If Wednesday's Game Seven tilt between the Ovechkin's and the Crosby's wasn't everything people were hoping for, hockey fans got a healthy dose of the good stuff in Thursday's action. Two incredible games that truly exceeded all expectations, and cemented this years playoffs as one of the best in recent memory.
The Hurricanes fought off a driven Bruins team and a sea of rabid fans to take their spot in the Eastern Conference finals, winning 3-2 on an overtime goal by none other than Scotty "One Punch" Walker.
The Detroit Red Wings showed incredible resilience to hold off the Anaheim Ducks 4-3, with the winning goal scored by Dan Cleary with three minutes left in regulation.
Both games showcased teams that were ready from the drop of the puck.
Both games were intensely close battles, seesawing back and forth.
Both games contained the high drama and atmosphere that can only come from two teams that know each other a little too well, fighting for every inch of ice.
There are countless angles from which to view each game, countless turning points and clutch plays that will be written about. But let's focus in on one from each team:
Anaheim: Getzlaf Gets Lost?
There's no question that Ryan Getzlaf has been a top performer these playoffs. However, in Game Seven Getzlaf registered zero points, was in the box for a key Detroit goal by Hudler, and was unable to establish position on Dan Cleary, leading directly to the game-winning tally.
Further, Getzlaf was visibly agitated all game, and his slashing penalty on Franzen showed a complete lack of focus.
This was Game Seven. And Getzlaf was not a leader. Not even close.
The Ducks are in a tough situation moving forward. Niedermeyer could be gone. Pronger has one more year. If leading by example is an important criteria for the Ducks, fans should be prepared for Getzlaf not to be on the captaincy list.
Detroit: The Franchise of Record
What more needs to be said about the Red Wings' ability to draft and develop impact NHL players?
We don't need to talk about the Hudlers, the Franzens and the Samuellsons any more. They've gotten their press.
How about Darren Helm, kicking it into high gear all playoffs? He scored a crucial goal in Game Seven, and has been a spark for the Red Wings when they've needed it.
Jonathan Ericsson stepping in to his first Game Seven in his firs- ever playoffs, and going plus-two. And he's just going to get better.
Justin Abdelkader comes in to the series and immediately contributes offensively, and he's given the team a solid presence in limited minutes. Watch for this kid.
With the development system it has put in place, this franchise is going to be scary good for much longer than many people realize.
Boston: Lucic a Great Compliment
It's not going to be this year (sorry Bruins fans), but the way this kid plays, the way he can take over in any given shift in the game, and heck... Just the way he looks; You know this kid is going to be part of something special. 2010, perhaps?
However, as these playoffs have shown, he's not quite ready to be "The Man". Not yet (and in my opinion, he'll never be).
Marc Savard was the catalyst for the game-tying goal that sent the game to overtime. And when it was for all the marbles, Lucic couldn't elevate his level of play. More importantly, he simply wasn't much of a factor in overtime.
Contrast his game with that of Eric Staal's (who had at least four glorious chances to end it in OT) and it's clear: One of them is ready to carry a team. The other still needs some help.
Luckily for Boston, they've got an incredible core group that will mostly be intact next season. With the likes of Phil Kessel, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and (hopefully) Savard, this team has no shortage of potential game-breakers, all with one more year of playoff experience.
Carolina: Maurice Makes the Inexplicable Happen
Paul Maurice rejoined the Carolina Hurricanes late this year and promptly put them on the path to another incredible, unexpected run deep in to the playoffs (well... Unexpected by most: See my latest "Odds and Ends")
Throughout the playoffs he's been able to make all the right lineup moves, and keep his troops grounded through two of the most turbulent series imaginable.
But when he put Scott Walker on the top line with Eric Staal and Ryan Whitney for the biggest game of the year, even the most die-hard Carolina fans must have been questioning their faith.
Fifteen points in the regular season Scott Walker.
Five points in the playoffs Scott Walker.
The guy known more for his face-breaking than for his game-breaking.
Yes, THAT Scott Walker.
Now he's Scott Walker: Overtime hero. And he might also be the guy who finally exposes Paul Maurice's previous occupation as a Voodoo witch doctor.
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