2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: What We’ve Learned

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Considering the endless stream of zany happenings, it’s hard to believe the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs only began on April 11. In that time we’ve seen upsets, the rise of easily dismissed goalies and a whole lot of controversy.

Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned.

The mighty have fallen

The Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks are already out of the playoffs. The Boston Bruins face a Game 7, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves one loss away from an early vacation and the New York Rangers might fall to the biggest playoff surprise of them all in the Ottawa Senators.

There’s a legitimate possibility that the Florida Panthers could be the East’s top seed by the second round. (Yes, seriously.)

A summer of upsets/defense reigns

As I’ve mentioned before, the uncomfortable thing about rooting for most NHL “underdogs” is that you’re often also cheering for tight checking and stifling hockey — at least in some form. It’s easy to root for Nashville over Detroit and Phoenix against Chicago for the “David vs. Goliath” angle, but in those cases, David is slinging Ambien instead of rocks at his foe.

Everyone looks silly

Obstruction worries aside, it’s fascinating to watch all the “bracket busting” in 2012 after the 2011 postseason essentially followed the script. Almost every night, hockey writers and fans watch well-reasoned predictions shrivel up in dramatic fashion.

That said, it’s all good fun if…you don’t take yourself too seriously.

source: Getty ImagesReputation alone won’t stop pucks

Some of the biggest goaltending storylines from the last 11 days:

  • Craig “cut himself making chicken” Anderson is having a better series than Henrik Lundqvist. Just let that marinate for a second.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury had one of the poorest playoff runs in recent memory and was worse than Ilya Bryzgalov.
  • Braden Holtby — Washington’s third goalie at one point — might outduel Tim Thomas.
  • Roberto Luongo played in fewer playoff games than Cory Schneider.
  • The St. Louis Blues lost their starter (Jaroslav Halak) to injury, which opened up a chance for their All-Star backup Brian Elliott.

The Wheel of Justice turns

Aside from some wacky Phoenix Coyotes fans, most people probably believed Raffi Torres deserved a lengthy suspension for his hit on Marian Hossa. That said, you can’t blame players for not knowing what exactly is legal or not. Here’s a quick list of some of the most interesting suspension, fines and non-decisions:

That’s a dizzying array of decisions that has many players asking the question: “What, exactly, is illegal in the 2012 playoffs?”

Claude Giroux crowned?

There are plenty of solid candidates for the “breakout star” of the postseason, but Philadelphia Flyers wunderkind Claude Giroux took the most prominent step forward. He scored 14 points in a six-game series and was demonstratively better than Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Couple of resume-stuffers, those.

Lots of overtime

There’s been plenty of “free hockey” in the 2012 playoffs — 13 overtime contests in 42 games. That’s about 30 percent of the playoff games going to sudden death and more than one per night on average. In other words, if you committed to watching postseason contests during any given evening, you had a great chance of witnessing a game that would be tough on Joel Quenneville’s ticker.

No obvious favorite

Just about everyone’s rubber stamp choice for the Stanley Cup is either a) already out of the playoffs or b) fighting for their playoff lives. It all comes back to this, then: have we learned anything about who the real favorite is now?

Vasilevskiy shines again as Lightning take top spot in NHL

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Tuesday’s game in St. Louis was a showdown featuring the top two teams in the NHL.

In the end it was the Lightning picking up the 3-0 win to extend their current winning streak to five games and to reclaim sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the NHL.

Their win improves them to 22-6-2 on the season and puts them two points ahead of the Blues despite having played two fewer games.

It was another impressive showing for Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy who has been one of the underrated stars of this year’s Lightning team. Most of the attention has been directed to forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (and deservedly so!) but let’s not lose sight of the fact that Vasilevskiy, in his first full season as the Lighting’s full-time starter, has been one of the best goalies in the league so far.

Tuesday’s game was his third shutout of the season, and after his 32-save performance against the Blues his .933 save percentage is among the best in the NHL, while his 20 wins (in only 25 starts) are tops in the league. Nobody else in the league has more than 17.

While Vasilevskiy was shining in net again, Kucherov scored his 21st goal of the season to move back into a tie with Alex Ovechkin for the top spot in the league. It was also his 42nd point which moved him into a tie with Stamkos for the league lead.

Brayden Point also continued his breakout season by opening the scoring with his 13th goal of the season. He also added an assist on Tyler Johnson‘s third period goal.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

John Tortorella had no time for questions after blowout loss (Video)

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Since being hired by the Columbus Blue Jackets John Tortorella has seemed to be a kinder, gentler coach.

The blow ups and battles with the media don’t seem to happen as much. We don’t get as many rants.

He just does not seem as angry all the time.

Losing 7-2 at home to the Edmonton Oilers, however, might change a few things.

That it was happened to the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night and Tortorella was in no mood to answer question about the game.

His press conference consisted of him stepping to the podium, saying there is no point in answering questions about the game, then leaving.

Here it is in all of its glory.

The only question we have: Is this shorter than the night he said the New York Rangers “sucked from head to toe?”

(Oddly enough, that game was also against the Edmonton Oilers).

That press conference lasted, roughly, 14 seconds from the time he started talking until the time he walked away (and also included the line “I know you have a job to do”).

Tonight’s comes in at just around 12 seconds. So we might have a record for the shortest John Tortorella press conference of all time.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Former NHL defenseman Zarley Zalapski dies at 49

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) Former NHL defenseman Zarley Zalapski has died at age 49, according to the Calgary Flames. No cause of death was given.

Zalapski, a native of Edmonton, played 637 NHL games for Calgary, Pittsburgh, Hartford, Montreal and Philadelphia from 1987 to 2000.

He was with the Flames from 1993 to 1998.

“We are proud that Zarley wore the Flames jersey, made Calgary his home following his playing career, represented our alumni executive and we will always remember him as a member of the Flames family,” Flames president and chief executive officer Ken King said Tuesday in a statement.

“This is a terrible loss of a man with great character who truly loved the game of hockey. We express our sincere condolences to the Zalapski family.”

Zalapski was a member of the Canadian team that finished fourth in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

He had 99 goals, 285 assists and 684 penalty minutes in the NHL. Zalapski was named to the all-rookie team in 1989 and participated in the NHL All-Star Game in 1993.

Zalapski played stints in Austria and Switzerland after his NHL career and appeared in 11 games for the United Hockey League’s Kalamazoo Wings in 2004-05.

He was the fourth overall pick by the Penguins in the 1986 entry draft.

Taylor Hall puts on a show as Devils end Kings’ winning streak

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The New Jersey Devils put an end to the Los Angeles Kings’ eight-game winning streak on Tuesday night with a rather convincing 5-1 win.

The Devils dominated in pretty much every aspect of the game, limiting the Kings to just 17 shots on goal and scoring five goals against a team that had not allowed more than two goals (and never more than three) during its winning streak.

The star of the game for the Devils was most certainly forward Taylor Hall.

Hall continued what could be a career year with a pair of goals, including this highlight reel play in the second period that saw him force a turnover, split through the Kings’ defense (including Drew Doughty!), then beat Jonathan Quick with a backhander.

With that performance on Tuesday Hall is now up to 11 goals and 31 total points on the season.

His first year with the Devils wasn’t quite what he or the team wanted, but he has bounced back in a big way this season. His performance, along with the development of young players Nico Hischier, Will Butcher, and Jesper Bratt have the Devils back on track to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.