The NHL’s 2021-22 regular season is now complete, and we have one more chance to celebrate the best individual performers of the past seven days. Here, for the final time this season, are the three stars of the week:
3. Linus Ullmark, Boston: The Bruins’ veteran goalie has been pushed for playing time by youngster Jeremy Swayman, but Ullmark has found his stride this week, winning all three of the games he played in, and posting one shutout, and an outstanding 1.00 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage. Swayman has struggled of late (3.53 G.A.A., .865 SP in two games this week), so it will be intriguing to see who Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy goes with when Boston begins its first-round playoff series against the speedy, talented Carolina Hurricanes.
Neither Ullmark nor Swayman has any NHL post-season experience, so you’d have to think Cassidy has both goalies on a short leash against the Hurricanes. But both Ullmark and Swayman have shown they can provide solid netminding for long stretches – and Carolina has goalie issues of their own, with starter Frederik Andersen’s status for the series up in the air. You’d have to expect many goals will be scored on both sides, and the team that can somehow get their chosen goalie to frustrate the opposition’s offensive forces will be the team that moves on to the second round.
2. Roman Josi, Nashville: The Predators punched their ticket to the playoffs late this week, in no small part due to the contributions of Josi, who had four assists and seven points in five games, while averaging a league-best 26:42 of ice time in that span. Twice this week, Josi played more than 28 minutes in a game, and his final offensive numbers – 23 goals, 73 assists and 96 points in 80 games – all are career-bests.
At age 31, Josi has made an excellent case to win the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman for the second time in his career. And with the Predators without injured starting goalie Jusse Saros injured for at least the start of Nashville’s first-round series against Colorado, they’ll need Josi to be at his patient, high-panic-threshold best if they’re to win four of seven games against the mighty Avs.
1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay: As he did for the Lightning last year, Kucherov has overcome an injury to get hot on offense at the right time of year. He currently is riding a nine-game point streak that has included 10 goals and 23 points - and this past week, he’s amassed 10 assists and 15 points in five games. The 28-year old was limited to only 47 games this season, but he managed to hit the 25-goal plateau for the seventh consecutive time in his eight-year NHL career.
Clamping down on Kucherov’s offensive skills is a primary job for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but other teams have tried and failed to keep him off the scoresheet. With 44 goals and 127 points in 113 career NHL playoff games, he won’t be any sort of pushover.