NHL: What Have We Learned This Season?
Here are a few things we learned this NHL season (or at least I did):
A late-season slump doesn't necessarily mean a team is headed for a quick exit in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
I heavily scrutinized the Dallas Stars when they lost nine of 11 in March, ensuring they won't finish in the top four seeds in the Western Conference. I predicted doom and gloom for the perennially underachieving club.
Yet, they made it all the way to the Conference Finals, and gave a huge scare to the eventual champion Red Wings. Well done, Dallas Stars. I won't mock teams that struggle heading into the playoffs anymore.
A team can survive despite key injuries.
Great job to the Edmonton Oilers, who lost Shawn Horcoff, Raffi Torres, Sheldon Souray, and others to season-ending injuries. Yet the Oilers made a huge run and almost made the playoffs, thanks to their young guns.
Also look at the Colorado Avalanche, who made it despite injuries to snipers Paul Stastny and Joe Sakic.
And how about the Pittsburgh Penguins? Left for dead when Sidney Crosby went down, the Pens rode Evgeni Malkin's MVP-like season and Ty Conklin's goaltending (before Marc-Andre Fleury returned) and refused to lose, eventually settling for the No. 2 seed in the East.
The Pens made it all the way to the Finals. Well done to all. So next time a team uses the injury card, don't buy it.
Don't despair if your team had a brutal season last year.
As we saw, the upstart Philadelphia Flyers made the playoffs by winning big games in the last week of the season, despite finishing dead last in the NHL only a year earlier.
The Flyers were a league-worst 22-48-12 (56 points) in 2006-07, but challenged for first in the East at one point in February before a 10-game losing streak almost cost them.
Similarly, the Washington Capitals (28-40-14 last season) overcame a slow start this season, an unlikely break (the Nicklas Backstrom in-your-own-net goal vs. Pittsburgh and the meltdown in Boston), and a huge deficit, and rallied to win the Southeast Division by winning seven straight to close out the year.
Regular-season success doesn't mean anything.
The Montreal Canadiens had won 11 straight against the Boston Bruins, including all eight this season, heading into the playoffs. Yet the Bruins took the Habs to Game Seven before ultimately falling.
The San Jose Sharks went on an 18-0-2 run into April, and yet couldn't get rid of their dreaded second-round playoff jinx.
And oh, this one I already knew: The Calgary Flames, no matter what their regular season record, just can't win in the playoffs, proving again that 1989 and 2004 (when they went to the Cup Finals) were both flukes. This team cannot get out of the first round!
Chris Osgood and Brendan Morrow are clutch players.
Since taking over in goal in the first round against the Nashville Predators, the Red Wings' Osgood reeled off nine straight wins, including the final two games of the Nashville series.
In fact, Osgood was less than a minute away from a shutout in his first action in the playoffs, and then finished off the Preds with a goose-egg in Game Six. Osgood then led the Wings to the Cup victory.
Morrow, the heart and soul of the Dallas Stars, led his team with 32 regular-season goals before carrying them on his back with a Conn Smythe-type performance before Dallas ultimately fell short.
You can't take anything for granted.
This is true in hockey and in life. The Carolina Hurricanes needed a home win over the lowly Florida Panthers in their last game of the year to clinch a postseason berth. Yet the 'Canes lost despite outshooting the visitors 46-17, thanks in part to Florida backup goalie Craig Anderson.
Also, the Vancouver Canucks' Luc Bourdon, a 21-year-old rookie defenseman, lost his life after a motorcycle crash, serving as a reminder that you can't take life for granted.
Enough of the "No European Captain Can Win the Stanley Cup" nonsense.
Finally, we can put this one to rest, as the Red Wings' Nicklas Lidstrom hoisted the Cup as the leader of this Original Six club. And, by the way, isn't that Henrik Zetterberg winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, joining Lidstrom, who won the award in 2002? Both are Swedish, by the way. So let's stop with this idiotic myth. Please.
Stanley Cups aren't handed out in October.
The Ottawa Senators looked untouchable in their first 15 games or so, but a midseason slump cost the Sens the top spot in the conference.
So, don't believe the hype that early in the season, even if a team looks like the second coming of the 1995-96 Red Wings (a team that won 62 games and finished with 131 points). Oh, right, that Detroit team didn't win the Cup either.
Well, I guess we'll see what else we can learn next spring...
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