Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Carolina: the land of misfit forwards?

At this point, there are plenty of great storylines in the playoffs.

Obviously, there's Crosby-Malkin-Ovechkin in the East and the battle of the last two Stanley Cup winners in Detroit and Anaheim out West. There's even the revitalized Chicago Blackhawks to look at.

One budding back story to keep an eye on, though, is the group of former rejects that are scoring huge goals for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Sure, the Canes are powered largely by the superlative play of Eric Staal and Cam Ward (two prized prospects). There's no question that those two players are still the crowned jewels of the former Hartford Whalers.

That being said, the Canes would be sitting on their couch instead of holding a 2-1 lead over the best team in the Eastern Conference if not for the work of a trio of players who are on their second or third (or more) NHL teams.

Tuomo Ruutu was supposed to be the next great power forward for the Chicago Blackhawks. Instead, he turned into the next Eric Daze. After years of injuries and disappointment, Ruutu was finally traded to Carolina for Andrew Ladd. Yet it seems that Ruutu may have found a home in Carolina, posting career highs in goals (26), assists (28) and points (54) while playing nearly all season.

Sergei Samsonov seemed like a star of the future in his early years in Boston, but the hockey world quickly learned that he was the first beneficiary of the Joe Thornton effect. He bounced around the NHL, going from Montreal to Edmonton to Chicago and then finally landing in Carolina. While his 3 points in 9 games won't change the world, he figured in some pretty big moments.

While Ruutu and Samsonov figured into some big moments, the biggest surprise is Jussi Jokinen.

Jokinen came into the NHL and was known for doing very little beyond scoring some spectacular shootout goals. After frustrating the Dallas Stars, he was shipped to Tampa Bay, where he floundered amid a circus atmosphere of hockey.

But in this year's playoffs, Jokinen has a stunning 5 goals and 2 assists in 7 games. Most importantly, though, Jokinen tied Game 7 of the New Jersey Devils series, scored tonight's overtime GWG and scored one other game-winner. Just a stunning run for a guy who was scooped off the waiver wire from the Lightning.

Who know if the Canes can keep their magical run going again, but Jokinen might be the best Cinderella story of the 2008-09 playoffs.

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