In the playoffs, money talks. Or does it?

While the first round of the National Hockey League playoffs has once again put a spotlight on one of the game’s ironies and inconsistencies – the fine line between celebrating big hits which slow down opponents and condemning big hits which result in injury – the salary situation also seems more than a tad odd.

In hockey’s peak season, when the stakes are the highest, there are no salaries. Players’ contracts are paid out from the first day of the regular season to the last. When the playoffs roll around, the first line centre and the fourth line checking winger are both playing for free. Perhaps that helps inspire more of a team concept.

The twist is that the more success a team has, the more the individual efforts are recognized. The longer a team survives in the post-season, the more the small details within the game are highlighted. That, in turn, makes players more valuable when the playoffs end and when new contracts are being negotiated for the following year.

Which brings us to the current state of the Ottawa Senators, in position to eliminate the New York Rangers from the playoffs at Scotiabank Place Monday night.

Being in this position is a surprise development to just about everyone outside the Senators dressing room. What also has been a surprise is the significant contributions from players such as Zenon Konopka and Matt Carkner, who weren’t expected to play major roles when the playoffs began.

There’s nothing left on their contracts – they officially expire June 30 — meaning they’re playing to stay in the big leagues.

During the final weeks of the regular season, Konopka and Carkner could barely find their way into the lineup. They also began the playoffs as healthy scratches. Yet as the physical, tight checking series has developed, their value has increased.

If Konopka was generally known around the NHL as a fighter and the league’s reigning penalty minute leader or perhaps for his colourful rant against Mario Lemieux last season, the playoffs have allowed him to showcase a few more skills.

He currently leads all centres with a 72.3 per cent faceoff percentage, winning 34 of 47 draws.

 One of the reasons the Rangers power play has struggled is their inability to gain control inside the Senators blueline and Konopka is a tidy 13-4 winning draws in shorthanded situations. The little details are paramount in low-scoring, tight checking games. The Senators have won twice in overtime and Saturday’s 2-0 win included a Jason Spezza empty net goal. Konopka has even seen a few shifts alongside Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, as coach Paul MacLean tries to create some space for his first line stars. The most surprising statistic of all is that Konopka has taken only one minor penalty.

His efforts may not end up earning him another NHL contract – here or elsewhere – but the playoff experience has certainly added to his resume.

Carkner has been a presence in his limited minutes. He paid a heavy price, receiving a game suspension for pummelling Brian Boyle in Game 2, but it did serve as a rallying point for his team. Since returning, he has played a sound, steady defensive game, contributing 12:31 in the Game 4 victory. The assist on Milan Michalek’s turning point goal in Game 4 was unexpected, but when’s on the ice, it’s harder for the Rangers to get to rebounds in and around Craig Anderson’s crease.

 Like Konopka, Carkner’s playoff contributions may not end up securing him another deal, but then again, he’s already played more games in the playoffs than the three games he played in March.

If the Senators are successful in finishing off the Rangers Monday, it will be because they’ve received help from everywhere on the roster, even players like Konopka and Carkner, who started the post-season on the sidelines. Meanwhile, all the work that the Rangers put in during the regular season to establish themselves as the top seed in the Eastern Conference won’t matter anymore.

In case you didn’t know it already, the playoffs are a different season altogether.

SILFVERBERG ON ICE TODAY

 Jakob Silfverberg, the 21-year-old Swedish prospect who has created such a buzz around town in the past week, is expected to join the Senators at practice Monday.

“He’s on our roster and a player available to us and we’re going to consider all of our options before the game,” MacLean said Sunday. “Once he’s here and with us, we’ll consider him.”

Certainly, it will give the Rangers pause for thought, but after a weekend of celebrating a Swedish Elite League championship, a long overseas flight and the fact he hasn’t practiced even once with the team on the smaller NHL ice surface, it’s unlikely that he would be thrown into the fire.

There’s a better chance of him playing in a potential Game 7 on Thursday or in the second round, if the Senators advance past the Rangers.

 ANDERSON ON A ROLL

MacLean shouldn’t get much of an argument in calling Anderson the team’s best player in the opening five games of the series. “The word is confidence,” he said. “I think he gives his team confidence to play, gives them the ability to go on the ice and just play and not be worried that they can’t do things offensively and make mistakes and he won’t be there to bail them out.”

If Anderson faces 23 shots tonight, he will set a record for most shots (179) faced by a Senators goaltender in a single playoff series, breaking a mark held by Patrick Lalime in a 2002 series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. While Anderson has a sparking 1.79 goals against average, he can’t break Lalime’s single series goals against average record of 0.40, also set in 2002, against the Philadelphia Flyers.

 

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