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The Opening Faceoff: Different journeys

by Shawn P. Roarke

Life is so strange when you don't know
How can you tell where you're going to
You can't be sure of any situation
Something could change and then you won't know
You ask yourself
Where do we go from here
It seems so all too near
Just as far beyond as I can see
I still don't know what this all means to me
So you tell yourself
I have nowhere to go
I don't know what to do
And I don't even know the time of day
I guess it doesn't matter any way
Life is so strange
Destination unknown
When you don't know
Your destination
Something could change
It's unknown
And then you won't know
Destination unknown

-- Destination Unknown, Missing Persons

Who can pass up the opportunity to work '80s New Wave band Missing Persons, particularly lead singer Dale Bozzio, into a column? CTN, who was certainly quite smitten with Dale back in the day, certainly can't.

Crushes aside, Destination Unknown is actually a perfect Stanley Cup Playoff anthem when you think about it.

Part of the beauty of the playoffs is just never what is going to happen during the journey. You can hope, you can plan and you can guess, but you can rarely predict what will happen once the quest for the Stanley Cup begins.

Six weeks ago, nearly 200 players and countless support personnel from 16 NHL teams began this journey into the unknown. Yes, the destination -- the Stanley Cup Final -- was clear to all, but none knew which two teams would reach the Promised Land.

Today, there are 100 or so players left on the road to the Final, but that number could be whittled in half in the next three days as Detroit and Pittsburgh have run roughshod through the competition to date.

Throughout, the forced march forward that has consumed every waking minute of the players has been watched with intense interest by fans across the globe. Each of these fans had an opinion on what might happen, but nobody -- not even fans of the Wings, Pens, Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars -- could predict all the twists and turns that have delivered those four teams to this point in the 2008 edition of the journey.

Life is so strange when you don't know your ultimate destination. Yes, something could change at any moment -- like Dallas winning Wednesday night's Game 4 after being left for dead -- to further muddy the situation.

But isn't it that unknown in hockey -- and, to a larger extent, in life -- that makes the journey so much fun. These six weeks have been a blast because the expected has not happened. Montreal was supposed to be here as the top seed in the East, but they were left behind by an out-of-nowhere Philly squad. San Jose, the hottest team in hockey at the end of the regular season, was supposed to be playing Detroit for the right to play for the Stanley Cup. Only Dallas and Marty Turco had other ideas.

That uncertainty -- as much as the effort brought to bear by the players involved -- make the Stanley Cup tournament one of the most compelling passion plays in all of sports.

Enjoy the rest of the ride!

In this week's Opening Faceoff, we will look at some of the players involved in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that have been most affected by the vagaries of the postseason, forced to endure -- and hopefully enjoy -- a journey that they could not possibly predict back in March or April.

CTN would love to hear about the journeys through this postseason that have caught your eye. Send your suggestions and a brief description of why they are compelling in your mind to CTN at CTN will include the best ones in next week's Penalty Box. Remember to include your name and hometown on your submissions.

The Opening Faceoff

It's very clear to CTN from the final list that goalies, more than other players, are prone to facing the most questions on a journey through the postseason. Perhaps it is because of the very nature of their position, which is always open to scrutiny and second-guessing. Whatever the reason, seven of the 20 players selected by CTN for this list are goalies.

Without further ado, here is the list -- presented in alphabetical order:

Rangers forward Sean Avery scored four goals in the playoffs before suffering a lacerated spleen in Game 2 of the second round against Pittsburgh. Sean Avery highlight video
Sean Avery, New York Rangers -- The agitating wing certainly packed a lot into his eight-game playoff run, filling it with peaks and valleys. He scored four goals, including a game-winner, became a cause célèbre for his attempts to distract Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and took part in one of the most-dissected and discussed handshake lines since Claude Lemieux weaved his way through the Red Wings back in the day. Oh yeah, he also saw his career, if not his life, flash before his eyes after suffering a lacerated spleen in Game 2 of the second round, an injury that was erroneously reported as a cardiac-arrest incident.

Martin Brodeur, New Jersey -- Brodeur is not used to being sub-par in the playoffs. But he was far from himself in New Jersey's painful five-game loss to the rival Rangers. Rarely has he been questioned or criticized as much as he was this spring. And, he had the added “pleasure” of dealing with Avery at his most pestiness for all five games, including the celebrated face-guarding incident. It's a playoff, in the end, that will be as memorable as Brodeur's three Cup wins, just not for the same reasons.

