NHL Awards winners announced

The NHL held its annual awards ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 20th with Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils taking home the Hart Memorial trophy as the league's most valuable player. Hall is the first Devils player to capture the honour and it was his first tome as a finalist. He finished the season with a career-high 93 points on 39 goals and 54 assists with 37 points coming on the power play. He also racked up 41 more points than the next highest Devil this season. Hall edged out Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings in the voting as well as Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid.

However, McDavid was named the winner of the Ted Lindsay Award for the second straight season. The young Oilers' captain was named the league's outstanding player by his peers after scoring 41 goals and adding 67 assists for 108 points. McDavid became the first player to win the award twice before reaching the age of 22. He's also the third Oiler to win the honours along with Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky.

The Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender went to Finnish native Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. It was his first win and fourth time being a finalist. Rinne posted the third-most wins in the league this season at 42 and also had an 11-game winning streak this season as he helped Nashville win the President's Trophy as the league's top team. Rinne beat out Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets, Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights. He becomes the first Predators' goalie to win the award.

The Frank Selke Trophy was handed out to Anze Kopitar of Los Angeles as the league's best defensive forward. Kopitar has now won the award twice and he's been a finalist four times in the past five seasons. He led all forwards in the NHL in total ice time in 2017/18 and was third in both faceoff wins with 983 and total faceoffs at 1,816. Kopitar also chipped in with 35 goals and 57 assists for 92 points and helped the Kings to the best defensive record in the league. He beat out Sean Couturier of Philadelphia, Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers and Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild.
The Vegas Golden Knights had four winners on the night as forward William Karlsson of Sweden won the Lady Byng Trophy as the league's most sportsmanlike player. The 25-year-old scored 43 goals and added 35 assists and served just 12 minutes in penalties during the regular season. He also led the NHL in plus/minus with a plus-49 rating. Karlsson beat out Ryan O'Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres, Aleksander Barkov of Florida, Anze Kopitar of Los Angeles and Jared Spurgeon of the New York Islanders.

Twenty-one-year-old Mathew Barzal of the Islanders was named the winner of the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie. The forward led all first-year players in scoring with 22 goals and 63 assists for 85 points and is the fifth Islander to win the award. Barzal beat out Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks, Clayton Keller of the Arizona coyotes, Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets and Charlie McAvoy of Boston on the ballot.

Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay was named the best defenceman in the NHL for 2017/18 and took home the James Norris Memorial Trophy for his efforts. He's the first Lightning player to win the award and the third Swedish defenceman to take it home after finishing the year with 17 goals and 46 assists for 63 points. Hedman beat out Drew Doughty of Los Angeles, P.K. Subban of Nashville, Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets and John Carlson of the Washington Capitals.

Gerard Gallant of Vegas took home the Jack Adams Award as the league's best coach after leading the expansion club to the Pacific Division Title and the Stanley Cup Final. It's the first award for Gallant after being a finalist while coaching the Florida Panthers in 2015/16. He became the first head coach in the modern era to lead an expansion franchise to a division title in any of North America's major pro sports leagues. Gallant beat out Bruce Cassidy of Boston, Jared Bednar of Colorado, Paul Maurice of Winnipeg and Peter Laviolette of Nashville in the voting.

There was no surprise when George McPhee was named the General Manager of the Year as he put together the roster of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights who posted a season record of 51-24-7 and reached the Stanley Cup finals in their first year of operation. The club became the most successful first-year team in NHL history. McPhee beat out Kevin Cheveldayoff of Winnipeg, Steve Yzerman of Tampa Bay, Don Sweeney of Boston and Joe Sakic of Colorado.

Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin of Vancouver were the recipients of the King Clancy Trophy as the players to best exemplify leadership qualities and humanitarian contributions to their community. The Sedins were drafted number two and three in 1999 and are the only brothers in NHL history to record at least 1,000 points each.

Forward Brian Boyle of New Jersey won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his dedication, perseverance and sportsmanship to the game of hockey. The 33-year-old Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia just before the start of the season, but made his way back into the lineup by November 1st and finished the campaign with 13 goals and 10 assists and also represented New Jersey at the All Star Game.

