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Stanley already providing plenty of surprises

Thursday, 04.24.2008 / 9:00 AM / 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

The Rangers only needed five games to defeat the Devils in the playoffs this season.
Drury scores series clinching goal
The Stanley Cup Playoffs usually bring out the best in everyone, be it a top-line center or fourth-line wing. But it's also a time when defenses clamp down on those regular-season standouts, thus, providing an opportunity for a fresh new face or unlikely team to grab some time in the spotlight.

Surprises abounded in this spring's first round. Here's a snapshot of five of the most unpredicted storylines from each conference.

On to the conference semifinals!

Eastern Conference

Rangers extinguish Devils -- The Rangers went 11-0-0 against the Devils in regulation in 2007-08. New Jersey's only victories came in a shootout in the regular-season finale and in overtime of Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on April 13.

It might not have been too much of a stretch to have predicted the Rangers to win the series, but to do it in five games was most impressive. The Rangers outscored the Devils, 19-12, scoring four power-play goals on 17 chances and are currently fourth in the postseason with a 23.5 percent power-play efficiency.

Kostitsyn brothers catapult Montreal
-- While much of the focus has been on rookie goaltender Carey Price, and with good reason, brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn were two big offensive producers in Montreal's seven-game series victory against the Boston Bruins. Tomas Plekanec, the linemate for the Kostitsyn brothers, even admitted there were times when he felt out of place. Sergei is currently leading the team in playoff scoring with six points, including three goals, and is tied with two other players for the lead in plus/minus (plus-4). Andrei ranks third on the team with five points (three goals). The Canadiens will face the Flyers in the conference semifinal round beginning Thursday at the Bell Centre.

A Lupul in Washington's postseason plans -- In a series chock-full of story lines and elite point producers, including Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who led the League in goals and points in the regular season, and Philadelphia centers Danny Briere and Mike Richards, it was Fort Saskatchewan's Joffrey Lupul of the Flyers who became the overnight hero in the series-clinching Game 7 Tuesday night. Lupul, who had just one assist in the six previous games against the Caps, converted a rebound 6:06 into overtime to send Philadelphia to a 3-2 victory against Washington at Verizon Center. Lupul found space in front of the net to tuck a backhander past Cristobal Huet after Washington's goalie had deflected Kimmo Timonen's initial shot.

Reversal of fortune for Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury -- One season removed from going 1-4 with 3.76 goals-against average and .880 save percentage in a playoff series loss to the Ottawa Senators, Fleury was nothing short of spectacular in the Penguins' four-game sweep of Ottawa this spring. Fleury, who was pulled from Game 1 in Ottawa last season, made amends in Game 1 this season when he stopped 26 shots to record his first career playoff shutout. He rebounded nicely at the tail end of the regular season after missing 36 games with a high ankle sprain. His 1.26 GAA and .955 save percentage are tops among playoff goalies having started in at least four games. Pittsburgh, which last advanced beyond the opening round in 2000-01, will meet the Rangers in the conference semifinal round beginning Thursday.

Free agency/trade deadline acquisition boost Flyers -- Danny Briere, who signed a free-agent contract with the Flyers on July 1, 2007, and Vaclav Prospal, who was traded by Tampa Bay to the Flyers in exchange for Alexandre Picard on Feb. 25, are currently first and second, respectively, in playoff scoring. Briere leads the League with 11 points and six goals, including four on the power play. Prospal is second in playoff scoring with nine points, including six assists. Each player averaged more than 19 minutes of ice time in the Flyers' seven-game elimination of Washington in the opening round. Not surprisingly, Briere and Prospal have each contributed to the other's offensive exploits this postseason while playing on the same line.