Ryane Clowe, San Jose -- Not even Clowe himself was sure that he would play this season after seriously injuring his knee in October. He didn't play in a game until the last day of March and had just three goals in 15 regular-season games. Yet, he was San Jose's best player in the playoffs, tying for the team lead with five goals. Such a showing had to exceed even the wildest of Clowe's dreams during the grueling five-month rehab.

Steve Downie, Philadelphia
-- This rookie's head must be spinning. He started the season with a lengthy suspension after a preseason incident against the Senators. Then, he worked his way into the team's good graces, only to see himself scratched in six of the first seven playoff games. Then, he played twice against Montreal in the second round before returning to the bench. Re-inserted into the lineup in the Eastern Conference Finals to give his stagnant team a boost, Downie instead committed goal-resulting turnovers late in each game. Needless to say, he is again riding the pine.

Dan Ellis, Nashville -- Here's a young man that came out of nowhere to not only make the Preds, but steal the No. 1 job from Chris Mason. So, he should know a little about unlikely journeys. But he still had to be a wee bit unprepared for his turn in the spotlight against Detroit in the first round. Ellis gave Nashville an opening to spring a monumental upset by playing some of the best hockey of his career. He beat the Wings twice before Nashville bowed in six. No other goalie -- not Colorado's Jose Theodore or Dallas' Marty Turco -- can make such a claim in these playoffs.

Johan Franzen, Detroit -- This Mule certainly has some magic. For the first 11 games of the playoffs, he was the best goal-scorer in hockey, putting up a dozen tallies to continue the 16-game hot streak with which he closed the regular season. Simply, the heretofore unknown Franzen could do no wrong. But he has not played in the last three games, sidelined by concussion-like symptoms. His status for the rest of the playoffs remains up in the air. Talk about going from one extreme to another, Franzen is living that journey in all its excruciating detail.

Marian Gaborik, Minnesota -- The Slovakian sniper had every reason to be confident that this postseason would be a breakout stage for him. After all, he had a team-high 42 goals, the seventh-best total in the League this season. But things fell apart in almost unfathomable fashion. Minnesota scored just 12 goals in a six-game loss to Colorado in the first round and Gaborik had none of them. How could that be?

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim
-- Last season, about this time, Giguere was on top of the world. His Ducks were in the Western Conference Finals, about to knock off the Detroit Red Wings and advance to a Final that would see them easily dispatch the Ottawa Senators in five games. This time around, Giguere was one of the scapegoats in Anaheim's first-round exit at the hands of Dallas. In the six-game series, he posted a 3.18 goals-against average, a full goal higher than his regular-season mark.

Hal Gill, Pittsburgh -- As the trade deadline approached, Gill appeared to be playing out the string, stuck on a Toronto team that was on its way to missing the playoffs yet again. Then, he was traded in a move by the Penguins that was overshadowed by the acquisition of Marian Hossa. But the transaction breathed new life into Gill's game and he has been one of the unsung heroes for Pittsburgh, putting some necessary snarl and jam into Pittsburgh's own-zone coverage.

Jaromir Jagr, New York Rangers -- On the eve of these playoffs, speculation was rife that Jagr might be done with the NHL. He had turned in his worst season as a NHLer and had been accused of looking uninspired in doing it. There were rampant rumors that, as impending free agent, he would close out his career in Russia. Then, the playoffs started and Jagr was one of the five best forwards in the postseason, turning in a series-turning performance against the Devils, a team that had tortured him into despair just two springs earlier. Now, many of the same people that called Jagr washed up in March are now awaiting his return for another season on Broadway in the fall. Will it happen? That will be one of the most intriguing questions of the summer.
Owen Nolan scored two of Calgary's biggest playoff goals against San Jose during Round One. Watch Owen Nolan highlight video

Owen Nolan, Calgary -- A once-great player, Nolan has spent the past few years playing in the shadow of other players, putting up modest numbers and playing lower-line minutes. Few were talking about Nolan's potential impact when the Flames lined up to play the Sharks in the first round. But the forgotten Nolan reintroduced himself to the hockey world -- and his former team -- by scoring two of Calgary's biggest goals as the Flames pushed San Jose to a Game 7 before finally bowing out.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington -- The most dynamic player in the game today jammed a lot into his first playoff run. He scored a huge goal in Washington's first postseason game in recent memory, stealing the puck to score the game-winner. He endured a mini-slump as the Caps fell behind three games to one and then found his game to lead Washington to a Game 7 against the Flyers. All along the way, he used his infectious smile to spread his legend to new converts and put himself in a position to have an even bigger postseason impact in the not-too-distant future.

