Barry Trotz vs. the Capitals highlights NHL first-round storylines

Mike Brehm, USA TODAY
·5 min read

The qualifying round is behind us, and while it provided some surprises with its best-of-five series, the playoffs will take on more of a sense of normalcy Tuesday with the beginning of the first round.

Series will go back to best-of-seven, and teams have had a chance to shake off some of the rust from the 4½ -month coronavirus layoff.

Here are some of the top storylines:

Washington Capitals face former coach Barry Trotz

Trotz led the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup title in 2018, then left that summer in a contract dispute and signed with the New York Islanders.

He predicts "a hell of a series" against his former team.

“That group has a lot of pedigree, they’ve got a lot of firepower and they’ve won championships," he told reporters. "The biggest challenge is to play them even and play them hard, and they’ll do the same because I know a lot about that group.”

Trotz says he knows the tendencies of many Capitals players, but Washington coach Todd Reirden says he knows Trotz's tendencies, too, after being his assistant.

“It will be a great matchup for the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders," he said. "It’s not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden. It will be a team effort.”

Islanders coach Barry Trotz will face the Capitals team he led to a Stanley Cup.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz will face the Capitals team he led to a Stanley Cup.

St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins didn't win a game in qualifying round

St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins didn't win a game in qualifying round

Both Craig Berube, coach of the defending champion Blues, and Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy thought their teams played better as the round-robin wore on.

But Berube didn't like how his team took too many penalties. The Blues also scored first in every game, only to lose.

“We’re almost trying to win with a one-goal lead," Berube said. "We’re not trying to go out and get the next goal. We’re not playing aggressive enough.”

The Bruins' top line, meanwhile, combined for one assist, and their power play went 0-for-9. But Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask noted the round-robin games really didn't matter.

“It doesn’t matter what seed you are in because you have to beat every team if you want to advance," he said. "We feel good. It’s over now and we start real hockey.”

Tampa Bay Lightning face the Columbus Blue Jackets again after last year's stunning upset

This is a much different Blue Jackets team than the one that swept the 62-win Lightning in the first round.

Free agents Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene went elsewhere, but the Blue Jackets made the playoffs despite a host of injuries. That's because of John Tortorella, a coach of the year candidate who made the right moves to knock off the high-flying Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Lightning look different, too, adding physical players Pat Maroon and Barclay Goodrow to address a weakness.

Tampa Bay faces trouble because captain Steven Stamkos has yet to play this postseason, and defenseman Victor Hedman was hurt when he stumbled in Saturday's game.

“When your perennial Norris Trophy finalist every year is out, that creates a hole," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

Still, Tortorella realizes the tough task ahead, calling the Lightning "a very good hockey club with a lot of weapons."

"We’re going to have to get better in a lot of things, not just defense," he said. "We have to make more plays. We have to get our forecheck better.”

Have the Chicago Blackhawks discovered their old playoff magic?

The Blackhawks won Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015, with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith leading the way.

The No. 12 seed Blackhawks upset the Edmonton Oilers, with those three, plus two-time Cup winner Corey Crawford leading the way. Rookies Dominik Kubalik and Kirby Dach also chipped in. Chicago allowed Edmonton's top three players to combine for 23 points but kept the rest of the team in check.

But the deeper Vegas Golden Knights, the Blackhawks' next opponent, averaged five goals a game against the West's top teams. And that's without Max Pacioretty, who could be back for this round.

Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart is facing goalie he idolizes

Goalie Carey Price (.947 save percentage) played brilliantly in the No. 12 seed Montreal Canadiens' upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“He was my favorite goalie growing up," Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart said. "I just had the chance to meet him the other week and talk with him for the first time, so that was something pretty cool.”

The Flyers went 3-0 in the round robin with Hart (.966 save percentage) winning his two starts.

"He’s obviously a really good goalie, and they’ve got some good players on their team, so we’ll just prepare and be ready," he said.

Bubble is strange, but it is working

Handshake lines have (mostly) become elbow-bump lines. No fans are in the stands, but fan noise is piped into TV broadcasts. News conferences are conducted over Zoom.

But the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles are having the proper effect. The league announced Monday that for the second week in a row, there were no positive COVID-19 tests among the 7,245 administered.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL playoffs: Trotz vs. Capitals top storyline as first round begins