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NHL Playoff Update: Panthers have Leafs on the brink

Heading into the business end of the conference semifinals, the Stanley Cup playoffs certainly haven’t disappointed.

The first round was complete with multiple Game 7s, overtime thrillers and big upsets - most notably the Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins exiting the postseason right away and the Toronto Maple Leafs winning a series for the first time in nearly two decades. 

The Leafs' momentum from their victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning was short-lived - they trail the red-hot Panthers 3-0 in the Eastern Conference semis.

Let’s take a look at how things stand heading into another week of playoff hockey.

Florida flies to a 3-0 lead over Toronto

It all seemed to be set up so nicely for the Maple Leafs. They ousted the Lightning for their first series win in almost two decades and the high-powered Bruins were bounced in the first round.

Boston’s shocking exit gave Toronto a home-ice advantage for round two and made Auston Matthews and company favourites to reach at least the Eastern Conference Finals.

Maple Leafs fans already had to be letting their minds wander to a potential first Stanley Cup title since 1966-67.

Instead, Toronto trails Florida 3-0 and is one game away from another early elimination.

The Panthers took the first two games of this series on the road and then won Game 3 at home 3-2 in overtime. A wrap-around goal by Sam Reinhart - his fifth of the postseason - ended Sunday’s showdown in style.

Devils' scoring binge gives them life

For a while, it looked like a tough seven-game series against the New York Rangers in round one sucked the life out of the New Jersey Devils. They lost the first two contests of their current matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes by margins of 5-1 and 6-1.

However, returning home for Game 3 proved to be just what the doctor ordered. The Devils scored not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven, but eight goals on Sunday to get themselves back in the series.

Seven different players found the back of the net for New Jersey, as only Jack Hughes scored twice.

Interestingly, though, the other end of the ice is where it could be won or lost for the Devils. Vitek Vanecek played the first two games against the Rangers, both of which resulted in 5-1 losses.

Akira Schmid started the remainder of that seven-game set in addition to the first two contests against Carolina, but with Schmid beginning to struggle, Vanecek was finally back in the net on Sunday.

The 27-year-old allowed four goals on 30 shots, but was bailed out by Hughes and the offense. What will head coach Lindy Ruff do moving forward?

Unleash the Kraken on the Stars

Going to seven games in the first round doesn’t seem to be a bad thing for teams moving forward. Perhaps momentum is more important than rest in these NHL playoffs.

The Seattle Kraken outlasted the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in a Western Conference quarterfinal clash that went the distance. Now the Kraken are out in front of the Dallas Stars 2-1.

With the way Philipp Grubauer is minding the net and the offense is pouring in goals, Seattle - in just its second season in existence - is looking like one of the most complete teams in hockey.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, who scored two goals in Game 7 against Colorado and one in Game 1 against Dallas, did not even record a single point on Sunday and his team still notched seven goals in total.

Oilers emerge as Stanley Cup favourites

With Boston gone, the Edmonton Oilers are now favoured to win the Stanley Cup and why not? The one-two punch of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl cannot be matched by any other duo in the NHL.

McDavid had 64 goals and 89 assists during the regular season; Draisaitl had 52 goals and 76 assists. Draisaitl has been especially on fire in the playoffs, having scored in seven of eight games.

He has four multi-goal performances, including four goals during a Game 1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the Western Conference semis.

Of course, the Oilers certainly can’t look past the current round against the dangerous Vegas Golden Knights.

The series is deadlocked at 1-1 heading into Game 3 on Monday night in Edmonton.

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