As the march to the Stanley Cup approaches the halfway point, there are a lot of surprises and a lot of feel good stories to go around this spring. For every team and city, there has been something uplifting to note.
In the East, Montreal was all but discarded from the playoffs but, despite Tuesday's loss to Pittsburgh, is very much in the hunt in this series.
Habs fans have to delight in the emergence of Jaroslav Halak as big time competitor. Brilliant against Washington, he has continued to give fans hope with stellar play against Pittsburgh. And what of Josh Gorges and PK Subban? Great examples of what players can do when faced with big pressure moments.
In Philadelphia - a Marian Gaborik shootout goal away from elimination (yes, I know he didn't shoot, but that's my point) - Brian Boucher has captured a long-ago-lost proficiency and given Flyer fans reason to believe. Mike Richards has shrugged off a so-so season to demonstrate how a will to win can compensate for a lack of size and strength.
And in Boston, where fans had all but abandoned hope for any kind of playoff run only a month ago, it's "Tuukka Time." The Finnish goaltender is remarkably composed but equally agile when he needs to be. And Marc Savard. Now there's a reason to smile if you are a Bruins fan. Shrugging off a month on Mars, Savard comes back to score the overtime winner in his first game back against the Flyers.
As for Pittsburgh fans, you don't need any additional reasons to smile. You have Crosby and Malkin for the long run. And Fleury. And Staal. And Letang ... and ... and.
In the Western Conference, San Jose has pinned Detroit to the mat and all that remains is if they can hold them down for the count. Out of nowhere, Joe Pavelski arrives in a critical spring run for the Sharks to take the heat off the big three. And then Big Joe plays brilliantly in demonstrating Game 3 heroics and combines with his fellow scapegoat, Patrick Marleau, to ground the Wings in overtime. Yikes. Could it be? Is this the year?
Not so fast, though. They are grinning in Vancouver. Why shouldn't they be? Roberto Luongo seems to have a rhythm that eluded him earlier in the year. Henrik and Daniel have a triplet in Mikael Samuelsson who has helped elevate the entire line's big game presence. Maturity and speed along with balanced offensive and why shouldn't Canuck fans be scouting for a spot on the parade route?
Chicago has to be happy just to be on the way to Game 3 in Vancouver all tied up. The Canucks almost blew them out of the building in the early stages of Game 2 but the Hawks took off their straightjackets at the Madhouse on Madison in the third period and howled their way to a win. Chuckles all around.
And in Detroit, well ... let's see. There has to be something to smile about in Detroit, doesn't there? Actually, no. Not if you're a Wings fan. Wait a minute. Ken Holland looks to be in line for the long haul with a new contract as GM. That's good news because it looks like the Wings are going to need his steady hand if this series doesn't dramatically shift their way. That will have to do, Wings fans.
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