The first night of the 2007 playoffs saw the Vancouver Canucks take four overtime periods to beat the Dallas Stars in the kind of game the postseason is supposed to be all about.
There was the intensity that came from Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo facing 76 shots and Dallas counterpart Marty Turco getting 53, and the drama from the Canucks blowing a two-goal lead in the third period and then somehow surviving the dominance of the Stars in overtime. Meanwhile, repeated great plays at both ends provided the entertainment quotient.
|Roberto Luongo was peppered with 76 shots in the four-OT Game 1 against the Stars. (Getty Images)|
The Canucks ended up winning what became a great series, but it was the only one to go seven games. Eight of the other 14 series that led up to the Anaheim Ducks winning the Stanley Cup, including the Finals, finished in five games, one other in a sweep. In the first round, six of the eight higher seeds won, and the San Jose Sharks' victory over the Nashville Predators didn't qualify as a surprise.
In other words, the most unpredictable thing about this year's playoffs was its predictability. The first NHL playoffs after the lockout last season featured wide open, up-and-down, offensive-minded hockey and upsets galore. This season, success was based on defense again, in much the same fashion it was before the shutdown, and few of the series were really competitive.
There was some very good hockey through it all though, and many games, players and plays that stood out for different reasons. Some were good, some were bad, some were ugly, but they are memorable parts of the 2007 playoffs.
Here's a look back.
Second impressions: Playoff reputations are hard to make, and harder to shake, but several were repaired in these playoffs. The Ottawa Senators weren't good enough in the Stanley Cup Finals, but they got there for the first time and that was a big deal for the traditional playoff choke artists. The Senators showed character and grit like never before, particularly captain Daniel Alfredsson, and ended up winning three rounds in convincing fashion.
Others to gain salvation during the playoffs were Turco and Detroit forward Pavel Datsyuk, who came into the playoffs being reminded almost daily about previous postseason failures. Both responded with big efforts during the time their teams were alive. Joe Thornton was generally a force for the Sharks and Tomas Vanek, who was benched for most of last year's playoffs, was the Sabres' most dangerous offensive player overall.
Final countdowns: Last-minute heroics were common throughout the playoffs and provided many of its most exciting moments. Buffalo's Chris Drury sent Game 5 against the Rangers into overtime before the Sabres won in overtime, and teammate Daniel Briere pushed Ottawa into an extra session by scoring with six seconds left in Game 2. The Senators ended up winning that one, but they lost Game 2 in the previous round after Dany Heatley tied it against New Jersey with 27 seconds left.
The Red Wings felt both the high and low as well, beating San Jose in Game 4 after getting the equalizer with 33 seconds remaining, and then losing to Anaheim in Game 5 after failing to hold a lead in the last half minute. The Sharks beat the Predators in double overtime of Game 1 after Nashville's J.P Dumont tied it in the final minute.
Stars are born: Many of this year's playoff standouts were familiar names, but several players will find themselves in the spotlight from now on by stepping up at the right time. Anaheim centers Ryan Getzlaf and Samuel Pahlsson received well-earned raves for their play, while Ottawa's Anton Volchenkov established himself as a first-unit defenseman in the postseason and center Mike Fisher opened a lot of eyes with his high-energy two-way play.
Detroit rookie forward Valtteri Filppula was given a bigger role because of some injuries and was the real deal, and Rangers call-up Ryan Callahan showed enough to figure in New York's plan next season. A few others like Nashville's Alexander Radulov and Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom won't go under the radar in the future either.
Peak performances: Mostly by the goalies and probably to be expected from the playoffs. Start with Luongo's amazing Game 1 against Dallas and the Ducks in Round 2; Turco's three shutouts against the Canucks; Buffalo's Ryan Miller's in the clincher against the Rangers and Games 3, 4,and 5 against Ottawa; and Anaheim's J-S Giguere in stealing Game 5 against Detroit.