The Mark Messier Leadership Award was won by forward Deryk Engelland of the Vegas Golden Knights as he exemplified great leadership qualities on and off of the ice this season and also helped grow the game of hockey in his community. Engelland organized many events following the mass shooting in Las Vegas last October and also worked with local firefighters to raise money for children that couldn't afford to play the game of hockey.

Alexander Ovechkin: Mission Accomplished

Alexander Ovechkin tackled the 2017/18 NHL playoffs like a man on a mission and ultimately achieved it by leading the Washington Capitals to the franchise's first Stanley Cup since entering the league in 1974. The 32-year-old Russian winger was the catalyst for his team's five-game victory over the expansion Golden Vegas Knights in the finals after dispatching the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins in six games and then the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven in the Eastern Conference Final.

Ovechkin just finished his 13th NHL campaign and this was the first time he made it past the second round of the playoffs. However things were decidedly different this year as he racked up a league-leading 15 goals along with 12 assists for 27 points in 24 postseason contests and also captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs beating out teammates Evgeny Kuznetsov and goaltender Braden Holtby in the voting. The victory came in the Capitals' second appearance in the finals as they were swept in four games by the Detroit Red wings back in 1997/98.

They're also just the seventh team to win the championship after losing their first two postseason games as they were down to Columbus 2-0 in the first round this year. In addition, Ovechkin entered the playoffs as the only multiple winner of the Hart Trophy to never win a Stanley Cup and that awkward milestone has now been eliminated. Ovechkin, who has missed just 29 regular-season games during his NHL career, certainly had some help in the postseason, but his leadership and enthusiasm for the game made him the team's driving force.

Kuznetsov led the league in playoff scoring with 12 goals and 20 assists for 32 points and was followed by Ovechkin's 27 points and then Nicklas Backstrom with five goals and 18 assists for 23 points. The line of Kuznetsov, Lars Eller (7-11-18) and Backstrom chipped in with 73 points while goaltender Braden Holtby posted a 2.16 goals-against average with a 92.2 save percentage. The Capitals' power play went five for 16 against Vegas in the finals for a success rate of 31.3 per cent and it went 22 for 75 overall in the playoffs for a con version rate of  29.3 per cent.

Backstrom, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, John Carlson and T.J. Oshie all scored at least 11 power play points in the postseason with Carlson scoring 20 and Oshie racking up 21 points overall. Ovechkin, who led the league in scoring for the seventh time this year with 49 goals, is the first Russian-born player to captain a Stanley-Cup winner and the pressure's definitely been lifted from his shoulders. He was often the scapegoat of previous Washington squads as they struggled to succeed in the playoffs, but Ovechkin's always pulled his weight and now has 61 goals and 56 assists for 117 points in 121 career playoff games. This includes one point in each of the five games in this year's final series. 

NHL sees several coaching and GM changes during playoffs

With the NHL playoffs being in full gear over the past several weeks fans may have missed out on all the front office changes that have taken place since the regular season ended. Let's go over these moves so we know just who's in charge when the teams head into the upcoming NHL Entry Draft on June 22/23 in Dallas, Texas. Since the season came to an end there have been four coaching changes and three general manager moves.

Bill Peters took over the head coaching duties with the Calgary Flames on April 23rd after he resigned from the same position with the Carolina Hurricanes. He compiled a 137-138-53 record in Carolina and never made the playoffs in his four seasons at the helm. The 53-year-old Alberta native will now be taking over a Calgary club which missed the postseason this year. The coaching job became vacant with the Flames after Glen Gulutzan was fired.

The Dallas Stars named Jim Montgomery as their new head coach on May 4th to replace 66-year-old Ken Hitchcock who announced his retirement a few weeks earlier. Hitchcock remains with the team as a consultant after 22 years of coaching in the NHL which included a Stanley Cup triumph with Dallas in 1998/99. Hitchcock ranks third in NHL history in coaching wins with 823. The 48-year-old Montgomery has over 10 years of college coaching experience and won the national title in America in 2017, but this is his first crack at the NHL.

