Five things we learned from Thursday

May, 7, 2010

1. Johan Franzen's franchise-record six points in a playoff game Thursday night added to his growing reputation for being clutch come spring time. The 30-year-old Swede now has 35 goals and 68 points in 74 playoff games -- all since the 2004-05 lockout. This guy just plain loves playoff hockey. Detroit coach Mike Babcock got him going Thursday by taking him off Pavel Datsyuk's line and putting him with Henrik Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi. All the line did was combine for 13 points in the 7-1 rout over San Jose. Now that's coaching.

2. Hard to believe, but Sidney Crosby might be Alex Ovechkin's greatest ally right now. Confused? The Montreal Canadiens once again shut down the Penguins captain Thursday, evening their series at two games apiece. The longer that trend continues, the less heat, perhaps, Ovechkin will face in the offseason for his struggles against Montreal in the first round. And just imagine, for a second, if the Cinderella Habs pull off back-to-back upsets? If the rival Pens also go down to the same underdog Canadiens, the Caps' first-round stunner suddenly gets easier to digest if you're a Washington fan.

3. Nicklas Lidstrom had another outstanding game Thursday night, and by now, we're convinced of this: If he decides to retire, which we doubt, it's not because he doesn't believe he can play at a high level anymore; it would be because he's had enough. He remains an elite defenseman in this league, capable of playing another two or three seasons despite his 40 years of age. Wings GM Ken Holland was telling us before Game 4 on Thursday that Lidstrom was superb over the last 30 games of the season and one of the big reasons the Wings got into the playoffs. Lidstrom is an unrestricted free agent July 1. If he returns, he'll have to take less than the $7.4 million salary he's making this season. But how much less?

4. There are many Bruins fans who owe an apology to GM Peter Chiarelli. We bring you back to the March 3 trade deadline, and some of our message boards were filled with angry B's fans who were incensed Chiarelli didn't pick up a top-six forward for the team's 30th-ranked offense. They were also riled up before the Olympics, when he bailed out of trade talks with the Atlanta Thrashers because the price for Ilya Kovalchuk got too steep.

Well, well. The Bruins can reach the conference finals Friday night with a Game 4 win over Philadelphia, and we wonder how many of those fans now feel bad for their rants against the GM. Turns out he may have known what he was doing. Let's put it this way: How do you think the New Jersey Devils feel for giving away four assets in exchange for five playoff games from Kovalchuk, who will leave July 1 via free agency? Chiarelli has had a banner year, and his Phil Kessel deal with Toronto in September is looking better by the day (hello, Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin!), while the Bruins are showing last season's first-place finish in the East wasn't a fluke after all. Let's give the GM some credit.

5. It's interesting to see NHL players and NHL writers agree on the same three players having great regular seasons: Henrik Sedin, Crosby and Ovechkin. The NHL Players' Association announced the finalists for the Ted Lindsay Award on Wednesday (formerly Lester B. Pearson Award), presented annually to the most outstanding player as voted on by the member players around the league. Now, technically, that's a different criterion than the Hart Trophy, which is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and asks which players were Most Valuable Player to their teams. What's also interesting is goalies Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov were shut out by both voting groups.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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