On the offensive side, Alfredsson and linemates Jason Spezza and Heatley tore up the East in the first three rounds and finished as the top three scorers in the playoffs, Michael Nylander had four goals and four assists in the Rangers' sweep of Atlanta, and Detroit's Dan Cleary emerged as a force with four goals, including two shorthanded and 12 points during the playoffs. The shutdown work of Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen for Anaheim was one of the biggest reasons the Ducks won the Stanley Cup.
Giveaways: They hurt anytime, but during the playoffs they can be fatal -- and there were several killers this spring. Sabres defenseman Dmitri Kalinin lost the puck at the point on a power play early in Game 1 against Ottawa and Fisher broke away and scored a short-handed goal. The Sabres and Kalinin did not recover in the series. Neither did the Red Wings after defenseman Andreas Lilja lost control of the puck in front of his own net and Anaheim's Teemu Selanne pounced to score the overtime winner in Game 5.
The Senators were done in the last game of the Stanley Cup Finals when defenseman Chris Phillips fumbled the puck into his own net, and in Game 4 against Buffalo when Andres Meszaros had a pass intercepted deep only nine seconds in.
Brain cramps: As good as Luongo was during the playoffs, he'll be remembered for getting distracted by an argument with a referee as Anaheim scored the series-winning goal. Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg was nonchalant enough to allow the Rangers' Sean Avery to score on a bank shot off the boards from his own blue line and so was Detroit's Dominik Hasek in Game 1 against the Sharks, when he strolled behind the net and couldn't get back in time after being beaten to the puck.
On a team level, what do you say about three Sabres defenders sitting back as Ottawa's Alfredsson approached them and had enough time to fire a shot that proved to be the series-winning goal?
Dropoffs: Devils goalie Martin Brodeur looked like the effects of hardly taking a game off in the last decade finally caught up with him, especially in the second round against Ottawa, and Sharks center Patrick Marleau and right wing Bill Guerin were major disappointments. Alexei Yashin of the Islanders effectively played himself off the team -- but into a $17 million buyout -- and Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, the team's biggest free agent signing, played him onto the end of the bench.
Forwards Pavol Demitra of Minnesota and Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk got a reminder of how different the playoffs are from the regular season and anyone who might have seen Spezza in the Finals should call Ottawa.
Controversies: The way coaches Ron Wilson and Bob Hartley handled their teams were among these, although in an "inside the beltway" kind of way. There was the natural carping about penalty calls of course, and headshots, but most of the controversy revolved around video reviews. Most were about goals that went off skates. The Rangers' Karl Rachunek had a critical one called back against Buffalo in Game 4 and Alfredsson got one in his favor in Game 3 of the Finals. Matt Cullen's winner for New York against Atlanta had to be reviewed for several minutes and so did Miller's series-saving stop off Miroslav Satan of the Islanders.
Vanek had a goal disallowed two minutes in when replay officials ruled he used his glove to bat in Derek Roy's shot. Vanek had his hand on his stick and made a shooting motion, but the puck clearly went in off his thumb.
Cheap shots: Maybe it's the way to do things since many of these involved the Anaheim Ducks and they won it all. But they're not a dirty team, insists GM Brian Burke, just "physical." Oh, so that's what you call Brad May sucker-punching Minnesota's Kim Johnsson in the first round, knocking the formerly concussed defenseman out of the playoffs. Or Chris Pronger ramming Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom into the glass with a head hit in Game 3. How else would you describe Pronger knocking Ottawa's Dean McAmmond out of the Finals with another high hit in Game 3?
There's a word that rhymes with chickenspit for Alfredsson retaliating the next night by firing a shot directly at Anaheim captain Scott Niedermayer as the second period wound down. But the most disgusting incident of the playoffs came in Round 1 between Detroit and Calgary when the Flames backup goalie Jamie McLennan came in for the final few minutes of a lost cause and speared the Red Wings' Johan Franzen for no apparent reason in Game 5.
And dumb moves: Veteran defenseman Sean Hill essentially ended his NHL career by getting caught using performance-enhancers. Hill was suspended for 20 games just before the Islanders were eliminated in the fifth game of Round 1 by Buffalo, which means he won't be eligible to skate until late November next season. And he's 37 and without a contract, so his prospects don't look very good.