The postseason is over, but here are 10 moments we won't forget from this spring:
East quarterfinals: Washington versus Montreal, Games 5, 6 and 7We remember talking to Washington owner Ted Leonsis on the eve of the playoffs. He suggested that if his powerful Caps team lost in the first round, it would undo a lot of the good done during a record-setting regular season that saw Washington finish a country mile ahead of the nearest competitor in the Eastern Conference.
But after taking a 3-1 series lead against the eighth-seeded Canadiens, the Caps became unraveled. They could not solve Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak and their vaunted power play could not find its way (the Caps scored just one goal on the man advantage in the series).
Alex Ovechkin, who had made fun of Halak early in the series, could not summon enough greatness to get his team over the hump. In the end, the Capitals gave up three straight games to the Canadiens, including a loss on home ice in Game 7 to establish themselves as one of the great underachieving teams in the NHL.
West quarterfinals: Detroit versus Phoenix, Game 7The Coyotes and Red Wings battled through every shift of the series; but when the chips were on the table in Game 7, the veteran Red Wings hammered the Coyotes 6-1 with Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg leading the charge.
West quarterfinals: Chicago versus Nashville, Game 5Shorthanded and trailing by a goal late in the game, the Blackhawks took advantage of an errant Martin Erat clearing attempt to keep the puck in the Nashville zone and Patrick Kane scored to tie it with 13.6 seconds left in regulation. In overtime, Marian Hossa, who should have been ejected for a boarding penalty late in regulation, returned to the ice to score the winner and tie the series at two games apiece.
"To get by that Nashville series, that's where we really believed in ourselves," Kris Versteeg recently said. "Those guys gave us everything and more. To get by that series was huge."
West quarterfinals: Vancouver versus Los Angeles, Game 3This heated series got even hotter when a goal by Canucks forward Daniel Sedin was disallowed after it was ruled he kicked the puck into the net. Replays didn't necessarily support that call, and when the Kings went on to take a 2-1 series lead, conspiracy theorists (mostly in Vancouver) came out of the woodwork to suggest the NHL was determined to see Los Angeles move on. They didn't, of course, as the Canucks came back to win the series in six games.
West quarterfinals: Colorado versus San Jose, Games 3 and 4Despite outplaying Colorado by a wide margin in Game 3, the teams were scoreless heading to overtime. Early on in the extra session, Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle tried to rim the puck around the boards, but inadvertently sent the puck toward his own goal and it snuck by a surprised Evgeni Nabokov to give the Avs a 1-0 win and 2-1 series lead. But early in Game 4, Boyle atoned for his mistake by scoring a goal that helped the Sharks even the series. They would go on to oust the Avalanche in six games.
East semifinals: Montreal versus Pittsburgh, first period of Game 7The defending Stanley Cup champs were snowed under by a committed, plucky Montreal Canadiens team, which delivered a stunning knockout blow with four straight goals before the Pens got on the board. In the end, Montreal beat Pittsburgh 5-2 in winning its second straight Game 7 on the road. Although the Canadiens' Cinderella spring ended in five games against the Flyers in the Eastern Conference finals, they remain one of the postseason's most compelling stories.
East semifinals: Philadelphia versus Boston, Games 4-7What else is there to say about Philadelphia Flyers, who became just the third team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 deficit and win a series. They did it in dramatic fashion. First, they won Game 4 in overtime after Simon Gagne provided the heroics in his first game back from a foot injury. Then, the Flyers fell behind 3-0 in Game 7, but roared back to earn a place as one of the gutsiest teams in NHL history. The series also featured the dramatic return of netminder Michael Leighton, who was pressed back into duty in Game 5 when Brian Boucher suffered a knee injury.
West semifinals: Chicago versus Vancouver, Game 3Dustin Byfuglien emerged as a playoff force in this game, scoring three times, twice on the power play, to give Chicago a 5-2 victory and 2-1 series lead. It was a lead the Hawks would not relinquish, as they dispatched Vancouver in six games for the second straight season. After scoring, Byfuglien tilted his ear at the Canucks' fans as if to say, "I don't hear you now."