Former NHL star Rod Brind'Amour was named the new head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes on May 8th, shortly after former bench boss Bill Peters left the club. Brind'Amour has been with the team as an assistant coach since 2011, a year after he retired as a player, and helped out with player development. This will be the 47-year-old's first head coaching job in hockey.

The latest head coach to be hired was David Quinn as he joined the New York Rangers on May 23rd. The 51-year-old takes over from Alain Vigneault who was fired on April 8th right after the season ended with the club missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Vigneault spent the last five years with the Rangers and led the team to the Stanley Cup Final and also won a Presidents' Trophy. Quinn's previous jobs include being a development coach with USA Hockey as well as coaching in the college ranks and the AHL. He has NHL experience as an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche.

As for the general managers, Carolina named Don Waddell as the club' president and GM back on May 8th as the 59-year-old replaces Ron Francis. Waddell is a former pro player, scout, NHL coach and general manager. He's been the president of the Hurricanes for the past four years and the club hasn't made the playoffs for the past nine seasons now.

The Toronto Maple Leafs named 32-year-old Kyle Dubas as the club's new general manager on May 11th. Dubas was formerly an assistant GM with the club to 75-year-old Lou Lamoriello. However, Lamoriello wasn't re-signed by the team as they hoped he'd take a consulting job with the club. Lamoriello then jumped ship and ended up with the New York Islanders as president of hockey operations. Dubas was previously a general manager with Sault Ste. Marie in  the OHL and the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. The Leafs also lost assistant general manager Mark Hunter after Dubas was promoted as he left the club. Dubas then promoted Brandon Pridham and hired Laurence Gilman as assistant general managers. 

The newest general manager is Paul Fenton as he was hired by the Minnesota Wild on May 21st. The 58-year-old former NHL player was previously an assistant GM with the Nashville Predators and general manger of the Milwaukee Admirals AHL team. Fenton takes over the reins from Chuck Fletcher who was let go by the team a few weeks earlier.

Interesting facts about the 2017/18 Stanley Cup Final

With the Stanley Cup final between the expansion Golden Vegas Knights and the Washington Capitals set to begin on Monday, May 28th until Wednesday. June 13th at the latest, now is a great time to check out some fun and interesting facts about the series.

* The only previous final series between two clubs that had never won a Stanley Cup final playoff game before was between the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers in 1995/96.

* The last club to win a Stanley Cup in their first ever final series was the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003/04.

* If Vegas wins the cup, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury would be the first player to win it in three consecutive seasons since members of the New York Islanders achieved the feat between 1981 and 1983. 

* If Washington wins the cup they will be just the seventh team in history to lose the first two games of the playoffs and win the trophy.

* Las Vegas has never won a professional championship, simply because the city has never had a franchise before. Washington hasn't celebrated a victory since 1992 when the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl. The Washington Bullets last won the NBA title for the city in 1977/78 and the city hasn't won an MLB crown since 1924.

* Capitals' goaltender Braden Holtby is just the third goalie in history to win game six and seven of a semifinals series by shutout. The other goalies to achieve it were Dominik Hasek in 2002 and Harry Lumley in 1950. Both of those goalies went on to win the Stanley Cup those seasons.

* Lars Eller of Washington is hoping to become the first Danish-born player to win a Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, Pierre Edouard Bellemare of Vegas is hoping to become just the second French-born player to hoist the trophy after Cristobal Huet won the cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009/10. In addition, if Nathan Walker of Washington plays in the series against Vegas he'll become just the first
Australian-born player to play in the final since 1915/16.

* Washington's Alexander Ovechkin is the only NHL player to have won the Hart Trophy more than once as the league's most valuable player and never win a Stanley Cup.

* The only player to score more goals during his career before finally playing in a Stanley Cup final was Hall of Famer Dave Andreychuk who had 634. Andreychuk then captained the Tampa Bay Lightning to the trophy in his first final appearance in 2003/04.Ovechkin entered this year's playoffs with 607 regular-season goals to his name.

* Teams playing in their first ever Stanley Cup final such as Vegas, have gone 10-17 in the series. Teams which are playing in the final for the second time and have never won the cup, such as Washington, have gone 8-4. The Capitals were swept in four games by the Detroit Red Wings in their one and only final appearance in 1997/98. 

