Each Friday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.
The Penguins were able to overcome so many injuries. When your No. 1 and No. 2 defensemen, Kris Letang and Trevor Daley, go down, it's pretty impressive when you are able to win a series, or two. It speaks to the depth of their team. We can talk about Sidney Crosby until the cows come home, but Evgeni Malkin is the perfect wingman for him and would be a No. 1 center on any other team. Phil Kessel is also perfect for them on the third line, although it's hard to believe he's a third-line player. All things being equal, when you look at what Marc-Andre Fleury has been able to accomplish, with a shutout in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Second Round, it's been impressive. He's had a great career and is carrying them now after Matt Murray carried them last season.
I have to give Mike Sullivan a lot of credit as well. I've been impressed with how he's been able to come in and evolve and grow as a coach. He and John Tortorella are very close. He became an assistant under Tortorella. To go against your mentor in the first round and win that, and then to defeat the mighty Capitals again, shorthanded, is pretty impressive. Sullivan was able to push the right buttons again.
On the other end of it, it's a head-scratcher for the Capitals. There are so many talented guys on that team. They put Alex Ovechkin down to the third line, but I don't know where they go from here. They have some good young players and obviously role players and stars, but what moves do they have to make to finally get over the hump?
Video: The guys recap Wednesday's PIT vs. WSH Game 7
This team is balanced on offense and defense, and it has great goaltending. The first line produced in the first round, its defensemen have been producing offensively all throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Some of the Predators' support guys -- Auston Watson, Yannick Weber, Cody McLeod -- really chipped in. They have a difficult style of play to match up against, and their blue line speaks for itself.
As great as Pekka Rinne has been in his career, he's been more amazing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and even has a couple of assists. This is the best team they have had in their franchise to date. The only thing they are going to have to get going is their power play; they were 2-for-14 in the final four games of the Western Conference Second Round against the St. Louis Blues.
Let's not forget about the play of Jake Allen in net and the guys on defense like Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko for the Blues. They turned around their season after Mike Yeo was named coach on Feb. 1.
Video: Previewing the series between the Ducks and Preds
A major reason the Ducks advanced to play the Predators in the conference final was Ryan Getzlaf. He hit another level and pushed aside some of the Game 7 disappointments for the group in years past. It was also a good bounce-back game for goalie John Gibson in Game 7. He was able to reset and come back after the blowout loss to the Edmonton Oilers in Game 6. That was huge for Gibson's development and some of the younger players as well. Gibson proved he's capable of being the No. 1, which he was this season after Anaheim traded Frederik Andersen to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason.
It was an impressive season for them, no doubt. Who would have thought they'd get this close to the conference final?
It was just impressive for me to watch them. They also overcame injuries to Andrej Sekera and Oscar Klefbom on defense. Leon Draisaitl improved on the year he had last year, scoring five points in Game 6 against the Ducks, and that was without help from Connor McDavid, his regular linemate.
Goalie Cam Talbot just spread his wings. To me, with all due respect to the nominees, I think Talbot should be a Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy finalist. He led the League in games played and really was a difference-maker for them this season. The Oilers are not just a collection of high draft picks anymore. Milan Lucic came alive down the stretch with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The second half of that Game 7 on Wednesday was disappointing, but the Oilers have a lot to be proud of, and I think Todd McLellan should be the coach of the year for the job he's done there.
Video: What's next for the Capitals and Oilers
I talked to former Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray, who now is their senior hockey adviser, and he was singing the praises of Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson, two great examples of how the team has been able to use inspiration to overcome obstacles. That includes owner Eugene Melnyk's health troubles. Karlsson has been playing with hairline fractures in his left heel but has been the best defenseman in the playoffs. Anderson has been terrific despite missing much of the season to be with his wife during her cancer treatments. Coach Guy Boucher has done a nice job with their group. Forwards Mark Stone, Kyle Turris and Jean-Gabriel Pageau have emerged. I think they are going to give Pittsburgh all it can handle. There are a lot of good stories on those teams.
The New York Rangers at times were the best team in the NHL, but they didn't get the consistency they needed in the playoffs. When they are on their "A" game, they are a top team. But when they're not, there's a big gap. What we saw in the playoffs is how they were unable to win on the road after being the best road team in the League during the regular season. I think there needs to be some changes there moving forward.