Adam Proteau, currently the brand's columnist/writer, has worked for The Hockey News since 2002 and won the Professional Hockey Writers' award for best column in 2006. He also won the Esso Medal of Achievement for most improved player as a 13-year-old at the 'A' level in 1985, but he's less proud of that.
Through the first two rounds of the NHL playoffs, we’ve seen some things we expected to see: clutch performances from Hawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews; excellent goaltending from Rangers cornerstone Henrik Lundqvist and Montreal’s Carey Price; and of course, controversial calls from the officials. But one of the best elements of the post-season are the surprise factors that emerge – the rookies who step to the fore, or the youngsters who not only realize the success many predicted for them, but surpass expectations. And although we’re only halfway through the Stanley Cup tournament, there are already a number of those types of suprises. Here are the top five playoff breakouts thus far:
5. Matt Beleskey, Ducks. You expected to see Corey Perry leading the Ducks in goals this year. You didn’t expect the person immediately below him on Anaheim’s list of top scorers to be 26-year-old winger Beleskey, who never had scored more than 11 goals in a single regular-season before he set career highs in goals (22) and points (32) with Anaheim this season. The 26-year-old was used sparingly in the opening round against Winnipeg, but found his scoring form in the second round against Calgary, scoring one goal in all five games vs. the Flames. Every post-season goal he scores from this point on is making the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent more money on the open market this summer. Read more
The New York Rangers pulled out a 2-1 overtime win Wednesday to make it to the Eastern Conference Final for the second straight year. And they’ve inspired one skilled barber to use the back of people’s heads as canvases on which to pay tribute to Blueshirts forwards Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello.
When the Rangers went down three games to one in their second-round series against Washington, Blueshirts players and fans looked to the previous playoffs and a New York team that was resilient and came back from just such a deficit to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games. And wouldn’t you know it – the same team, with mostly the same players, wound up doing the same thing after Wednesday’s Game 7 between the Capitals and host Rangers: the Rangers leaned on star goalie Henrik Lundqvist and squeezed out just enough offense – in this case, a game-tying goal from Kevin Hayes, and the overtime winner by Derek Stepan – to push past Washington and set up a showdown with Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final.
Although the Capitals once again tested Lundqvist early and often – outshooting the Blueshirts 15-10 in the opening frame and taking the first lead on captain Alex Ovechkin’s goal – New York not only stayed in it, but fought back. They outshot the Caps 24-13 in the final two regulation periods, and were the better overall possession team on the night. They gave up three power plays to Washington, but got four of their own. They were dominated by the Capitals in the faceoff circle 47-32, but beat the Caps in the takeaway department 9-1.
They weren’t the best team all night long, but the Rangers put up enough of a fight to get them to overtime. And from there, Lundqvist turned aside all eight shots he saw, and Stepan scored on the Blueshirts’ fifth shot of the extra period at 11:24 to complete the series comeback and deny Ovechkin the first trip to the Eastern Final of his 10-year NHL career. Read more
Prior to Wednesday’s Game 7 between his Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers – a game he guaranteed the Caps would win – superstar winger Alex Ovechkin hadn’t had his best series. But Ovechkin went a long ways toward backing up his words at Madison Square Garden, scoring the first goal of the elimination game on a stellar snap shot.
Ovechkin didn’t produce a single point in his previous four games against the Blueshirts, but with the Caps on the verge of blowing a 3-1 series lead, their captain grabbed a pass from Marcus Johansson and scored at the 12:50 mark of the first period for his fifth playoff goal this year: Read more
The Lightning finished the 2014-15 NHL season with the same number of wins as the Montreal Canadiens, but because Tampa Bay had two fewer regulation time losses than Montreal, the Habs won the Atlantic Division and the Bolts finished second. However, as the second-round playoff series between the two teams demonstrated, Tampa’s roster had more balance and scoring prowess and commitment to defense equal to the Canadiens’ – and at no point was that clearer than Tuesday in Game 6, when the Lightning limited Montreal’s chances and made the most of their own en route to winning the game 3-1 and sending the Habs home for the summer with a 4-2 series victory.
The Bolts held the Canadiens to just six shots in each of the first and third periods and 19 on the night. Tampa was the better possession team and only gave Montreal two power play opportunities Tuesday. And although they got a goal from star and captain Steven Stamkos, the Lightning also continued to get goals from players throughout the lineup: Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring with 4:25 left in the opening frame – one of two goals and three points he’d post in Game 6, giving him six goals and 11 points in 13 playoff games – and Ondrej Palat chipped in his third goal of the post-season.
With that type of support at both ends of the ice, Ben Bishop’s job was made easier – but you still have to give the much-maligned Bolts goalie credit for coming through when Montreal did challenge him. He certainly wasn’t perfect in the series, but Bishop didn’t wilt under the heat of the moment and allowed just five goals in Tampa’s four second-round wins. And he retained his sense of humor after the game when he made reference to a P.K. Subban comment earlier in the series:
Bishop: "Thank Goodness for my lucky horseshoe."
— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) May 13, 2015
At the other end of the ice, there was Canadiens MVP Carey Price. Unlike so many nights this season, Price couldn’t singlehandedly save the Canadiens in Game 6. But his .889 save percentage wasn’t the reason why Montreal lost. Their lack of support on offense for him is the reason for their elimination. Read more
With just two goals in 12 games heading into Game 6 against Montreal, Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in the 2015 post-season. But he scored a massive goal on Canadiens netminding menace Carey Price early in the second period Tuesday that greatly helps his odds of winning his first Stanley Cup.
Holding a 3-2 series lead on the Habs, the Bolts were leading 1-0 in Game 6 when Stamkos received a pass from Alex Killorn and toe-dragged the puck before wiring a wrist shot through Montreal defenseman Jeff Petry’s legs and over Price’s blocker to double Tampa’s lead: Read more