Even the National Hockey League couldn't have envisioned the type of heart-pounding action and stunning finishes it has received throughout these Stanley Cup playoffs.
From Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin's monumental clash to several game-changing saves, along with an abundance of Game 7s, this post-season will go down as one of the most memorable the league has seen in years.
With the curtain about to fall on another Stanley Cup year, here are 10 eye-popping moments hockey fans won't soon forget.
The dream playoff matchup between Penguins star Sidney Crosby and Capitals sensation Alex Ovechkin more than lived up to the immense hype. The two marquee players put on a dazzling scoring display that was highlighted by Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal in Washington. Fans were treated to Ovechkin's first career playoff hat trick that lifting the Capitals to a 4-3 win. Crosby, meanwhile, used some incredible hand-eye co-ordination in the final minute for his third goal of the game. It was only the fourth time in NHL history that two opposing players netted hat tricks in the same playoff game.
Game 7 bonanzas
There is no doubt NHL officials were elated with the outcome of the conference semifinals, a round in which three of the four series extended to a Game 7. Only the Vancouver-Chicago series, which went six, failed to go the distance. In the West, the No. 8 seeded Anaheim Ducks pushed the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings to the maximum before bowing out after Dan Cleary scored the winner with three minutes remaining in the contest. Top ranked Boston won the East's regular season, but Hurricanes' forward Scott Walker ended any hope of a Cup run in Beantown by burying an overtime goal in Game 7. Over in Washington, the Caps and Pens played six thrilling contests, although the seventh and deciding game proved anticlimactic as Pittsburgh struck early and often en route to a 6-2 victory.
Carolina's improbable comeback
Rarely has there been a comeback in the Stanley Cup playoffs that left fans and players alike stunned at the game's conclusion. Trailing 3-2 to the New Jersey Devils late in the third period during Game 7 of the opening round, the Carolina Hurricanes appeared ready to hit the golf course early. Then, in shocking fashion, the final 80 seconds changed the playoff fate of both teams. First, Jussi Jokinen's one-timer with 1:20 remaining tied the score. Before the Devils could collect themselves, the Hurricanes dealt the final blow when Eric Staal beat goaltender Martin Brodeur with a wrist shot from his off wing. The win sent Carolina to the second round, while the Devils have all summer to digest what took place on their home ice.
The Vancouver Canucks were in good shape to force a Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinal back to GM Place against the Chicago Blackhawks. However, that was before a third-period explosion in Game 6 put a halt to their season. Vancouver scored two of the first three goals in the final period to take a 5-4 edge. The Blackhawks responded in startling fashion, scoring three goals in a 3:17 span to send the United Center crowd into a frenzy. In total, six goals were scored in the last 20 minutes. Chicago forward Patrick Kane collected a hat trick, including a beautiful individual effort in the third. Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo endured the worst game of his career, allowing seven goals on 30 shots.
Osgood comes through
The only question regarding Detroit's chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champions was the questionable play of its goaltender. Criticized throughout the regular season, Chris Osgood's goals-against average (3.09) and save percentage (.887) ranked him out of the top 20 of each category. The playoffs have been an entirely different scene. Osgood has been the most consistent Red Wings performer in the post-season and has saved some of his best efforts for the Stanley Cup final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Osgood stopped 62 of 64 shots in the first two games and also blanked the Penguins in Game 5. Now, with Game 7 set for Detroit Friday night, the goaltender many disregarded prior to the post-season is one of the favourites to skate away with the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Fleury stones Ovie
The scoresheet of Game 7 read Penguins 6, Capitals 2. The outcome may have been very different if not for Marc-Andre Fleury. Before the Penguins forced their will on Washington, Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin had a glorious opportunity to give his team an early 1-0 advantage in the opening three minutes.
Ovechkin grabbed the puck off the side of the boards and raced in alone, but Fleury stoned him with a flashy glove save. The Penguins then took over and the Capitals mounted little resistance to the rest of the way.
Not much was made of the No. 8 seeded Anaheim Ducks and goaltender Jonas Hiller when the post-season began. Yet the Swiss goaltender quickly put to rest any notion of the Ducks being easy prey for the top-ranked San Jose Sharks. Playing in his first career post-season, Hiller shut out the Sharks twice to lead Anaheim to a 4-2 series victory. Detroit would've easily disposed of the Ducks in the second round if not for the play of Hiller. The Wings badly outshot their West rival 294-193, but were only one goal better during the seven-game series due to Hiller's stellar play.
Marc-Andre Fleury can thank defenceman Rob Scuderi for saving him and Pittsburgh's season in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final. Leading 2-1, the Penguins were killing off an Evgeni Malkin penalty at 9:81 of the third. Moments later, Scuderi cleared a loose puck in the crease just before Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom or Jiri Hudler could bang home the rebound. Fleury repaid Scuderi's effort with a crucial stop with less than two minutes remaining, denying Wings forward Dan Cleary on the breakaway. Scuderi again saved Fleury with only 13.2 seconds left. As Detroit players jammed the front of the net and with Fleury out of position, Scuderi jumped into the crease, making two saves with his foot and hand to keep the Wings from sending the game into overtime.
A new sensation
It didn't take long for Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau to realize starting goaltender Jose Theodore wasn't getting the job done. After Game 1's opening-round loss to the Rangers, where Theodore allowed four goals on 21 shots, Boudreau went with little-known Simeon Varlamov. The Russian didn't disappoint, blanking the Rangers twice as Washington came back from a 3-1 series deficit to advance to the second round. While Crosby and Ovechkin received all of the attention in a much-anticipated battle of the stars, Varlamov was nearly as brilliant between the pipes, which featured a highlight reel save in Game 1. During a two-on-one, Crosby was robbed of a sure goal when Varlamov dove back to stop the puck on the goal-line with his stick — making the save was an instant classic.
Another Shark tank
This was the year the San Jose Sharks were expected to exorcise their playoff demons. After advancing to the Western Conference final in 2004, the Sharks have been eliminated in the second round the last three post-seasons. All that was supposed to change this year. San Jose won a franchise record 53 games and completed the regular season with a NHL-best 117 points, setting up a likely run to the Stanley Cup final. Instead, several key players, including Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, were vilified for their lack of playoff production during the Sharks' six-game ousting at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round.