Playoff love: We count the reasons
We're pumped for the NHL playoffs. Are you? Here are 75 reasons to watch what happens until the Cup is hoisted in June.
1. What cruel fate awaits Flyers' goalies?
One would think that nothing could be as cruel as Patrick Kane's impossible angle shot that clinched the Stanley Cup win for the Hawks in overtime of Game 6 last year. But you know something ghastly is just around the corner for Sergei Bobrovsky and/or Brian Boucher. Our guess is a reprise of Roman Cechmanek's famous, "Oh, I'll just pick up my stick while the play is going on in the corner" play during the playoffs against Toronto a few years back. It'll take only a second. Bingo. Puck in the net. In overtime. In Game 6. In the Cup finals. Ouch.
2. The John Tortorella playoff postgame scrum
Not sure what Tortorella's record is for the shortest postgame scrum since coming to New York, but we think it's in the neighborhood of 15 seconds. The only thing Tortorella hates more than losing is talking about it afterward. Bite your head off? In a second. Can't wait. Just hope it's not ours.
3. Bruce BoudreauYou'll meet few more likable characters in the business than the Washington Capitals' coach. He's a hockey writer's dream thanks to his loquacious ways. But few coaches have more pressure to win this spring than he does. Last year's first-round stunner against Montreal didn't cost him his job. Another first-round exit this spring just might.
4. Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom defying time once again
The 40-year-old Lidstrom almost certainly will be on the Norris Trophy ballot again this season, but the playoffs make no allowances for age, which is good, because neither does Lidstrom. A year ago, he was the best player on the ice for the Wings. His calming presence and patience with the puck will be keys to the Wings' playoff chances.
5. Teemu Selanne forgetting his age
Did you know that the Oscar Wilde classic "The Picture of Dorian Gray" was originally titled "The Picture of Teemu Gray"? OK, we made that up. But the Finnish Flash sniper seems to get younger, faster, smarter with every shift. Hard to think of a player who truly has had as much fun playing the game as the Ducks forward.
6. Watching the puck drop on a Boston-Montreal series
Oh, ho-hum. The Canadiens against the Bruins. Drama? You have to wonder whether they'll get through the pregame warm-up at TD Garden in Boston before Game 1 without the two sides spontaneously combusting. Goalie dustups, the Zdeno Chara-on-Max Pacioretty hit, Mark Recchi's comments, Milan Lucic, P.K. Subban. Oh, baby ... bring it on.
7. "Keep your head up, son"
Remember Niklas Kronwall's devastating hit on Chicago's Martin Havlat in the 2009 Western Conference finals? We do. The most dangerous open-ice hitter in the game, Kronwall will someday be "the man" on the Detroit blue line. Maybe this spring.
8. Chris Pronger steals a puck, then denies it
Well, didn't he already steal the puck(s) from last year's Cup finals? The mystery lives on. Maybe the wacky Pronger will have to come up with something else this postseason, like maybe spiriting away the opposing team's tape or chewing gum. Pronger is what makes the playoffs so appealing: No one plays harder, and no one has a better perspective on the tournament.
9. Patrick Kane chewing his mouth guard
10. Can Antti Niemi can do it again?
Hey, we didn't think he was going to do it the first time around last season with Chicago, and with all due respect to Philly's Michael Leighton (see Kane's Cup-winning goal), Niemi almost didn't get it done the first time. But this season, the goalie has been unbelievable for the Sharks, who hit the postseason with a lot to prove but with plenty of tools to get the job done, including Niemi. Still, the short answer is no.
11. Steven Stamkos makes his NHL postseason debut
No one disputes Stamkos' greatness. Now, he gets a chance to display that greatness on a whole different stage. The playoffs are where careers are made -- or broken -- and we're guessing Stamkos starts bolstering his own legend with his first playoff experience, as his Tampa Bay Lightning take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
12. Alex Ovechkin's laser shot that somehow eludes defensemen's skates and goaltenders' reach
He didn't do it nearly as often this season, but you know we'll see this at some point in the playoffs: Ovechkin will race up the ice as an opposing defenseman is backpedaling frantically in case he goes wide. Then, Ovi will snap the puck past the blueliner's ankles and into the back of the net. Love that.
