With the Stanley Cup Playoffs nearly halfway complete, we decided to look at some of the marvelous storylines that have already surfaced. Here are seven that hockey fans everywhere are talking about:
Miro the Hero -- So this is what happens when you go fishing for offense in a rink on Long Island. Satan, Boston's bargain basement free-agent acquisition in early January, leads the surging Bruins with 10 points on 5 goals and 5 assists. He kept in shape in the first half of the season by renting ice near his Long Island home and skating three or four times per week. Now he's skating in huge games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and scoring monster goals. Three of his five have been game-winners, including one in double overtime.
Capitals vs. Canadiens (Getty Images)
Halak brings back blissful memories -- People across D.C. are still asking the same question: What happened? Now they may be starting to ask that same question in Pittsburgh. Folks, Halak is happening. Montreal's goalie was splendid in Games 5-7 against the Capitals with 131 saves against 134 shots to steal the series for the Habs and he was just as superb in Game 4 against the Penguins Thursday night with 32-straight saves after allowing two goals on his first three shots. Halak was pulled roughly halfway through Game 3 against the Capitals after allowing six goals in Game 2 and another three in the second period of Game 3. He watched Carey Price lose Game 4 and put the Habs in a 3-1 hole. Then, for three games, Halak became the second coming of Patrick Roy to help the Canadiens advance. After a slow start in the second round, he has turned it on again and has the Canadiens locked in a 2-2 series against the Penguins.
Pavelski lifts burden off big three -- The only way San Jose was going to advance deep into the playoffs is if someone other than Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau stepped up. Hello Mr. Wisconsin. Pavelski has provided the medicine the Sharks' big three needed. He leads the NHL with 9 goals and is second behind only Sidney Crosby with 15 points. He had 2 goals and 1 assist in Game 6 against Colorado to help the Sharks clinch, and then 4 goals and 2 assists within the first two games against Detroit to get the San Jose off on the right foot in that series, too. He had a five-game goal streak snapped in Game 3, but he still had an assist. Pavelski is the first player since Mario Lemieux in 1992 to have three straight multi-goal games in the playoffs. The Sharks lead Detroit, 3-1, in the second round.
East turned upside down -- Washington. Out. New Jersey. Out. Buffalo. Out.
What the heck? That's the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference and not one of them made it past the first round. Shocking, just shocking. Montreal, Philadelphia and Boston savaged any hope for the Capitals, Devils and Sabres. The Canadiens at least needed seven games and a couple miraculous performances from Halak to crush Washington's dreams. The Flyers needed only five games to dispatch the Devils and Boston needed six to take out Buffalo.
Instead of starting the second round on the road, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the only top four team to take care of its business, had home-ice advantage against the eighth-place Habs. And, perhaps most shocking of all, the Bruins, who had to wait until the final weekend of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth, started the second round at home against the Flyers. They are one win away from getting into the Conference Final.
Home ice disadvantage -- In the NHL, we apparently can toss out the theory that the home team has the advantage because of the crowd, the familiar surroundings and the last change. By Game 3 of every Quarterfinal-round series the home-ice advantage had switched to the lower seeded team. In fact, the road team won Game 1 in five of the eight series. Only Vancouver, Phoenix and Buffalo protected their advantage, but that changed in Game 2.
The first-round included two Game 7s, and in both the road team came out victorious. Montreal beat Washington, 2-1, and Detroit throttled Phoenix, 6-1. Philadelphia also won its first-round series against the Devils in Newark. Let's also not forget that favorites such as Pittsburgh, San Jose, Vancouver and Chicago clinched their first-round series wins with victories on the road in their respective Game 6s. Boston was the only team to clinch a first-round series on its home ice, and that was an upset.
Bruins find that sweet scoring touch -- For a team that finished the regular season with nearly as many man-games lost to injury (191) as it did goals scored (196), the Bruins have somehow found their way with the puck. They are averaging 3.11 goals per game through nine playoff games after scoring only 2.32 goals per game in the regular season. The Bruins have scored three or more goals in six straight games. They didn't do that more than three times in a row in the regular season. Satan, who had 9 goals in 38 regular season games, has 5 in nine playoff games. Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi (4 goals each) are also ahead of their regular season pace. David Krejci was too before he was lost with a season-ending wrist injury. Even defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who had only 5 goals in 51 regular-season games, already has 2 in the postseason.
Injuries take their toll -- It happens every year, but the injury list, especially for teams in the East, is frightening. Krejci, Marco Sturm, Jeff Carter, Ian Laperriere and Andrei Markov are all likely done for the season. Flyers center Simon Gagne could return for Game 4 tonight, but he has missed the last four games with a broken toe.
Montreal defenseman Jaroslav Spacek has missed eight straight with what the team is calling an illness. Washington defenseman Tom Poti, arguably their best blue-liner in the playoffs, had to sit out Game 7 against Montreal after taking a puck to the eye in Game 6.
The West hasn't been nearly as bloody, though the Sharks had to survive without Marleau in Game 1 against Detroit. And, after waiting so long to get into the playoffs, Phoenix captain Shane Doan had to sit out the final four-plus games against Detroit with an upper body injury.