NHL Playoffs: In a Star's Downfall, a Hero is Born

ike hCorrespondent IApril 29, 2010

WASHINGTON - APRIL 28: Jaroslav Halak #41 of the Montreal Canadiens reaches to gove a puck against the Washington Capitals  in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 28, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Let's go back to 2004. The NHL was reeling. Hockey, as a spectator sport, had lost all legitimacy. It was the year of the lockout, the most egregious display of greed and mismanagement professional sports has ever seen. But fast forward to the following year. New hope, new teams, new rules, new intrigue. Sidney Crosby, tauted by "the Great One" himself as the future heir to his very own records, is set to debut. Hockey fans, albeit not a very large number of them, were excited. And then lightening was caught in a bottle, and a star fell to Earth.

The previous years' first overall pick who, because of the glitz and glamor surrounding Crosby, had become nothing more than an afterthought, if even that. But Alex Ovechkin would not be denied his due attention. The rookie phenom dominated, and ran away with the Calder Trophy. Since then, no one has dominated like he has, and no one has done more to galvanize and electrify the NHL and the sport of hockey.

In the last two seasons, Ovechkin has turned his Washington Capitals into a legitimate contender. The hype surrounding the playoffs was sky high. But last night the Capitals were dealt a death blow by the eighth seeded Canadiens in what turned out to be a series for the ages.

At first I was distraught, not just because I love Ovechkin, but more because of what I feared it would do to the sport without their poster boy in the hunt for the Cup. But then I realized that's the very thing that is amazing about the NHL playoffs. In the NBA there are rarely upsets. The top seeds routinely trounce the lower ones, and as exciting as the NBA playoffs are, the outcomes are extremely predictable. The NHL playoffs by comparison are predictably unpredictable. All-star's fall and stars are born. Davids slay Goliaths. No name players rise up and make a name. Players catch fire and accomplish inhuman feats.

Montreal, a mediocre team from top to bottom, bested a titan. And almost all the credit can go to their goalie Jaroslav Halak. Halak, who before this series I would have described at best as decent, is the exception that proves the rule; in the NHL playoffs, literally anything can happen.

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Halak, for all intents and purposes, single-handily made it possible for Montreal to survive. He faced wave after wave, onslaught after onslaught of Washington's immense offensive firepower. He was legendary in both volume of saves, and brilliance of saves.

Coming in to the series, no one had the Habs winning, and no one would've guessed Halak would be the impetus for this toppling of a giant. The upset is surprising, but Halak's performance is really what's extraordinary.

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