Shane Doan and the Coyotes, Brad Richards and the Rangers, Claude Giroux and the Flyers, the Devils' not-so surprising style, Dustin Brown and the Kings, remembering the Blues' season, and The Great Fan himself is all compiled right here in Trending this Week:
As good as any hockey fan (outside of Nashville and Chicago, of course) should feel for the Coyotes, their long-suffering fan base, general manager Don Maloney, coach Dave Tippett and basically anyone else in the organization for making the Western Conference Finals for the first time, the feeling of respect, admiration, and elation for captain Shane Doan should be far greater.
Doan can finally sniff the prize. He's eight wins away. There isn't a better feel-good story in the NHL right now.
The bearded Coyotes captain epitomizes class and loyalty in a sports world that is sometimes short on both these days. Yes, he is a fearless player that occasionally crosses the line and gets punished for it, but he is a model player and person for every hockey-playing kid and hockey parent.
Right Wing - PHX
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 6
SOG: 35 | +/-: 5
Doan has spent his career with one franchise and has kept smiling and chatting while suffering through most of it. This postseason has been so different for him, and it should make it that much more enjoyable for the hockey fans who appreciate Doan and his career.
He has been there every step of the way for the Coyotes, through all of the club's trials and tribulations. Nobody in hockey deserves this chance to win in the Western Conference Finals more than Shane Doan.
The Rangers signed Brad Richards to a nine-year contract in July because he is a center who has been there and done that. They signed him to play big at this time of the year, as he did under John Tortorella in 2004, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Richards is delivering.
He came through with the most clutch faceoff win and goal of the Rangers' season to date in Game 5 against Washington. With the Rangers trailing by a goal and embarking on a power play with 21.3 seconds left in regulation, Richards won the left-circle faceoff from Jay Beagle and 15 seconds later scored the game-tying goal with a shot that cleared both Braden Holtby and John Carlson.
Tortorella said Richards was "brutal" in Game 4, but added it was one of the rare times when the veteran pivot has been. He said everybody was "crawling on him earlier in the year as he was trying to find his bearings, but he's been a pretty big part of us getting this playoff seed."
Richards is a huge part of why the Rangers have a chance to eliminate the Capitals in Game 6 on Wednesday.
He helped the Rangers set the tone early in the first-round series against the Senators with a goal in Game 1. He scored a goal and had an assist to help them stave off elimination in Game 6. He again helped set the tone in Game 1 against the Capitals with a goal. He played the second most minutes of any Ranger forward in the triple-OT Game 3, and had the primary assist on Marian Gaborik's winner.
Right Wing - PHI
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 17
SOG: 36 | +/-: 2
Philadelphia will have to ward off elimination in Game 5 on Tuesday without center and leading scorer Claude Giroux, who is suspended for one game for his illegal check to the head of Devils forward Dainius Zubrus in the second period of Sunday's Game 4.
This could be the type of adversity that galvanizes the Flyers, who have proven time and again this season that no deficit is too great. Granted, part of their comeback-ability is due to Giroux's leadership and talent, but now that he won't be available the Flyers will look elsewhere for a spark.
You can pretty much write it down in permanent marker that Danny Briere will show up and be a factor, but beyond him, rookies Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Eric Wellwood have to step it up. They combined for 14 points in six games against the Penguins, but have just three points in four games against the Devils.
If Zac Rinaldo gets back in as a result of Giroux's suspension, he has to stay disciplined and avoid the penalty box, something he struggled to do against the Penguins before being benched for Game 6.
It pretty much falls on everybody to be a little bit better in the absence of Giroux, but Philadelphia can win without him just like Washington was able to win without Nicklas Backstrom (Game 4 against Boston) and Pittsburgh was able to win without James Neal (Game 4 against Philadelphia).
The Flyers needed to rally behind something. They'd rather have Giroux available, but playing without him could be their motivator.
Hartnell made an interesting and shocking admission late last week after the Devils won Game 3 at Prudential Center.
"Definitely they played a lot stronger and a lot harder than me personally would have thought they'd come with," Hartnell said on a conference call with reporters.
If Hartnell and the Flyers are surprised by how hard the Devils are working or by how strong they are coming on the forecheck, they have only themselves to blame.
