Friday, June 12, 2009
Updated: June 16, 12:54 AM ET
Our top 2009 playoff moments
By E.J. Hradek
ESPN The Magazine
DETROIT -- Can you believe it's over? We can't.
The 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs were among the most exhilarating in the league's long history. Six of the 15 playoff series went the distance. Young megastars Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin dazzled, the Hurricanes and Ducks surprised and the Sharks let us down one more time.
Here are 10 favorite moments from a great postseason:
1. Cup crazy!
In Game 7 of the Cup finals, playing for half the game without captain Crosby (left knee), the Penguins built a 2-0 second-period lead before holding off the home team in the final minutes to capture their third Stanley Cup in franchise history. Maxime Talbot scored both goals using a nice finishing touch. In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made a diving stop on Nicklas Lidstrom from the bottom of the left-wing circle in the final seconds to seal the deal. Crosby became the youngest captain to lift the Cup.
2. Staying alive
In a do-or-die Cup finals Game 6, the Penguins grabbed a 2-0 third-period lead and held off a late charge from the Wings to force a decisive Game 7. Fleury stood tall in the final minutes to preserve a 2-1 win. Fleury stopped a Dan Cleary breakaway chance with 1:39 left in regulation and later fended off several last-gasp attempts as the Pens extended their season.
3. Two hats better than one
The second game of the much-anticipated Eastern Conference semifinals showdown between Crosby's Penguins and Ovechkin's Capitals proved to be one for the ages. The tilt became a shootout between the two superstars, each potting a hat trick. In the end, Team Ovechkin edged Team Crosby 4-3 to take a 2-0 series lead, but Sidney & Co. didn't let the slow start stop them from advancing.
4. The big letdown
After six thrilling games, the Pens-Caps series came down to a Game 7 at the Verizon Center in D.C. Under an intense media spotlight, the Pens didn't blink. The Caps, on the other hand, wilted under the pressure. Fleury set the tone early in the first period by stopping Ovechkin on a breakaway. After that, the Penguins rolled to a 5-0 lead en route to a surprisingly easy 6-2 win.
5. Hurricane strike, Part I
The terrific Eastern Conference quarterfinals series between the Hurricanes and Devils came down to a decisive Game 7 in Newark. The home fans were feeling good with New Jersey up a goal with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. Then the Hurricanes swirled into action. Forward Jussi Jokinen tied the game with just 1:20 on the clock. Amazingly, just 48 seconds later, Canes center Eric Staal buried a wrist shot past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur to give them the lead and the series. We think the Devils are still trying to figure out what happened.
6. Hurricane strike, Part II
In the next round, the never-say-die Hurricanes were forced into another Game 7 after blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Bruins. The battle spilled over into overtime. Late in the extra session, grinding forward Scott Walker -- who had raised the ire of the B's and their fans by sucker-punching defenseman Aaron Ward in Game 5 -- batted a rebound past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas to end the series. On the back of two unlikely victories, the Canes advanced to the conference finals.
7. Pat trick
Patrick Kane electrified a wild, sellout United Center crowd with his first career playoff hat trick to lead the Blackhawks to a series-clinching 7-5 win over the Canucks in the West semifinals. Kane's third goal, which sealed the victory with just 3:43 left in regulation, was the result of a brilliant rush. The 20-year-old completed the play by whipping a sizzling backhand past Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
8. The Geno!
Malkin, the Penguins' other star center, downgraded the Hurricanes to a cool breeze in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. The dynamic Malkin netted a hat trick in the Pens' 7-4 win. He completed the feat with a thrilling individual effort, coming out from behind the Canes' net and launching a roof-top backhander past goalie Cam Ward at the 8:50 mark of the third period. The goal also proved to be the game-winner. It was the first playoff hat trick of his short, but already dazzling, career.
9. No bite
In the NHL's first all-California playoff series since 1969, the eighth-seeded Ducks stunned the Presidents' Trophy-winning Sharks, eliminating them with a 4-1 Game 6 win. Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller, a playoff newcomer, turned in a brilliant performance to backstop the upset. The loss was the latest playoff heartbreak for the Sharks, who thought they were ready to get over the postseason hump. Instead, Sharks GM Doug Wilson, angered by the loss, promised offseason changes.
10. Last rush
Detroit ageless warrior Chris Chelios, playing in what might have been his last NHL game (he didn't dress during the Cup finals, but isn't ready to retire), made an overtime rush in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against the Blackhawks at the Joe Louis Arena. The 47-year-old American hockey icon moved the puck from his own zone to the far blue line before passing it to a teammate on the right wing. He then continued to the net and nearly batted a rebound past Hawks goalie Cristobal Huet. That would have been quite a way for Chelios to go out. Of course, we're not sure he's done yet.
E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.