Stanley Cup finals: Philadelphia versus Chicago, Game 2Philly's Chris Pronger and Chicago's Ben Eager feuded over who would grab the game puck in the seconds after the contest. Pronger ended up with the puck and shot a towel at Eager for good measure. After the game, Pronger claimed he had no idea what Eager was saying because he "didn't speak his language."
Stanley Cup finals: Philadelphia versus Chicago, Game 6With the score tied at 3 in overtime, Patrick Kane went around Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen and snapped a bad-angle shot past Leighton to end Chicago's 49-year Stanley Cup drought. Curiously, most of the players on the ice didn't know if the puck actually went in the net, and there was a period of confusion as the Hawks began to celebrate even before the goal had officially been awarded.
PHILADELPHIA -- After the Carolina Hurricanes had captured their first Stanley Cup four years ago, there was a great hue and cry that Chris Pronger hadn't been awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in a losing cause for the Edmonton Oilers.
Four Cup finals later, there remains some debate about whether Pronger should have been so honored in another losing cause.
The point is moot really, but the fact there's debate at all illustrates just how dominant a player the big defenseman is.
Had he not gone minus-5 in Game 5 and had he not taken a couple of early penalties in Game 6, one of which led to Chicago's first goal, Pronger might well have been named playoff MVP.
Still, his play this spring reinforces Pronger's status as one of the most dominant defensemen of his generation and a sure-fire Hall of Famer when his career comes to a close.
Not that anyone is suggesting Pronger, 35, is anywhere near the end of the line. In fact, having led all players in average ice time this spring, spending almost half of every game on the ice, Pronger's play justifies the risk taken by GM Paul Holmgren almost a year ago to acquire the big defenseman from Anaheim.
Since the lockout, Pronger has turned out to be the ultimate hired gun. Traded from St. Louis to Edmonton after the lockout, Pronger led the eighth-seeded Oilers to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2006. A year later, he was hoisting the Cup as a member of the Anaheim Ducks.
Last June, Holmgren gave up an attractive package of draft picks and prospects to bring Pronger to Philadelphia in the hopes he might be the missing piece for a Flyers team that fancied itself as a Cup contender.
Although the Flyers endured an up-and-down regular season that saw coach John Stevens fired and replaced by Peter Laviolette, they seemed to grow stronger as the playoffs went along. Much of that can be traced to Pronger's presence on the ice and in the locker room. Teammates talked of his calm demeanor even as the team fell behind 3-0 against Boston in the second round.
As the Cup finals began, he got under the skin of the Blackhawks, taking pucks at the end of games and antagonizing their players with his physical play. Off the ice, he regularly sparred with journalists, bringing a welcome dose of levity to the proceedings. The humor belies a deep desire to win.
After Game 6, there were no jokes from Pronger, nothing but disappointment at having fallen short.
"I think we all felt very good going into the overtime. Unfortunately, somebody's got to lose," he said. "I don't think it'll set in for awhile. It's obviously disappointing and not the way we would have liked to see the season end, especially here at home. But you know what, we'll be feeling it for awhile, that's for sure."
PHILADELPHIA -- Marian Hossa got the heads up from the captain at the morning skate Wednesday. Chicago Blackhawks star center Jonathan Toews made up his mind: the Slovak star would be the first to hoist the Stanley Cup after him.
"It was funny. In the morning skate, he came up to me and said, 'You know, Hoss, I don't really want to talk about it, but let's say if we win it tonight, I'm going to hand it to you,''' Hossa said after Wednesday night's Cup-clinching victory. "I said, 'That sounds great.' He kept his promise and that was an unbelievable feeling."
Well, really, who else would you give it to?
"You know, it's special for him, and I can't imagine being a part of three long seasons like that and to win one finally," said Toews. "It's amazing for all of us, but especially for him."
Who else has gone through what Hossa has the last three years, losing in back-to-back Cup finals with two different teams? The thought of going 0-for-3? Well, that just couldn't happen.
"I mean, what a feeling," said Hossa, who had a strong Cup finals. "I'm so happy I'm finally on the other side. I'm truly enjoying this moment. It wasn't easy. There were lots of hockey games three years in a row. This feels even better because of it."