Carey Price, Montreal
-- To say that the expectations are this first-year goalie were a little high would be the understatement of the postseason. Heck, he was being compared to legends Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy when the tournament began. Montreal was afire with the thoughts of following another first-year goalie to a title. But it was not meant to be. Price showed flashes of the brilliance people expected against Boston in the first round, but he lost the plot in Round 2 against Philadelphia. He was even benched in one game, which had to be the ultimate putdown for a player that had been at hockey's apex for the past three months.

Stephane Robidas, Dallas -- This unheralded defenseman has been a depth guy throughout his NHL career. That's OK, not much more is expected from seventh-round picks like Robidas. But somebody forgot to tell Robidas that. With the Dallas blue line decimated by injury, Robidas took the bull by the horns -- excuse the Texas-based pun -- and became the most important skater on the Stars. He has played a mean, nasty game and piled up the points along the way. Heading into Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, Robidas is Dallas' leading postseason scorer. This from a man that has never scored more than two points in any other playoff run.

Jason Spezza, Ottawa -- Last postseason, Jason Spezza was at the fulcrum of the most-dominating line in the tournament. Centering Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, Spezza put up 20 points in 20 games in Ottawa's exciting march to the Final, a march that galvanized a city. This spring, Spezza managed one point in a four-game ouster at the hands of Pittsburgh, a loss that put a city in mourning for the rest of the spring.

Maxime Talbot, Pittsburgh -- When April turned to May, Talbot had to be scared that his playoffs were over. No, the Penguins weren't near elimination, but Talbot had broken his foot blocking a Paul Mara slap shot in the second round. Every time he put pressure on the foot, jolting pain radiated up his leg. Three games later, however, the pain had subsided enough for Talbot to ask back into the lineup. How did he celebrate his return? He netted the game-winning goal in Game 2 against the Penguins.

Jose Theodore, Colorado -- The Colorado goalie knows a little about improbable journeys. A few years ago, he was the toast of Montreal, coming off a Hart Trophy season. Then, the bottom fell out and he found himself in Colorado, looking to re-find his game. That journey took a few years. He relived it in a few weeks this spring. His brilliant play in the first round had people talking about Theodore returning the ranks of elite goalies. In the second round, addled by the flu, Theodore was highly ineffective, pulled repeatedly as Colorado lost to Detroit in four games.

Tim Thomas helped Boston force a Game 7 against Montreal before hurting his knee during the World Championships. Thomas video
Tim Thomas, Boston -- What a strange trip Thomas has had this spring. Early in the first round against Montreal, he wasn't very good and found himself backstopping a team that was facing a three-games-to-one hole. Then, he re-found the form that has made him a fan favorite in Boston, stealing two games to force a Game 7. Boston lost that Game 7 and Thomas joined Team USA at the World Championships, where he won the starting job. But, in an early game against Canada, Thomas was blitzed for three early goals before injuring his knee. He will spend most of the summer rehabbing the injury

Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia -- The Philadelphia defenseman had fashioned a good, if quiet, career in Nashville, playing big minutes and piling up decent points. Not many people outside the Nashville area knew it though. Then, he moves to higher-profile Philadelphia in the summer and starts getting some attention. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, he is hailed for his ability to shut down Alex Ovechkin and Alex Kovalev. Then, like a bolt of lightning out of the blue sky, he is done for the playoffs  just before the Eastern Conference Finals begin, suffering a blood clot in his ankle after blocking a shot in the last game of the second round.

Marty Turco, Dallas -- For years, Turco has been known as the goalie that couldn't win the big game in the playoffs. Even last year's brilliant first-round performance ended with a loss in Game 7 to Vancouver. But that changed this spring. In the first round, he frustrated, and eliminated, the defending champion, Anaheim. In the second round, he out-dueled Evgeni Nabokov and the red-hot San Jose sharks to deliver the Stars to the Stanley Cup semifinals for the first time since 2001. But, now, he is revisiting earlier hardships as Detroit dominated him in the first three games of the Western Conference Finals just to provide a reminder of the painful past he had hoped was, indeed, a thing of the past.

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