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Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Nashville leftovers: Sopel was series MVP

By Jesse Rogers

Antti Niemi
When a team is successful killing penalties, a big reason usually is the goaltender, and Antti Niemi came up big against the Predators.

One last look at Nashville before turning north to Vancouver:

Star Gazing: Penalty killers are getting their just due, but since the moment the phrase, “your best players have to be your best players,” was uttered after Game 3, the Hawk stars stepped up. Patrick Sharp was wearing the “belt” after the decisive Game 6 with a goal and two assists while Jonathan Toews also came up big in big moments. He took a beating in Game 5 but came back to score the game winner in Game 6. Patrick Kane was steady from Game 1 and wasn’t afraid to get to the net to score, including the dramatic game-tying tally in Game 5.

Crashing: After Game 3, Joel Quenneville -- and Hawk nation -- wanted a better work ethic, and they got it. No better example of this is how the Hawks crashed the net. Starting with Bryan Bickell driving hard to the goal and getting a power play chance in Game 4, the Hawks brought their hard hats for the final three games. They scored no less than five goals from in close, in the trio of games, and even if the pucks came from the point, the screens were there. Duncan Keith never gets the first one in Game 6 without Tomas Kopecky standing in front of Pekka Rinne.

Respect: If you didn’t have it for Barry Trotz and his team before the series, you better have some now. As John Madden put it, “the Preds keep coming and coming and coming.” They are similar to the Phoenix Coyotes in that regard, but Phoenix has more offensive talent. No one gets more out of less than Trotz. If not for a first ever shorthanded goal to tie a playoff game that late into the contest, the Predators could be staring at a series win. That’s how close it was.

Attitude: In hindsight, the Hawks’ calm and cool attitude after the Game 3 debacle served them well and should moving forward. While anger may have been the emotion amongst fans, a quiet confidence lingered in the dressing room after the game. Jonathan Toews said it best. If Game 3 had been the Hawks best effort and they lost, it would be a major cause for concern. They knew they had several more levels they could get to if they brought their work ethic. Between getting behind in the series and nearly giving up Game 5, the Hawks learned what every talented team needs to: work hard and never give up.

Series MVP: Brent Sopel. 21 blocks. 10 stiches. 25 for 26 on the penalty kill. Enough said.

Honorable mention: Antti Niemi, Niklas Hjarmalsson. For Niemi, see penalty kill numbers, including overtime drama and a 5-on-3 stop in Game 4. Plus, two shutouts. Hjarmalsson was a team best Plus-6 for the series.

Best Quote: “Think of the lowest place you can think of, we were there.” Barry Trotz, about the Game 5 collapse.

Best Pre-Series Quote: “Business in the front. Party in the back.” – Patrick Kane on his playoff mullet.

Celebration: If you're wondering what its like in the dressing room after a first round series clinching win, its not that different than any other victory. In fact, it's about the same as last season's series first round clincher in Calgary. There are congratulations around the room but nothing over the top. Most players just want to pack and get home.