Ranking the Worst Mistakes of the 2014 NHL Playoffs so Far
Each year, when a team hoists a Stanley Cup, it feels it was destiny all along—a predetermined path to a championship.
In reality, every team's journey is fraught with twists and turns. Champions capitalize on their opportunities and take advantage of the mistakes that can give them an advantage along the way.
Mistakes come in many forms—poor on-ice play, bad coaching decisions, poor calls from the officials, even difficult decrees from the NHL offices. Sometimes the consequences are huge, and sometimes they can be brushed off.
Here's a look at the results of six of the worst mistakes that have impacted the 2014 playoffs so far.
6. Bruce Boudreau Scratches Teemu Selanne in Game 4 Against Dallas Stars
The Situation: With the Anaheim Ducks leading their first-round playoff series against the Dallas Stars 2-1, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau elected to rest 43-year-old forward Teemu Selanne, replacing him in the lineup with 21-year-old Emerson Etem.
The Decision: The Ducks lost Game 4 by a score of 4-2, allowing the Stars to even the series and come within 24 seconds of forcing a seventh game before their late collapse in Game 6.
The Impact: The most entertaining result was this tweet from Selanne's 18-year-old son Eemil, which his father eventually asked him to delete, per ESPN.com: "ROSTER MOVE: Bruce Boudreau has been reassigned to Norfolk Admirals (AHL)."
Selanne's scratch didn't stop the Ducks from advancing and may have ultimately helped put star and coach on the same page. Selanne said, "I told Bruce, 'It's a new day. The series starts now.' There's no hard feelings. It's playoff time, and I don't want to even think about any negative energy."
As for Boudreau, he claims he anticipated the fan reaction.
I knew exactly what it was going into it, I knew the reaction, and if I was a fan, I'd probably be upset, too. He's an icon, one of the greatest players ever. I just thought we'd need a physical player along the boards a little bit more. Emerson fits that bill, so the decision was made. As much as we all love him and what he's done for us, you've got to think of the team and what it needs to win at that specific moment.
Selanne bounced back with two assists in Game 6 against Dallas and has scored two goals in the Ducks' first four games against the Los Angeles Kings.
5. New York Rangers Required to Play 5 Games in 7 Nights
The Situation: The New York Rangers played back-to-back games on April 29 and 30, ultimately defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series. Two days later, they found themselves playing three games in four nights to start their series against their second-round opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Decision: The NHL offices made the decision to schedule the Rangers for two sets of back-to-backs that included travel within a one-week period.
In the first round, it was a matter of wrapping up the series so all teams could move on. In the second round, the Rangers' two home games (Games 3 and 4) had to be completed by May 7 due to a WNBA game on May 8 and a Billy Joel concert on May 9 at Madison Square Garden.
The Impact: The Rangers looked liked dead men skating in Games 2 and 3 against Pittsburgh, both losses. After Game 3, coach Alain Vigneault supported his team while maligning the "stupid schedule," according to Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports. The Rangers also dropped Game 4 before finding their second wind. They stormed back to win Games 5 and 6 and will now play one game on Tuesday in Pittsburgh for the opportunity to advance.
4. Milan Lucic Gets a Slap on the Wrist for Spearing Danny DeKeyser
The Situation: Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins became an early trendsetter for the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs when he gave Danny DeKeyser of the Detroit Red Wings a low blow from behind with his stick in Game 1 of the team's first-round playoff series.
The Decision: Just one week after assuming leadership of the NHL's Department of Player Safety following Brendan Shanahan's resignation (per NHL.com), new sheriff Stephane Quintal assessed a $5,000 fine for Lucic's spear on DeKeyser.
The Impact: For a player like Lucic, who made $5.5 million this season according to CapGeek.com, a $5,000 fine is nothing more than a slap on the wrist—and the rest of the league noticed. Since Lucic's slash heard 'round the world, groin shots have become almost commonplace. Even superstar Sidney Crosby got in on the action in Game 6 of the Pittsburgh Penguins' series against the New York Rangers, per CBSSports.com.
The NHL needed to deliver a swift, significant punishment to Lucic if it hoped to deter this classless behavior as the playoffs progressed.
3. Todd McLellan Taps Alex Stalock to Start Game 6 Against Los Angeles Kings
The Situation: After the San Jose Sharks saw their 3-0 first-round series lead against the Los Angeles Kings shrink to 3-2, Sharks coach Todd McLellan made the tough choice to start 26-year-old rookie goaltender Alex Stalock in Game 6.
The Decision: McLellan pulled Antti Niemi in both Game 4 and Game 5. Stalock was solid in relief, though both games were out of reach before he stepped in. The Sharks needed a shakeup, but Stalock hadn't started a playoff game since 2010, with the Worcester Sharks of the AHL.
The Impact: The Kings' Justin Williams scored on Stalock at 5:39 of the first period, and Los Angeles went on to win Game 6 by a score of 4-1. Niemi was back in net for Game 7, but the Sharks allowed five goals—two into an empty net—and became victims of a rare NHL four-game playoff collapse.
Stalock's start didn't get the Sharks the win they needed. It also raises questions about whether McLellan has enough faith in Niemi to stick with his current No. 1 goaltender going forward.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning Go-Ahead Goal Disallowed in Game 3 vs. Montreal Canadiens
The Situation: As Daniel Friedman points out in this column for CBS New York, NHL officiating falls under tremendous scrutiny when the playoffs roll around. The league has taken steps to try to provide more objectivity, but there's still room for improvement.
No referee's call has had such a dramatic impact in these playoffs as when referee Francois Charron waved off Ryan Callahan's goal on Carey Price at 15:38 of the second period of Game 3 of the first-round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens.
The Decision: The Lightning were behind 2-0 in the series, but the goal would have given the team a 2-1 lead in Game 3 in Montreal. Instead, it was waved off because Alex Killorn was deemed to be impeding Carey Price in his crease—even though Killorn was trapped there by Montreal players. Per NHL.com, goaltender interference is not reviewable by video replay. The goal was waved off for incidental contact and the call on the ice stood.
The Impact: Brendan Gallagher scored Montreal's second goal less than three minutes after the Tampa Bay goal was waved off. The Canadiens went on to win Game 3 by a score of 3-2 and sweep the Lightning with a 4-3 win in Game 4.
It's easy to wonder if Tampa Bay might have earned a different fate if Callahan's goal had been allowed to stand.
1. St. Louis Blues Trade for Ryan Miller
The Situation: With high playoff expectations and an impressive regular-season performance, the St. Louis Blues went all-in a week before the trade deadline. The Blues acquired two impending free agents—goaltender Ryan Miller and forward Steve Ott—from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier and two draft picks, according to CBSsports.com.
The Decision: Just two years earlier, St. Louis' Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak won the William M. Jennings Trophy as the best goaltending tandem in the league. With both goalies on expiring contracts by 2014, the Blues decided that bringing in a brand name was their ticket to playoff success.
The Impact: Miller started off well enough with St. Louis, but the Blues went into a six-game swoon at the end of the regular season, with Miller in net for five of those losses. In the playoffs, he was good but not great. The Blues took a 2-0 series lead against the Chicago Blackhawks but lost four close games to find themselves eliminated in the first round.
Miller posted a 2.70 goals-against average and .897 save percentage during his six games against Chicago—hardly enough to justify his cost of acquisition. Re-signing Miller is far from a sure thing, leaving St. Louis with serious questions about its goaltending for 2014-15.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com and current through games on Sunday, May 11.