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The Opening Faceoff: The Cup Changes Everything!

by Shawn P. Roarke

I live uptown
I live downtown
I live all around
I had money, and I had none
I had money, and I had none
But I never been so broke
That I couldn’t leave town
I’m a changeling, see me change
I’m a changeling, see me change
I’m the air you breath
Food you eat
Friends your greet
In the swarming street, wow
See me change

-- Changeling, The Doors

The Stanley Cup Changes Everything.

That simple statement is the NHL’s marketing campaign for the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is about as true a statement as there is. The playoffs do change everything – including the men and the teams that hunt the Stanley Cup each spring.

You spend six months and 82 games during the regular season watching a team, and you think you know its players and the team’s style. Suddenly, the playoffs start and you wonder where the player/team you thought you knew had gone.

The players have changed -- usually for the better, but sometimes for the worse. The pressure of the toughest tournament in all of sports has that transformative power. Ask anybody who has been through the grueling process and they will hold court on how they have changed. They will happily tell you how they rose to occasions that appeared too daunting. Or, in hush tones, they might admit to how they fell short when pushed to the limit.

And the teams change, in both substance and style, as they become reshaped in the white-hot fires of playoff competition. Defense-first teams sometimes lose their conservative nature and run-and-gun teams find a more defensive shell. Whatever it takes to make the team better equipped to get deep into the spring is what the teams serious about winning a Cup will do.

You can see it happening already. One week into the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL landscape is almost unrecognizable as players and teams have shed their season-long reputations as the pressure of the playoffs begins to exert its influence.

So, CTN thought it would be fun to channel Jim Morrison, the legendary singer for The Doors, and point out some of the biggest changelings -- both for the better and the worse -- encountered in the first week of the postseason.

CTN would love to hear your thoughts on playoff changelings. Send your suggestions on changeling nominees or your disagreements with CTN’s choices to Remember to include your name and hometown. The best submissions will appear in next week’s Penalty Box.

Opening Faceoff

Sixteen changelings to watch

CTN picked 16 subjects – one for each win it takes to win a Stanley Cup – to illustrate the various incarnations of the changeling phenomenon that occurs so frequently in the playoffs.

Daniel Briere is driving to the net more often and scoring much more closely in the crease.
Watch Daniel Briere highlight video
Daniel Briere – It’s not surprising that Briere is scoring big goals for the Philadelphia Flyers. After all, that is what Briere was brought to town to do. But what is surprising is the way Briere is scoring his goals. He is no longer a perimeter player, now driving the net with abandon and getting the majority of his chances in the 10-foot arc around the crease. Plus, he has a pretty good feud going with Washington goalie Cristobal Huet.

Martin Brodeur – The Devils’ goalie is supposed to steal playoff games. After all, that’s what he has done for this franchise since 1994, leading the club to three Stanley Cup titles and a berth in a fourth Final during a decade of dominance that ended with the 2003 Cup. But Brodeur hasn’t stolen any games this year, and, as a result, the Devils are facing elimination after just four first-round games against the Rangers. Brodeur hasn’t been bad per se; he just hasn’t been his superhuman self this time around.

Keith Carney – To say that Carney is normally a defense-first defenseman is understating the fact. Consider this: In 85 playoff games before the Wild made this year’s tournament, Carney had a grand total of two playoff goals, with the last coming for the Phoenix Coyotes in 1999. He ended that drought this spring scoring a goal in Game 2, which just happened to be a game-winner – just the 10th in 1,105 games, regular season and playoffs combined.

Ryane Clowe – Last season, Clowe made a minor impression by coming out of nowhere to score 16 goals in 58 regular-season games and adding four more in 11 playoff contests. He was hailed as an important secondary scoring option for the Sharks. Well, secondary-scoring options don’t put up goal-a-game numbers. And that is exactly what Clowe is doing this postseason with four goals in as many games. He also has three assists and has figured in seven of the team’s 10 goals against Calgary.

Dan Ellis – A 27-year-old career minor leaguer isn’t supposed to be able to trade punches with a surefire Hall-of-Fame goalie considered to be the best of his generation, especially when the minor leaguer’s team finished 24 points behind the Hall of Famer’s team in the regular season. But somebody forgot to tell Nashville’s Ellis all this. His solid goaltending has allowed the upstart Preds to beat Dominik Hasek and the Red Wings two straight games and turn this No. 1 vs. No. 8 series into a best-of-three nail-biter.

Mike Green – The Capitals’ No. 1 defenseman made headlines this year for his offensive prowess, not his gritty play. Green is a puck-moving defenseman with the ability to quarterback the power play and put the Capitals' dangerous transition game into high gear. Nobody expects him to rattle the boards with big hits or drop the mitts. But he has done both in the first-round series against the Flyers, doing his best, it seems, to channel the spirit of Dion Phaneuf.