13. Can the Preds really forget about the final 15 seconds of Game 6 last spring?
Did you ever forget when you broke your favorite toy? Or when you smashed the glass window at the front of the house? No? Neither will the Preds. They were that close to knocking off the Chicago Blackhawks. Not quite the Boston Bruins in terms of regret, but close.
14. Can Boston forget about giving up a 3-0 series lead and losing to Philly last spring?
Oh, we're sure it'll never come up in preplayoff discussions with the media. And we're sure no one will bring it up the first time the Bruins blow a lead or trail in a series. Or the first time they lead in a series. It's in the past, right? Ha, ha. Oh, there's no forgetting history, especially when history is as grisly as the Bruins' blowing that 3-0 series lead last spring.
15. Roberto Luongo or Ryan Smyth reaching for the tissues
These two warriors aren't the only players who have turned on the waterworks at various points in their careers. The playoffs are about emotion -- raw and unfiltered. Sometimes, the tears are of joy -- think Ray Bourque holding that Cup for the first and only time. Sometimes, they are tears born of failure -- think Luongo slumped in his stall after losing to the Blackhawks the past two seasons. Guaranteed there will be more this spring, if not from Smyth or Luongo, then from someone else.
16. Is this the year for the San Jose Sharks?
All the signs are there -- terrific regular season, adversity overcome, young leaders coming to the fore, great goaltending and low expectations, at least externally. Should be the Sharks' time. Should be. Just can't get our heads around it. No. Sorry. Not this year. Maybe next year?
17. Sidney Crosby: Will he or won't he?
Until the Pittsburgh Penguins officially announce that their captain is being shut down for the rest of the season, the hockey world will wonder whether Crosby will return to the lineup after being sidelined since Jan. 6 with a concussion, and it will prognosticate the team's chances without him.
18. A goalie's look of anguish after the overtime winner goes by him
19. The postseries handshake
There is just something indelible, almost poetic about the ceremonial postseries handshake. Two teams that have gone toe-to-toe for as long as two weeks suddenly embracing, whispering words of encouragement or sympathy or respect or apology. Remember Ovechkin leaning in and telling Crosby to win it all (or something like that) at the end of that Caps-Pens series in 2009? Classic.
20. The losers' agony in that final handshake
For some players who have had to shake hands after losing a tightly contested Cup finals, this is the moment that motivates them the next season in their bid to finish what they started. Crosby has talked about how losing in the 2008 Cup finals motivated him the entire offseason. One year later, he was a Cup champion. Wayne Gretzky has talked about the young Oilers' losing to the veteran Islanders in 1983 and after that painful shaking of the hands, knowing in that somber Oilers dressing room that night that it would take even more if they were going to become Cup champs. One year later, they were crowned.
21. The Stanley Cup being raised by the winning team's captain ...
You know it's coming because you've seen it dozens of times, yet that moment the Cup is presented by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is the true signal of celebration, the true moment that reality sets in for the winning team. Yes, they're all smiling, every single captain, but guess what, they're never quite the same, are they? A thing of beauty.
22. ... and who gets to hoist the Cup second
As time-honored as the captain's receiving the Cup first is the decision about who gets the Cup second. Is it the team's oldest player? The player with the longest tenure with the club? Is it a player, like Bourque, who has played a long time without ever having touched the trophy? How about the moment Steve Yzerman placed the Cup on the edge of Vladimir Konstantinov's wheelchair in 1998? That first hand-off is always a story in and of itself.
23. Montreal fans' reaction when they disagree with a call, regardless of whether the Habs are winning the game
Oh, those wacky Canadiens fans. There are none like them anywhere in hockey and perhaps nowhere else in North American sports. Emotional. Volatile. Prone to acts of civil disobedience. Oh yeah, and that's when their team is winning. But do they love the game.
