Alex Ovechkin got his first taste of the NHL playoffs this season. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
Barring a rally for the ages in the Stanley Cup final, the 2008 post-season likely won’t be remembered as one for the ages. Only two Game 7s, and a lot of series seemed to be over after the second or third game.
Still, there was a lot to like and a little to be learned in this year’s playoffs.
Here’s what has stood out for me:
Alex Ovechkin’s NHL playoff debut. Washington’s Wild And Crazy (Goal-Scoring) Guy had a one-round introduction to the rigors of the post-season and helped the Capitals stretch it out to seven games before finally falling in overtime to Philadelphia. Here’s hoping Ovechkin dances deep into the night in next year’s spring fling.
Niklas Kronwall is a hit. Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom has ruled the Red Wings defense for years, but it’s the Niklas without the ‘C’ who has been Detroit’s blueline revelation in these playoffs. He leads all D-men in points this post-season, as well as open-ice hits that resemble car crashes.
Johan Franzen breaks out. Well, duh. This unheralded Wings winger had 12 goals by Game 2 of the third round, before “concussion-like” symptoms sat him for the rest of the Dallas series and the first game of the final. Maybe his head was spinning from all the attention.
Quacking the code. Now we know why Anaheim GM Brian Burke was so upset when his Edmonton counterpart, Kevin Lowe, signed Dustin Penner away from the Ducks last summer. Turns out Anaheim can’t get out of the first round without 245 pounds of left winger on its second line.
Or maybe it was that the winger on the other side of Ryan Getzlaf – Corey Perry – was mostly unavailable, too, due to a leg injury. In the end, Anaheim’s playoff demise should have been obvious: Everybody knows that without wings, Ducks can’t fly.
Say it ain’t Joe. Early in his career, Joe Thornton got a playoff pass because he was so young. Then, he got a bye because his Boston Bruins teams didn’t provide much of a supporting cast around him. Then, he got off easy because he played hurt in a couple of post-seasons. Then, he got away with one because he was traded to San Jose at mid-season, and how’s he supposed to take over a team when he’d only been there for half a year? Then…well, then people started wondering why Thornton wasn’t the same force in the playoffs he is in the regular season.
After a third consecutive second-round-and-out as a Shark, they’re still asking that question. For the record, Big (Regular Season) Joe has 11 goals and 48 points in 70 playoff games and has yet to see the third round.
Today’s Stars Captain, to Morrow’s leadership. Was there a more impressive player than Dallas’ Brenden Morrow through the first three rounds of the playoffs? Don’t think so.
The Stars power forward slowed slightly in the third round against Detroit, but in case you haven’t noticed, the Red Wings have that affect on people. Morrow was a bodychecking, clutch-scoring, team-leading demon for Dallas; he had more goals (nine) in 18 playoff games this spring than in 60 previous post-season contests (eight). Not to mention, two of his goals came in overtime, and opponents always took note when he was on the ice; they liked their head attached to the rest of their body, I suppose.
Montreal’s passion burns bright…too bright. And I thought Torontonians were crazy for the car-honking parades up and down Yonge St. after the Maple Leafs won a playoff game (back when the Leafs actually made the playoffs, I mean). But in the name of the Richard Riots, who knew Montrealers were going to break out the matches and gas cans after eliminating Boston in the first round? Too bad things had to get so out of hand, because the Bell Centre crowd was busy reminding everyone it is still the best crowd in the hockey business.
Sid’s first final. Well, Gretzky and Yzerman had to lose – also to superior teams – in their first Stanley Cup final appearance before figuring out how to reach the ultimate goal. Looks like this is Crosby’s (and Malkin’s and the rest of the young Pens’) turn to learn this hard lesson. At least it was a great ride in the first three rounds.
They’ll be back. For a team that finished dead last a year ago, the Flyers look like a contender for the next decade. Forwards Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Joffrey Lupul, Scottie Upshall – and Steve Downie, for that matter – are all under 25, Scott Hartnell and R.J. Umberger are 26, and Daniel Briere is a baby-faced 30.
If Simon Gagne can make it back from a concussion-ruined season, he has a lot left at 28. Goalie Martin Biron is 30, but coming off his first NHL playoff action, and an impressive run it was. Philadelphia needs to tweak its blueline, but Braydon Coburn (23) and Ryan Parent (21) are pretty good building blocks.
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