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Like it or not, ex-Leaf Wellwood among the inspiring playoff performances so far

Many Maple Leaf fans don’t have a particular rooting interest this spring, but some do, I’m sure.

I don’t (I probably would have liked to see the Wings advance), but I’ve still have enjoyed the early rounds of the playoffs.  For me, there have been a few highlights- individual performances that have really stood out.

Tim Thomas

This modern-day Johnny Bower (click to see an earlier post on Johnny) may not be able to take the Bruins all the way, but his unorthodox style hasn’t stymied the Bruins yet.

I don’t think he’s even at his best right now; he’s been even better at times over the years when he is really on a roll.  He has let in some peculiar goals at different points throughout the playoffs but he’s been good enough to be the backbone that has helped the Bruins get this far.

He’s an amazing story, a guy whose career was seemingly over years ago.  And when he faltered as recently as last season, a lot of people, me included, thought the Thomas flirtation in Boston was over and ex-Leaf draftee Rask would be the next young thing in goal for the Bruins.  Not so.  At least not quite yet.

Few comparisons are really accurate, but I can’t help but think of Bower, who was also in his 30s by the time he became entrenched as a number-one NHL goalie.  Thomas has been that good.

Whether someone with his all-over-the-place style can actually take a team like the Bruins to a Cup, I don't know.  I guess we'll see.

Dwayne Roloson

Another guy who seemed destined to be a minor-league guy, at best an NHL career-back-up.  That was until expansion hit again and he went to the Minnesota Wild.  He just kept getting better and better under Jacques Lemaire’s tight defensive system, but hasn’t stopped since leaving the Wild some years ago.  He almost won a Cup for Edmonton in ’06 and perhaps would have, had he not been injured late in the playoffs.

He has been nothing short of sensational in taking the Lightning, on the brink of elimination against the under-manned Penguins, all he way to the Conference finals.

The guy has been chronically under-rated, but yet another trip to the finals (besides the Oilers, he was there with Buffalo in '98 and actually beat the Leafs in Game 1...) could see him finally get the kudos he deserves.

Mark Recchi

The guy is 43 and plays like he is 23 some nights, just smarter.  What a remarkable career he’s had.  Is he a Hall-of-Famer?

I'm starting to lean that way.  I know making the HOF is about more than longevity, but the guy is quality, too.  And he's been a winner with many teams.

Kyle Wellwood

C’mon.  Who forecast this twelve months ago?  The former Leaf with the dazzling moves is now a go-to checking guy with the Sharks—and he can still make plays.  The surprise factor alone makes him a great playoff story.

And now, he gets to play his old team, the Canucks, in the Western Conference final, after apparently saying some less-than-flaterring things about them a few weeks ago.  Bieksa returned the verbal fire just before the series began.

Should be fun to watch as the series shifts back to San Jose.

Chris Pronger

I admit, I have never been a Pronger "guy", but I can’t dispute his obvious value to many different teams over the past several years, especially come playoff time.

His absence from the Flyer line-up was (along with the to-be-expected average playoff goaltending Philly receives pretty much every spring)  as big a reason as any that the Flyers didn’t go further.

Joe Thornton

Now, I write this knowing that big Joe has to go to the finals to completely shed his reputation as a guy who just doesn’t deliver in the playoffs.  And even that may not be enough, fair or not.

He kills penalties, wins draws, is in on big goals.  He is doing just about everything a leader is supposed to do.

If he keeps it up, he could be a Conn Smythe winner, though there is a long way to go before those votes are cast.

Dennis Seidenberg

Chara is the straw the stirs the drink in Boston, but Seidenberg is averaging about 30 minutes a night in the playoffs.  Amazing.  And he’s good, very good, for the most part.  If there was a playoff “All-Star” team, he’d be on mine.  (I know he had a tough night in Game One against Tampa Bay, but the guy has been really good.)  He may be tiring a bit, but I like what the guy is bringing every night.

Nathan Horton

I wondered how, after years of being with the no-playoff Panthers, Horton would respond to playing meaningful NHL hockey in the spring.  He is a guy I loved as a junior and really liked in his early years with Florida.

I seem to have my answer.  He has just gotten stronger and stronger as the playoffs have moved along and has been one of the real impact performers for the Bruins.

We'll see if he can keep it up as the Lightning series progresses.

Nick Lidstrom

The guy is 40-something and remains one of the best players in the game.  The Sharks were, in the end, maybe a fraction better than the Wings, but Lidstrom sure looks like he could play another couple of seasons- if he wants to.

Bieksa, Burrows and Kesler

I thought I’d be writing the names Sedin, Sedin and Luongo, but for me, well, Bieksa, Kesler and Burrows are so much of the heart and soul of the Canucks.

Though I'm not close as Canuck fans are to the club,  I realize these three guys have been getting better as the years have gone on, and Vancouver fans know much better than I just how good these guys have been—and are.  Bieksa plays so hard and gives everything he has.  Kesler and Burrows are two of the emerging guys in the game.  Maybe they are already fully “merged”. 

Joel Ward

As much as I appreciate and respect the entire Nashville story (a class franchise from Day One) this spring Joel Ward is a guy that turned heads with his timely goals.  He was a standout against the Canucks.

The fact that he is an un-drafted guy who played Canadian university hockey just adds to a great story.  I hope he re-signs and thrives in Nashville.

We're only halfway home.  I know I could have mentioned other names such as Ian White (land Bergenheim with Tampa Bay, for sure), so please send your thoughts along on guys who have impressed you this spring.

There will be more inspiring performances and storylines, for sure.

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