10 Things We Learned from the 2014 NHL Playoffs
Exhale, hockey fans. Exhale. The road to the Stanley Cup—paved with gut-wrenching losses, miraculous comeback victories and a glut of passion and intensity—is complete. In the end, 15 squads fell short of the ultimate goal, leaving only the Los Angeles Kings as the last team standing.
So after you go shave that grotesque thing you call a beard off your face, click through to see what the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs taught us.
The Canadiens and Bruins Hate Each Other
- Milan Lucic speared Alexei Emelin in the chest
- Shawn Thornton sprayed P.K. Subban with water
- Lucic showed off his guns
- Dale Weise countered by flexing his
- Andrei Markov cup-checked Zdeno Chara
Earth-shattering stuff, right? Although the vast majority of hockey fans are well aware of this fact, the second-round series between the two Original Six clubs reinforced this hockey maxim with a number of entertaining incidents. Among them:
All of this led to an intense post-series handshake, one in which Lucic allegedly threatened Weise and Emelin. As TSN.ca notes, no one knows exactly what Lucic said, but he sure as hell wasn't making tee times.
Although the exchange rubbed some hockey purists the wrong way, what shouldn't be lost in all of this is the fact that two historic franchises played a tight, hard-fought, exciting seven-game series.
One thing is for sure: During the first meeting between these two clubs next season, mitts will be dropped.
San Jose Needs a Medic
In an interview following his team's epic first-round meltdown, San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson summed up the mess rather succinctly, telling the San Jose Mercury News' David Pollak: "This is not a nick or a scratch. This is an open wound."
He's of course referring to the Sharks blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings, becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to do so.
The wound metaphor seems appropriate and conveys the gravity of the situation. But if you recall captain Joe Thornton's reaction after the Sharks were eliminated from postseason contention, you might think this team needs a heart transplant or is missing some appendages.
After all, they were coasting, remember?
They outscored the Kings 17-8 through the first three games and even chased goaltender Jonathan Quick in Game 1. But then a combination of the Kings remembering they were the Kings (the 2012 Stanley Cup champions) and the Sharks remembering they were Sharks (perennial Western Conference favorites who've perfected the art of the choke job) led to four straight losses.
Wilson wants head coach Todd McLellan and his coaching staff back next season—apparently to cauterize the open wound the Kings inflicted upon the Sharks. But after six years of amazing regular-season campaigns (271-130-57) and not a single trip to the finals to show for it, McLellan and his staff are no better than a tourniquet at this point.
Dying Your Beard Black Is a Bad Idea
This is the case both from an aesthetic standpoint and a production standpoint. The first assertion is self-evident, but the second can be confirmed by taking a glance at the playoff numbers of Philadelphia Flyers forwards Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell, the two guys who decided to dye their crumb-catchers black—you know, in an act of solidarity, or whatever.
In seven games against the New York Rangers, Voracek managed two goals, averaged two shots and finished with a minus-one rating. His black-bearded buddy didn't fare much better, as Hartnell produced three assists, no goals and an even plus/minus rating.
Is there a verifiable correlation? Absolutely not.
It probably didn't matter what color their beards were—Claude Giroux, the center on the top line, refused to tamper with the color of his face forest and only managed two goals in the series—the stifling top defensive pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh was just too much.
Plus, who in their right mind would want to conceal all of this epic jawline gingerness?
Ryan Miller Wasn't the Answer for St. Louis
The biggest deal of the 2014 trade deadline didn't end up paying off.
Sure, when Ryan Miller arrived in St. Louis, he appeared to be everything the Blues could have hoped for and more. He went 8-1 over his first nine starts in a Blues sweater, but then the team in front of him suddenly forgot how to score down the home stretch—getting outscored 18-3 during a five-game losing streak to close out the regular season.
Never mind that brutal finish, though. This was a playoff team, and it finally had its playoff goalie. And after the Blues' two thrilling overtime victories in Games 1 and 2 of their opening-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, GM Doug Armstrong looked like a genius.