* If Vegas wins the cup, head coach Gerard Gallant would be the seventh coach in history to win the CHL's Memorial Cup and a Stanley Cup.

* If Washington wins the cup, head coach Barry Trotz would become the seventh coach to win both the AHL's Calder Cup and the Stanley Cup.

* The last NHL franchise to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in its history was the Los Angeles Kings in 2011/12. 

* If Vegas wins the cup they'll be just the third team ever to capture the trophy without a captain. The Boston Bruins didn't have a captain either when they won the cup in 1969/70 and 1970/71.

Vegas Golden Knights set to battle Washington Capitals in Stanley Cup Finals

This is the last chapter of the season for the Cinderella-story Vegas Golden Knights as the first year NHL expansion team will be going toe to toe with the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Finals starting Monday, May 28th. The Golden Knights were longshots to even reach the playoffs before the season faced off and were as high as 500/1 underdogs to win the cup. However, they're now just four wins away from becoming the first team in league history to win Lord Stanley's silverware in their inaugural season. Of course, they're also four losses way from finishing as runners up as well.

But even losing in the finals is somewhat an historical accomplishment for the club since just two previous expansion franchises have gotten that far in their first season. They're also the first major professional sports team in North America to reach the finals in their first year of operation. The last team to do it was the 1967/68 St. Louis Blues. The Blues had a bit of an advantage though since the NHL had expanded to 12 clubs from six that season and one of the six expansion teams was guaranteed to reach the finals.

In comparison to fellow NHL teams and other sports, the Florida Panthers reached the Stanley Cup finals during their third season in 1995/96. The Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA title in 1971, three years after joining the league and the Arizona Diamondbacks of MLB captured the World Series in 2001 during their fourth season. On the other hand the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the richest teams in the NHL, haven't reached the Stanley Cup finals since the 1966/67 campaign when they last hoisted the trophy. Vegas swept the Los Angeles Kings in four games then downed the San Jose Sharks in six and the Winnipeg Jets in five to reach this year's final series.

The Golden Knights will be taking on a club which has never won a Stanley Cup either and will be making their first appearance in the finals since 1997/98. The Capitals downed the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins in six games each in the first two rounds and just defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven in the Eastern Conference Final. The Caps won the first two against Tampa, then lost three in a row before winning the final two games by shutouts. The Capitals also won three of four games in Tampa and scored the final nine goals of the series.

Vegas won the Pacific Division and finished the 2017/18 campaign with 109 points for the fifth-best record in the NHL. Meanwhile, Washington reached 105 points, won the Metropolitan Division and were tied for sixth-best with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The two teams met just twice during the regular season with Vegas winning 3-0 at home on December 23rd and 4-3 in Washington on February 4th. Heading into the finals, Vegas will have the home ice advantage. They'll be facing a Washington team which has scored 3.47 goals per game in the playoffs to rank second and has allowed 2.47 goals against to rank tied for third. Vegas has the second-best goals-against average at 1.80 and have scored 2.87 goals per contest to rank ninth. 

Washington Capitals enjoying Eastern Conference Final for first time in 20 years

It may be hard to believe, but the Washington Capitals are competing in their first Eastern Conference Final in the past 20 years and have made the final four for just the third time in franchise history. Yes, two entire decades have passed by since their last appearance back in 1998. One of the main reasons Washington hasn't reached the semifinals lately has been because they're usually ousted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first or second round, losing nine of 10 previous series against them. They've also been ousted in game seven on four occasions in the second round in the past 10 years.

However, they turned the table on the defending Stanley Cup champions this year by knocking them out of the postseason in six games. The Capitals definitely won't take anything for granted right now, but their chances of reaching the Stanley Cup Final also look pretty good. They hold a 2-0 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final with both wins coming on the road and they now return home for games three and four. Most fans have been surprised at the team's lack of success in the postseason over the years since the club has been consistently strong during the regular season. It also boasts one of the greatest players in NHL history in Alexander Ovechkin.

