The playoffs this season have been as thrilling as any in recent memory. All those comebacks -- from seemingly impossible deficits in individual games and overall series wins -- were killer. So, when you have all those rallies, you're going to have heroes who dragged their teams from the precipice, goats who tipped their teams over it and villains who pushed everyone in sight.
P.K. Subban, D, Montreal Canadiens: This is the kind of player the NHL needs more of. He's talented; he's brash; he has tremendous over-the-top goal celebrations; other teams despise him and do everything they can to get him off his game, including, say, something crazy like squirting water at him from the bench while he's rushing up the ice with the puck (busted, Shawn Thornton!).
Henrik Lundqvist, G, New York Rangers: The King is back. The guy is proving once again to be more than just a nice haircut and a custom-fit suit. He's turning out to be money in a different way. The Lundqvist- Carey Price duel in the conference finals is going to be golden (no Olympics pun intended).
Jussi Jokinen, W, Pittsburgh Penguins: While the bigger and higher-paid names on the Penguins were dealing with tight collars, Jokinen brought it with timely scoring. Shudder to think what the team's offense would have been like had it not had Jokinen.
John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks: The 20-year-old stepped into a four-alarm blaze and doused it with his coolness, leading the Ducks back into their series with the cruising Kings. Keep calm and move on?
Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles Kings: Goalie Jonathan Quick gets all the props, but Doughty is the puck-moving dynamo who drives the Kings' transition and offensive engines. With the Kings' D short-handed because of injuries, he's been a machine while getting extra ice time, as well.
Tuukka Rask, G, Boston Bruins: Not only is this guy a top player on the ice but he's a top player in the room, too. Ask the guy a question after the game and he'll answer it with honesty and candor. But never mind all that. Rask is in this category because he stopped pucks in a big way and proved he could bounce back from a bad goal at light speed. On the few occasions he allows them, that is. His Game 7 against the Canadiens could have been better, but that's a quibble.
Milan Lucic, W, Boston Bruins: This is hard to reconcile: Lucic spears two guys in the cup -- potentially injuring them -- and gets fined once for $5,000. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville grabs his own, er, cup, potentially injurious only to himself, and gets fined $25,000. OK, got it. And when was the last time you saw Lucic hit, fight or stick a player who was the same size or same age as him? Or poke at a guy the same size when the linesman isn't standing right there? Right. Never. His handshake-line smack talk after the Game 7 loss to Montreal violated hockey code and further entrenched his place on this list.
Matt Cooke, W, Minnesota Wild: His dastardly knee-on-knee hit ended Tyson Barrie's season and, come to think of it, the Avalanche's season, too. Good thing Cooke has changed his game and doesn't do that kind of thing anymore.
Corey Perry, W, Anaheim Ducks: We know he's not winning the Lady Byng any time soon, but squirting water in Jeff Carter's glove during a stoppage? Do he and Shawn Thornton and Henrik Lundqvist have stock in Poland Spring?
Brent Seabrook, D, Chicago Blackhawks: It's not necessarily Seabrook's borderline-dirty hit on the Blues' David Backes that earns him a place on the list (we understand it's sometimes tough to let up in those situations) but rather the "Wakey-wakey" comment directed toward Backes by either Seabrook or another Blackhawk on the ice. If nothing else, it reinforced that some classless things get said on the ice in the heat of the action. Stay classy, hockey!
P.K. Subban: Just ask any fan of a team other than the Canadiens. He's a villain because he's good and he delivers on his chatter.
Gary Bettman, commissioner: Just keeping you honest, Gary. Actually, these have been the best playoffs in recent memory, so we have to give credit where credit is due. Nice job, board of governors!
Zdeno Chara, D; Brad Marchand, W; David Krejci, C, Boston Bruins: These guys play at such a high level in the playoffs that their abysmal performances could only mean something was wrong. Chara fell in the playoffs more than he has his entire career; Marchand was shooting at open nets as if his stick was made of stone; and Krejci, the team's leading scorer in the regular season, was invisible, with four assists in 12 games. And watching what turned out to be the last goal scored against the Bruins this season deflect off Chara's skate and past Rask pretty much summed up that trio's luck in the playoffs.
Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pittsburgh Penguins: Because he always is and always will be on this list, no matter what happens and no matter how nice a guy he is. Never has a guy with so many wins and a Stanley Cup taken so much heat.
Joe Thornton, C; Patrick Marleau, W, San Jose Sharks: At some point, expensive non-winners have to be held accountable, don't they? You can't argue the lack of results for these two. Playing the most playoff games in the past 10 years doesn't mean squat if none of them is in the finals.
Anders Lindback, G, Tampa Bay Lightning: Goaltending was a huge difference in the series with the Canadiens (the absence of Martin St. Louis was another), and the onus fell on Lindback with Lightning starter Ben Bishop on the sideline. it didn't go well.
Dan Bylsma, coach, Pittsburgh Penguins: Because another playoff collapse and coming up short of a Stanley Cup once again most likely will cost Bylsma his job.