Game 7 Saturday: Hurricanes, Lightning, Oilers earn tough playoff wins

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• Home-ice advantage indeed ruled the Hurricanes – Bruins series. The Hurricanes won Game 7, and will face either the Penguins and Rangers.

• Same old story? Not necessarily, but same old result. The Maple Leafs could not advance in the First Round, instead losing to the defending repeat champion Lightning in Game 7.

• That said, the Lightning may be the less-healthy team against the Panthers. Brayden Point was unable to finish Game 7 after suffering an injury.

Leon Draisaitl gritted Game 7 out, with Connor McDavid dominating to help the Oilers outlast the Kings. We’ll either get a “Battle of Alberta” in the Second Round, or it will be Oilers – Stars.

Game 7: Carolina Hurricanes 3, Boston Bruins 2 (CAR wins series 4-3)

As mentioned above, the home team won all seven contests in the Hurricanes’ series win against the Bruins. In the case of Game 7, it was the first one not decided by at least two goals. Granted, it was almost decided by two. David Pastrnak scored to reduce Carolina’s lead to 3-2 with about 21 seconds left. While that provided some late drama, it sure felt like the Hurricanes controlled the larger run of play against the Bruins. Granted, the B’s had their near-misses, so maybe it could have been closer. Generally, Carolina was the better team, and the Hurricanes will being the Second Round at home (whether they face the Penguins or the Rangers).

Game 7: Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1 (TBL wins series 4-3)

The more things change, the more they stay the same?

In previous Game 7-type situations, the Leafs didn’t just lose, they often wilted. In Game 7 against the Lightning, it didn’t feel quite that way, at least for those observing the Maple Leafs. They’re almost certainly not happy hearing platitudes. Mostly.

With two chances to advance, the Maple Leafs fought hard against the repeat defending champions. Still, the overall result remains the same. One-and-done, once again.

Truly, you have to mix some bad with the good. Yes, the Maple Leafs had a goal disallowed, and maybe the Lightning got away with a plenty here and there. At the same time, the Maple Leafs went 0-for-3 on the power play in Game 7, and much like being unable to endure the trapping and turtling of the Canadiens last year, Toronto couldn’t break through when Tampa Bay clamped down.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 First Round schedule, TV info]

For a team that’s often a scoring machine, it’s deeply disturbing to see their offense dry up so often when it matters the most.

Some may disagree on this. But, as I said, I wouldn’t “blow up” the Maple Leafs. Tweaks are needed, though. Ideally, they’ll get more stable in net, and find a little bit of extra scoring punch. Tweaks like finding more options on the rush may be the ticket, rather than something drastic.

None of these points erase the frustration for Maple Leafs players, staff, and fans. We’ll find out soon enough if this latest disappointment translates to bigger or smaller changes.

Game 7: Edmonton Oilers 2, Los Angeles Kings 0 (EDM wins series 4-3)

If you drew up Game 7 to give the Kings the best chance to beat the Oilers, it would have gone like this. They received a vintage clutch performance from Jonathan Quick. This was a low-scoring game, including a scoreless first period and just a single goal in the second.

Leon Draisaitl even wasn’t 100-percent.

To the Oilers and Mike Smith‘s credit, they did not blink despite the Kings staying in a one-sided Game 7. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have arguably the best player in the world …

Three Stars from Game 7 Saturday

1. Connor McDavid, Oilers

Did Connor McDavid silence debate about anyone else being the best player in the world on Saturday, or in this series?

That’s probably hasty talk. That said, if shot with truth serum, I’d blurt out Connor McDavid as the greatest active NHL player. One may argue that truth serum might be “one beer.”

Chances are, these discussions will bubble up again. That could happen as soon as the Second Round, as Connor McDavid and the Oilers will face either the puck-hogging and defensively stout Flames, or the defensive-minded-to-a-throwback-level Stars. Those are teams that could make things tough for McDavid, especially if Leon Draisaitl’s injury issues linger.

In Game 7, McDavid assisted on Cody Ceci‘s 1-0 goal, then did it all on a crucial 2-0 insurance tally. That second goal was the sort of clip you’ll share with his future doubters.

Beyond that, McDavid and his line (a hobbled Draisaitl, and Kailer Yamamoto) also dominated at 5-on-5.

McDavid scored four goals and 10 assists, averaging two points per game (14 in 7) in this series. Wow.

2. Max Domi, Hurricanes

There’s a proud history of unexpected Game 7 masterpieces. Not everyone can be Justin Williams, seemingly rattling these moments off on a whim. (Also, not everyone can be like Justin Williams in also being very good in non-Game-7 situations.)

Frankly, you could forgive all but the most die-hard Hurricanes fans for occasionally forgetting that Max Domi was on this roster. Part of that is the Hurricanes’ waves of quality forwards. The other was that he hasn’t made that big of an impact, at least on the scoreboard.

Going into Game 7, Max Domi only managed two assists (and zero goals) in this series. In Game 7, Domi factored into every Carolina tally, scoring two goals and one assist.

While Domi is a flawed player, especially defensively, he’s also clearly skilled. To an extent, he’s talented enough to give Carolina this kind of boost. But, yeah, it was surprising.

2. Nick Paul, Lightning

Even compared to Max Domi (a 28-goal, 72-season; 52 points as a rookie; 12th pick of 2013), Nick Paul (32 points this season a career-high, otherwise 20 or lower; picked 101st in that same draft) was less likely to be a Game 7 hero.

Yet, there was a “surprising, but not as random as some might think” element to Nick Paul being the Game 7 difference-maker for the Lightning.

While Paul is a relative unknown, he’s been finding his game with Tampa Bay. Generating 14 points in 21 games with the Lightning already shows that maybe the franchise was right about taking a small chance on Nick Paul. He was especially hot in April, though. In 16 April games, Paul scored 13 points.

So, again: surprising, but maybe not quite shocking.

NHL Playoff Game 7 action on Sunday

Game 7: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers (Series tied 3-3), 7 p.m. ET — TBS, SNE, SNO, SNP, SN360
Game 7: Dallas Stars at Calgary Flames (Series tied 3-3), 9:30 p.m. ET — ESPN2, SN, TVAS

PHT’s 2022 Stanley Cup previews
Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

Hurricanes vs. Bruins
Blues vs. Wild
Avalanche vs. Predators
Oilers vs. Kings

Flames vs. Stars

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info
First Round, Stanley Cup predictions
NHL Draft Lottery set: Canadiens have best odds for top pick
Why your team will (and will not) win the Stanley Cup

More NHL News

More Game 7 heartache for Maple Leafs as Nick Paul powers Lightning Domi, Hurricanes beat Bruins in Game 7 Capitals have some big questions after fourth straight First Round exit

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Game 7 Saturday: Hurricanes, Lightning, Oilers earn tough playoff wins originally appeared on NBCSports.com