Sun Jun 13 02:51pm EDT
There was a moment in the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the drama was so intense and the results were so unpredictable that it was being touted as the greatest opening round in the history of the 16-team NHL postseason.
When that's your starting point, it hard to finish just as high ... yet the NHL nearly pulled it off.
With Alex Ovechkin(notes) and Sidney Crosby(notes) and the Detroit Red Wings on the sidelines, the Stanley Cup Finals weren't guaranteed to be a ratings blockbuster. But the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers combined to an entertaining finale with ridiculous local ratings in the U.S. that resulted in Game 6 being the highest-rated NHL game in 36 years.
So the playoffs ruled for a lot of reasons. We've narrowed it down to 10 for your Michael Bay/MTV/attention-deficit brains to comprehend more easily. (And yes, coming up later: 10 things that sucked about the playoffs.)
Here are 10 things that ruled about the 2010 postseason, in no particular order:
1. The Finals Matchup
As we said at the top, there was no telling if Chicago vs. Philly would be anything more than two sports cities with decades-long Cup droughts facing off. Some were predicting a short, painless series win for the Blackhawks, with the Flyers as a No. 7 seed from the East.
Instead, it was an intense series of 1-goal (for the most part) games that never lacked for action, intensity or storylines. And, in the end, seeing the rebirth of hockey passion in Chicago was a defining moment for the NHL this season.
We've said it for years, and the NHL is finally catching on: You need heroes and villains for effective drama, and these two defensemen played the parts to perfection.
Pronger wore the black hat like a second scalp in the finals, from his sparring with the media to occasional trash talking to his "stealing" of the game pucks in Games 1 and 2 in Chicago, which offered a good distraction for his team after consecutive losses.
On the ice, Pronger was playing around 30 minutes a night and dominating Chicago's top line to the point where it was broken up. Which, ironically, might have been the best thing to happen for the Blackhawks.
Keith was also a defensive stalwart for Chicago throughout
the playoffs, finishing second to Pronger in postseason scoring for D-men. But
he became a folk hero in Game 4 of the
Eastern Western Conference Finals
when a Patrick Marleau(notes) shot hit
him in the mug and knocked out seven teeth -- including one he coughed up.
In Game 6 against the Washington Capitals, Halak's 53-save performance was the defining moment of The Client's stellar postseason run that ended in the Eastern Conference Final. It earned him comparisons to Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy; which would be hyperbolic, had this not been Montreal we're talking about here. Overall, an incredible underdog run from the Habs.
4. Ridiculously Awesome Beards
By the time the Blackhawks and the Flyers battled in the Finals, their playoff face foliage was epic. From Ville Leino(notes) leading with his chin to Scott Hartnell(notes) co-piloting the Millennium Falcon, it was a strong postseason for the playoff beard.
5. The San Jose Sharks Don't Choke
The warm comedic blanket that was a good SharksFail joke was ripped from our beds when San Jose overcame a No. 8-seed challenge from the Colorado Avalanche and then put away the Detroit Red Wings in five games to advance to the conference finals where they were beaten by the Blackhawks, who were simply the better team. For at last one postseason, the Sharks were chokers no more.
6. Throw the Snake
7. History Will Be Made Ads and Responses
The NHL's simple, nostalgia-laden commercials depicting great moments in Stanley Cup Playoff history served as the launching point for some of the greatest spoofs in recent memory, which seemed to get more creative as the NHL's official Web site attempted to bang the meme into the ground produced (the Kevin Bieksa(notes) History Will Be Made might have been the topper). No one safe ... not even Pierre McGuire:
It ended up prolonging the inevitable, but Franzen's incredibly dominant 6-point night was one for the ages as a Detroit Red Wing, in the team's 7-1 Game 4 win over the Sharks. He scored a natural hat trick in 3:26 and nearly set a new playoff record with a fourth goal that was later given to Todd Bertuzzi(notes).
9. The Flyers' Historic Rally Over Bruins
For the first time since 1975, a team rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to win a playoff series. Classic comeback for the Flyers or classic choke for the Bruins? Either way, it was a stunning moment in hockey history and one that eventually propelled sudden hero Michael Leighton(notes) and the Flyers into an unlikely Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
As we just mentioned, the series turned up rotten for the Bruins; but this moment for Marc Savard in Game 1 of the conference semifinals was an emotional apex in the playoffs, as he played his first game since getting concussed on March 7 and scored the game-winning OT goal. The celebration still offers chills.