What did we learn from the seven series-opening games that commenced the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs? In truth, nothing new.
Rather, we were reminded again and again of one thing that is an article of faith among hockey fans and can't be pounded enough into the heads of the ice ignorami: that the NHL's playoffs are the best in professional sports. And of a related truism that even those of us who live and die with the sport -- and make our livings from it -- misremember every early April only to be reminded as soon as the first playoffs puck is dropped: in the short term (on any given night and in any particular series) nothing about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is predictable.
(For those of you in San Jose shaking your heads in disgust while muttering, "the Sharks floundering come playoff time is completely predictable," let us refer you to the New York Islanders of 1976 through 1979 or the Detroit Red Wings of 1993 through 1996. Sometimes, you do have to lose in excruciating fashion in order to learn how to win.)
Alex Ovechkin scores 50 goals for fourth time in five years and leads the League in shots on goal for the fifth time in his five NHL seasons? Of course, he doesn't hit the net -- or goaltender Jaroslav Halak -- once in the Caps' Game 1 OT loss to Montreal.
The Penguins, coming off two straight trips to the Final, draw an Ottawa team that went 18-21-2 on the road and required a mid-season, on-ice dodge ball game on a rink in Manhattan's Central Park to find itself? Naturally, the Sens win in overtime in a whited-out Mellon Arena.
Brian Boucher hasn't won a playoff game -- and has appeared in only four -- since the Clinton administration? Of course, he outplays the winningest goaltender of all-time, Martin Brodeur, in Philly's Game 1 snatching at New Jersey.
Phoenix, undoubtedly just happy to be here after six years of wandering through the desert playoffs-less, draws the closest thing the NHL has had to a dynasty over the last decade? What else but a poised and relentless Coyotes performance that grabs their Game 1 against Detroit at a jacked-up Jobing.com Arena?
And the Avalanche, icing a team full of youngsters who might still be eligible to play in the Colorado state high school tournament and a goalie who seems to be wearing down, go into the surly Shark Tank to face the battle-hardened and Cup-or-bust likes of Thornton, Marleau, Heatley, Boyle, Blake, et al? Naturally, the Avs pull one out on a last-minute goal with goaltender Craig Anderson performing superbly.
Seven series openers. Seven one-goal games -- including two that go into overtime. Seventh and eighth seeds unbeaten -- which of you scoring at home know it means that the first and second seeds are winless. Utter mayhem.
And utterly consistent with what the NHL game has become on a nightly basis ever since the League returned from the work stoppage in 2005-06. And completely in line with what the opening round of the NHL playoffs have been about for decades.
But the paradox is that, from all of that annual amped-up April anarchy, there almost always emerges the crowning of a champion in June who is worthy to have its names engraved alongside those of the game's all-time winners on the most historic trophy in all of sports. Cinderellas win opening games and early rounds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- occasionally, one even makes it all the way to a Final -- but they never win the Stanley Cup.
There is no other postseason in sports that combines that kind of nightly unpredictability with an annual ultimate triumph that defies description as a fluke, dumb luck or a function of one or two key players at a pivotal position trumping an otherwise superior opponent.
Yes, eighth seeds eliminate top seeds, but hot goalies simply do not steal the Stanley Cup. That is why every series is a must-watch but no purist ever has to avert his or her eyes when the champion captain lifts the Cup.
One other thing that should be remembered about the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- the lesson a bemused Kevin Lowe always used to teach to every wave of reporters who would approach him after a Game 1 loss expecting proclamations of panic -- there is no game in any series less indicative of its ultimate outcome than the first one.
Didn't see any of that wacky stuff from Wednesday and Thursday night coming? No matter. You'll see things this weekend that make you wonder whether the same teams still are playing one another.
Welcome back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Mind-boggling and eye-popping appearing nightly. A true champion left standing on the last night.