It's being dubbed “The Upset Playoff Year,” and no two teams have felt this more than the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins.
Last year these two teams battled their way through the postseason to meet each other in a seven-game series that saw Boston raise the Cup. This year they were both expected to go deep into the postseason.
The Canucks were knocked out in five games to the eighth-seeded team, the LA Kings. Boston continued its tradition of game sevens, only falling short this year to the seventh-place Washington Capitals.
The question remains: Whose collapse was worse?
Vancouver didn't exactly start this season on a positive note; after their demoralizing loss in Game 7 of last year's finals, they limped through the first two months of play, unable to break into the top eight until the end of November.
They struggled among the cusp teams until the end of December, when they finally returned to form and the top of the North West division, a position they held onto for the remainder of the season en route to their second Presidents' Trophy in as many years.
Just one year ago as the No. 1 team in the league, they won a hard-fought series against Western rivals the Chicago Blackhawks and a well-matched six-game series against Nashville before dispatching the Sharks in five.
They were a confident and hungry team last year, but this year the Canucks were outplayed by the Kings. LA played better defense and better offense, and Jonathan Quick was just as good in net as either of Vancouver’s two goalies, if not better.
Vancouver's loss in the first round saw both their offense and defense struggle. In the absence of Daniel Sedin, none of the Canucks players seemed able to step up to generate goals, with only his brother Henrik and Alexander Edler posting more than one goal.
The Kings defense was solid, as was the stellar play of their netminder Quick, who stopped 172 shots for the series. The Kings managed 166 shots on the Canucks' net but still outscored Vancouver 12-8 on their way to the series victory.
The goaltending issue in Vancouver took center stage, starting rumours of Luongo wanting out. He has since told management that he will waive his no-trade clause to a short list during the offseason. Amid that kind of turmoil, it's no wonder that Vancouver couldn't find their game play from a year ago.
The goaltending wasn't the only problem; their issues stemmed from all aspects. The giveaway that turned into the series winner in Game 5 was just one of their defensive collapses, and the offense not being able to convert on the chances they had is what truly led to Vancouver being the fifth Presidents' Trophy winner to go out in the first round, and the first to go out in less than six.
In the East, Boston's season seemed to start the same way as Vancouver's, as they had a 3-6 record for the month of October before they went on to win all but one of their November contests.
They remained a strong team at the top of their division until a slump near the middle of March that saw the Senators take first in the division. They did managed to right themselves and went into the postseason winning four of their last five games.
In last year's playoffs, Game 7 was a lucky number for the Bruins, as three out of the four series would go to the maximum. Each time the Bruins were able to fend off the other team as they ousted Montreal, Tampa and Vancouver in seven en route to the Cup. Only their series with Philly lasted less than seven.
In the first round this year, Washington managed to take the seventh seed on the last day of the regular season to draw Boston. It would be the third consecutive playoff series that Boston would fight to a seventh game. Unlike last year, however, Game 7 was not as lucky, as they lost 2-1 in overtime.
Many analysts thought Boston would be the first team to be back-to-back Cup winners since the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1990s. They had few changes in the offseason and were for the most part a more seasoned version of the team that won it all last year.
The series with the Capitals was one for playoff history, as each game in the seven-game series was decided by one goal, and four of them were decided by an overtime goal.
Each game seemed to come down to who made the last mistake; in Game 7 it was Boston. A failed attempt by Benoit Pouliot to dump the puck instead saw Mike Knuble take the puck to Thomas and Joel Ward slam the rebound into the net.
The National Post in Canada quoted Claude Julien as saying “I don't think our team was in tune as much as it was last year” in an April 25th article. This was apparent on their power play, as the unit went 2-for-23 for the series. Their penalty kill fared a little better, only allowing three goals during their 19 times shorthanded.
As with Vancouver, the top scorers were fairly quiet in the postseason. Only Rich Peverly and Tyler Seguin scored more than one goal in the series. Unlike the Canucks, Boston had 12 different players score at least once.
When broken down, the stats show that Boston may have stumbled and not been as tough a team this year as they were last season. Vancouver suffered a postseason collapse, where few of the pieces in their system seemed to be on track.
Washington capitalized on the few mistakes made by Boston to win their series in seven, while LA was given more opportunities to out the top team in the league in five.
There may be some minor changes in Boston during the offseason, yet in Vancouver there are already cries for major changes. One includes the trade of Roberto Luongo.
In answer to the question of whose collapse was worse, it would appear that Vancouver proved themselves the bigger of the two, as they lost a series they were expected to win quite easily and were nearly swept in the process. They are the first Presidents' Trophy winner to lose in the first round in less than six, albeit by one game.