The Stanley Cup Playoffs have only just begun but players of color are already having a major impact in opening-round games.
From the East Coast to the West Coast, minority players played pivotal roles for their teams in first-round contests.
Forward Evander Kane showed why the San Jose Sharks obtained him from the Buffalo Sabres shortly before the trading deadline. He scored two second period goals in his first-ever National Hockey League playoff game, helping the Sharks defeat the Anaheim Ducks 3-0.
— NHL (@NHL) April 13, 2018
EVANDER KANE AGAIN! UNREAL! 2-0 SHARKS!
— NHL Daily 365 (@NHLDaily365) April 13, 2018
The 26-year-old Vancouver native became the fourth player in the last 20 years to have a multiple goal game in his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut, according to the NHL.
“It was nice to finally get out in the playoff atmosphere, and it was fun to finally get my first playoff win,” Kane told reporters after the game. “It’s finally nice to contribute. That’s my job. I feel confident in my abilities. I don’t think it was my best game, but I’m never going to be mad when we get a playoff win and I get to contribute.”
Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly flashed some of the playoff magic he displayed four seasons ago as a member of the Ducks, scoring a third-period goal that gave the Caps a 3-2 lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night.
Not to be outdone, Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones scored a power play goal that tied the game at 3. The Blue Jackets won the game 4-3 in overtime, deflating the playoff euphoria inside Washington’s Capital One Arena.
In addition to his goal, Jones led all skaters in the game with 30:59 minutes of ice time, further building the case for his consideration for the Norris Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s best defenseman.
Jones was tenth among NHL defensemen in scoring in the 2017-18 regular season with 16 goals and 41 assists in 78 games.
“If he’s in Los Angeles, or he’s in Montreal, or in Toronto, or New York, we’re talking about this guy as a Norris Trophy candidate,” ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose told The Columbus Dispatch last month. “He does get overlooked, but not by hockey guys that see him play…Every GM in the NHL would love to have Seth Jones, and every coach would love to have him in their lineup. Those guys are very, very hard to find.”
Winnepeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien is another blueliner who’s come up big early in the playoffs.
Big Buff was an offensive and physical force in the Jets 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild Friday night.
He contributed a backhand saucer pass assist from behind the Wild net on teammate Paul Stastny’s third period goal and delivered crunching back-to-back hits on Minnesota players in the second period that energized the sellout crowd inside Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place.
Byfuglien logged a team-high 23:51 minutes of ice time Friday, helping him earn the game’s first star honor.
“Just another day at the office,” he told reporters afterward.
Wild rookie forward Jordan Greenway is yet to score a goal in the series against the Jets.
But the former Boston University star did tally an assist Wednesday in the Wild’s 3-2 loss to Winnipeg on Wednesday and he continued to make hockey history as the first person to play in the Winter Olympics, the NCAA ice hockey tournament and the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the same year.
— BU Men's Hockey (@TerrierHockey) April 11, 2018
Greenway became the first African American to play on a U.S. Olympic hockey team when he skated at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. And download the Color of Hockey podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play