- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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After Game 1, first round, Los Angeles at Vancouver.
According to star blueliner Drew Doughty, the turning point for the Kings was right after the opening game of the playoffs in Vancouver.
"It's only one game but it was against the top team in the league for the last two years," Doughty said after his team's series-clinching win over St. Louis in the second round. "We played great against them that first game and ever since that point, we knew we had a great team in here. We knew we could finally score goals and we knew our defense is probably one of the best in the league. It was great to finally get that confidence under our belts because now it's really showing out there."
Game 3, second round, New York at Washington. Held without a goal in eight games, star winger Marian Gaborik ended the franchise's longest game in 73 years, burying a nifty feed from Brad Richards at 14:41 of the third overtime.
The victory did nothing to break Washington's resolve, the Caps pushing the series to seven games, anyway. But it told the Rangers a lot about themselves.
"When you get into that many hours of playing, it becomes a mental game," coach John Tortorella said that night. "I felt as the game got longer and longer, I felt that our team was at an advantage. I think we have a mentally tough group. … Just not giving in, that was the key."
Game 2, second round, Philadelphia at New Jersey. That's an easy one. Superstar Ilya Kovalchuk missed Game 2 of New Jersey's second-round series with the Flyers, his team down 1-0 in the series. The Devils responded with an outstanding effort without their most dangerous scorer, winning convincingly, 4-1 to tie the series.
"You know what? Kovy's one of the best players in the whole NHL and so you take him out of the lineup, it's going to hurt you," veteran netminder Martin Brodeur said after that game. "But, again, you pride yourself as an organization to try to get some depth and other people to be able to step in when things like that happen."
It's a victory that I believe galvanized the Devils and made them believe they had a shot. They would not drop another game against the Flyers, as Kovalchuk returned for the final three games and was spectacular.
Game 2, second round, Nashville at Phoenix. The Coyotes had just come off back-to-back wins in which they needed goalie Mike Smith to save the day. They were outshot 28-8 through 40 minutes in their series-clinching win at Chicago in Game 6 of the opening round but won the game thanks to Smith. They were outshot 25-7 over the final 34-plus minutes in a Game 1 OT win over the Predators in the second round. The whole rope-a-dope thing was wearing thin on the Coyotes and they knew they couldn't continue that trend. On this night, in Game 2, they played their most complete game of the playoffs in a 5-3 win over Nashville. I believe this is the night the Coyotes truly made believers not only out of the hockey world, but more importantly themselves.
"Right through our lineup, we really had a concerted push. I don't think there was any weak links," head coach Dave Tippett said that night. "I would say this was the best 60 minutes we've played in the playoffs, for sure."
Added Coyotes winger Taylor Pyatt that night: "The last couple of games, we felt like Mike Smith really stole it for us. As a group we all knew we could be better and we just wanted to come out and have a real solid first period, be real physical and get more shots. We were able to do that and it was a big confidence-booster for us as a group."
Each of the conference finalists had a turning point that pushed them to where they are. Pierre LeBrun takes a look at all of them.