The seven-time-Rocket Richard Trophy winner as the league's top goalscorer hasn't had any luck at all in the playoffs until now. Ovechkin, who has never made it past the second round, has produced 10 goals and nine assists in 14 postseason outings this year and is a plus-5. He's been getting support from  Evgeny Kuznetsov (8 goals, 11 assists) Nicklas Backstrom (3 goals, 10 assists), Lars Eller (5 goals, 6 assists) T.J. Oshie (5 goals, 5 assists), Tom Wilson (3 goals, 6 assists) and defenceman John Carlson (3 goals, 10 assists). Unfortunately for the Caps, Backstrom has missed two games and is currently injured.

Things looked dire for Washington early in the postseason as they lost the first two games of the opening round to the Columbus Blue Jackets at home. They were then hanging on by their fingernails in game three, but managed to stay alive by winning in overtime. They then won the next three in a row to reach the Penguins and the second round. In addition, head coach Barry Trotz decided to go with veteran Braden Holtby in net in game three against Columbus after starting Philipp Grubauer in the first two contests and he's been between the pipes ever since. Holtby leads the playoffs with 10 wins with a 2.04 goals-against average and a 92.6 save percentage

The Capitals have scored an average of 3.79 goals per game during the playoffs to lead the NHL with the league average being 2.71 goals per contest. When it comes to special teams, their power play is ranked number two at 32.6% with the league average being 21.2% while their penalty killing is ranked just ninth at 76% with the average being 76.9%. The last time the Capitals made it to the third round of the playoffs they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, only to be swept by the Detroit Red Wings in four games. Their fans are hoping this year's team can hoist the cup for the first time ever in franchise history.

Vegas Golden Knights half way to the Stanley Cup

The Cinderella story of the Vegas Golden Knights continues to grow as the NHL expansion franchise is half way to the Stanley Cup. After the most impressive first-year regular-season performance in league history, the Golden Knights have been just as impressive in the postseason so far by going 8-2. This includes a four-game sweep over two-time Stanley Cup champions the Los Angeles Kings and a six-game conquest of the San Jose Sharks. The Nevada-based squad now awaits the winner of the Winnipeg Jets vs Nashville Predators series to see who they'll face in the Western Conference Final.

Before the 2017/18 season faced off, the Golden Knights were approximately 500/1 to win the Stanley Cup with the oddsmakers. However, they surprised everybody, perhaps even themselves, by finishing the season with 59 wins and 109 points. The squad is made up of players who were deemed expendable by their original clubs as they were left unprotected in the expansion draft. In addition, head coach Gerard Gallant had recently been let go by the Florida Panthers before Golden Knights' general manager George McPhee picked him up. The players and coach then took to the ice as if they had something to prove to their previous employers.

The Golden Knights added a few solid players to the roster during the draft with the most well-known of the bunch being forward James Neal and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. There's no doubt the team is getting the exceptional goaltending a Stanley Cup contender needs as the three-time Stanley Cup winner Fleury has already posted a league-leading four shutouts in the playoffs. He was also ranked number one in goals-against average at 1.53 and was best in save percentage at 95.1. The offence has also been pulling their weight and combined with their speed and physical play the Golden Knights are a legitimate contender to win it all.

The playoff scoring has been evenly spread out as forward Jonathan Marchessault leads the way with four goals and seven assists in 10 games and is followed by William Karlsson at four goals and six assists. Reilly Smith has also chipped in with a goal and 10 helpers. With Alex Tuch, David Perron and James Neal each contributing with seven points. Team-wise, the Golden Knights are the top defensive side in the postseason with a GAA of 1.70 while the league average is 3.13.  They've scored 2.90 goals-per game with the average being 2.76 and the penalty kill is working at an 85 per cent rate which is the second-best in the playoffs and the average being 77.5 per cent.

If there is any room for improvement it's on the power play where the team has been successful just 17.5 per cent of the time while the league average is 20.7. There's no doubt the Golden Knights will have their hands full with either the Predators or Jets as the next opponents. But if they can keep up the pace and physicality and Fleury continues his Conn Smythe-calibre goaltending then it looks like the sky's the limit in 2017/18 for this exciting club.

