The second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is coming to a close this week, and what a second round it's been so far. We've got one series guaranteed to go seven games and three more that very well could. In addition, there's no shortage of storylines to watch as four different divisional rivalries reach their respective climaxes.
Here's what's catching my eye this week:
WINNING ONE FOR THE GIB-BER
Everyone in hockey has known about Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson for a long time. Every NHL team would love to have him in their organization, and Saturday night you saw why. The kid's an elite goaltender, he looked great in his playoff debut, he looked very confident and moved very well. It was a performance that not only may have saved the Ducks' season, but also paid off for coach Bruce Boudreau. Putting in Gibson to start Game 4 was a risky move, but Boudreau had the guts to do it and it paid off.
You have to make decisions like that as a coach sometimes. I remember I once had to healthy scratch Jari Kurri and Charlie Huddy in the same game. Fortunately, that move worked, but it's definitely the type of thing that takes guts. Sometimes if your goalie isn't playing well, you have to make a move like Boudreau did. The simple choice would have been to stick with Jonas Hiller, a proven NHL goaltender, but obviously Boudreau believes in Gibson. Boudreau had made tough decisions already this postseason, like when he scratched Teemu Selanne in the first round. He's proven he's not afraid to make those choices, and this time it paid off.
Personally, I want to see Gibson play like he did in Game 4 two or three more times for me to be convinced that the momentum has swung. I think the Los Angeles Kings are a better road team than a home team, so I feel like they're still in the driver's seat even as the series shifts back down to Anaheim, but Gibson has shown he can play in this League. Perhaps more importantly, after his shutout in Game 4, this is clearly Gibson's team now. The Ducks are going to win or lose with him.
THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS
It's impressive that the New York Rangers have managed to push the Pittsburgh Penguins to a seventh game Tuesday night after facing a 3-1 series deficit, and if we're strictly talking hockey, I think the Rangers, with the momentum and Henrik Lundqvist in tow, will be able to take Game 7. Still when you watch this series, it's hard to think about anything but what's happening with Rangers forward Martin St. Louis. We all know the story. We know that St. Louis' mother suddenly passed away last week and that St. Louis has continued to play, scoring the opening goal in a win-or-go-home Game 6 on Sunday, which happened to be Mother's Day.
Playing under those conditions is a heavy weight to carry with you. I've experienced this type of thing twice in my life in hockey.
When I was playing in Winnipeg my grandfather died. I was going to go home for the funeral, but my father got on the phone and said, "Granddad didn't want you to come to his funeral. He wanted you to stay and play." I know that's what my grandfather would have wanted me to do. I have no doubt about that.
I've also had the experience of coaching someone who has gone through the same thing, though. When I was coaching in Medicine Hat, we were in the Memorial Cup in Chicoutimi and Neil Brady's mother died after a long battle with cancer. I remember I went to Neil and I said, "What do you want to do? Do you want to go home?" He said, "No, I want to stay here. I want to play in the Memorial Cup, I want to win the Memorial Cup and then I want to be with my teammates and I'll go back for the funeral after that."
He stayed and played. We won and then we all flew as a team to Calgary and went to the funeral together. It was a very touching moment.
Being part of a team is one of the greatest feelings there is in anything. I've been on teams throughout my life, even as a child. When you're on a team that plays together for a couple of years, or when you're battling every night together and traveling every day, you live with these guys, you end up seeing them more than you see your family and you build deep, life-long ties. When times are tough, that's where you want to be. That's what gives you comfort. That's where you feel safe. Being with your teammates keeps you stable. When you get a feeling like you're so helpless and there's nothing you can do about it, it's nice to go out with 20 guys you really care about and do something as a team. It's not surprising to me that athletes, when they hit a tough time, want to be with their buddies and do something together.
It's also important to remember that this tragedy is the latest incident in what's been a very emotional year for St. Louis. He became captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning, then he didn't get picked for the Canadian Olympic team, then he gets placed on the Olympic team, but barely plays in Sochi, then he gets traded out of Tampa Bay and comes to New York where he struggles offensively at first. It's been a roller coaster of a year for Marty. Having something like the loss of a parent makes everything else pale in comparison, but putting it on top of everything else that happens just adds to the tumult of the season.
Marty loves his family more than anything. I'm sure he needed to make sure they were OK before he did anything else, but once he realized there was nothing more he could do at that moment, I think it's normal that he would want to be with his teammates at the rink. That's where he went, and that's probably made him feel as well as he can after a really tough couple of days.