When told of the Penguins’ Game 4 starter, Marc-Andre Fleury disappeared, once again graciously relinquishing the crease to Matt Murray, Pittsburgh’s presently healthy, and always preferred, puck stopper. Having watched a championship run from the end of the bench last year when Murray surfaced from the minor leagues, and then serving as the backup this season while at the same time managing the ever-present threat of a trade proposal – which would have truly tested his team-first mentality – Fleury was called upon after warmups in Game 1 of the first round when the Penguins’ hot, upstart netminder went down with an injury. In that moment, Fleury launched an unlikely Conn Smythe Trophy bid.
The playoff failures of the Washington Capitals rarely come with silver linings anymore, but there was one positive to come out of this year’s postseason as a vocal leader emerged from the within the locker room. No, it wasn’t the captain, Alex Ovechkin, who seems to have more of a “lead by example” type of personality. Instead, it was the soft-spoken, oft overlooked and overshadowed Nicklas Backstrom who took up the mantle. “It's not very often, but when something needs to be said, Nick does a good job standing up and saying it and people listen,” T.J. Oshie said. Plenty needed be said in Washington’s second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. When the Caps lost both Games 1 and 2
A lot of lingering glory stems from postseason success in the NHL, with near-Hall of Fame careers getting kicked up to enshrinement levels, while obvious superstars burnish their legacies with Conn Smythe trophies that seem to count for something extra beyond any and all hardware copped in the regular season. As a result, we often marvel all the further at the Gretzkys, Messiers, Lemieuxs, Roys, Sakics, while losing sight of amazing players who never quite reached those upper shelves of glory—at least not in terms of winning Conn Smythes—but who had inspiring runs of their own. Sittler could explode with the best of them: consider his ten-point game from the winter of 1976.