philadelphia Flyers.
Brad Richardson scored on a backhand shot 5:27 into overtime to give the Coytotes their first playoff berth in eight years.
“It hit off my shin pad and kind of hung around,” said Richardson, who was camped out on the edge of the goal crease. “Luckily I got the rebound and put it in.”
The Coyotes, who moved from Winnipeg to Arizona in 1996, won their only prior post-season matchups in 2012 and had not reached the playoffs since.
Nashville’s Filip Forsberg scored with 31.9 seconds remaining in the third period to pull the Predators level and force overtime, but Arizona advanced to face the West second seed.
Anthony Beauvillier scored two goals and Semyon Varlamov made 24 saves to spark the New York Islanders over the Florida Panthers 5-1 to complete a 3-1 victory in their East qualifying series.
Christopher Tanev scored 11 seconds into overtime as the Vancouver Canucks advanced to the Stanley Cup playoffs’ main draw with a victory over the Minnesota Wild in Game 4 in Edmonton, Alberta.
Tanev, who also had two assists, fired a shot from the right point through traffic and past the blocker side of Minnesota goaltender Alex Stalock to clinch the best-of-five Western Conference qualifying series 3-1.
Bo Horvat also scored a goal and had two assists, Quinn Hughes and Tanner Pearson each had a goal and an assist, and Brandon Sutter also scored for the Canucks. Jacob Markstrom finished with 25 saves. Eric Staal, Luke Kunin, Joel Eriksson Ek and Nico Sturm scored goals and Jonas Brodin had a pair of assists for Minnesota.
“They learn quickly. They learn on the fly. I’ve said it before: Coaching this group is enjoyable,” Canucks coach Travis Green said.
Additional reporting by Reuters and AP
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