Ryan Miller, National hero for team USA for his heroic performance against Canada en-route to a silver medal. A goaltender who was a favorite for the Vezina Trophy for best goaltending performance in a season.
Sidney Crosby- Canadian superstar, 1st overall pick of the 2005 entry draft. The face of the Penguins franchise.
Alexander Ovechkin- 2004 first overall pick, considered by some to be the NHL's most prolific scorer.
These three players are recognized by hockey fans as some of the best in the game today. Henrik Lundqvist, Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, and Martin Brodeur are also seen as elite NHL superstars. Knowing this, one who was clueless about hockey would assume that one of these players would be represented in the Stanley Cup Finals, but they would have assumed wrong.
Among the players still playing in the finals, include a waiver claim who we all know well here in Caniac nation, Michael Leighton. Leighton was drafted in the 6th round of the 1999 entry draft, going 165th overall. The ex-Hurricane came in to the playoffs in relief of the injured Brian Boucher, and led the flyers to a series victory over the red hot Montreal Canadiens. For the Western Conference, the Chicago Blackhawks long ago put their season hopes into Finnish goalie, Antti Niemi's hands. Niemi was a free agent pick up in 2008 for the Blackhawks. It doesn't stop there. Daniel Carcillo, role player for the Flyers was a late 3rd round pick for the Penguins a few years back. Arron Asham of the Flyers, was also a former 3rd round pick claimed in free agency in 2008.
The point? Even a team loaded with world class talent isn't guaranteed to succeed where it counts: the post-season. Many foresaw an Ovechkin vs. Crosby Eastern Conference final, hockey experts everywhere thought Roberto Luongo's great resume would pave the way to a deep Vancouver playoff run. These assumptions were wrong, and instead, we have a fantastic matchup in which the most publicized player is probably Jonathan Toews, or perhaps Mike Richards.
This is not to say that having star caliber players means nothing, but rather to emphasize that it's not about who you have playing, but rather how they play together. Ilya Kovalchuk, acquired in the much publicized trade from Atlanta, was supposed to be the missing link in New Jersey's quest to return to cup glory, and he wasn't. He has a reputation as a puck hog who likes to create things on his own. Coincidence that this first line winger and his team were eliminated in the quarterfinals? I think not. Marian Gaborik who accounted for nearly 25 percent of the Ranger's goals during the regular season ended up on the outside looking-in of the playoffs this year.
This isn't your typical 21st century professional sports league. This is the National Hockey League. One swing of the stick, no matter who's it is, can ignite a crowd of 20,000, or crush the hopes of a fan base. This is no NBA. Kobe Bryant can single handedly down a team by dropping 60 points, but the Ovechkin's of the league only have so many multiple goal games. This isn't the NFL, where Peyton Manning can force a team to the brink of an offensive gun show by throwing for 400 yards. This is the NHL, where crunch-time, means team time.
When the Stanley Cup is presented, the captains will hoist the cup, and pass it to the rest of the team in time. The team's names are to be inscribed on the side of the cup for eternity. Why? Because star power doesn't count for a darn thing when an undrafted free agent crushes the hearts of a President's Trophy winning team.
This season, and for seasons to come, power to the unexpected! Heroes don't have to be recruited for years, and paid huge contracts. If there's one thing the National Hockey League can teach, it is that in this league, it's about chemistry above all else.
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