Buffalo Sabres win NHL draft lottery; Hart Trophy finalists announced

The Buffalo Sabres finally hit the NHL Draft Lottery jackpot on April 28th when they were awarded with the first overall pick at this summer's event on June 22-23 in Dallas, Texas. Buffalo had the best overall odds of landing the number one pick at 18.5 per cent after finishing dead last in the 31-team league this season with a record of 25-45-12. This is the third time the Sabres have held the first overall pick after selecting Gilbert Perreault in 1970 and Pierre Turgeon in 1987. It's expected the club will be choosing Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin this time around.

The Sabres missed out on winning the draft lottery in recent years while stars such as Aaron Ekblad, . Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews were all taken with the first overall pick. However, Buffalo did manage to land forward Jack Eichel with the second-overall selection after McDavid in 2015. The Sabres are hoping Dahlin will be as good as fellow countrymen Nicklas Lidstrom, Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman and is expected to make the roster straight out of training camp later this year. There's no doubt the club could use an excellent young blueliner after finishing the 2017/18 campaign with just 62 points.

The Sabres haven't made the postseason in seven years with their last playoff series win coming 11 years ago. In addition, they've never won a Stanley Cup since entering the NHL as an expansion franchise in 1970, but did reach the Final in 1974/75 and 1998/99. They're now just the second team in the last seven years to win the draft lottery after finishing in last place. The Toronto Maple Leafs also won it after placing last two years ago and selecting Matthews in 2016. The Carolina Hurricanes moved up a total of nine spots in this year's lottery and will draft second while the Montreal Canadiens moved up a spot and will select third.

The NHL announced the order of the top 15 draft picks for June during the lottery which consisted of the 15 teams which didn't make this season's playoffs. The order is: 1-Buffalo Sabres, 2-Carolina Hurricanes, 3-Montreal Canadiens, 4-Ottawa Senators, 5-Arizona Coyotes, 6-Detroit Red Wings, 7- Vancouver Canucks, 8-Chicago Blackhawks, 9-New York Rangers, 10-Edmonton Oilers, 11-New York Islanders, 12-New York Islanders, 13-Dallas Star, 14-Philadelphia Flyers, 15-Florida Panthers. The rest of the picks will be determined following the playoffs.

With Dahlin expected to go first overall there are some other top prospects who could go in the first five or six picks. These include left-winger Brady Tkachuk of Boston University, right-winger Filip Zadina of the Halifax Mooseheads, defenceman Evan Bouchard of the London Knights, defenceman Noah Dobson of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, defenceman Quintin Hughes of the University of Michigan and fellow blueliner Adam Boqvist of Swedish junior league club Brynas.

The NHL also announced this year's finalists for the Hart Memorial Trophy which is awarded to the player deemed most valuable to his team. The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas on June 20th. The finalists are forwards Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils. The 26-year-old Hall finished sixth in league scoring this year with 39 goals and 54 assists for 93 points and helped New Jersey reach the postseason for the first time since the 2011/12 campaign. No New Jersey player has won the Hart before.

The 30-year-old Kopitar led the Kings in offence with 92 points on 35 goals and 57 assists which was good enough for a seventh-place tie in league scoring with Phil Kessel of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kopitar helped the Kings reach the postseason after missing it last season. He's the first Kings player to hit the 90-point mark since 1993/94 when Wayne Gretzky had 130. Kopitar was also named as a finalist for this year's Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward and won the award in
2016. This is the first time Kopitar's been a finalist for the Hart Trophy with Gretzky being the only Los Angeles player to ever win it.

The 22-year-old MacKinnon racked up 39 goals and 58 assists for 97 points in 74 games this season to finish fifth in the NHL scoring parade. His averaged 1.31 points-per-game to finish second to McDavid's 1.32. MacKinnon had 12 game-winning goals to finish in a first-place tie with Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning and also tie the Avalanche franchise record. The youngster helped Colorado reach the playoffs and improve by 47 points this season after finishing in last place in 2016-17. He's hoping to become the third member of the franchise to win the Hart Trophy after Peter Forsberg in 2003 and Joe Sakic in 2001.

NHL announces trophy finalists

While NHL fans await the outcome of the first-round playoff series and the confirmed matchups for the second round, the league has kept them busy by announcing the trophy finalists. The majority of  individual trophies are awarded on a voting basis while the Rocket Richard, Art Ross and William Jennings awards are based on statistics. The results of the balloting will be announced in Las Vegas, Nevada at the league's awards ceremony on June 20th.  

