Where did six weeks go?
I remember flying into San Jose on April 15 for the start of my annual playoff trek like it was yesterday.
I spent exactly 32 days among San Jose, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver and Anaheim over the first two rounds. Then, between the second round and the conference finals, I spent three days at home to reintroduce myself to my three young kids. And then right back on the road, to New York and Montreal for the final four games of the wacky Eastern Conference finals.
That's 41 of 44 days working on the road, seeing the highs and lows of what once again has been a story-filled Stanley Cup playoffs.
Here are my top five memories from the moments I covered:
1. April 30, Game 7, Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks. Outscored 17-8 in losing the opening three games of the series, the Los Angeles Kings stunningly turned the tables on the Sharks by outscoring them 19-5 over the final four games and becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to erase the almighty 3-donut hole. "We just have a lot of heart on this team," Kings stud blueliner Drew Doughty said that night. "We have guys who are so competitive, guys who want to win. That's how [GM] Dean [Lombardi] built this team -- with guys who will do anything to win. I think that showed. We never gave up and came back hard.'' I'll never forget walking into the home dressing room and seeing the look of soul-crushing hurt on the faces of those San Jose Sharks players. I asked longtime Sharks star Patrick Marleau how this kind of collapse would affect a team with an existing reputation of playoff underachieving. "You don't usually agree with it, but then you do something like this, and it's not easy to take, you know?" Marleau said in a moment of brutal honesty. "There have been a lot of low points, but yeah, this is definitely one of them.'' I left San Jose the next morning, Anaheim-bound for Round 2 and very much wondering what this Sharks team would look like when I returned next season.
2. April 25, Denver, Patrick Roy takes center stage. Having lost two straight in Minnesota, the Colorado Avalanche head coach and former goalie legend turned in one of the great off-day media performances, ranting colorfully about all kinds of things as he tried to turn the spotlight onto himself and off his young team. "There's a process," Roy said. "I think the road trip was good for us in some ways. Hey, we're not happy. But I think it's a little rude to say, 'Are we going to show up?' Because we've been showing up all year, and I think we deserve respect for what we've been doing. ... I'm proud of my team. I'm extremely proud. And I'm not going to throw them under the bus. Because I'm their partner. I've been with them all along, and I trust our team." There were other highlights too, such as a history lesson on the 1993 Quebec Nordiques, who lost to the Montreal Canadiens that season despite all that young talent but learned to become Cup champion in 1996 in Denver. Certainly the kicker, ahem, was Roy saying before Game 5 that he wanted his players to "put their [guts] on the table." Don't change, Patrick.