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Reacting to the first week of the NHL Playoffs: It is the Leafs' year?

It's no surprise the opening week of the NHL Playoffs has been nothing short of thrilling.

The first round of the 2023 NHL playoffs has yet to disappoint. From multiple overtime contests to highlight-reel goals to plenty of extra pushing and shoving after the whistle, the postseason has lived up to the hype. 

All eight matchups have already completed four games. Half of those series are tied 2-2 with Game 6s guaranteed, and the potential for winner-take-all Game 7s looming ahead. 

There is still plenty of action to go and as we’ve seen through the first week of the postseason, just because a team looks down and out early does not mean that’s necessarily the case. It’s why you play to win four games to advance. 

Here are some early takeaways from the first round of the 2023 NHL playoffs. 

Is this finally the Leafs’ year?

The Leafs-Lightning series looked like it would be heading back to Toronto tied at 2-2. Tampa Bay held a 4-1 lead with 10 minutes left in the third period of Game 4, as the defending Eastern Conference champs were far and beyond the better team through 40 minutes.

The Maple Leafs could not have looked any more out of it. Then they scored. Then scored again. And then again. Suddenly the three-goal deficit was erased, leaving the Lightning and Amalie Arena crowd stunned as the contest headed to OT. 

They were silenced even further when Alex Kerfoot deflected in a Morgan Rielly shot from the point to complete the Leafs’ comeback win, grabbing a commanding 3-1 series lead in the process. 

That’s not a playoff game Toronto typically wins, and it certainly is not a game Tampa Bay usually loses. However, it could be a major turning point for both sides, as the Leafs are one win away from finally getting over the first-round hump, while the Lightning’s three-year reign over the Eastern Conference could be coming to a close. 

Of course, no one knows better than the Leafs that four wins are needed to advance. Could this finally be the season fans see Toronto play in the second round? Or is this setting up for another epic postseason collapse?

Draisaitl’s dominance in Edmonton

It’s pretty hard to show up Connor McDavid, especially in the postseason, but Leon Draisaitl has been without a doubt the best player for Edmonton in its series against the Los Angeles Kings. 

The German has five goals and nine points through the first four games, helping the Oilers to a 2-2 series draw. He’s recorded a point in every game, scored at least one goal in three and  has three multi-point efforts. 

McDavid got out to a slow start in the Kings series, recording just a single assist in the first two games, making Draisaitl’s early postseason breakout even more important. The Oilers are expected to be in contention to come out of the West, and they’ll need their big guns to continue producing. 

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Home-ice disadvantage?

One of the rewards for finishing higher up in the standings during the regular season is securing home-ice advantage during the playoffs. There has certainly been no advantage in the early goings of the 2023 postseason for teams playing in their own barn. 

Through the first four games of every first-round series, the visiting teams have compiled 20 wins while the home teams have just 12. There’s only one series, the Hurricanes-Islanders, where the home team owns a winning record of 3-1. 

There are three matchups where the home squads are 2-2, three more where the host club is 1-3, and one series, the Devils-Rangers, where no team has yet won in their own building. The road warriors seem to be doing just fine going into enemy territory. 

Scoring remains high in playoffs

The 2022-23 NHL regular season saw the highest league average for goals per game by a team since 1993-94, finishing with clubs scoring 3.18 goals per game. That hasn’t changed since turning over into the postseason. 

So far in the 2023 playoffs, teams are averaging 3.26 goals per game, even higher than what it was in the regular season. Thirteen teams are averaging at least three goals per game, with nine of those clubs entering play on Tuesday with an average of at least 3.25. Three organizations are scoring at least four goals per game - the Leafs, Bruins and Lightning. 

In the postseason, high-flying offenses don’t fit the typical mold for a title team. As the saying goes, “Defense wins championships.” But the times are changing, and the scoring sprees we are seeing early could alter that narrative. 

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