What makes the playoffs so great is how deep the storylines run and the types of players that come to the fore when it’s needed most on the biggest stage.
The San Jose Sharks, on the brink of yet another early elimination, jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the Anaheim Ducks with 20 minutes to go, but nerves were rattled when the Ducks came back to tie it.
The Ducks’ top line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan has been the best unit in this series so far and a large reason why Anaheim surged to such a commanding series lead. In a year dominated by youth, the fact this trio of 20-somethings can hold their own against an experience-laden team like San Jose shows just how important fresh exuberance is in the high-flying post-season.
Even though the Sharks got their win thanks to Jonathan Cheechoo’s inspiring play and Joe Thornton’s timely attack of the net, the Ducks still have everything going for them heading back to Anaheim for Game 6.
You can’t win with a one-line team and the Ducks have had some key shifts from a few players who had at one point in time flown under everyone’s radar.
In net, Jonas Hiller prevented this game from turning into a real blowout and giving San Jose some true confidence going forward. At 27, Hiller isn’t your prototypical young NHLer, but he’s only two years removed from being the starting goaltender for Davos in Switzerland and was signed as a free agent by Anaheim in 2007 after never being drafted. Hiller posted two shutouts in his first four playoff games and despite losing Game 5 has to feel strength in his own ability to take this team past a Sharks squad that sometimes seems to be squeezing the stick too tight.
The other two players Anaheim can be pleased about are Andrew Ebbett and Ryan Carter, two other undrafted free agent signees by former GM Brian Burke.
Playing with Teemu Selanne, Ebbett and Carter were the real impact players for Anaheim on that line. It was that duo that got the Ducks’ motor running by initially getting them on the board and then continuing strong two-way play and creating chances off the rush that almost ended the Sharks’ season a couple of times.
Coming out of the trade deadline the Ducks were being counted out for losing too much sandpaper and playoff difference-makers; the third-liners who don’t win a series, but win the games that win the series.
But with Ebbett and Carter playing as they are – along with Todd Marchant and Rob Niedermayer playing their patented wear-‘em-out, shut-‘em-down role – and Hiller acting as the best first-round goalie still playing games, the Ducks can go home with momentum still in their favour.
In Chicago the youth storyline continued, though it wasn’t by the headliners we’ve become accustomed to.
Instead of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane being the real moneymakers in this matchup, we had the defensemen stepping up.
So much is said about Duncan Keith being underrated, but nothing is said about his partner, who, because of his situation playing along with such an unheralded star, is himself an enigma. Brent Seabrook – a formidable defender and offense-igniter – scored the first goal of the game and assisted on two more – including Andrew Ladd’s back-breaker – to really make his presence felt in a statement game.
Along with Cam Barker and the aforementioned Keith, Chicago’s defense is stifling and it’s scary to think what this corps can become in the future.
The young Hawks look more and more like an actual playoff team, no matter what the history of underaged contenders tells you. They still have to show they can win on the road, so a series-clinching victory in Calgary would be a great block to build from, but for this Hawks team to come back home after losing twice in a row and put up such a decisive score is a testament to how big-game they can be.
Even though one lost and the other won, the Ducks and Hawks both showed why they should be considered less as mostly-green underdogs and more as intriguing dark horse contenders.
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