Forget spring; the Stanley Cup playoffs are in the air.
This tournament trumps the Olympic event from start to finish. It’s a whole new game, with unexpected turns, playing out in dramatic sporting theatre for two months.
But from all the frothing fury and bad blood rises the underdog. Whether it’s a Cinderella team, an individual effort or simply a brilliant goal or courageous shot block: expect the unexpected.
Recently we’ve seen Max Talbot be the unlikely two-goal hero in Game 7 of the Cup final; Fernando Pisani’s clutch 14-goal run after an 18-goal regular season; the young Pens being hammered in five by the Sens one year and belittling the defending Eastern champions in four games the next; Marian Hossa getting 41 points in 43 playoff games and losing twice in the final; the Canes scoring twice in the last 1:20 of Game 7 to topple ‘Marty the Great.’
And this year will be no different. I wonder if we will see...
JONATHAN BERNIER IN NET FOR THE KINGS
Coach Terry Murray made it clear there is no goaltending controversy; American Olympian Jonathan Quick will start Game 1. But what if Los Angeles finds itself in a 2-0 or 3-0 hole? Quick has not won a game since March 22 and has allowed three goals or more in 12 of his past 16 games. Bernier, on the other hand, was named the American League’s most outstanding goaltender this year and had three big NHL wins in the past month, including a 34-save shutout. Sure the AHL Monarchs are a threat for the Calder Cup, but, to slightly modify one of my favorite Ovie quotes, “Stanley Cups is Stanley Cups.”
THE CANUCKS EMERGE AS AN ELITE SQUAD
They’ve been there seven of the past nine post-seasons, but haven’t been past the second round since 1994. With an Art Ross performance from Henrik Sedin and a gold medal effort from Roberto Luongo, the team is headlined by some of the best in the business. As I wrote last week, however, I believe they are as likely to blow up as San Jose, but could also ride this high to the Cup final. If they are to make a serious run, it won’t be just Sedin and Luongo paving the way. Vancouver saw career years from a plethora of players and a conference or Cup final appearance will mean Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Burrows and Steve Bernier went above and beyond and emerged as post-season players.
DAVID KREJCI BECOMES A LEADER
The 23-year-old had an astounding breakout 73-point season a year ago and followed it up with a strong eight points in 11 playoff games. This season, in keeping with the Bruins narrative, Krejci struggled to score and finished with 17 goals and 52 points. However, with 20 points in the last 20 games of the season (including six goals for the playmaker), Krejci is hitting his stride at the right time. Without Marc Savard, someone has to take this team by the neck up front and the two-way Krejci is capable of just that. An upset of Buffalo is certainly possible and Krejci would have to be a go-to guy in that scenario.
VALTTERI FILPPULA’S COMING OUT PARTY
The Wings are without Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson and Jiri Hudler from last year’s Western Conference-championship team, but their depth is their calling card and the team is cresting at the right time. Filppula was injured for a chunk of the season so he wasn’t able to step into a more prominent role, but he had the highest PPG average of his career (35 points in 55 games). A scout once told me Filppula was following in Pavel Datsyuk’s shoes and that he could be the same type of player, though without the same high-scoring potential. Filppula is no playoff slouch, scoring 16 points in 23 games last year and he’ll be leaned on more in 2010 than he was in the past two playoffs. If Detroit goes far, look for Filppula to be an important player.
THE PHOENIX COYOTES WIN THE STANLEY CUP
Ya, it’s a long shot, but it was a long shot they even made it this far. It’d be hard to imagine the season ending with a Coyotes Cup (and Gary Bettman presenting it to, er, himself?), but hey, stranger things have happened.
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