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Best start ever for Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Shawn P. Roarke
Five days into hockey's postseason, what more can we ask from the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Close games? We've had them.

Each of the first eight games in this year's playoffs was decided by one goal. The ninth was a one-goal affair until New Jersey scored an empty-netter in the last minute of a game against Philadelphia. Amazingly, every game but one through Saturday was a one-goal affair (excluding empty-netters). Sunday brought two more, a couple of doozies. First, the Flyers beat New Jersey and Martin Brodeur in overtime in Philadelphia on a Dan Carcillo winner. Then No. 8 Colorado beat the top-seeded Western Conference San Jose Sharks 1-0 in overtime in a game that actually ended on Monday on the East Coast.

Want more Close Encounters of the NHL Playoffs Kind? There have already been seven OT games in the first five days. The Sharks and Avs have played two OT games already and avoided overtime in the first game only because Colorado scored with less a minute left in regulation. Sunday's OT winner, rapped in less than a minute, was credited to Ryan O'Reilly, who is 19 and this time last year was still waiting to be drafted in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft.

With Colorado's win, the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are 8-4 -- and half of those loses came in OT. This is the first time in the 16-team playoff format that all eight series have started with each team registering a win by Game 2 of a series. Chicago assured that record Sunday night with a 2-0 win in Game 2, 48 hours after seventh-seeded Nashville hung a 4-1 loss on the Blackhawks at home.

"Paper doesn't mean anything. You have to go out and play the games," Pittsburgh defenseman Mark Eaton said after the defending Stanley Cup champs lost their 2010 Stanley Cup opener to the lower-seeded Ottawa Senators.

While unsung heroes abound (see Carcillo and O'Reilly scoring in OT on Sunday), the game's biggest stars are not missing the chance to shine on the game's biggest stage. This is the Olympics and then some. A lot some.

Sidney Crosby made what has to be considered the early candidate for play of the playoffs with his assist on the winning goal by Kris Letang in Game 2 against Ottawa. Crosby danced back and forth behind the net, leaving Jason Spezza flailing in his wake, then was knocked to his knees but still deposited a pass right on Letang's stick for a one-timer that broke a 1-1 tie.

"I was just trying to get some space," Crosby said to humbly explain away his brilliance. "(Spezza) was on me. It was hard to get space. He was tracking me pretty good. I finally got a step and tried to get to the net but they had a ton guys there and we had some guys there too. I just tried to make the play to ‘Tanger.'"

Crosby leads the playoffs with four assists and is tied with Washington's Nicklas Backstrom and Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn for the points' lead.

Backstrom had a hat trick -- finished dramatically in OT -- in the most memorable game so far, an incredible 6-5 overtime win by the Caps over Montreal in Game 2 at the Verizon Center. Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin each had four-point nights in a nationally televised game that saw Washington erase deficits of 2-0, 4-1 and 5-4 before winning in OT and sending the series to Montreal all even at one win apiece. Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn also had a hat trick in that game.

In fact, there is no shortage of scoring, or comebacks, in these playoffs.

Role players are wreaking their share of havoc. Consider uber-grinder Carcillo in a supremely noisy Philadelphia overtime win. Or Buffalo's Craig Rivet, a defenseman who had gone more than 100 regular-season games without a goal, notching the winner in Game 1 against Boston Professional pest Jarkko Ruutu was the difference for Ottawa in Game 1 against the Penguins. Maybe you would like to talk about Colorado's Craig Anderson, who got the chance to start this year and has outdueled Evgeni Nabokov so far?

In 12 of the first 15 playoff games, the winning team trailed at some point during the game before coming back to win. No longer can teams sit on leads late in the game.

Simply, there are too many high-octane offenses in the League today. Eight of the 16 playoff teams have already scored at least five goals in a game.

Not surprisingly, fans are packing arenas and viewers are watching in record numbers. The White-Out crowd that packed Arena in Phoenix on Opening Night -- which was Wednesday; was that really only five nights ago -- was nothing short of Loud.

Good stories are everywhere. In Canada and the United States, in the East and out West, Veterans and rookies; no one is immune, it seems.

Especially the rookies.

Seven first-year players have already scored goals, including three of the game's youngest defensemen – Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, Buffalo's Tyler Myers and Washington's John Carlson.
Karlsson scored in Ottawa's Game 1 upset of Pittsburgh, but Carlson had scored an even bigger goal by beating Jaroslav Halak with just 81 seconds left in regulation on Saturday night to force OT.

"There's just something about (Carlson)," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Glory follows him."

The best part? We're just getting started on the glory part.

Shawn Roarke is traveling to all eight Eastern Conference playoff cities in eight nights in a Honda Accord Crosstour. His Monday stop is Boston for Game 3 vs. Buffalo. Check out his "8 Games, 8 Days" blog HERE.

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