But then the wheels came off, and the Hawks picked up four straight wins—eliminating a team that many pegged as a Stanley Cup contender.
Although Miller's overall performance—.897 save percentage in six games—wasn't exactly scintillating, it wouldn't have mattered if Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist or Jonathan Quick was in the St. Louis crease—the Hawks were winning that series. They were the defending champs, they played with more poise and their big-game players—namely Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews—scored key goals.
Alas, it was Miller between the pipes, and while it would be unfair to pin the Blues' collapse solely on the 33-year-old netminder, he wasn't the difference-maker the team expected him to be.
In fact, it could be argued that this softy in the third period of Game 6 is what opened the floodgates for the Hawks and ignited a four-goal third period that effectively ended St. Louis' season.
Sidney Crosby Regressed
Some might object to use of the word "regressed," but when you're the best player in the game, one goal, nine points and a minus-four rating in 13 playoff games doesn't cut it. Not after posting a league-leading 104 points during a dominant regular season that will probably net Crosby his second Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player.
After narrowly escaping the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round in six games, Crosby's Penguins quickly jumped out to a 3-1 series lead over the New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division Final before dropping three straight—producing just three goals across Games 5, 6 and 7.
No. 87 potted only one goal himself in the series—the game-winner in Game 3—but other than that he was invisible.
It didn't help matters that recently terminated head coach Dan Bylsma couldn't find a set of wingers to consistently play with Sid.
And while some will point to his postseason-leading 61.6 Corsi percentage, per Extra Skater, as a positive, possession statistics don't win hockey games. Scoring goals does.
He's still the best player in the game, but he wasn't the best player during the 2014 postseason.
Corey Perry Might Just Be the Best Pest Ever
Claude Lemieux. Matthew Barnaby. Dino Ciccarelli. Esa Tikkanen. Kenny Linseman.
All legendary pests who ended up having lengthy, successful NHL careers.
However, what separates Corey Perry from this group and his contemporaries—Cal Clutterbuck, Brad Marchand, Steve Ott—is the fact that he's a Hart Trophy winner and two-time 40-goal scorer. Those typically aren't achievements you'll find on the resumes of players whose primary responsibility is to agitate the opposition.
But then again, Perry isn't your typical pest.
Anyone can butt-end a guy in the ribs when no one is looking or dish out a face wash in the bottom of a pileup in front of the net. But Perry is a master of subtlety, as evidenced by the now-infamous GIF of him squirting water into the glove of an unsuspecting Jeff Carter.
It's just another highlight to add to his body of work.
Carter and the Kings would get the last laugh, though, eliminating the Ducks in seven games in the Pacific Division Final.
People Actually Like This Playoff Hockey Stuff
There's nothing like playoff hockey.
And while it's always been a struggle for the NHL to compete with the other major team sports and expand its viewership in the States, there's no better time to do it than during the most exciting two-month tournament in professional sports.
Judging by this postseason's viewership numbers, people were picking up what the NHL was putting down.
According to TV by the Numbers, the first round of the playoffs (46 games) averaged 752,000 viewers, a 57 percent increase from the 455,000 puckheads who tuned in to the first round of the 2013 playoffs (45 games).
There's no doubt that the "first Game 7 tripleheader in 11 years, 25 one-goal games, 14 overtime games and a record 10 multi-goal comeback wins" are statistics the website notes helped drive viewership.
The rise in viewership continued through the second round, with the league drawing its largest cable television audience through the first two rounds of the playoffs since 1994, per NBC Sports Group Press Box.
And TV by the Numbers reveals that 5.26 million tuned in Friday night for Game 5 to watch the Kings win their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
The NHL will never be the NFL, or the NBA...or even NASCAR. But it will always have a strong following of devoted fans, and the league has to be optimistic about the continued growth, however minute, of the sport.
Destiny's Team Is Not Always the Winning Team
The New York Rangers weren't even supposed to be here. Especially not after an atrocious start to the regular season complete with a brutal nine-game road trip that saw them go 3-6 and surrender 33 goals—including Tomas Hertl's infamous between-the-legs twine-tickler in a 9-2 loss to the Sharks.
