So far, no big surprises, right?
We all knew that, uh, perennial contenders Buffalo and Carolina would emerge from the East, right? And Anaheim, Edmonton and San Jose would be the last three teams standing in the West? Right?
That rookie backup goalie Cam Ward would win eight games in nine starts? That rookie backup goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, a household name if ever there was one, would shut out opponents for nearly 250 minutes, the second-longest streak in NHL playoff history? That rookie backup goalie Vesa Toskala would dislodge Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose’s net? And that rookie goalie Ryan Miller and under-the-radar goalie Dwayne Roloson would be the other netminders still stopping pucks as the number of teams participating in the post-season was whittled down to five?
Of course we knew all that.
Just like we knew nine of the top 10 playoff scorers (entering Game 6 between Edmonton and San Jose) would be under 30 years old. And, the old man among the top point-getters would be 31-year-old Devils, er, sniper Jamie Langenbrunner. It makes sense.
Like the fact Patrick Marleau, not Joe Thornton or Jonathan Cheechoo, has been the driving force behind San Jose’s attack. And that Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin would be playing 27 minutes a game Â– usually very, very well Â– while the teams that traded him in 2005 (Columbus) and waived him in 2004 (Montreal) wouldn’t be playing at all.
Speaking of Anaheim, of course we knew Joffrey Lupul was a four-goals-in-one-game guy, that rookie winger Dustin Penner would play as big as his 243-pound frame, that checking specialist Todd Marchant would be among Ducks leaders in points and sport a team-high plus-10 rating.
Hey, who didn’t know of Chris Kunitz’s upside? That every time Samuel Pahlsson scored (twice, so far), it would be a game-winner? That the Ducks’ six D-men would be a combined plus-24 Â– despite the fact the top tandem of Scott Niedermayer and Beauchemin would be merely even?
Everybody in Buffalo and beyond were fully aware of the shutdown potential of Â‘D’ pairing Henrik Â‘Plus-13′ Tallinder and Toni Â‘Plus-13′ Lydman. If you’re a Sabres supporter, of course you knew Jason Pominville could skate circles around Daniel Alfredsson. And, it would be no problem for Derek Roy to score five points in a single game against the Senators. That Buffalo would score a shorthanded goal in every second game of the playoffs was a foregone conclusion, right? It was a well-known fact that the Sabres, with a long and storied history as an offensive juggernaut, would already have nine players with at least three goals, and everyone would have registered at least a point (save AHL call-up Jiri Novotny, who has played two games).
No big surprises in Carolina, either. Yes, we all knew Matt Cullen would keep pace with Mark Recchi (eight points) and that Justin Williams would be up with Doug Weight (seven points). A 10-game point streak for sophomore star Eric Staal? The only thing questionable about that is, why stop there?
And remember the outcry when Tampa Bay, fresh off its Stanley Cup championship in 2004, allowed Cory Stillman to get away and sign with the Canes? Stillman was a healthy scratch for one game in the 2004 Cup final; in 2006, he’s third in team scoring and has two game-winners.
Then there’s defensive defenseman Niclas Wallin, who only scores when it matters most Â– he has three goals in 37 career playoff games, all coming in overtime (including one in this year’s post-season). Compare that to Wallin’s 12 goals (only two game-winners) in 273 regular season games, and you can easily see why he drives to the net in overtime Â– simply put, it’s a high-percentage play.
In Edmonton, it’s not a big deal to see the Oilers on the verge of the semifinals because that’s the norm in northern Alberta, right? Was anyone actually betting against Shawn Horcoff’s point-per-playoff-game potential? And that Fernando Pisani would have seven goals in 11 games? Let’s face it, how could the Oilers not be winning, considering they’re playing Chris Pronger nearly 33 minutes a game? And, of course, the worst-kept secret since the Gretzky trade was it takes a lot more than a puck in the mouth to keep Ryan Smyth down on the ice.
Finally, San Jose, where the Sharks have finally cooled off and face the likelihood that their playoff run will fall short of the conference final. But don’t blame tougher-than-we-knew Jonathan Cheechoo, or an unheralded defense corps that will be around for the next decade. Rather than the blame game, how about some fame for forwards Milan Michalek, Steve Bernier, Mark Smith and, perhaps in the 2007 playoffs, Patrick Rissmiller?
Well, maybe there’s been one surprise.
What else do you call the Toronto Maple Leafs naming Paul Maurice as the their new coach?
Nobody saw that one comingÂ…