Vindication. It’s something no player ever wants to have to achieve. But there’s no better time to do so than during the playoffs. Over the years many players have made a name for themselves with just a single post-season performance. This year there are likely to be a few as the playoffs go on, but through the first round we noticed quite a few.
Thus we present THN’s Top-10 Vindicated Players From Round 1.
10. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim
With the Ducks making their first trip to the post-season with Getzlaf as The Man amongst their forwards, he couldn’t have faced a bigger challenge than San Jose superstar Joe Thornton. The two big centers were matched against one another for much of the series and the only time Thornton got the better of Getzlaf was when they dropped the gloves to begin Game 6. By series end, Getzlaf had established himself as the premier power center in the world, even making people pause and wonder about Thornton’s status for Canada’s entry at the 2010 Olympics.
9. Simeon Varlamov, G, Washington
Simeon who? That’s what many were asking in Game 2 when the young Russian – he turned 21 on Monday – with the American League’s Hershey Bears logo on one side of his helmet was named Washington’s starter. But Varlamov ran with the opportunity, going 4-2 in the series and finishing with a 1.17 goals-against average, .952 save percentage and two shutouts. He would have been the story of the series if not for three guys with the surnames Avery, Tortorella and Brashear.
8. Cam Ward, G, Carolina
The 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner showed that performance was no fluke during Round 1 versus New Jersey and its Hall of Fame netminder, Martin Brodeur. Ward, whose Canes have missed the playoffs both years since winning the Cup, outplayed the NHL’s all-time wins leader, looking cool as a cucumber along the way and adding his name in ink to Canada’s 2010 netminding nexus.
7. Tom Poti, D, Washington
There is nothing better than coming back to haunt your former team. And Poti did nothing short of that with two goals and six points during the Caps’ seven-game triumph over the Rangers. He’s tied for 12th in playoff scoring heading into the Pittsburgh series and the victory over New York marks the first time Poti has gotten out of the first round in his career.
6. Martin Havlat, RW, Chicago
It’s been a season of vindication for UFA-to-be Havlat (surprise, surprise). After three post-lockout, injury-riddled seasons, Havlat played 81 regular season games this year, led the Hawks in scoring with 28 goals and 77 points – the highest total of his career – and tallied three goals and six points during a first round upset-lite of Calgary.
5. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh
Despite finishing fifth in playoff scoring a year ago, Malkin was roundly criticized for pulling a post-season disappearing act. He had just three points in the Cup final and eight in the Pens’ final 11 games after recording 14 in their first nine contests. But Gino rebounded in Round 1 this year – he leads the post-season in points – and proved he could handle the physical play and be dangerous offensively whenever he’s on the ice. Now he just has to keep it up.
4. Nikolai Khabibulin, G, Chicago
Relegated to presumed also-ran status last July when Chicago signed Cristobal Huet, ‘The Wall’ simply said “Nyet” and took the No. 1 job back with his strong play during the regular season. He then outplayed perennial Vezina candidate Miikka Kiprusoff in Round 1 while leading the young Hawks to a meeting with Vancouver in Round 2.
3. Scott Niedermayer, D, Anaheim
Hard to believe a Conn Smythe winner with four Cup rings needs to vindicate himself. But after sitting out the first 30-something games of the 2007-08 season – causing cap and chemistry problems – and finishing this season with the lowest plus-minus mark of his career for eighth-seeded Anaheim, vindication is what the Ducks captain was looking for. And he got it. Niedermayer was like a man possessed against No. 1 seed San Jose, playing 25-plus minutes a game, netting five points and controlling the play from the wing during power plays.
2. Michael Ryder, RW, Boston
Another former teammate coming back to haunt the house he once lived in; this time after basically being run out of town by the fans. Ryder was booed mercilessly for a perceived lack of effort in Montreal during the 2007-08 season and left town with his stick between his legs. But in Boston, Ryder returned to form with 27 goals, 53 points and a plus-28 rating. Then in Round 1 versus the Habs: four goals, a team-leading seven points and a plus-5 mark. Ah, sweet, sweet revenge. See ya next year, mes amis.
1. Chris Osgood, G, Detroit
Osgood had a horrendous regular season; poor enough to earn THN’s anti-Vezina Trophy in our upcoming annual awards issue of the magazine. A 26-9-8 regular season record is impressive, but was also indicative of the team he plays for, not Osgood’s individual play. His 3.09 goals-against average was 41st of the 47 NHL goalies who played at least 25 games and his .887 save percentage was even worse at No. 45.
Heading into Round 1 versus Columbus, the questions surrounding Detroit’s ability to advance really only surrounded Osgood’s ability to stop pucks. Which is all he did. Osgood silenced his critics during the Wings’ impressive sweep of the Blue Jackets, stopping 103 of 110 shots faced and recording a 1.75 GAA, even though five pucks got past him in Game 4. We’ll see what happens versus Anaheim.
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