Earlier tonight the Anaheim Ducks were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. This is not considered too big a shock considering the seeds of the two teams competing—The Predators are almost always underrated.
It is surprising because of how the Ducks had played down the stretch. They had to fight tooth and nail most of the way to make it into the playoffs, while the Preds had been making the cut for most of the season.
This Ducks squad had been putting on playoff worthy performances game in and game out for the last five or six weeks. They were ready to go! Corey Perry had vaulted himself into the Hart Trophy conversation by scoring at a ridiculous clip and Teemu Selanne looked ageless while scoring 80 points in a secondary role.
Goaltending seemed shored up after Ray Emery saved the team's playoff hopes while Hiller was sidelined with recurring vertigo. Things were going very well in California (at least for the Ducks). They rolled into the playoffs with one of the best records since January, and most figured that they would make a lot of noise come this time of year due to the fact that they were, you know, kind of on fire.
The RPG line was the most dangerous in hockey, the second tier guys were there and the goaltending was fine.
Fast forward to tonight, where they found themselves on the wrong end of the handshake line and I am admittedly surprised. This was a good, hot hockey team not too long ago. Now they are breaking out the khakis and polo shirts for the golf course and a long offseason.
On the other side of the same coin are the Detroit Red Wings.
This was a team in trouble coming into the playoffs. The squad has been known to cruise into the playoffs, then find the next gear. But people weren't used to seeing them blown out by 8 or 9 goals at a time—much less at the hands of the St. Louis Blues.
Injuries seemed to be mounting (again), with Kronwall, Datsyuk, Osgood and Zetterberg all missing time down the home stretch. Could they be ready to go once they got back on the ice? Could they match wits and intensity in the ultra competitive Western Conference after a haphazard final month?
Most thought not. I was worried.
Then the shotgun that is the Detroit Red Wings come playoff time went off, and the first shell went directly to the chest of the Phoenix Coyotes, who never recovered. There wasn't even time to think about the series before it was over.
The Desert Dogs didn't make much noise in the series, barely able to hold leads for more than a few minutes at a time. Datsyuk was making magic out of thin air, and all four lines were suddenly firing on all cylinders.
If the Red Wings were a Toyota Prius in the regular season, they had suddenly morphed into a Viper or a Porsche—anything that goes fast and cruises with seeming ease.
So what gives?
These two teams appeared to be headed in very different directions. Then their respective first games were played and we saw two different things entirely. The Wings had won in a pretty convincing fashion, while the Ducks were suddenly engaged in a fight for their lives. The guys in the Red and White, their series was not really in doubt after four days. The guys in black and orange? They were wrapped up in an increasingly scrappy and tenacious series against a fellow warm weather team.
Isn't this the kind of series that the Ducks were tailored to win? So what happened?
The answer is quite simple. In football they say any given Sunday. In hockey it's any given series. Nothing is for sure, and nothing is a given. No lead is safe, not in a game and not in a series. Rest for a period and you may find yourself on the other end of a momentum shifting avalanche.
And this? This is why the NHL playoffs are the best tournament in all of pro sports. (Please, contest me.)
Just a bit of an interesting case study, I suppose. And a great reminder that the regular season means nothing after you get to the big show.
This is the Greatest Show on Earth.
Congrats to the Nashville Predators on winning their first NHL Playoff series. I'm sure there is some excellent and long awaited celebration going on in the Music City. I'm tempted to drive down and check it out, being only a few hours out. The Ducks? This is a great reminder to their young core that anything can happen come April.