Henrik Zetterberg's 24 points were third in the playoffs, but his stingy defense is what really set him apart. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Well, that’s all folks; another NHL season come and gone. (What are we going to do with ourselves?) Sure, we’ve got the NHL awards this week, the draft next weekend and free agency July 1, but by the second week of July we’re into the dog days of summer.
Reflecting on the 2009 playoffs, we feel it’s fair to say they were the best in years. We witnessed the highest-scoring skater since Wayne Gretzky in 1993; some great star-on-star battles; six seven-game series, including the 15th such final in history; and, finished it all off with a battle royale between the closest thing the NHL has had to a dynasty since Edmonton in the 1980s and the closest thing the NHL has to its next dynasty.
In a nod to the great post-season that was, we’re listing our 10 best players of the playoffs. As per usual, we like to avoid repetition, so there can only be one player per team, which means 10 of the 16 qualifiers are represented.
10. Zach Parise, LW, New Jersey
The Devils fell to the Hurricanes in seven games, but Parise did all he could to stop it from happening. His modest stat line – three goals and six points, including a power play goal and a game-winning marker – does not do his dynamic play justice. His 19-plus minutes of ice time per game also led New Jersey forwards far and away.
9. Claude Giroux, RW, Philadelphia
He played 42 regular season games for the Flyers this year, but Giroux’s coming-out party came during the playoffs. The shifty speedster led his team in scoring with two goals and five points in six opening-round games versus the Penguins. And despite his youth, Giroux, 21, proved himself to be a more than capable penalty-killer and was counted on in that role throughout the series.
8. Henrik Sedin, C, Vancouver
For a guy who normally passes and nets assists, the post-season showed Henrik can score when he wants to. He finished fourth on the team in shots and his four goals tied for first with his brother, Daniel. He was his usual dominant self down low, using his ability to cycle and protect the puck to score at a point-per-game pace over 10 games in two rounds.
7. Marc Savard, C, Boston
An argument can be made for Zdeno Chara, but with the B’s falling to the Canes in Round 2 thanks in large part to Eric Staal’s ability to fight through the defensive blanketing of the big Slovak, Savard is our choice. The 31-year-old paced the Bruins with six goals and 13 points, had three power play goals, two game-winners, won 51.9 percent of his draws and played nearly two minutes more per game than any other forward. ‘Nuff said.
6. Simeon Varlamov, G, Washington
Alex Ovechkin was electric with 11 goals and 21 points in 14 games, but the Caps wouldn’t have made it to the second round if Varlamov had not played as well as he did. After taking over from Jose Theodore, the 21-year-old was lights out, winning seven of 13 starts and finishing with a 2.53 goals-against average and .918 save percentage en route to the breakout performance of the post-season.
5. Cam Ward, G, Carolina
The 2006 Conn Smythe winner looked to be having a repeat performance through two rounds. Heading into the conference final, Ward was at the top of most pundits’ MVP lists. Unfortunately, the sixth-seeded Canes ran out of gas against the eventual Cup champs, bowing out in four straight games to Pittsburgh.
4. Martin Havlat, RW, Chicago
After a season in which the injury-prone sniper played the most games of his career (81) and led the Hawks in scoring, Havlat was primed for his first return to the playoffs since ’05-06 – and he didn’t disappoint. The 28-year-old Czech was a dynamo for Chicago, finishing with five goals and 15 points in 15-and-a-half games – he was concussed early in Game 3 against Detroit in the conference final by a Niklas Kronwall shoulder to the head. After the hit, Havlat played less than eight minutes more during the series.
3. Jonas Hiller, G, Anaheim
They say goaltending wins in the playoffs and Hiller was the big reason the Ducks upset San Jose in Round 1 and took Detroit to the brink in the second stage. The 27-year-old Swiss native was third in the league with a 2.23 GAA and his .943 SP was tops in the post-season. Along the way, Hiller also faced an average of 40-plus shots per game, proving that without his heroics Anaheim would have had their duck cooked much earlier.
2. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh
Malkin’s 36 points were the seventh-most in NHL playoff history. When running mate Sidney Crosby was shut down or slowed by injury, the 22-year-old Art Ross and Conn Smythe winner stood up and was counted (which also included laying down to block shots). After an abysmal playoff in 2008, Malkin proved himself to be capable of leading a team at both ends of the ice.
1. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Detroit
Speaking of both ends of the ice, Zetterberg was the post-season’s master. He finished third in playoff scoring with 11 goals and 24 points in 23 games and was a plus-13 – second only to teammate Dan Cleary in the league. But when the Wings needed him most as Sidney Crosby’s shadow in the final, he took his game to another level. In seven games against the Pens, Zetterberg played 155:43, most of it against Crosby. The Kid managed just a goal and three points with a minus-3 rating and was obviously frustrated early by the defensive brilliance of Zetterberg. Detroit netminder Chris Osgood may have been Detroit’s MVP frontrunner, but the work of Zetterberg was, in a word, masterful.
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