We already know Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has captured his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals with 49. Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers took home his second straight Art Ross for leading the league in points with 41 goals and 67 assists for 108 and Jonathan Quick won his second Jennings Trophy for leading the Los Angeles Kings to the fewest goals against in 2017/18.

Calder Memorial Trophy
The three finalists for the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year are forwards Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes and the Vancouver Canucks' Brock Boeser.
The 20-year-old Barzal was drafted 16th overall by the Islanders in 2015 and the centre led the league in rookie scoring with 22 goals and 63 assists for 85 points.

The 21-year-old Boeser is a right-winger who was drafted 23rd overall by Vancouver in 2015. He racked up 29 goals and 26 assists for 55 points. He ranked second in goals for rookies and fifth in points. However, he played just 62 games due to a back injury. Boeser has already been recognized for his fine play this season as he was named the MVP of this year's NHL All-Star Game.

Keller is a 19-year-old center who was drafted seventh overall by Arizona in 2016. He finished the season with 23 goals and 42 assists. He was second in rookie scoring to Barzal and the top rookie scorer ever for the franchise since it moved to Arizona.

James Norris Trophy
The Norris Trophy finalists for the league's best defenceman are Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. This is the second straight nomination for Hedman after he finished third in last year's voting. The 27-year-old was tied for first in goals scored for a blueliner with 17 and added 46 assists for 63 points. He also finished the season at plus-32.

The 28-year-old Doughty racked up 10 goals and 50 assists for a career-best 60 points and led the NHL in total ice time at an average of 26:50 per game. He also reached his milestone 100th goal, 300th assists and 400th point this season. This is Doughty's fourth time as a Norris finalist and he won the award in 2016.

The 28-year-old Subban scored a career-high 16 goals and added 43 helpers for 59 points and finished the season with a plus-18 ranking. He's been a finalist for the award on two previous occasions and won it back in 2013. Subban's hoping to become the first defenceman in Predators' history to take home the Norris Trophy.

Frank J. Selke Trophy
The Selke Trophy is given to the best defensive forward each season and this year's finalists are centres Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings. The 32-year-old Bergeron has been a finalist for the award for a league-record seven straight years and is currently tied with Bob Gainey for the most Selke awards in history at four.
Bergeron was ranked sixth in the NHL this year for faceoff percentage at 57.3 per cent and led the league in shorthanded draws at 58.3 per cent. He finished the year with 30 goals and 33 assists for 63 points in 64 games and was a plus-21.

The 25-year-old Couturier was ranked third in the league in plus/minus at plus-34 and his 21:35 minutes of average ice time per game ranked third for forwards. He also led his team in shorthanded ice time and puck possession. This is Couturier's first time as a finalist for the trophy and he finished the season with 34 goals and 45 assists for 76 points in 82 games.

The 30-year-old Kopitar led all NHL forwards when it came to total ice time and averaged 22:05 minutes per contest. He also led the Kings forwards at shorthanded ice time and ranked third in the league for total faceoffs and faceoff wins. Kopitar has now been a finalist for the Selke Trophy four times in the last five years. He won it in 2016, came in second place in 2014 in third place in 2015. Kopitar chipped in with 35 goals and 57 assists for 92 points in 82 games and was a plus-21.

Vezina Trophy
The Vezina Trophy is awarded to the league's top goaltender and this year's finalists are Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets and the Tampa Bay Lightning's Andrei Vasilevskiy. The 35-year-old Rinne was third in wins at 42 and helped his team finish first overall this season. His posted a franchise-record eight shutouts, was fifth-best in the league for goals-against average at 2.31 and owned the seventh-best percentage at 92.7. He's a finalist for the fourth time after finishing second in voting in 2010/11 and 2014/15 and third back in 2011/12.

