NHL Week in Review (May 22-28)

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The playoffs are coming to an end with only two teams left to fight for the Stanley Cup and both have plenty to fight for as they pursue a championship.

Getting to this point wasn’t easy though as both teams have had their struggles and have found big wins when they needed them.

In the conference finals both the San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins went down to the wire.

The Sharks finished off the Blues in six games as they looked better in most games but the Blues fought hard to stay in it the entire time.

The Sharks did look great throughout the series and came through, in the end, winning the last two game to secure their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

In the east, it was a slightly more difficult path as the Pittsburgh Penguins had a good fight with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning were ready for their second straight Stanley Cup appearance but goalie issues had some doubting them.

They still made sure they were ready for the battle and despite the Penguins looking better throughout the series the Lightning pushed the Pens to the edge.

Pittsburgh had to win the last two games to take the series win with big performances in Game 6 and Game 7 the Penguins found their way back to the Stanley Cup Finals looking for their second cup in the last ten years.

Both teams had plenty to fight through in the playoffs this year but when everything came down it was big performances from great players that carried them.

It wasn’t all the greatest players though and in the playoffs, it never is the best players who rise to the top.

The best players have to be the best players throughout the playoffs but when they get into big games it is much easier for opponents to key on the best players and shut them down.

That leaves an opportunity though as it seems like every year the top teams find a hero in the playoffs.

It is a player that not many people know of until they come up big in big games and help their teams find their way to the Stanley Cup.

That has happened again as the Penguins and the Sharks have found their playoff heroes that could go down as cult heroes in depending on how the playoff send.

For the Sharks, it is a veteran that is all too familiar in being a playoff hero after doing the same thing in multiple cities.

Joel Ward has become a bit of a traveller as he rarely stays in one city for a long time.

He usually plays on the third or fourth line as a bit of a grinder rather than a pure goal-scorer, he hovers around 20-goals a season.

Yet in the playoffs, where he now has 20 goals total in six playoff appearances, he seems to find the puck right in front of the net at the biggest times.

This year the veteran joined the Sharks in hopes of helping out a team that had disappointed for years.

He has done just that as San Jose fans are getting a taste of what he had done for Washington and Nashville.

In Game 6 he truly showed what he is capable of when he scored two goals including the game-winner to put the Sharks into the finals.hockey-sidebar

Ward has done this before scoring big goals for the Predators and the Capitals and is quickly becoming a playoff gun for hire as he seems to always come up big when they need him.

He might not be the best player on the Sharks but when they need a big goal other teams might want to watch out for Ward who is quickly becoming a fan favourite.

For the Penguins, the same can be said for an entirely unknown role-player who is having a great playoff run.

Bryan Rust is in the midst of his first season with the Penguins, he only played 14 games in 2014-15, and his first ever playoff run.

That hasn’t stopped him from putting up a total of eight points including five goals throughout the Penguins’ run.

He is not the leading scorer on the team throughout the playoffs but he has come up big when the Penguins need someone to step up.

In Game 7 Rust was responsible for both Penguins goals that gave them a Stanley Cup berth. He also almost put in a hat trick in the game.

Much like Ward, Rust seems to be able to find the puck at the right time to score a big goal when needed.

It helps that he is on a line with Evgeni Malkin who takes a lot of focus from other teams and frees up Rust in good spots.

Still he is quickly becoming a cult hero in Pittsburgh after putting up goals in big moments.

Both ward and Rust are not going to be the players that either team will focus on but the fact is they are players that need to be watched a bit because one could score the goal that gets either team a Stanley Cup and becomes an immediate hero in their city.

Overtime
(Extra Thoughts on this week in hockey)

World Cup Snubs
The World Cup rosters were finalised this week and when any roster is finalised there are snubs with this year’s biggest snubs being PK Subban who didn’t make the Canadian team and Phil Kessel who didn’t make the USA team

Philips calls it quits
It is a rare thing to see a player remain in one city anymore and one of the last players to do just that is leaving the game as Chris Philips played his entire career in Ottawa never even testing free agency as he announced his retirement this week

Swapping Young Stars
The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers switched young talent this week when the Canucks traded top prospect Jared McCann along with draft picks to the Panthers for blueliner Erik Gudbranson

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