Hockey fans have been treated to a number of exciting games since the qualifying round of the playoffs got underway last week. Giants have been toppled, underdogs have thrived and TV audiences have viewed some stunning goals. These are some key things we have learned since the NHL returned after a lengthy lockdown:

Flyers Regain Their Momentum

Sep 5, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz greets Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart (79) after game seven of the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Flyers were 9-1-0 in their last 10 games before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the NHL to suspend the regular season. The break could not have come at a worse time, as it totally derailed the impressive momentum they had built up. They were then thrown into a fiercely difficult seeding round-robin, so fans might have feared that they would struggle to recapture the magic. Yet the Flyers have simply picked up where they left off, dazzling viewers with their collective brilliance.

Their first game back in action pitted them against the Bruins, the favorites to win the Stanley Cup for anyone that likes betting hockey, and they were serious underdogs. However, Carter Hart made 34 saves from 35 shots – cementing his status as one of the league’s best goalies – and the Bruins could not live with the Flyers’ physicality. They were a lot more clinical, and fully deserved the 4-1 win. Next up the Flyers eased to a 3-1 victory against the Caps, before facing Tampa Bay Lightning to decide which team would become the first seed.

By that point, the Bolts had overtaken the Bruins as the new Stanley Cup favorites, but the Flyers swept them aside in a 4-1 victory. They must now be taken seriously as Stanley Cup contenders. They do not have many superstars, aside from Hart, but they work very well as a collective unit and they are surging with momentum right now.

Lightning Reaping Benefits of a Rest

Sep 28, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Tampa Bay Lightning pose with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Dallas Stars in game six of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning were 3-6-1 in their previous 10 regular season games before the lockdown, so they were thankful for the chance to press pause and regroup. They returned to action with hard-fought 3-2 victories against the Caps and the Bruins, suggesting they are reaping the benefits of the rest period. They blew two-goal leads in both games, but showed great character to go on and secure wins against dangerous opposition. They were without injured captain Steven Stamkos too, which makes their results even more impressive.

The Lightning overtook the Bruins as outright favorites to win the Stanley Cup after edging that nail-biting showdown with Boston. They struggled against the Flyers on Saturday, slumping to a 4-1 defeat. The loss of Victor Hedman, who went off injured in the first period, is a blow to their playoff chances, but they should still take great encouragement from those performances against Washington and Boston, and they should soon welcome Stamkos back into the fold.

Hurricanes Look Dangerous

Aug 19, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Sami Vatanen (45) blocks a shot against the Boston Bruins during the third period in game five of the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes were the only team to secure a clean sweep 3-0 triumph in the qualifying round of these extended Stanley Cup playoffs. They were far too strong for the Rangers, despite losing all four games to New York in the regular season. Sebastian Aho and Jaccob Slavin stood out by registering a goal and an assist apiece in the first game, and then the promising Andrei Svechnikov took over in game two. The 20-year-old wing became the first player to score a postseason hat-trick in Hurricanes/Whalers history, and he has the potential to emerge as one of the greatest players in the league.

Aho then took the mantle once more in game three, providing two goals and an assist to hand Carolina a 4-1 victory. They became the first team to advance to the next round, and they have enough quality to cause problems for their struggling opponents in the First Round. The Bruins lost all three games in the seeding round-robin, and they could be thoroughly dejected as they plan to lock horns with the fired-up Hurricanes, which is a dangerous prospect.

Charge of the Golden Knights

Sep 14, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner (90) covers the puck behind defenseman Nick Holden (22), right wing Ryan Reaves (75), left wing William Carrier (28), defenseman Zach Whitecloud (2) and Dallas Stars left wing Blake Comeau (15), center Andrew Cogliano (11) during the second period in game five of the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Gerry Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The odds on the Vegas Golden Knights winning the Stanley Cup plummeted after they secured back-to-back wins following the restart. They prevailed in a 5-3 thriller against the Stars on August 3, and then surged to a 6-4 victory over the Blues three days later. There are clearly defensive issues, but the Vegas offense is on fire right now. They fell behind in both games, but displayed great tenacity, patience and courage to fight their way back into contention on each occasion.

“When we’re in a hole, we know the game’s not over and we have that confidence that we come back and stick with it and have a little bit of patience to our game in situations,” said coach Pete DeBoer after they beat the Blues, who are the reigning Stanley Cup champions. The Knights took the bold decision to replace Gerard Gallant with DeBoer in January, and it appears to be paying dividends. They went 8-2-0 before the break to surge to the top of the Pacific Division, and they exceled after the restart. They sewed up the first seed with a 4-3 OT victory against Colorado on Saturday. The Knights have really benefited from the return of Mark Stone, and they look like serious contenders to win the Western Conference.

Big Names Heading Home

Conor McDavid and Sidney Crosby are heading home after their teams crashed and burned in the qualifying round. Optimism abounded among Oilers fans after Edmonton was chosen as the hub city for the playoffs. They were handed a seemingly comfortable clash against 12th seeded Chicago, but they suffered a humiliating 3-1 series defeat. McDavid delivered an incredible solo performance to hand the Oilers victory in game two, but he lacked support in the remaining games. He proved he is the most dominant player in the NHL, and his presence will be missed in the First Round, but kudos to the Blackhawks for their gutsy victory.

The Penguins were also tipped to ease past the 12th seeded Canadiens in the Eastern Conference, but we have learned to expect the unexpected this year. Crosby also lit up game two, but overall the Penguins were underwhelming and the Canadiens thoroughly deserved to surge through to the next round. There was also a surprise defeat for the Predators in their series against Arizona. The Flames, Canucks and Islanders all looked reasonably strong, but the big teams will not be unduly concerned as they look forward to the First Round.