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NHL Playoffs Roundup | Blackhawks flatline and Penguins advance

Pittsburgh Penguins Center Evgeni Malkin (71) and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Kyle Quincey (26) shake hands after game. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 5-2 in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 20, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)
Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire

Three of the regular season’s top five teams are gone, two teams have been swept and the defending Western Conference champs are on the ropes.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are deliciously unpredictable, like an everlasting gobstopper. Who knows what the next layer will bring?

Here are Thursday’s bests and worsts.

Best game: New York Rangers 3, Montreal Canadiens 2 (OT) — The pace of overtime in this game was frenetic — probably too much so for the Canadiens who need to play a more controlled game against the north-south Rangers. Anyone want to bet against this series going seven games?

Best other game: Edmonton 4, San Jose 3 (OT) — The Sharks were 2:46 away from a 3-2 series lead when Oscar Klefbom’s rocket found the net and forced overtime. David Desharnais won it with 1:45 remaining in an extra period that was all Oilers. The next face of the NHL is one win from the second round.

Best individual performance: Mika Zibanejad, New York — Zibanejad had the game-winning goal in overtime off a feed from Chris Kreider, and he had a gorgeous assist to set up Jesper Fast’s shorthanded goal, beginning with a play in his own end to pick a puck out of mid-air and start the rush.

Best measure of performance: Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh — With a goal and an assist on Thursday, Kessel has 51 points in 51 career playoff games. Only 32 players in the history of the game can say they averaged a point per game in the postseason (minimum 50 points) because it’s really hard to do. Kessel’s a gamer.

Best dagger: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh — Less than two minutes after Alex Wennberg was called for goaltender interference on Marc-Andre Fleury, negating Columbus’s game-tying goal, Crosby stuck a fork in the Blue Jackets with this third-period tally from his knee for a 4-2 lead.

Best early Conn Smythe candidate: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh — Malkin registered a point in every game of the Penguins series with Columbus and leads all NHL scorers with 11 (nine assists).

Best old-school hip check: Duncan Keith on Viktor Arvidsson — The Blackhawks didn’t have much to feel good about in this series, but this textbook hip check from Keith on the Predators’ Arvidsson was clean and devastating.

Worst collapse: Chicago Blackhawks — The Hawks became the first No. 1 seed to get swept in the first round of the playoffs since they were swept in 1993 by the St Louis Blues. Nobody really saw this coming. If they tell you they picked the Preds, it was just to be different. Did the Blackhawks’ window just close?

Worst gaffe: Chris Kreider, New York — Kreider would have been dreaming about this overtime whiff all summer had he not set up the game-winner for the Rangers.

Since it’s Chris Kreider, we’ll have a little fun with it.

Best reminder to keep your head up: Andrew Shaw — Nothing wrong with this hit from Montreal’s Andrew Shaw on New York’s Oscar Lindberg.

Predictably, the hit led to this and nothing was resolved.

And then it led to this, which is our preferred method of resolving these disputes.

Best quote: Nashville coach Peter Laviolette (smiling) on the first sweep in franchise history — “We’re not going to have any meetings tonight.”

Best thing to look forward to Friday: Toronto at Washington, Game 5. Pittsburgh-Columbus was too lopsided, so we’re calling this the best series of the first round. The pivotal game is on deck. The Caps are hoping to exorcise some demons. The young Maple Leafs are not yet acquainted with their franchise’s demons.

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