24. Can Vancouver carry the burden of a nation denied a Stanley Cup since 1993?
One of the most compelling storylines of this postseason. The last time a Canadian team was this good during the regular season was in 1989, when Calgary and Montreal were head and shoulders above the competition and met in the Stanley Cup finals. The Canucks are going to have to display a resolve that has been missing the past couple of playoff years. Our guess? The Canucks buckle.
25. Watching the Coyotes work their tails off every night despite off-the-ice chaos
There is something about watching a team that just doesn't match up on paper working like dogs to vanquish a more talented but less committed team. We saw it with Montreal last spring, and maybe we'll see the same with the beleaguered Coyotes this postseason. Fans in Glendale, Ariz., certainly deserve more than another update on municipal bonds and the threat of evacuating to Winnipeg.
26. Who will be this year's Matt Carkner?
You know, the guy who comes out of nowhere to score a big overtime goal? Carkner did it for Ottawa against Pittsburgh last postseason. Here's a prediction for you: How about Ben Eager for San Jose? He's got underrated hands in the goal-scoring department. You heard here it first, folks: Eager will budge the twine in overtime this spring.
27. Missing teeth
What says a hockey player more than missing teeth, right? Duncan Keith revived that glorious, old stereotype and then some last spring, playing in the Stanley Cup finals with seven missing teeth after taking a Patrick Marleau clearing attempt straight in the mouth in the Western Conference finals. Keith grinned from ear to ear and gap to gap as he hoisted the Stanley Cup. Oh, and he's since replaced those teeth.
28. StitchesShawn Thornton already has his NHL playoff face ready to go for the Bruins. The rugged Boston winger recently needed 40 stitches to help fix a gashed forehead courtesy of an errant skate. Ian Laperriere needed close to 70 stitches last spring after taking a shot to the face. Is there a tougher athlete than a hockey player? Don't think so.
29. All of the above
This photo says it all about NHL players and their desire to win the Stanley Cup. They'll pay any physical price necessary.
30. Shea Weber's booming shot from the point
We won't soon forget sitting a few rows from the ice during the 2010 Winter Olympics and watching Weber blast a shot past German goalie Thomas Greiss that also went through the actual net! Chara still edged him in the hardest-shot competition during All-Star Weekend, but there's just something about Weber when he winds up that makes him the most feared point man in the league. Look for the opposition in the first round to try to take the Preds defenseman's shot away on the power play by keeping a forward up high on him, even if it means giving away the down-low play.
31. Tim Thomas rolling like a pinball from post to post
He certainly can be a little unorthodox sometimes, but it's hard to argue with the results. Thomas has put up gaudy numbers this season en route to what should be a second career Vezina Trophy. Playoff success is what Thomas craves the most, however. Those Vezina Trophies won't hold the same weight unless he can back it up with a long playoff run.
32. The diver accusation!
Anything for a power play, right? It's the time of year when you might see the odd player put on soccer cleats and hit the floor. Special teams are so huge at this time of year. Every game is close, so that extra power play can make the difference. Thing is, the men in stripes are on the watch for the divers. So, Vancouver Canucks center Maxim Lapierre, beware.
33. Martin St. Louis, pound-for-pound, is NHL's best heart-and-soul player
First-year Tampa coach Guy Boucher ordered up new pictures for the Lightning dressing room this season. One hangs just outside the room before you enter, a giant shot of St. Louis during the 2004 playoffs with blood streaming down his face. "Playoff warrior" is what you think when you see it. And get ready for more of that from the gutsy and talented Tampa winger this spring.
34. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis
This is an odd couple of sorts. St. Louis' path to the NHL was filled with obstacles. Most notably, his size -- the 5-foot-8 forward wasn't big enough, the scouts said. Despite a brilliant college career at Vermont, there weren't many suitors banging down his door. Finally, through perseverance and a timely opportunity in Tampa, St. Louis made his mark. Now 35, the clever offensive whiz has a Hart Trophy and Stanley Cup on his résumé, and he's still producing silly good numbers. His young teammate, the 21-year-old Stamkos, traveled a shorter route. He was a can't-miss kid selected with the top pick in the 2008 draft. Stamkos quickly proved to be as advertised, scoring nearly 100 goals in the past two seasons. In his first playoff spring, the kid will rely on his wise, old teammate to get him through the rough edges. That's a story worth watching.
35. Zdeno Chara
Playoff success has been a fleeting element to the career of one the NHL's top defensemen. Chara has gone past the second round of the playoffs only once, in 2003 with Ottawa, and has otherwise seen his Ottawa and Boston teams bow out in the first or second round. And sometimes famously, such as Ottawa's 2002 meltdown to an injury-ravaged Toronto team, and last spring's collapse to Philadelphia. The Bruins defenseman needs a playoff run!
36. Tyler Myers
The right-handed version of Chara without the nastiness. The Buffalo D-man struggled in the first half this season amid talk of a sophomore slump. But the 2009-10 rookie of the year has rebounded strongly in the second half and is part of the reason for Buffalo's run. He played 22-23 minutes a game during the regular season, second on the team, and look for that number to be even higher in the playoffs.
37. Watching the oft-beaten, speared, crosschecked and pummeled Tomas Holmstrom pick himself up and stick his butt back in the face of an opposing goalie
The man has paid a price like few others near the blue paint during the past two decades. He's also developed a reputation with the men in stripes. Detroit had a goal disallowed on April 2 in Nashville because Holmstrom was seen to have bothered goalie Pekka Rinne. This sets up for some possibly controversial calls involving Holmstrom in the playoffs.
38. The Sedin twins
The two stars have been point-per-game players in the playoffs the past two seasons and have largely not been blamed for second-round exits to Chicago. (That was directed mostly at Luongo.) But Daniel and Henrik Sedin still can find one more level this spring if their team is going to win the Stanley Cup. Think Jonathan Toews last season. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin the year before. Henrik Zetterberg in 2008. The pressure in hockey-mad Vancouver is bigger than ever, and the twins must thrive to lead the Canucks to glory.
39. Tying the score in the final minute of regulation with the goaltender on the bench
It's hard to find a more dramatic last-minute goal with the goalie pulled than last spring's Game 5 between Nashville and Chicago. (Sorry, Preds fans.) With the Blackhawks' Marian Hossa in the penalty box, Chicago inexplicably still tied the game with 13.6 seconds left on Kane's short-handed marker. The Hawks were seconds away from heading to Nashville down 3-2 in their first-round series. Instead, Hossa scored in overtime, and the rest, as they say, is history.
40. The playoff beard
We'll never forget entering the Calgary Flames' dressing room following their Game 7 loss at Tampa in the 2004 Stanley Cup finals. It was striking to see the clean-shaven men who for two months had been hidden under thick playoff beards. But in minutes, after an agonizing Cup finals series loss, one of the game's great traditions was shed. The playoffs were over. Their dreams had died. And the beards were gone.
41. Sudden-death ovvvertime
42. National anthems
Having had the chance to cover many playoff games in Chicago the past two springs, we can't tell you how special it is to hear the U.S. national anthem at the United Center in a postseason setting. It's great every single time. It's wild. The fans' tradition of cheering during the anthem is unlike anything in hockey. North of the border, you can't beat Edmonton during its 2006 miracle playoff run and the crowd singing "O Canada". Simply spine-tingling.
43. The playoff arena vibe
One city stands alone and always has. Whether it's been at the Forum or the Bell Centre, you can't beat the atmosphere in Montreal during a playoff game. It's unmatched. Period. The electricity that charges through the rink, an entire province whose identity is woven by the play of its hockey team.