Western Conference

Hip hip, Jose -- There's no question Colorado Avalanche goalie Jose Theodore's return to grace this season, coupled with his splendid opening-round playoff performance against the Minnesota Wild, will make him an extremely intriguing unrestricted free agent this summer. Theodore stopped 72 of 75 shots during the final two games of a six-game series triumph against the higher-seeded Wild. He posted a 1.88 GAA and .940 save percentage while virtually stealing Game 5 with a 38-save, 2-1 victory in St. Paul, Minn.

"Elite players have that motivation internally where they want to be the best at all times," Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville told "The process he's gone through is pretty remarkable, to see him return and be at that level now where he feels very good about himself. His game is certainly at the level where he'd like it to be and we're very pleased with it."

The Avs will now travel to Detroit on Thursday in the opener of the conference semifinals.

Stephane Robidas filled the void left by Sergei Zubov, after his injury, for the Dallas Stars. Robidas scores against the Ducks
Dallas rides Robidas into second round -- Dallas Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound, nine-season veteran, helped fill the void created by the absence of injured veterans Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher when he collected one goal and five assists during his team's six-game stunner victory against the Anaheim Ducks. He already has registered a career-high six points this postseason. In a span of 52 seconds of the third period in Game 6, Robidas scored the tying goal and set up Stu Barnes on the game-winner in a 4-1 victory. Forced to wear a protective cage after suffering a broken nose in Game 5, Robidas still led the team with 26:38 of ice time in the series clincher. Let's not forget, Robidas also leads the team with 32 hits this postseason. Dallas, which advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003, will now travel to San Jose in the opener of the conference semifinals on Friday.

Ozzie spells The Dominator -- Detroit coach Mike Babcock had no choice but to pull Dominik Hasek at 6:35 of the second period in Game 4 after the six-time Vezina Trophy winner had allowed his third goal on 14 shots. His replacement, Chris Osgood, is certainly no stranger to playoff hockey, having played in 87 career playoff games with a 2.24 goals-against average. Ozzie helped lead Detroit to two straight victories against Nashville, stopping 40 of 41 shots, in his team's six-game series triumph. Osgood sports a 0.39 GAA and .981 save percentage in three postseason appearances and will look to maintain those gaudy statistics in Detroit's second-round matchup against Colorado.

J.R. keys Game 7 triumph -- Fourth-line center Jeremy Roenick, 38, had two goals and two assists, including the tying and go-ahead scores midway through a four-goal second period, to lead San Jose to a 5-3 victory against the Calgary Flames in Game 7 of their opening-round series. The Sharks earned their fourth straight trip to the second round, where they'll face Pacific Division-rival Dallas. After 18 NHL seasons without a championship, Roenick was prepared to retire last summer until Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson persuaded him to join their franchise. After a productive season as a role player that included his 500th career goal, Roenick went scoreless in the first five games against Calgary and coach Ron Wilson benched him for Game 6. Instead of pouting, however, Roenick exhibited one of the more memorable playoff performances in San Jose's short history in the deciding game. In six career Game 7s, "J.R. Superstar" has now racked up six goals. Roenick, a plus-4 in six games, tied the franchise record for points in a playoff game with four.

A Star in the making -- In only his second career playoff series, 22-year-old Loui Eriksson proved to be just what the Dallas Stars ordered in their knockout of the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks in six games. Eriksson, playing on the second line alongside fellow countryman Joel Lundqvist (one goal, three assists) and trade-deadline acquisition Brad Richards (one goal, four assists), registered five points in six playoff games against the Ducks while logging quality minutes (16:42 a game). Last season, Eriksson, a second-round draft pick (33rd overall) by Dallas in 2003, notched one assist as the team was ousted by Vancouver in the opening round in seven games. He finished with career highs in goals (14), assists (17) and points (31) in the regular season and will be needed to continue his hot streak against San Jose in the second round.

Contact Mike Morreale at

Quote of the Day

Yeah, I guess so. That empty-netter was pretty lucky, but I'll take it.

— Senators forward Mike Hoffman when asked if his two-goal game was a good way to celebrate his 26th birthday
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