His teammates wanted to win it badly for him.
"There's not one guy on this ice that deserves it more than him. I love that guy," said Kris Versteeg.
Versteeg believes Hossa's overtime goal in Game 5 against Nashville back in the first round was a gigantic part of the end result nearly two months later.
"That goal right there won us the Stanley Cup," said Versteeg. "We just carried off that every day after that."
Hossa was all emotion when he grabbed the Cup from Toews, lifting it up and down and up again in excitement.
"It was great that Tazer gave it to him first," said Hawks star blueliner Brent Seabrook. "He's done so much for this team. He's been great all season. It was really nice to see him win it this year."
Next up? His trip back home with the silver mug this summer. This time, he won't go overseas empty-handed.
"Well, I'm definitely going to bring it to Slovakia," said Hossa. "I'm going to put it in front of my old apartment where I grew up and where I used to play best-of-sevens with my friends and we're going to play hockey."
PHILADELPHIA -- Here are five things to watch for in tonight's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals:
1. Home sweet home: Yes, we are the masters of the obvious, but home ice has been golden thus far in the series (5-0 for the home club). Can the Blackhawks buck that trend and win their first Stanley Cup since 1961 in orange-clad enemy territory? Or do the Flyers, 9-1 at home this spring, take advantage of the Wachovia Center buzz (and of the last change for coach Peter Laviolette) to force a seventh game in Chicago on Friday?
"I think if you're nervous and you go on the ice, you probably won't be effective," Laviolette said Wednesday morning. "In saying that, there will be a lot of energy in the building, and we'll certainly need a lot of energy.
"We need to harness that energy. It's a fine line, I think, between energy and nerves. Certainly you don't want to go out there and be nervous and play that way. You want to grab the energy in your building and play at the highest tempo possible."
2. Waiting on Leighton: The last time a goaltender was given the hook twice in one Cup finals series was in 1991, when Minnesota North Stars netminder Jon Casey was yanked twice against Pittsburgh as the Pens won their first of back-to-back Cups. The last time a goalie was pulled twice in the finals and won was in 1984, when Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr split duties for the Oilers.
Flyers goalie Michael Leighton has been pulled twice in this series, both times in Chicago, and boasts an ugly 4.01 goals-against average in this series. But -- and this is crucial -- Leighton is 6-0 at home this spring and has shown an ability to bounce back after soft outings. He will have to in Game 6. He'll also need to show, especially early on, that he's in the groove in order to give his teammates confidence, or this one could be over early.
3. Triple dose of trouble: We finally saw the full potential of the Blackhawks' deep, talented forward corps in Game 5 after coach Joel Quenneville juggled his line combinations. In splitting up Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien, his top unit for most of the spring, he came up with three potent offensive groups that kept the Flyers on their heels in Game 5.
With Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky and Toews leading the charge and Byfuglien having a monster night with four points, there wasn't a clear matchup for top defenseman Chris Pronger and partner Matt Carle as there had been through the first four games, when they played mostly against the Toews-Kane-Byfuglien trio. If the Blackhawks can get pressure and production from all three lines again in Game 6, it could be a long night for the home side.
4. The big man: Speaking of Pronger, Game 5 ranked as one of the worst statistical nights of his long and successful career. Pronger was minus-5, on the ice for six goals and in the penalty box for the seventh. Ugly. But this is a man who will be a serious Conn Smythe Trophy candidate even if the Flyers lose Game 6, and you sense he will bounce back in a huge way tonight. If he can get back the snarl that marked his play through the first four games, the Flyers' chances of forcing a seventh game go up dramatically.
5. Special night: The Stanley Cup will be in the building tonight. Whether it gets taken out of its carrying crate will depend in large part on which team is able to win the special-teams battle. Early in the series, the Flyers owned the Hawks, shutting down Chicago's power play and managing to chip in goals when they had the man advantage.
