Looking at the Boston Bruins now, it's pretty easy to see when one major turning point of their season came -- in February, at the Olympics. Only, no one really knew it at the time.
Were it not for the games Miroslav Satan played for Slovakia at the Olympics, the Bruins might not have found their most valuable offensive player.
Satan's goal in the Bruins' 4-1 Game 3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series was his team-best fifth of the playoffs and League-leading third game-winning goal. Satan's 10 points in nine games also leads the team.
"It was only after the Olympics when his game really started to pick up," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said during a recent conference call. "You could see his skating legs come back, and the last 10 games he was thriving with his hands."
Satan, who had a goal and an assist in six Olympic games, is one of a few players from the Slovakian Olympic team currently thriving in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Satan's Olympic and Bruins teammate, Zdeno Chara, has been a physical force and has chipped in offensively. He has 5 points in nine games, and assisted on Marc Savard's overtime goal in Game 1 against the Flyers. He also has nine hits and five blocked shots in three games against Philadelphia -- all Boston wins.
Chara was team captain at the Olympics, and had 3 assists and six penalty minutes in seven games while playing a team-high 23:26 per game.
The Chicago Blackhawks also have been led by a pair of stars from the Slovakian Olympic team. Marian Hossa, who was second on the team at the Olympics with 9 points in seven games, has 9 points in nine games for the Blackhawks in the playoffs. And while he only has 2 goals, one of them was the overtime winner in Game 5 of the first round against the Nashville Predators, and he had 3 assists in Game 6 to push Chicago into the second round.
Kopecky has used his size and strength to become a solid net-front presence for the Blackhawks, and has 2 goals and 3 points in nine games. He had 1 goal and a plus-1 rating in seven Olympic games.
Vancouver's Pavol Demitra, who led the Olympics with 7 assists and 10 points, has been a nice contributor to the Canucks' run with 2 goals and 6 points in nine games.
And then there's the goalie from the Slovakian team. Some kid who plays for Montreal you might have heard of -- Jaroslav Halak.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Halak again has been a big-game performer and is the sole reason the Canadiens still are playing hockey in May.
After beating the Penguins in Game 4 Thursday, he has a League-leading .934 save percentage, he's 5-0 when he faces 38 or more shots, and his play in Game 6 of the first round -- 53 saves on 54 shots against the high-flying Washington Capitals -- earned him high praise from one of history's greatest hockey reporters, the Montreal Gazette's 82-year-old Red Fisher.
"I'd say in terms of playoff hockey I've seen -- of course I've only covered the Canadiens for the past 55 years -- that's the best goaltending I've seen next to Patrick Roy against the Rangers in overtime (1986)," said Fisher. "Roy stopped 13 shots in overtime that night before the Canadiens had one shot -- and Claude Lemieux scored on it. Other than that, tonight was the greatest."
The Capitals pretty much admitted that Halak's strong play affected them mentally in the first round.
"If you have a chance to score goals and you don't score, you feel like, 'OK, next time I'm going to score,' next time I have a chance I'm going to score, and you say, 'Oh my god, what's happening?' " said Washington captain Alex Ovechkin. "That's the kind of pressure going through your mind."
Halak enters Game 4 against the Penguins Thursday having allowed just one goal in each of the last two games, but his team still trails in the series, 2-1. Not that that really should worry him -- Halak backstopped the Canadiens from 3-1 down against the Capitals in the first round.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org