This week was chock-full of overtime game-winning goals, shootout game-winning goals, overtime wins on the basketball court and last-second buzzer-beating game-winning baskets. The New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets are still trying to get comfortable with their new rosters, but the Nets are actually thriving at the moment, and they've both had to overcome the absence of their respective point guards, who have been on the sidelines for most of the week. The New York Islanders are cruising along, without a care in the world, and in fact, they have the most points of any NHL team over the last three months, while the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils (who have the most points of any NHL team in the past two months) have the weight of the world on their shoulders trying to get into the postseason. The weight on the Devils feels like a balloon right now, though. The one weighing down the Rangers is an anvil, but they're winning just enough to keep their playoff hopes and dreams alive. And now on to the Player of the Week.
Brook Lopez: The Nets' center has turned into a monster. After sleepwalking through most of the season, where he acted like he would get an electrical shock if he grabbed a rebound, Lopez is now flourishing. Deron Williams is a difference-maker, but even when he's not in the lineup, as he wasn't in the two games this week, Lopez and all the Nets have turned their game around, offensively and on the defensive end of the court. In Wednesday's 94-90 thriller over the Golden State Warriors, the big guy dominated the end of the game. He scored his team's last seven points, snatched a late Warrior turnover and hauled in the final rebound to seal the victory. He then conducted all the postgame interviews and wrote the AP recap to boot. Well, he might as well have. He finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. The overtime, overcoming-a-20-point-deficit win over the Los Angeles Blake Griffins was a team effort, but Lopez impressed in that game, as well, with 24 points and seven rebounds. Kris Humphries outplayed Griffin, drawing two key late charges on the LA star, pouring in 19 points and piling up a whopping 20 rebounds. Those are Bill Russell numbers. After the game, Humphries stated that he practices taking charges when he's hanging out at the Kardashian household, by having gold-medal-winner Bruce Jenner run him over while dressed in his old Olympic duds. Jordan Farmar filled in admirably for Williams with 24 second-half points, which included two huge threes and a late drive for the go-ahead points. And Anthony Morrow also contributed in the pair of wins.
Runners Up & Other Notables
Toney Douglas: Just when you think the Knicks have the whole chemistry thing down, they come up with an absolute clunker like the one that took place on Sunday evening (not to mention Thursday's loss to Dallas). Maybe Amar'e Stoudemire should have gotten that technical suspension out of the way after all. Were they so used to playing with Toney Douglas that the return of Chauncey Billups threw a monkey wrench into their rhythm? At any rate, the play of the week for the Knickerbockers was made by Carmelo Anthony, when he dropped in the game-winner with just a few seconds left to beat Memphis. And Stoudemire is still the best player and heart and soul of the team. But we'll give some props to Douglas this week for productively filling in for Billups the last week or so. In the two wins, the guard had 20 points with six assists in the Utah game and 18 points and 10 assists in the victory over the Grizzlies, and in his last start, the defeat at the hands of the Mavericks, he scored 18 again with eight assists. And on a side note, we know Jared Jeffries wasn't brought here to score, but five points in seven games? That's taking things to extremes.
Anssi Salmela: We're picking the Finnish defenseman to symbolize that it just doesn't matter who scores for the Devils or who they play or whatever the details are--they just keep winning, overtime, regulation, however, wherever, whenever. Salmela was the hero on Saturday night, scoring the game-winner in overtime against the Islanders. It was his first goal of the year and fourth of his career. Why wouldn't his only goal be an overtime game-winner? That's how it is for New Jersey nowadays. Salmela isn't shy about the heights his team has reached, either: "Right now, we are the best team," he claims. And it's hard to argue with him. Other Devil heroes: Travis Zajac scored an overtime game-winner, as well, in Friday's win over the Thrashers, which was his second goal of the game. Patrik Elias notched a goal with three assists this week. Swedish 20-year-old Jacob Josefson recorded his first career goal in the victory on Saturday. David Clarkson had a goal and assist in the Islander game. And Martin Brodeur allowed his usual, stingy two goals a game in the three contests.
Michael Sauer: The rookie defenseman is this week's Rangers' pick, as he symbolizes this year's edition of the Blueshirts: Youngsters and rookies stepping up to play a hard-working, gritty, grinding brand of hockey (well, except for the disaster in Anaheim). Sauer scored his second career goal in Saturday's win over the San Jose Sharks, and he plays such a poised, confident game you'd never guess this was his first NHL season. But all that blue collar stuff is all for naught if the team doesn't get those two points, as Henrik Lundqvist said after the victory over the Sharks, "Playing well doesn't matter if you don't win. At this time of year, nothing else matters." Lundqvist was stellar himself in San Jose, recovering from the five-goal debacle against the Ducks. He made 31 saves, including a flurry of them at the end of the game, and five more in the shootout. He now has a 6-2 record in the skills competition. Brandon Dubinsky put home the shootout winner, as well as scoring in Wednesday's loss. Erik Christensen whipped in a goal on Saturday, after being a healthy scratch. And Brandon Prust bounced back after getting a shoulder to the head, with an assist and a fight. He's one tough little guy.
Blake Comeau: Comeau gets the mod for the Islanders, though he doesn't symbolize anything about his team as far as I know. What he did do, though, was score the game-winning goal in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He assisted on a goal earlier in the game and also tallied his 20th goal of the season on a shorthander in the overtime loss to the Devils. He has six points against New Jersey in five games played this year. Michael Grabner scored two goals this week, Matt Moulson had a goal and two assists, Al Montoya's steady play isn't making anybody yearn for Rick DiPietro and Justin DiBenedetto recorded his first NHL point with an assist in the win over the Leafs.