In Game 5, however, the Blackhawks scored twice with the man advantage and denied the Flyers on all three of their power-play opportunities. If the Flyers can stay out of the box and force the Blackhawks into penalty trouble, it will open the door to victory. If the Blackhawks come out fast and draw a couple of penalties and capitalize, the Cup will be theirs.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flyers' top line of Mike Richards centering Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne hasn't produced much offensively. Given the dramatic results the Chicago Blackhawks got from changing their lines, one wonders if Philadelphia shouldn't consider doing the same. But don't count Richards among those thinking that way.
"I don't think we're playing poorly," Richards said Tuesday. "I think we are getting a lot of great looks at the net. We're just not scoring goals. Confidence is such a big thing in hockey, where if you have it, you're almost unstoppable. If you don't, it's tough to get anything going.
"But we're getting great chances at the net. You have to think, sooner than later, they're going to go in. Let's hope tomorrow night is the night."
It has to be for the Flyers to have a chance. Philadelphia has been carried in this series by Danny Briere's line with Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino; but with the Hawks now finding offense from its top three lines in Game 3, the Flyers must have Richards' unit produce.
"Like Mike said, we've played some good games this series with the lines we've got going," Carter said. "I think last game we basically just didn't play our game. I don't think it's a matter of panicking and going out there and changing our lines up. We have to get back to playing Flyers hockey and playing the way we've played to get here at this point."
Carter hasn't looked the same since returning from a foot injury. He was asked Tuesday if his foot has impacted his play in the Cup finals. "It hasn't, no," Carter said.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said Carter has looked good to him.
"He still looks like he can contribute," Laviolette said. "He's probably not at 100 percent, but I would expect a good game out of Jeff, as well."
Expect the Hawks to stick with the lines that produced a 7-4 Game 5 victory.
"I liked the way we exited the game with the lines," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday. "We'd like to improve off of the level and the intensity and the rotation of all four lines bringing it. I think that's going to be how we want to approach the game."
The Cup winnersTomas Kopecky, Andrew Ladd and John Madden were trotted out to the podium Tuesday -- they are the three Cup winners on the Blackhawks' roster. They know what's like and they want to experience that feeling again.
"When I was with Detroit, the memories that stay with you for the rest of your life, that feeling is unbelievable," said Kopecky, a Cup winner in 2008.
Ladd took it home in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes.
"It's just a special feeling you can't really describe," said Ladd, perhaps influenced by that terrific NHL commercial in which former Cup winners are speechless.
"For me, there was no better feeling in hockey," said Madden, a two-time Cup winner with New Jersey. "The look on your teammates' faces when you've all come together and accomplished your goals, there have been trials and tribulations, you've been able to overcome a lot. It's a real nice feeling to have."
Closing it outJohn Madden was been on both sides of the coin when it comes to having a chance to close it out in Game 6 of the Cup finals. He knows what is at stake Wednesday night.
"You know you want to take care of business when you can," Madden said. "You don't want to leave the chance for a Game 7. We have an opportunity tomorrow. All I can say is, we have to be focused on that opportunity and not look at having another game to go to. You have to care of business and treat it like it's an elimination game."
PHILADELPHIA -- Since the Blackhawks can clinch the title in Wednesday's Game 6, Lord Stanley's shiny mug will be in the building for the first time in the series.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has often dreamed what it would be like to lift it.
"I mean, countless times growing up," he said Tuesday. "Any kid growing up in Canada, anywhere as a hockey player, that's the dream. That's the one thing you keep telling yourself, in your heart you kind of know you're going to do it someday."
Last season, when Sidney Crosby lifted the Cup for the Penguins, Toews said it hit home that his team might soon one day do the same.
"I think that's when it really first set in ... this is something that can really become a reality," Toews said. "It's been a long year, but I think we all knew all along that we can make it this far. Hopefully we can find a way to do it tomorrow."
The Flyers, meanwhile, want to keep that silver trophy in the trunk.
"That's the goal," Danny Briere said. "We believe we are going to do that. We've played well all playoffs long in this building. So for us, there's no other way around it. We believe we're going to push this to a Game 7."
Flyers forward Ville Leino played with a Detroit Red Wings team last year that twice failed to capture the Cup with the trophy in the building (the Penguins came back from a 3-2 series deficit to win it).
