1. Remember when there were rumors that the Chicago Blackhawks might be interested in Ilya Kovalchuk? The Hawks already were looking ahead to next season and their salary-cap issues, and they knew they had to dump some bodies. Kovalchuk would have been a short-term rental, but one who might push them over the Stanley Cup hump. The problem was that Patrick Sharp was among the names that GM Don Waddell reportedly insisted be part of any Kovalchuk-to-Blackhawks trade.
Whether the talks were serious or not, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman did well to resist whatever urges he might have had to go down that road. Sharp has been a crucial cog in the Blackhawks' playoff machinery this spring, collecting four goals and four assists in eight games and making critical plays at critical times, including his short-handed marker in Monday's 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. That nifty goal on a two-on-one tied the score at 2 after Chicago had fallen behind 2-0 early on, and the Blackhawks' win evened the Western Conference semifinal series at one win apiece. Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make.
2. We wonder whether we'll look back on Game 2 as a turning point for Chicago netminder Antti Niemi. After getting torched for five goals on 25 shots before Hawks coach Joel Quenneville gave him the hook in Game 1, Niemi returned for Game 2 and promptly saw the Canucks go up 2-0 by the 5:02 mark of the first period. But he settled down and blanked the high-powered Canucks the rest of the way. He faced only 13 shots in the final two frames, but he shut the door. Perhaps it will be the confidence booster that will carry both him and the Blackhawks through a series in which his counterpart, Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo, has been steady as a rock.
3. We love that Philadelphia-Boston clash. We had joked that no one in the hockey world would watch outside those two markets. But the first two games of the series have been incredible, and Wednesday's Game 3 should be must-see television for hockey fans everywhere. Even dental fans could be interested now that Daniel Carcillo is claiming that Marc Savard tried to bite him during a scrum in the second period of Monday's wild-and-woolly 3-2 Bruins victory.
Carcillo, a tough guy who has played himself into a much higher profile for the injury-riddled Flyers this spring, told reporters that the last time he'd been bitten was in grade school. Meanwhile, Savard said Carcillo tried to extract a couple of his teeth sans Novocain. Carcillo has tried to sell a couple of penalty calls this spring; Savard scored the overtime winner in Game 1. He and the Bruins are now up 2-0 in this unexpectedly compelling series.
4. We continue to acknowledge that we have wildly underestimated the Boston Bruins (as the Buffalo Sabres might have). The Bruins are 5-0 at home this spring and have killed off 26 of 28 power-play attempts. They also have allowed opponents to score with the man advantage in only one of eight games. (They gave up two power-play goals in Game 1 against Philadelphia.)
5. OK, if you'd had to guess which "Joe" on San Jose would be leading the postseason in goals (nine) and sitting second in points (14), most would have gone the safe route and picked "Jumbo Joe" Thornton. Of course, it's not. It's Joe Pavelski, the U.S. Olympian who has emerged as one of this postseason's hottest players on the NHL's biggest stage.
The Sharks have won five straight games, and Pavelski has eight goals and four assists during that streak. Wow. And he's not the only player emerging from the shadows this spring. Mike Cammalleri has been the offensive catalyst for the plucky Montreal Canadiens, and Mikael Samuelsson, who was famously snubbed by the Swedish Olympic team, has eight goals and 12 points for a Vancouver team that many see reaching the Stanley Cup finals. (We don't, but we digress.) Still, it's been a great spring thus far for the unheralded and/or underappreciated.