I am going to go as far as saying that this is one of the more memorable years of playoff hockey that I have seen, and it’s not even halfway finished yet. The drama, excitement, and hard-hitting/fast-paced action has been plentiful, and I only expect it to get continuously better.
As an Islander fan without much to root for besides good hockey, I was hoping to see the Capitals play the Blackhawks in the finals. Many other fans on the Island, whether they bleed blue and red or orange and blue, were wishing for the same. The Capitals were playing the Habs and it almost seemed as a sure guarantee that Ovie, Semin and Backstrom were going to take them flying out of the gates – but weren’t we dead wrong?
The drama began when Tomas Plekanec called out Jose Theodore, implying that he is a goaltender that could be beaten; virtually nothing to be intimidated by, which of course was followed up by a sarcastic remark by Theodore, calling the forward Jaromir Jagr. The first game went into overtime tied at 2, and who would come out with the heroic goal to take decisive 1-0 lead in the series? None other than Tomas Plekanec…can it be written any better than that?
Then add to it that Jaroslav Halak starts playing the most memorable hockey of his career, stopping everything the Capitals would throw at him to help defeat the juggernaut offense that should have beaten the 8th-seeded Canadiens. And then his stellar play continues on into the next round against the Penguins, stopping 38 of 39 shots in Game 1 to lead them to a 3-1 victory.
And then there’s Marc Savard, the feel-good story of the playoffs. Savard was forced to miss about two months of hockey after having suffered a concussion that was delivered from the elbow of Matt Cooke from the Pittsburgh Penguins during the regular season. The Bruins defeat over the Buffalo Sabres allowed Savard’s injury to be a minor set-back as opposed to season-ending, as he would play his first game against the Philidelphia Flyers. He admitted after the game that he had tears in his eyes when he heard the crowd cheer for him once he returned to the ice. All of the passion this guy has for the game and love for being a Boston Bruin came out with every time he slammed his stick on the ice before chucking into the crowd after winning the game in over-time, 4-3 on his home ice. His celebration simply said it all…
Knowing what happened to Savard and seeing his ability to come back and be a difference maker in the playoffs – and appreciate every second of it – is enough for me to find myself quietly rooting for the Bruins to make it to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Penguins continue to prove that they are a team that are built for the playoffs. It almost seems regardless of where they finish in the standings, they are going to make a promising Cup run. Unless the Habs pull out another upset, which apparently anything is possible, the Pens may just make the Finals for a third year in a row. But that all will depend on Crosby’s ability to lead his team passed the Halak wall.
In the West, there was plenty of controversy with Marian Hossa scoring the game winner in Overtime which would eventually help the Hawks in defeating the Nashville Predators in their opening round series. He did receive a 5-minute Major, but he would return in the extra frame to be the dagger in the Predators hearts and a hated man on the ice in Nashville. But when it was all said and done, Chicago advanced to play the Vancouver Canucks, a team that is simply on fire. Henrik Sedin has just been having one hell of a year and Roberto Luongo is hell-bent on winning a Stanley Cup AND a Gold Medal after this year’s winter Olympics. The offensive fire-power in this series is bound to be exciting.
The Coyotes and the Kings both made impressive returns to the playoffs as both teams were tremendously overdue. Detroit’s veteran presence proved more valuable than the Coyotes youthful enthusiasm, but the fact that it lasted seven games shows that the team in the desert is currently on the up-swing. The same can be said for all that is royal in L.A., as Jonathan Quick displayed that he has the potential to prove that his reflexes match his last name.
And then there are the San Jose Sharks, a team that has been a post-season bust for the past few years. Could the curse be lifted? Could the spell be broken? It wasn’t a surprise that the Sharks would find their way passed a young Avalanche team, but to come away with a 2-0 series lead against the Detroit Red Wings in the second round is starting to speak volumes in the hockey world. This may just be the year where the Shark Tank’s doors break down and a feeding frenzy begins.
There is still plenty of hockey left to be played…plenty of stories to come…plenty of memorable moments, and of course, an abundance of bone-crushing body checks waiting to happen.
Here’s to one of the most exciting and fun playoff years that I can remember in a long time.