With one heroic game, Eric Staal and Cam Ward made themselves favourites to play for Canada at next year's Winter Olymics.
Ditto for Jonathan Toews, who showed the country what he's made up while leading the youthful Chicago Blackhawks past the Calgary Flames.
|Eric Staal dancing squarely in the spotlight last night.|
By contrast, it's hard to imagine that either Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau of the Sharks will be in Vancouver, not after yet another in a series of playoff failures. You even have to wonder about Calgary's Jarome Iginla, who would have been considered an Olympic shoo-in but didn't have a big series for the Flames and is captain of a team that has lost in the first round for four straight years.
Jeff Carter, meanwhile, was mostly silent for the Flyers in the first round, while a serious shoulder injury to Mike Richards might compromise his Olympic candidacy.
See, that's the added meaning these playoffs come with this spring, which is very much unlike the process leading up to Torino in '06.
That year, the NHL was coming off a lockout, so there were no playoffs in the spring of '05 in which players could make a case for their inclusion on the team, or exclusion, for that matter.
But this spring, when a player like Staal wins a playoff series with such a dramatic goal, that's a moment that has to put that player front and centre in the mind of Steve Yzerman, Canada's Olympic chief. That it came last night against Olympic incumbent goalie Martin Brodeur after Ward had done such a brilliant job keeping the Canes alive, well, that impacts the Olympic futures of Staal and Ward.
Happily for Yzerman, the results of the first round mean he'll get to see more of players like Staal, Ward, Toews, Alex Burrows, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in action, all players who weren't part of the Torino squad, although Staal was an alternate.
That's the subtext to these playoffs. Makes 'em even more interesting, don't you think?