While Madison Square Garden was getting a facelift, New York was getting its face kicked in.
But that initial adversity became emblematic of a team full of individuals who know a thing or two about going up against obstacles.
A new coach coming off a disappointing tenure with one hockey-crazed franchise seeking to resurrect another.
A world-class goaltender aching for that elusive first Stanley Cup.
A journeyman veteran who decided to return home after he stepped away from the game of hockey for a year-and-a-half to overcome the death of his wife.
A superstar sniper who endured the grief of losing his mother to play on in her honor.
It just felt like something beyond the rink was guiding this team to its first championship in 20 years. That no matter how great the Kings' penchant for coming from behind in playoffs series was, it couldn't match the narrative that New York had been writing.
But Destiny can be a cruel editor. The Rangers were unable to write the ending they had hoped for, falling to the Kings in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Greatest Finnish Player of All Time Played His Final Game
He went through the handshake line, gave a quick postgame interview, raised his stick to acknowledge the Anaheim faithful in a moment of glory, fought back some tears and then exited through the home-team tunnel at Honda Center for the final time.
It was over.
It felt like it shouldn't have been, especially with the way it all went down—the Anaheim Ducks suffering a disappointing 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Pacific Division Final.
The hockey gods can be cruel. But then again, Teemu Selanne's retirement was supposed to happen back in 2007, right after he helped the Ducks win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. But each year thereafter, he always re-upped for one more season, unable to stay away from the game he loves so much.
Sure, the 43-year-old's numbers are jaw-dropping—684 goals and 1,457 points in 1,451 regular-season games, and 44 goals and 88 points in 129 postseason games—but if you know anything about Selanne, you know that he's one of the classiest guys in the history of professional sports.
This was made evident when Ducks fans refused to leave the building after being eliminated from the playoffs by L.A., deciding to hold off on licking their wounds and instead pay homage to the city's favorite player with a rousing standing ovation.
The Kings players couldn't help but join in.
"There's not many guys left in the league that have earned the respect and admiration—not only of the fans, but of the players he's played against. We would have stood out there for 20 minutes if we could" Kings forward Justin Williams said of the Finnish Flash, per the L.A. Times' Lisa Dillman.
Corsi and Fenwick Nerds Were Right About the Kings
You know who you are.
You spend copious amounts of time going through the painstaking process of building the perfect player in NHL 14 because there's a good chance you suck at real hockey.
You abhor Brian Burke's managerial philosophy and think you could've done a better job running the Toronto Maple Leafs this season.
You like stats (you know, for fun!)—and can't get enough of Extra Skater.
You fantasize about playing Jonah Hill's role in Moneyball, only the hockey version.
And the Kings are your team.
Yes, you were right. Advance hockey stats do matter. But it didn't look that way at the beginning of the season, right? Not in L.A.'s case.
The Kings finished the regular season 26th in the NHL with a 2.42 goals-per-game average, which means 10 non-playoff teams, including the Islanders (17th) Flames (23rd) and Oilers (25th), ended up putting more pucks in the net on a more regular basis.
Sure, the Kings finished with a respectable 46-28-8 regular-season record and boasted league-leading Corsi (57.3) and Fenwick (56.7) percentages, per Extra Skater. But on the off chance that goaltender Jonathan Quick should give up more than two goals a game on any given night, this spelled trouble for an offense that had serious problems finding the back of the net.
Well, then general manager Dean Lombardi—just like he did in 2012 when he obtained the services of Jeff Carter at the trade deadline—picked up Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets. And after three embarrassing games to open the playoffs against the Sharks, the 4x6 cage began to look like a soccer goal to Kings forwards.
Gabby's offensive prowess (14 goals, 22 points) permeated throughout the team, and along with Anze Kopitar (5 G, 26 PTS), Jeff Carter (10 G, 25 PTS) and Conn Smythe winner Justin Williams (9 G, 25 PTS), the Kings became an indomitable offensive juggernaut.
All of which led to a league-leading 3.40 goals per game this postseason.
And the Stanley Cup.