Cristobal Huet – Arriving at the trade deadline as reinforcement for a shaky goaltending situation in the Capitol City, Huet made the job his own with unflappable play. In 13 regular-season appearances, he never allowed more than three goals. In fact, he allowed two or fewer in 10 of those appearances, including one shutout and four one-goal games. The Capitals must wonder where that picture of calm effectiveness has gone as Huet has allowed 11 goals in the first three games against the Flyers, including five in Game 3.

Mikko Koivu – The Minneota Wild always thought that Mikko, the younger brother of superstar Saku Koivu, could score lots of goals. But believing something to be possible and proving it are two different things, and Mikko Koivu has yet to do the latter. At least until these playoffs began. Now, he has a team-high four goals in as many games. Not too bad for a player that has never topped 20 goals in a regular season. Plus, he is still being used by coach Jacques Lemaire in every situation imaginable

Joel Lundqvist – The Stars’ forward has, for the most part, been a minor cog in the Dallas’ lineup this season, seeing lower-line duty and being lost in the ever-growing shadow of his brother, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Don’t expect Joel to become bigger that “The King” of the Big Apple, but his profile is on the rise after he was elevated to second-line duty in the postseason, sharing the ice with a pretty fine center by the name of Brad Richards.

Bryan Murray – Last year, the Ottawa coach pushed all the right buttons. He picked the right playoff goalie in Ray Emery and he broke up and reunited the top line at all the right times. Most importantly, he had the Sens playing the type of all-for-one hockey that breeds postseason success. As a result, he got his team all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. This year, after jumping back behind the bench in the second half, he was not able to right a foundering ship, and the Senators are done for the year, becoming one of the biggest disappointments in recent memory.

Cory Sarich's hit on the Sharks' Patrick Marleau should be considered one of the best hits in postseason history. Watch Sarich's hit
Cory Sarich – A lower-pairing defender, Sarich doesn’t do anything spectacularly, but he does everything well enough to be a valuable addition to every team. And he is a proven winner. He is not, however, a punishing hitter in the mold of teammate Dion Phaneuf. Oh, wait a minute, Patrick Marleau just weighed in and asked CTN to reconsider. Sarich’s hit on Marleau might be the best open-ice hit in the postseason since Scott Stevens’ wrecking-ball demolition of Slava Kozlov back in the 1995 Stanley Cup Final.

Jason Spezza – Ottawa’s No. 1 center, Spezza is the engine that runs Ottawa’s offense. He has just started to reach his prime in the last calendar year, dominating the 2006-07 regular season and becoming a monster in Ottawa’s run to the Eastern Conference crown. He was spot-on again this season for one of the League’s most high-powered teams. But he has disappeared this postseason, managing just one point in a four-game elimination. Yes, Ottawa had other problems, but there is no arguing Spezza is a shell of his former self.

Ryan Whitney – The Penguins’ defenseman was in the dog house last month because he was not taking care of business in his own end. Fans were even madder than Penguins coach Michel Therrien because they believed Whitney to be softer than tissue paper when it came to his willingness to play the body. Nobody is accusing Whitney of being soft or defensively irresponsible as the Pens dismantled Ottawa in the first round. He has shown a willingness to take the body when necessary.

Dainius Zubrus – For much of the regular season, the big-bodied Zubrus was deployed as a power-type forward on one of New Jersey’s top-two lines, asked to open space for smaller, flashier linemates. Then, the players rolled along and Devils coach Brent Sutter decided that Zubrus would be best used as a shutdown forward assigned to the Jaromir Jagr line. Hence, that is where Zubrus finds himself today, the modern-day version of the Bobby Holik presence of the Devils’ initial glory years.

Minnesota Wild – Last season, the Anaheim Ducks physically steamrolled Minnesota on their way to the Stanley Cup title. The Ducks punished the Wild defenseman with a brutal forecheck. When it was over with, the Wild insisted it would never happen again. Next time, they would not be so easily manhandled. Well, they didn’t lie. Through four games of its first-round series against Colorado, Minnesota has initiated the physical play. The Wild have delivered 95 hits and has five players among the 10 penalty-minute leaders in the playoffs.

Montreal Canadiens – No team in the Eastern Conference scored more goals than Montreal’s 262 this regular season. But the Canadiens have been anything but offensive free spirits in the postseason. In fact, Montreal has been as defensively responsible as any team in the tournament and are making hay against the eighth-seeded, offensively challenged Boston Bruins by playing tight, low-scoring games. In the four games, Montreal has just nine goals – and just two in its last two outings – but has won two of three one-goal decisions in this series to hold a three-games-to-one advantage.

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