By Kyle Prystupa – Hockey Manitoba
For the third straight season hockey's ultimate prize will make a summer visit to Manitoba, the only question is who will earn the opportunity to bring the Stanley Cup home. As the 2012 Stanley Cup FInals set to begin tomorrow evening, three Manitobans will face off for the right to have their name etched onto the cup. Bryce Salvador (Brandon) and Travis Zajac (Winnipeg) will suit up for the New Jersey Devils meanwhile Dustin Penner (Winkler) will dress for the opposing Los Angeles Kings.
Bryce Salvador, the elder of the three, completed his 10th NHL season this year but will make his first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. The closest he had made it before was his rookie season in 2001 with the St. Louis Blues advancing to the Western Conference Finals only to lose to the eventual champions, Colorado Avalanche. A solid defensive blue liner, Salvador has matched his great back end play by chipping in with 3 G, 8 A – 11 PTS, currently second among NHL defencemen in the 2012 playoffs.
Also his first time to the finals, Travis Zajac has been another key factor in New Jersey's run to the finals with 7 G, 5 A – 12 PTS. Zajac not only contributes on the score sheet but is the Devils most important face-off man, currently rated second in the NHL playoffs only behind Brad Richards. After tallying one of the longest ironman streaks in the league, Zajac only played 15 games this season due to an off-season training injury (achilles). Despite a disappointing season due to injury, Zajac appears to have recovered well and has consistently shown a lot of jump throughout the 2012 playoffs for the Devils, giving fans a glimpse of the potential he yet holds to be star in the NHL.
The often criticized Dustin Penner is producing when it matters most, the playoffs, with 3 G, 7 A – 10 PTS. Penner's shining moment of the playoffs thus far was his overtime series winning goal in game 5 against the Phoenix Coyotes. During a strong rookie season in 2006-07 and an excellent playoffs, Penner won the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks. As a restricted free agent that offseason, Penner accepted an offer sheet from the Edmonton Oilers for a five-year deal worth $21.25 million. Penner has been silencing critics these playoffs with great play, creating traffic in front of the net, using his size in the corners, defensively responsible and producing points with linemates Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
With 2012 being the best NHL playoffs since the early 90's the finals should not disappoint and prove to be a fitting end to an exciting run, especially for fans in Manitoba.
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Manitobans in 2012 NHL Playoffs:
Aaron Rome (VAN), Dale Wiese (VAN), Alexander Steen (STL), Ryan Reaves (STL), Jonathan Toews (CHI), Michael Stone (PHX), Ian White (DET), Darren Helm (DET), Colin Wilson (NSH), Mark Stone (OTT), Arron Asham (PIT), Bryce Salvador (NJ), Travis Zajac (NJ), Dustin Penner (LA), Barry Trotz (Head Coach, NSH)
Duncan Keith (CHI), Jordin Tootoo (NSH), Mike Richards (LA)