Darren Eliot
Monday April 19th, 2010

The hallmark of the postseason is the abundance of confident picks and forecasts, including these by yours truly, but prognostication is hardly failsafe with cap-induced parity permeating the proceedings. We've entered an era where anything is possible. Just ask the top-seeded San Jose Sharks, down 2-1 in their series against the Colorado Avalanche.

Already playing under the weight of their past postseason failures, the Sharks had to overcome 4-3 and 5-4 deficits in Game 2, which they won, 6-5 in overtime, after outshooting the plucky Avs by 30. Then the Sharks went out and lost 1-0 in Game 3 despite holding a 41-7 shot advantage after the first period. The winning goal came on an innocent play in which Sharks defensemen Dan Boyle tried to rim the puck along the boards, only to have it skip past goaltender Evgeni Nabokov although it may have caught a piece of forechecker Ryan O'Reilly's stick.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan wryly opined after seeing the Avs' journeyman netminder Craig Anderson -- who was said to be wearing down as the regular season ended -- stop all 51 pucks that were sent his way, "We couldn't beat their goalie, so we found a way to beat ours."

Okay. Blame the Sharks' curse if you want, but all eight series went to 1-1, an unprecedented collective outcome, and the results have run the spectrum from the predictable to the downright improbable -- often within the same series.

The Washington Capitals, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, lost Game 1 to Montreal, then rallied from two deficits to win Game 2 in OT. Nicklas Backstrom had a hat trick, completing his big night with the game-winner after setting up the tying goal with 1:14 remaining. As wild as their comeback was, the Caps also got a four-point effort from Alex Ovechkin -- after he failed to register a shot on goal in Game 1. That was just the second time all season that Ovechkin hadn't hit the target in an entire game -- which may have been more surprising in and of itself than the Game 2 comeback by the NHL's most potent offense.

Ovechkin's bounce-back effort was really part of the expected, though. On several fronts, many of the top players around the league have turned in virtuoso performances of vim and vigor. Sidney Crosby was magnificent in squaring the defending Stanley Cup champion's first-round series with Ottawa at a game each after his team put forth a forgettable Game 1 effort marked by a spotty performance from Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a Stanley Cup to his credit and is presumed to be a reliable playoff netminder. Crosby continued to dominate the Sens as the scene switched to Canada's capitol, making standout plays in all three zones. Aside from his seven points in three games, Crosby has saved a goal by diving behind Fleury and delivered a jarring jolt that sent captain counterpart Daniel Alfredsson to the Senators' locker room for a spell. As Alfredsson deadpanned, "I went to the room to have a pep talk on keeping my head up on the ice."

Speaking of spells, Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings scored three times in Game 2, leading a seven-goal onslaught against the Phoenix Coyotes that seemingly broke the desert dog hex from Game 1. Problem is, the Coyotes didn't see it as a sign of form prevailing, but simply as a one-game result. Instead, after Zetterberg's star performance, the Coyotes went into Hockeytown and unceremoniously dumped the Wings 4-2 on Sunday to take a 2-1 series lead. They lost captain Shane Doan to injury midway through the game after he crashed into the end boards. But instead of folding, the Coyotes turned to little-used Peter Prucha and Radim Vrbata and the pair combined for a goal and an assist each with dramatic third-period flair.

Maybe the Coyotes and their odyssey from summer oblivion to worthy fourth overall seed in the west best symbolize all the mayhem of the first week of the NHL playoffs: Predictably, the stars will have their moments, but in today's game, every team has a chance to advance.

So much for prognostication...

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