The San Jose Sharks have been considered a perennial Stanley Cup contender for four years but whenever they reach the postseason they seem to lose their regular-season mojo. They entered the 2009 playoffs with one of the top goaltenders in Evgeni Nabokov, a deep defense corps and six 20-goal scorers led by Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. They had the best home record in the league and were among the leaders in nearly every category. But they're down early in the series with the Anaheim Ducks, giving critics ammunition to berate them as choke artists. Why a club so deep in talent comes up short in the playoffs so often remains a mystery. -- Spector
Slogging it out
The NHL's conference quarterfinals are a week old but already they've produced plenty of interesting storylines. Here's a look at the eight most interesting stories thus far. If there is one conference quarterfinal that could go the full seven games it's the New Jersey Devils-Carolina Hurricanes matchup. Apart from the Devils' first-game blowout this series has been an entertaining, hard-fought struggle between equals. The Hurricanes and Devils split overtime victories and then the Hurricanes tied the series with a Game Four buzzer-beater by Jussi Jokinen after blowing a three-goal lead. It wouldn't be surprising if this series goes the distance with each game being decided by one goal. This could be the most grueling matchup of the opening round.
Ozzie bounces back
One of the biggest postseason questions facing the Detroit Red Wings concerned the goaltending of Chris Osgood. After helping the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup last season, Osgood's goals-against and save percentage ranked near the bottom of the league this season. But "Ozzie" has shrugged off the criticism and returned to postseason form against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has been outstanding, giving up only two goals over three games for a miniscule 0.67 goals-against and a .974 save percentage, and is one of the reasons the Wings have the Blue Jackets on the brink of elimination.
Bulin Wall rebuilt
Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was considered washed-up, so much so management tried unsuccessfully last fall to waive him. Khabibulin turned it around and helped lead the Blackhawks to their first playoff berth since 2002, regaining the form that helped carry the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup. His 30-save performance in Game Two vs. the Calgary Flames made him the game's third star. More importantly, Khabibulin's performance has bolstered the confidence of his teammates. Not bad for a goaltender nobody wanted last September.
Flyers and Penguins bring the hate
Nearly every series has seen elevated levels of intensity but none has matched the Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, who have picked up where they left off in last spring's Eastern Conference final. The Flyers led all teams in playoff penalty minutes heading into Game Four with 85 and the Penguins -- who've been the better disciplined of the two -- were eighth with 51. Each has three major penalties already. Forget about the long-time rivalry between Boston and Montreal or the Battle of California between San Jose and Anaheim, because this is the series throwing off the most heat thus far.
Goalie controversy in Washington?
Jose Theodore surrendered four goals on 21 shots in the opener with the New York Rangers, so Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau turned to Simeon Varlomov. The rookie has responded with 56 saves on 57 shots, including a crucial 4-0 shutout victory in Game Three. As long as Varlomov keeps playing well he'll keep getting the starts but that can't be sitting well with Theodore, who won 33 games this season. Theodore will be a good teammate and won't grouse. But the longer he rides the pine the more his future in Washington will be questioned.
The Boston Bruins are one of the deepest playoff teams but it's been gritty forward Milan Lucic who has stood out thus far, mainly for his ability to drive the Canadiens to distraction. His aggressiveness earned a one-game suspension for cross-checking Maxim Lapierre in the face in Game Two. Lucic however is far more than just a pest or an enforcer, combining a very effective physical game with the ability to contribute offensively. His smash-mouth style of play has endeared him to Bruins fans, who consider the 20-year-old a poor-man's version of beloved former Bruins forward Cam Neely. If Lucic can find balance in his overall game he could become a notable power forward in his own right.
The Sedin machine
Daniel and Henrik Sedin have led the Vancouver Canucks in scoring for the past three seasons yet their critics -- many of them Canucks fans -- regularly deride them for lacking heart in the postseason. This spring however the twins rose to the occasion to lead the Canucks to an opening-round sweep of the St. Louis Blues. Daniel is Vancouver's leading scorer with two goals and five points, and Henrik has added a goal and four points. The twins were held off the scoresheet in Game Four but were a threat to score every time they entered the Blues zone. Not only are the Sedins leading their team offensively but they've played well defensively, particularly on the back check. The Sedins appear to have elevated their postseason game.