- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Dan Arritt: As the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks took Game 5 to overtime on their home ice, the Los Angeles Kings were on the verge of losing the momentum gained by winning the first three games of the series. Just a few minutes into sudden death, however, Kings third-line winger Trevor Lewis poked the puck away from Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis on a backcheck in the neutral zone, resulting in a two-on-one heading the other way. As center Jarret Stoll entered the left faceoff circle, he wound up and fired a wrist shot that pegged the top left corner of the net, giving the Kings their first series victory in 11 seasons.
Scott Burnside: We often talk about the razor's edge between success and failure, the narrowness between moving on and going home. Nowhere was that more evident this spring than in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals. The Caps, having already knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champions from Boston, had the top-seeded Rangers on the ropes. They led 2-1 late in regulation in Game 5 in New York and were poised to take a 3-2 series lead home with a chance to move to their first Eastern Conference finals since 1998. Instead, Joel Ward, the overtime hero in Game 7 in the first round, caught Carl Hagelin with a high stick: double minor. With 6.6 seconds left and a mass of players in front of rookie netminder Braden Holtby, Brad Richards somehow managed to poke the puck past Holtby and into the net to tie the game. The Rangers' Marc Staal would score early in overtime on the carryover power play, and although the Caps did force a Game 7, that dramatic shift in momentum late in regulation was a seminal moment for the Rangers.
Craig Custance: My favorite was when Game 3 between the Rangers and Capitals in the Eastern Conference semifinals headed into triple overtime, catapulting a great game into an instant classic. The feeling of anticipation in the Verizon Center was everywhere as we prepared to see who was going to be a part of history. Both Henrik Lundqvist and Holtby were outstanding in a game when we wondered if it would ever end. To witness an incredible game like that live is something you don't forget for a long, long time.
Pierre LeBrun: When Kings captain Dustin Brown hammered Canucks captain Henrik Sedin with a clean and thunderous hit in Game 3 of their first-round series, it was the postage-stamp moment of that upset, the rejuvenated Brown leading the way both physically and offensively and the Canucks having no answer. The Kings have not looked back, and neither has Brown, whose big hits and big goals have him as the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite.
Katie Strang: The epic triple-overtime showdown between the Rangers and Capitals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals was my favorite moment. The league's longest game since 2008 was the ultimate display of the grit, guts and glory -- all the essential elements that make the Stanley Cup playoffs so great. Kudos to the Rangers for winning that series, so the marathon session was not for naught.
Dan Arritt: What Mike Smith did was inexcusable. What the referees did was even worse. The Phoenix Coyotes goaltender used his heavy stick as a weapon in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings, taking a whack at the back of Dustin Brown's legs after he had the nerve to camp in front of the crease during a power play. Brown never saw the blow coming, dropping to the ice as if he'd been shot with a taser. Unbelievably, Brown was penalized for diving on the play. As he skated to the penalty box, he could barely support his weight. Not the best moment for the NHL.
Scott Burnside: Early in the first round, Nashville captain Shea Weber rammed Henrik Zetterberg's head into the end glass, not once but twice. The Detroit forward avoided serious injury, but it was the first of what would be a series of ugly on-the-ice incidents in the first round that led to multiple suspensions and cast an unsightly blemish on the game at a time when it should have been reveling in playoff excitement. It remains mystifying that the Weber attack on Zetterberg did not yield anything beyond a $2,500 fine, the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. The incident and the lack of response by the NHL was a particularly embarrassing moment for the league in a first round full of them.
Craig Custance: Raffi Torres' brutal hit on Marian Hossa was the worst moment. I was covering another playoff game, but nearly everybody in the press box stopped to load the video once news spread that Hossa was being taken off the ice on a stretcher. Hossa is one of the classiest acts in hockey, and those were scary moments when we were scrambling for updates on his status. The hit capped a wild start to the playoffs that included too many borderline acts of physical play.
Pierre LeBrun: The worst was Nashville Predators forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn missing team curfew on the eve of Game 2 in Phoenix and being subsequently suspended for Game 3. Talk about selfish and stupid. And no matter what anyone says, it was the kind of distraction that undid the favored Preds in their second-round loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. You feel bad for GM David Poile and coach Barry Trotz because this was a deep and talented team, they gave them every chance to win this season, and they were partly undone by two knuckleheads who couldn't stay in their hotel rooms on the eve of a playoff game.
Katie Strang: To me, this is the worst moment because of its far-reaching implications: Nashville captain Shea Weber inexplicably slams Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass in a fit of frustration, only to escape with a mere $2,500 fine from the league's disciplinary arm.
The ugly moment was a harbinger of what was to come in a postseason that has been marred by the inconsistent punishments dished out by the NHL's powers-that-be.
8dScott Burnside and Craig Custance