44. The pregame "toss"
The anthem is being sung, the rink is rocking, it's a big game and an octopus flies onto the ice from the stands. You know you're at Joe Louis Arena. When building manager Al Sobotka swirled one around over his head in excitement years ago, well, the rest was history.
45. Playing through the pain
46. Steve Yzerman in playoffs ... as GM
When Stevie Y retired after the 2006 playoffs, you might have thought you'd seen the last of him. You didn't. The Hall of Fame player wasn't done competing. After completing his management graduate work in Detroit under ace executive Kenny Holland, Yzerman set a new course for himself in Florida. He methodically retooled the Lightning in his first year on the job, leading them back into the postseason. Can he add another title as a GM? We're not betting against him.
47. An All-California affair
For the first time in Stanley Cup playoffs history, all three California-based teams qualified for the postseason. The Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks are all in. NHL expansion has come a long way.
48. Celebrity sightings!
Yes, there is a little star value in the NHL beyond the players on the ice. The latest starlet in the NHL family: Carrie Underwood. We won't forget the local newspaper headline when Mike Fisher was traded to Nashville this past season: "Predators acquire Carrie Underwood's husband."
49. Will Sean Avery keep his play in check?
The bigger question is whether he'll be in the lineup, period. Avery was scratched for the New York Rangers' regular-season finale against the New Jersey Devils. He was a healthy scratch six times during the regular season. Remember, it was Avery's stick-waving move against the Devils in 2008 that forced the league to amend its unsportsmanlike conduct rule.
50. Game 7
51. Those illegal-stick type of calls
Our own Barry Melrose was behind the L.A. Kings' bench when Marty McSorley was caught with an illegal stick in Game 2 of the 1993 Stanley Cup finals. With the Kings up 2-1 in the game, McSorley was sent to the box, and the Canadiens tied the score, won the game in overtime and would march on to a Stanley Cup win.
53. The clutch performances
54. Stephane Matteau
Flashback to 1994: Stephane Matteau scores in double overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to help the Rangers oust the Devils. New York later went on to win the Stanley Cup.
55. Uwe Krupp
Flashback to 1996: Krupp scores in triple overtime in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals to give the Avalanche the sweep against the Panthers.
56. Pat LaFontaine
Flashback to 1987: LaFontaine scores in the fourth overtime in Game 7 of the Patrick Division semifinals to help the Islanders beat the Capitals. Two words: Easter epic.
57. Petr Nedved
Flashback to 1996: Nedved scores with 44.6 seconds left in the fourth overtime of Game 4 to help the Penguins tie their series at 2 (versus the Capitals) in the East quarterfinals.
58. Keith Primeau
Flashback to 2000: Primeau scores with 7:59 remaining in the fifth overtime to give the Flyers the win over the Pens in Game 4 of the East semifinals.
59. Mud Bruneteau
Outside of the fact that you have to love a hockey player whose nickname is Mud, we couldn't have a stretch of extra-session heroes without mentioning the player who brought the longest game in NHL playoffs history to an end. The Red Wings forward scored the game's only goal -- 16:30 into the sixth overtime! -- to beat the Montreal Maroons in the opener of their Cup semifinals series. Bruneteau and the Wings would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
60. A sprawling Marc-Andre Fleury save
Will the Penguins goalie have more up his sleeve like this Cup-winning stop on Lidstrom from 2009?
61. Another Caps-Pens clash?
It could happen. You know you loved it the first time around.
62. Hockey names always ending with the letter "Y" or "S"
It's really the most common form of hockey translation. OK, here we go, to just try a few: "Jonesy," "Bolly," "Marly," "Liddy," "Cammy," "Timmy," "Sully" (not the pilot), "Boogy," "Nieds," and "Prongs."
63. Mark Recchi and his bold prediction
Bold predictions are nothing new in the NHL playoffs. Remember Mark Messier in 1994? Recchi made his own call in late March, saying, "If we win a championship, I'm gone." At 43, he is the oldest active player in the NHL.
64. Kerry Fraser's hair
He may have retired after last season, but his hair is still legend.
