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Bridgeport done; NHL playoffs just getting good

In the end the giants from Hershey had little trouble downing Bridgeport in five games, with an absurdly convincing 4-1 Game 5 win last night. The Sound Tigers still haven't won a playoff series since 2003 (which, of course is 10 years more recent than their parent club's last happy post-series handshake).

A nice summation of the series from Michael Fornabaio:

Bridgeport probably should have won Game 1, could have won Game 2, and the Sound Tigers head home with a chance to shock the league anyway, but they blow up in the second period of Game 3, then come back against a non-desperate team to win Game 4, and then… What was this?

Still, a few nice signs from the quite undermanned baby Islanders this year -- not the least of which was providing the gift of Andrew MacDonald to the big club, while sending a seemingly endless stream of blueline injury fill-ins. Last night, next season's featured goalie Mikko Koskinen gave up four, but ... um ... his team was outshot 34-7. That is not a typo.

Elsewhere, future Sound Tiger Travis Hamonic's team is also against the wall, with Brandon having dropped Game 4 at home to Calgary to fall behind 3-1 in the WHL series.

NHL Playoffs: We Know Drama

And in the big leagues, the NHL playoffs continued to deliver: Castoff and late-season signing Miroslav Satan is the hero, scoring the double-OT winner in Boston -- on a powerplay, for too many men (paging Don Cherry!) -- as the Sabres continue to be snakebit. Ryan Miller made multiple unbelievable saves yet took the tough 3-2 loss. In Los Angeles, Roberto Luongo won but hardly was dominant, while Henrik Sedin -- previously held in choke check by Michal Handzus -- supplied the breakthrough goal. In Montreal, Washington maintained control of the series but young Carey Price made a bit of an ass of himself.

This is why I love playoff hockey (not for the Price bit): Everything is condensed. The intensity is compressed. The see-saw narrative changes nightly: One night there are goats and chokers in Chicago and San Jose, the next night heroes destined for success. The bandwagon is full one night, the next the ravine is full of those who jumped off the bridge.

A couple of us were bantering back and forth about what ails the Sharks -- not for this series necessarily (they've mostly been dominant) but for their playoff fortunes overall. A sense that something has been missing, but what is it? And is it the same reason every year, or are there different causes, with different variables?

[Update: Check out this interesting post at Battle of California going into Marleau's historic playoff performance.] For three seasons from 2002-2006 Patrick Marleau was essentially a point-per-game player in the playoffs. For the last four he's been about a half-point per game. The difference in such brief samples is slim -- if it's three weeks in January, it's nothing -- and yet the playoffs make it gargantuan. Certainly more so for your captain (which is why he holds that title no more).

And the playoffs' intensity and small samples fuel these debates. Martin Brodeur is Cup-winning playoff legend, yet he's known his share of big-time failures throughout his career -- including the seasons immediately before and immediately after his first Cup. Luongo still carries a playoff question mark -- yet is it based on reality, or on limited opportunity? Meanwhile on the other end of the Luongo narrative spectrum, he is credited with "finally winning the big one" with that gold medal this year in Vancouver, yet in the meaningful Olympic games he was ordinary (heh, as was Brodeur), and in crunch time he coughed up the fat rebound that allowed Zach Parise to send the gold medal game to OT.

Of course, if Buffalo scores first last night, then Miro is the guy who couldn't convert his golden single-OT chance past Miller. And Henrik Sedin -- is he the guy who put up a point a game last postseason, or the guy who was minus-8 with 4 points in 12 games the postseason before?

You may have guessed: I'm suspicious of the legend of the playoff performer. I believe it exists, and I know there are rare breeds who consistently performed on the big stage, but I don't trust our ability to identify them reliably, particularly when one hat trick and one four-point night can change everything. There are John Druce's buried in the weeds, and there are Dino Ciccarelli's staring at us with 608 regular season goals, 73 playoff goals, but no Cup to secure automatic entrance into the club.

... And that's just one reason I love the playoffs. Because every night there is fuel for these kinds of unresolvable debates. Every game rewrites the story. Every series turns heroes into scapegoats (Hi Dan Boyle) and back again.

Yeah, when the Islanders make it back, I'm gonna be a mess.