The 24-year-old Hellebuyck is a finalist for the first time and he's also the first finalist in his franchise's history. He was tied for first in the league for wins with 44 and set a new record for wins in a season by an American-born goalie. He set a franchise-record nine straight wins and finished eighth in the league in goals-against average at 2.36 and was 10th-best in save percentage at 92.4

The 23-year-old Vasilevskiy was tied with Hellebucyk in league wins ant 44 and helped Tampa Bay to their best season in history. The Russian-born netminder posted a goals-against-average of 2.62 and a save percentage of 92.0. He also set a franchise record with nine consecutive wins. He's a first-time finalist for the award and aiming to become the first Tampa goalie ever to win it.

Plenty of goals and hits in NHL playoffs

The first week of the NHL playoffs has featured an explosion of goals and plenty of big hits as several of the series are off to a nasty start. In fact, there has already been a pair of suspensions. Defenceman Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings was banned for the second game of his series against the Vegas Golden Knights for what was ruled a hit to the head of forward Will Carrier. In addition, Toronto Maple Leafs' forward Nazem Kadri was handed a three-game suspension for an illegal hit on forward Tommy Wingels of the Boston Bruins. Let's take a quick look and recap each series.

The Winnipeg Jets downed the Minnesota Wild 3-2 at home in their opener and then followed up with a 4-1 win in the physical second game. The Wild then got back into the series with a big 6-2 win in their first home outing. The series has seen 16 goals in its three contests for an average of six goals per game.

The Pittsburgh Penguins drilled the Philadelphia Flyers 7-0 at home in their opener only to see the Flyers return the favour with a 5-1 drubbing in the second encounter. The Penguins then won the first game in the City of Brotherly love by a score of 5-1. There have been 19 goals in the three contests for an average of 6.33 goals per game.

The lowest-scoring series of the bunch has been the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights as it's been a goaltending duel up to now. The Knights won 1-0 in the opener at home and then followed up with a 2-1 win in double overtime. The highest-scoring contest was a 3-2 Vegas victory in the first game in Los Angeles to take a 3-0 stranglehold in the series. Knights' goalie Marc-Andre Fleury leads the league with a save percentage of 97.0 with 96 saves on 99 shots. Kings' netminder Jonathan Quick isn't far behind him with a 94.5 save percentage with 104 stops on 110 shots. There have been nine goals in the three contests for 3 goals per game.

The Tampa Bay Lightning took care of the New Jersey Devils 5-2 in the opener at home and followed up with a 5-3 victory in the second match. The series has seen 15 goals scored in two games for an average of 7.5 per outing.

The Nashville Predators got past the Colorado Avalanche 5-2 in their series opener in Music City and followed it up with a 5-4 nail-biter in the second contest. This series has seen 16 goals in the first two games for an average of 8 per outing.

The Boston Bruins spanked the Toronto Maple Leafs by scores of 5-1 and 7-3 in the first two games in Beantown. There have been 16 goals in the series so far for an average of 8 per game. Incredibly, the Boston forward line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has combined for 20 points in the first two contests. Pastrnak leads the postseason in goals with four and points with nine. Marchand has chipped in with a goal and five assists while Bergeron has five helpers. In addition, all three of them are plus-6.

The closest series has been the Columbus Blue Jackets vs the Washington Capitals as both games have been decided in overtime. Columbus won the opener 4-3 and followed up in the second game with a 5-4 triumph with both wins coming on the road. The series has featured a total of 16 goals for an average of 8 per game.

Another relatively low-scoring series has been between the San Jose sharks and Anaheim Ducks. This has also seen the road team win the first two encounters as the Sharks were 3-0 and 3-2 winners. There have been eight goals scored for an average of 4 per game.

The first 19 contests of the playoffs resulted in 117 goals scored for an average of 6.2 per game. With all of the pucks entering the net so far in the postseason, fans have witnessed several goaltenders being pulled during games. Connor Hellebucyk was yanked in Winnipeg's 6-2 game-three loss to Minnesota and Frederik Andersen of Toronto suffered the same fate in the Leafs' 7-3 defeat in game two against Boston. Keith Kinkaid of New Jersey was relieved in the Devils' 5-3 loss to Tampa in the second game and Phillip Grubauer of Washington was replaced in his team's 5-4 loss in game two to Columbus. Also, Brian Elliot of Philadelphia was pulled in his team's opening 7-0 loss to Pittsburgh.