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The five most impressive debuts of the 2019 NHL playoffs

From long-awaited opportunities to instant rookie impacts in the post-season, several players who are new on the playoff scene turned heads with their play in Game 1 of their respective matchups.

Eight seasons and 559 games. That’s how long Justin Faulk had to wait to make his playoff debut. But on Thursday night in Washington, the Carolina Hurricanes blueliner finally stepped onto post-season ice for the first time in his career.

What will Faulk remember about the outing? Well, he probably won’t care to recall the result. Try as the Hurricanes might to bring the contest close in the final frame after letting the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals burst out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, Faulk and Co. produced too little, too late in a Game 1 loss. What the 27-year-old rearguard can hang put in his memory bank, though, is the scoresheet from the contest, as he registered his first career playoff point – an assist – when he helped set up Andrei Svechnikov’s mid-second period tally that drew the Hurricanes within one.

Faulk was all over the ice, too, and after waiting so long to finally see playoff action, he was certainly given the chance to make the most of the situation. He skated 26:10 Thursday, a full 1:10 more than the next-most utilized defenseman and tied with Sebastian Aho for the ice time lead on either team in Game 1. Faulk’s 29 shifts were the second-most of any player on either team. He also managed three shots on goal. Again, he made the most of his playoff debut.

But he wasn’t the only playoff newcomer to make some noise in his first foray into the post-season. Though others haven’t had to wait nearly as long, there were several playoff first-timers who had standout outings. Faulk aside, here are the five best debuts of the 2019 post-season:

Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes
It was hinted at above, but the Hurricanes rookie made the most of his bottom-six minutes in Thursday’s Game 1 against the Capitals. With Carolina trailing 3-0 entering the final frame, Svechnikov finally got the Hurricanes on the board when he broke wide, drove hard to the net and fired a quick wrister past Capitals netminder Braden Holtby five minutes into the third. Less than two and a half minutes later, Svechnikov found twine again, this time on a wild play that saw Lucas Wallmark center a loose puck for Svechnikov to one-time home.

At 19 years and 16 days old, Svechnikov became the fourth-youngest player in the past 30 years – and the youngest in the post-lockout era – to score two goals in a single playoff game.

Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
Before a scoring change altered his stat line, Heiskanen had become one of the youngest defensemen in NHL history to net two goals in a playoff game. Later, Heiskanen’s second goal was credited to Alexander Radulov, thus voiding the blueliner’s feat. What that doesn’t change, however, is Heiskanen’s status as one of the youngest blueliners in NHL history to record at least two points in a single post-season contest. Only three players in the past 30 years – Glen Wesley (twice), Scott Niedermayer and Cam Fowler (twice) – had two-point outings as younger rearguards. It should be said that Heiskanen’s impact went beyond the scoresheet, too: he also skated 23:24, the third-highest ice time of any blueliner in the game.

Esa Lindell, Dallas Stars
Faulk registered a point. Svechnikov had two. Heiskanen managed a multi-point outing. So, it stands to reason that Lindell is on this list because he, too, hit the scoresheet. But that’s not the case. The Stars blueliner didn’t pick up so much as a loosely credited secondary assist. He had a monster outing in Game 1 against the Predators, though, skating 27:27, blocking three shots, registering a hit and a takeaway and firing four pucks towards goal, one of hit the mark and tested Pekka Rinne. Also, get this: he didn’t start a single shift in the offensive zone at 5-on-5 on Wednesday, yet Lindell finished with a 56.3 Corsi percentage at five-a-side.

Lucas Wallmark, Carolina Hurricanes
Svechnikov’s debut was surprising, sure, but he was a highly touted rookie who has been getting better with each passing game. In that sense, it’s not completely out of left field. Wallmark’s whale of an entrance into the post-season, however, is somewhat different. While he’s been a good hand for the Hurricanes, the 2014 fourth-round pick was a bottom-six fixture in Carolina who only managed 10 goals and 28 points this season. Only three times did he manage a multi-point outing. Yet, in his playoff debut, he picked up both primary assists on Svechnikov’s markers. The first was a deft drop pass, the second was a throw-it-into-space-and-pray helper. Hey, whatever works.

Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues
We’ve saved arguably the best for last, as Binnington’s several-season odyssey to the NHL came complete with an absolute gem to start his post-season career. After piecing together one of the best campaigns of any goaltender, Binnington came up huge against the Jets. The highlights included a breakaway save on Par Lindholm that could have given Winnipeg a 2-0 lead and a stunner of a toe save on a Mark Scheifele blast that had fans inside and outside Bell MTS Place cheering the moment it left his stick. Yes, Binnington had some help from his skinny red friends – Dustin Byfuglien and Patrik Laine both drew iron – but the Blues keeper’s end-of-night numbers were spectacular: 24 saves on 25 shots, good for a .960 save percentage.

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