From heroes and underdogs to even one anti-hero, these are the stories that have made the playoff so much fun so far.
Marc-Andre Fleury’s redemption
It’s been fun to watch Marc-Andre Fleury’s redemption story. He never played his way out of the starting goalie job in Pittsburgh, as he enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2015-16 and got sidelined with a late-season concussion. It was more that Matt Murray was too good to give back the job than it was Fleury conceding the job. He took the demotion like a champ last season and has earned consistent rave reports about his attitude and mentorship toward Murray. So even though it was a shame to see Murray get hurt before Game 1 of the playoffs, it was nice for Fleury to get a shot. He’s been a revelation this post-season, Pittsburgh’s best player and the No. 1 reason the Pens took down Washington. Fleury likely won’t start or even play for the Pens next season, but he’s done a great job showcasing his trade value. The Calgary Flames should get their offer ready. (Matt Larkin)
Erik Karlsson’s heroics
There’s a great clip from the Legends of Hockey series in which Bobby Hull is praising Bobby Orr, recalling the legendary defenseman’s performance at the 1976 Canada Cup. As Hull tells it, Orr, who was near the end of his career due to repeated knee injuries, didn’t practice often but played in the tournament and was “better on one leg than the rest of us on two.” Replace leg with foot and it seems the same has been true of Erik Karlsson throughout this post-season.
Now, it’s not a one-for-one comparison because there is and will only ever be one Bobby Orr, but Karlsson has taken some practices off, been seen walking gingerly in the dressing room and admitted that he’s playing on two hairline fractures in his foot. Yet, despite the injury, Karlsson is arguably the frontrunner for the Conn Smythe Trophy. He’s the top scoring defenseman in the post-season with two goals and 13 points in 13 games — only five players have more points — and he’s been either involved in or on the ice for every single winning goal the Senators have scored this post-season. That includes the Game 1 winner over the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins. It was Karlsson fending off a check from Jake Guentzel off a faceoff and flipping the puck up the boards that started the play that led to the overtime-winning goal by Bobby Ryan. (Jared Clinton)
The Senators Cinderella run
Really, guys, we’re running out of adjectives to describe the Ottawa Senators, amirite? Plucky. Resilient. Opportunistic. Unlikely. (Mind-numbingly boring. Did I say that or just think it?) And the reason for that is the Senators have been a story in these playoffs much, much longer than any of us thought they would be. They’re punching way above their post-season weight and along the way, are making us kind of love them a little. They’ve had every possible obstacle thrown their way, particularly in the real-life side of things, and they continue to come out the other side looking more and more like a decent bunch of guys. Meanwhile, they’re like a serpent hiding in the grass. They just sit there and sit there, patiently waiting for the opportune moment to strike, then with ninja-like stealth, make you really wish you hadn’t made that extra pass. Plus, they’re from Canada, plus they have one of the top-three players in the world in their lineup. What’s not to like about these guys? You get the sense it’s all going to come crashing down at any minute, but we’ve been saying that about these guys since the playoffs began. (Ken Campbell)
Ryan Kesler the pest
I know that “best storyline of the playoffs” conjures up images of heroes and underdogs, but I’m gonna serve one up for the anti-heroes out there. Ryan Kesler has been fantastic for Anaheim in his own depraved way. The Stanley Cup is for the battle-scarred shoguns and the Selke Trophy finalist is giving a crash course in tough hockey to some of the finest forwards in the game, from Johnny Gaudreau and Connor McDavid to Ryan Johansen now. The Nashville center is already apoplectic when the topic of Kesler comes up and that’s exactly what Anaheim should want. You can call Kesler “dirty,” but there are few angels in the playoffs and most of them don’t make it to the finish without getting muddy. So why not acknowledge someone that is doing his best to get his team the glory? (Ryan Kennedy)