"Well, last year -- it's tough time," Leino said Tuesday. "You just want it to be over with. You want to be winning and raising that Cup. It's just something you try to block out, but it's still there. It's not very easy to shut it out and blank it out. It's going to be there. Hopefully it's going to be a little bit of an advantage to us."
Not allowing the Blackhawks to celebrate a Cup on Philly ice? That's reason enough right there to play well Wednesday night.
"Yeah, I think it's a motivating factor," Philly defenseman Chris Pronger said. "You're on home ice. They have a chance to clinch. You don't want to see that in your building and you want to get to a Game 7. You want to have an opportunity to win it. That's the biggest thing. We're not here just to get to a Game 7. We want to win.
"At the end of the day, we're here to win a Stanley Cup. We need to get two wins to do it, but you have to get one before you get two."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette remembered coaching Carolina in the 2006 Cup finals, knowing the Cup was in the building in Edmonton for Game 6 with a chance to win it that night. But the Hurricanes didn't.
"It was nauseating," said Laviolette. "I went back to the hotel room in Edmonton and I almost threw up."
In Game 5 of that series, with Carolina up 3-1 in the series, the Cup also made an entry, but to no avail.
"We were winning, they tied it up late," recalled Laviolette. "We went on the power play in overtime and they scored on a short-handed goal in our building with the Cup being polished out back. So that one wasn't much better."
Laviolette and the Hurricanes did wrap it up in Game 7. Now, he'd love the chance at another Game 7.
"You keep fighting for it," he said. "One thing this team really has proven is that they're capable of fighting. We'll be ready to do that tomorrow."
PHILADELPHIA -- Coach Peter Laviolette didn't come out and outright announce that Michael Leighton will start Game 6 for the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night, but he hinted mighty strongly at it.
But only after a little media prodding Tuesday.
Reporter: "Have you told your goaltender who is going to start?"
Laviolette: "No, I haven't."
Reporter: "When will you do that?"
Laviolette: [Long pause] "Do you know who is starting in the net for Chicago? Did they announce that yet?"
Reporter: "We assume Antti Niemi."
Laviolette: "Oh, but nobody asked?"
This is when we wish we had said, "No, Peter. No one asked because Niemi isn't the one who has been pulled twice in the Cup finals."
Finally, Laviolette all but named Leighton his starter. "Our goaltender has the best numbers in the playoffs," said the Flyers coach. "I didn't think I had to announce it."
But just so we're clear, he didn't make it official. Leighton is 6-0 at Wachovia Center in these playoffs and has given up only nine goals over that span. He was the obvious choice despite his struggles in Chicago.
"I'm very confident in Michael," Laviolette said. "He's played excellent in the playoffs. His home numbers are terrific. Yeah, I'm very confident in Michael."
Leighton has put Game 5 behind him.
"I take it as a challenge. You're obviously not happy with what happened," he said Tuesday. "You got pulled, you didn't play as well as you thought you would. You want to prove them wrong and jump back in and play well."
A black eyeWe kidded with Flyers center Daniel Briere on Tuesday that he can forget those male modeling contracts for the summer. But the ugly shiner underneath his right eye, courtesy of a Duncan Keith high stick that wasn't called in Game 5, made a more serious impression on his kids.
"Yeah, there's one of them that was scared," Briere said. "They didn't see me until late yesterday afternoon after school. They didn't know too much what to expect. But it's all good now. They're old enough now to understand that it's playoff hockey and it's the way it is."
If the Flyers win the Cup, Chris Pronger will likely win the Conn Smythe Trophy, but we believe Briere also deserves some strong consideration.
Speech, coach?Laviolette might pump his guys up before Wednesday's Game 6. That's what a coach does. Can he use Pittsburgh's Cup win last year as motivation when the Penguins erased a 3-2 series deficit against Detroit?
"I do look for those type of things," said Laviolette. "I think part of your role as coach is trying to motivate and get your team to believe in things, and there's no question we talked about that situation. I mentioned the Carolina situation in the past. We've talked about what our team has been through. You talk about winning championships. You see them happen year after year.
"But our championship that we're pursuing is special, maybe more so than others if you look at how we had to get here and what we had to do to get our hands on that thing."