First of all, this is the playoffs, and every team is going to play hard, play to win. The Flyers should not be surprised by this.
Secondly, the Devils have played this way, with this aggressive system installed by coach Pete DeBoer, for pretty much the entire season. They beat the Flyers three times in the regular season playing this exact way.
Reputation is one thing, but these are not the Devils of old. This is not a trapping, conservative, defensive team. The Devils are an opportunistic bunch and if not for Ilya Bryzgalov stopping 14 of 15 shots in the first period of Game 1, the series might have been over in a sweep.
Bottom line is the Flyers should have known before the series started that the Devils would come at them in this manner. After four games and three losses, they certainly are aware of it now.
Can they do something about it before the lights go out on their season?
Right Wing - LAK
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 11
SOG: 31 | +/-: 9
If goalie Jonathan Quick is driving the Kings' bus in the direction of the Stanley Cup Final, then captain Dustin Brown is riding shotgun and offering to take over at the wheel.
Brown has turned into the type of heart-and-soul captain you tend to find on teams contending for a Stanley Cup (like Doan). He isn't the flashiest guy on his team and probably not the best forward (Anze Kopitar?), but he has the cuts, bumps, bruises, scrapes, goals and assists to prove why general manager Dean Lombardi had the "C" stitched on his sweater starting Oct. 8, 2008.
Lombardi wisely kept Brown at the trade deadline despite rumors that he would be on the move. He ignited his game with nine goals and 16 assists in his final 23 games of the regular season to help will the Kings into the playoffs. He has turned in an even more inspiring performance through two rounds in the playoffs.
Brown had four goals and one assist in the five-game series win over Vancouver. He was perhaps even better in the four-game series sweep over the Blues with two goals and four assists. His goals came in the deciding Game 4 Sunday.
Add it up and Brown has 15 goals and 21 assists for 36 points in his last 32 games. He's a plus-23 over that span.
Quick deserves every bit of praise he gets for being arguably the most dominant goalie in the NHL right now. He's earned all of it.
But it's hard to find another forward who has been as important to his team since late February as Brown has been to the Kings.
A 109-point season and a stellar five-game run through the San Jose Sharks will be hard for Ken Hitchcock and the Blues to remember after getting swept by the Kings in the Western Conference Semifinals. But when that sour taste is finally gone, when the embarrassment finally subsides, the Blues should be left with a feeling of accomplishment for how far they came and how much they grew in the 2011-12 NHL season.
This is a homegrown team that came together thanks to the expertise of the veteran coach and the backing of a formidable goaltending duo (Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott) that should be back together again next season.
Speaking of Stewart, he learned some hard lessons this season and should be better for them. He needs to be in better shape and he knows it. That's why he reportedly has already hired a fitness instructor to train him in the offseason.
Andy McDonald got healthy and showed he can still be a dynamic player. Alex Steen was a Selke Trophy candidate before his injury -- he could easily be again.
The sweep stings, but the future looks great in St. Louis.
Center - PHX
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 5
SOG: 13 | +/-: 3
If there is one hockey nut that you can be sure will be glued to the Western Conference Finals, it is none other than The Great One himself, Mr. Wayne Gretzky.
Gretzky, who lives in L.A., told NHL.com at his Fantasy Camp in February that he remains a fan of all the teams he either played for or worked for. Well, he had some fantastic years as a player in Los Angeles and spent a good deal of time getting to know the business side and the coaching side of the game in Phoenix.
Gretzky follows both teams very closely; he talks about them constantly.
While his split with the Coyotes may appear less than amicable, Gretzky remains a fan of the team and many of the players there that he once coached, including Doan, defenseman Derek Morris, and forwards Martin Hanzal and Mikkel Boedker. He has the utmost respect for general manager Don Maloney.
Gretzky is a friend of Kings general manager Dean Lombardi and, of course, he knows president Luc Robitaille very well -- they were together in L.A. the last time the Kings made it this far in the playoffs (1993).
Gretzky has become one of the biggest hockey fans in the world, and you can bet he is going to be watching every second of this Western Conference Finals. It's possible that no one else on the planet will be as interested in this matchup as No. 99.