65. Postgoal celebration songs
Call us music snobs, but we'll take the recent string of postgoal songs that have become the norm for some teams (U2's "Vertigo" in Montreal and The Fratellis' "Chelsea Dagger" in Chicago). It beats other hockey arena staples like "Cotton-Eyed Joe." Seriously.
66. The goal horn
67. Rick Jeanneret
68. Pregame tailgate
69. The last time we'll see Ilya Bryzgalov in a Coyotes jersey?
In the past two years, under the most unusual circumstances, Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has pushed a dinged-up franchise into the playoffs. This time, there's a difference for him. In the back of his mind, the free-spirited Bryzgalov knows his contract is up. He knows that even if he stays, he might have to move. After years of wrangling, the Coyotes may have to relocate out of the desert. Against the backdrop, "Bryzy" will try to anchor the franchise's first playoff series win since 1987. That was 24 years ago. Can Bryzgalov be the guy in goal to get it done? He might not have another chance.
70. Surviving the Presidents' Trophy curse
When you finish with the most points in the regular season, a league exec breezes into town and drops the Presidents' Trophy on your doorstep. It looks nice, but who grows up dreaming of winning a Presidents' Trophy? I'll tell you who. ... No one! The trophy is a reminder that you'd better find a way to win that silver Cup. It also reminds you that your chances still aren't great. Since 1985-86, when the league started giving out the regular-season honor, just seven winners have gone on to win the Cup. Not a high percentage, eh? Last year's Presidents' Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, were gone after only one round. This spring, the Canucks are on the clock.
71. The playoff penalty shot
They say the penalty shot is the most exciting play in hockey. Now multiply that excitement by 100 or maybe 1,000 when your season is at stake. If you're old enough, you remember Game 4 of the 1994 Stanley Cup finals, when Canucks mega-sniper Pavel Bure challenged Rangers super stopper Mike Richter in a one-on-one showdown. The wild sellout crowd at the old Pacific Coliseum went dead-silent when Richter flashed his right pad out to stop Bure. Oh baby! Will there be a moment like that this spring? Oh yeah.
72. The Conn Smythe debate
As teams chase the 16 wins necessary to capture the Cup, we fuss and fight about which player has been the biggest difference-maker. Last spring, we argued about the merits of Dustin Byfuglien's power game and Duncan Keith's puck-moving magic. Cinderella stopper Antti Niemi received a mention or two before his game slipped a tad in the Cup finals. When it was over, the voters decided on Jonathan Toews' total game. Who'll win it this time? Let the games begin!
73. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk
Each an afterthought in his draft year, these puck geniuses have helped make Hockeytown a destination of last resort for opponents around the league. Among the handful of players who can pull you out of your seat, Pavel Datsyuk is a slippery wizard who could stickhandle through Times Square on New Year's Eve. With less style but equal substance, Henrik Zetterberg is relentless in his pursuit of the puck. In the spring, "Pav" and "Z" drive their games to another level. What's not to love about that?
74. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry aren't shy. They've been introducing themselves around the NHL for several seasons now. And, it's always the same: "Hi, how are you? Get out of my way!" Big and talented, they figure, why go around an opponent when they can go through him? The Ducks struck gold when they selected the two power forwards in the first round of the legendary 2003 draft. A scant four years later, they were celebrating a Cup victory. Now, they seem ready for more. Perry was nearly unstoppable in the final six weeks of the season, finishing with a league-best 50 goals.
75. The lower seed can win
Last spring, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals had a 3-1 stranglehold on their first-round series against the eighth-seeded Canadiens. It seemed only a formality that the powerhouse Caps would advance. Sadly for fans in D.C., the Habs never got the memo. They stormed back, winning the series with a Game 7 victory in enemy territory. Although you can't predict those kinds of turnarounds, we can tell you this: In the Stanley Cup playoffs, they happen.
ESPN.com NHL writers Scott Burnside, E.J. Hradek and Pierre LeBrun contributed to this list of glory.
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