Top Suprises of the NHL Playoffs

Is it just me, or are the NHL playoffs taking an excruciatingly long time to finish?

Don't get me wrong, the playoffs have been enjoyable, but to me, there has always been something about watching hockey as summer is fast approaching.

Three of the four second round series look to be destined for Game 7 and you just get the feeling that the rest of the playoffs series are going to be similar.

Though the playoffs may be taking a long time, there is little doubt that they have been filled with drama, excitement, and a few surprises along the way. We have seen Game 7s, wars of words, and of course, Sean Avery's shenanigans. Today, however, I'd like to focus on some of the more surprising things we have witnessed in the playoffs. Whether it be young players making a name for themselves or Game 7s, there have been a lot of things surprising about the playoffs so far. Here is a look at some of them:

Carolina's Success

Currently up 3-2 on the No. 1-seeded Boston Bruins, the Hurricanes look poised to advance to the Conference Finals. The Carolina Hurricanes didn't exactly breeze through the first round. The Hurricanes faced Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the playoffs and barely escaped with the win. In fact, the team rode a last-second goal in Game 4 to win the game and scored two goals in the dying minutes of Game 7 to advance to the second round.

While their first round series against the Devils was close, the Hurricanes have quite easily handed a talented Bruins squad. The Hurricanes' only loss was a 4-1 defeat in Game 1 and they have since won games with scores of 3-0, 3-2 (overtime), and 4-1.

Keep in mind that the Hurricanes are a team that hasn't made the playoffs the last two seasons since they captured the Stanley Cup. In these playoffs, however, they are looking reminiscent of their team in '06. Eric Staal has led the offense with 12 points and Jussi Jokinen has scored 10 points, but has more importantly scored some timely goals.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Carolina's success has been the resurgence of Cam Ward. Ward has regained his dominant form, leading all goalies in goals against average and he is also second in save percentage. For a team that didn't exactly breeze into the playoffs and wasn't even expected to beat the Devils in the first round, the Hurricanes have already proved once again that anything is possible in the playoffs.

No-Name Players Overachieving

The NHL playoffs always seem to bring out the best in some players, especially players who didn't do a lot in the regular season. It is a new start, a new season, a chance for redemption in a series of meaningful games. This has been the case for many players. Of course there is Simeon Varlamov, who been incredible for the Capitals after only playing six games in the regular season. On the offensive side, there's David Bolland, who has 9 points in the playoffs after an average regular season.

Another no-name player, Chad Larose, has 8 points in the playoffs. Defenseman Tom Poti has 7 points for Washington after only scoring 13 points during the regular season. Other-no name players who have performed admirably in the playoffs are Alexander Edler, Cameron Barker, and Dustin Byfuglien.

Big-Name Players Underachieving

While no-name players have been underachieving, we have seen prime time players letting their teams down. Joe Thornton only managed to net 1 goal for the Sharks in their first round defeat against the Ducks, same as Jarome Iginla for the Calgary Flames. Columbus Star Rick Nash only managed 3 points in the first round as his Blue Jackets were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. Even Pavel Datsyuk only has 3 points for the Red Wings. It is hard for teams to rally around each other when there big-time players aren't getting the job done themselves.

Playoff Drama

The NHL playoffs have been full of drama. The first round saw two Game 7s and a number of games decided in the final minute or in overtime. Currently three of the four second round matchups are close. Not only have the games been close, but the matchups have also been perfect.

The Detroit/Anaheim series offers a chance to see the last two Stanley Cup champions compete, the Vancouver/Chicago series pits one of the most talented young teams against one of the best goaltenders in the league, and of course the Washington/Pittsburgh series showcases the league's best young talents and the rivalry between Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Heck, even the Caronlina/Boston is a matchup between a Cinderella team and a dominant force. Needless to say, it has been surprising how all of the matchups have seemed to fall in to place.

San Jose's Struggles

Okay, so it may not be the biggest surprise in the world that the Sharks suffered yet another playoff disappointment, but you had to think they would get it right some time. Sure, the Anaheim Ducks are built for the playoffs, but that is no excuse for the Sharks. They were once again the best team in the regular season, yet they once again failed to translate that into the postseason. San Jose got poor goaltending, as Evgeni Nabokov was outplayed by Jonas Hiller. Throw in some lackluster defense and inconsistent offense and you have another San Jose early exit from the playoffs.

While I wouldn't go as far to say that San Jose is cursed in the playoffs, something has to give. The team has changed their coaching personnel, added new players, but still find themselves in the same situation year in and year out.

Simeon Varlamov

Simeon Varlamov may be the best thing to happen to the Washington Capitals since Alexander Ovechkin. Varlamov, who only played in six games this season, has been the starting goaltender in Washington during the playoffs ever since Game 1 when he replaced Jose Theodore. Varlamov helped the Capitals battle back in the first round against the Rangers with two shutouts. With such a potent offense, all Washington really needs is a solid goaltender who isn't going to let in easy goals, and they seem to have found that in Simeon Varlamov. While Washington is currently down 3-2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, you get the feeling they may not have even been there if it wasn't for Simeon Varlamov.

Jonathan Hamelin contributes articles on the NBA, NFL and NHL. Being an avid fan of the Canadian Football League, Jonathan writes two columns on the CFL, Rider Report Card and CFL Buzz.

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