Well, that was quick, wasn’t it?
Heck, the Canucks dropped out of the first round faster than it’s taken me to do this recap. Ok, maybe not. But it’s close.
I suppose we should look on the bright side. I mean, at least we didn’t lose our shirts this time around. This time, it was quick and painless. No, wait. That was last year. I guess this year it was Niemi and painless?
Anyway, the point is that the emotional investment just wasn’t there this time around. That’s a good thing, because most of us are probably still emotionally bankrupt after 2011. I mean, can you imagine if we were Leafs’ fans?
There’s a fanbase that’s been saving up for nine years. They finally got back into the playoffs and tried so hard to be prudent investors, but it wasn’t long before they moved on from the penny stocks to bet it all on what they thought were blue chip prospects only to run into a bear market. Almost makes you feel sorry for them.
I’m not trying to be callous, just that they already feel sorry enough for themselves that it’s not really going to help anybody to join in. I’ll give Leafs’ fans that: they’ve perfected the art of taking all the joy out of making fun of the Leafs. We could learn a thing or two on this front.
Anyway, back to the Leafs/Bruins series. There’s quite a few narratives out there in the mainstream media about just why the Leafs wound up losing that epic seventh game, but one stands out above the rest:
Only slightly worse is being up 2-0 in a series. Sigh.
There was one other interesting aspect to the Game 7 seven match-up between the Leafs and Bruins. It seems that the Toronto media finally got a new perspective on the way Boston plays the game, and on how it feels when the referees let them do it with impunity. Guess I missed the memo saying it was now ok to criticize the horrid officiating in the NHL.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying the referees are corrupt or trying to ensure one team advances or another does not. That type of organized corruption would require a level of competence that NHL referees just don’t have:
No, the referees are not biased. They are the one thing they really shouldn’t be, horribly inconsistent:
Oh, I should point out, however, that Kelly Sutherland is horribly consistent.
Fans, of course, are incredibly biased, but isn’t that the whole point, really?
This inherent bias of fans was no more evident than in the Montreal/Ottawa series, which featured the unfortunate collision between Ottawa defenseman Eric Gryba and Montreal forward Lars Eller. How you saw that hit is entirely dependent on your biases as a hockey fan. I call it an unfortunate collision because I have little invested in either of these two teams, and tried to view it as objectively as I could. And to me, it looked like a hockey play with an unlucky ending.
Heck, if you watch the opening montage for the first game of the Bruins/Leafs series, there’s at least three hits in there that could have ended just as tragically:
Unfortunately, in today’s NHL, optics is everything, so Brendan Shanahan and the Dept. of Player Safety had to get invoived based solely on the fact that Eller suffered a horrible injury. And if there’s one thing we know about how the NHL rules governing blind side hits, principle points of contact and suplemental discipline are written and subject to interpretation, it’s that either way, somebody was going to get screwed:
Hmmm, maybe the NHL should publish their rule book. It’s got NY Times best seller written all over it.
Montreal was never really the same after the incident. Not only were they without Lars Eller, but they pretty much came unglued and were distracted with avenging his injury and the poor officiating in general. To be fair, by the end of the series, Montreal was decimated by injuries to a number of regulars, including forwards Alexei Emelin and Brandon Prust, starting goalie Carey Price and captain Brian Gionta.
In a bit of a public relations disaster, Habs’ coach Michel Therrien had an interesting choice of words to describe Gionta’s reaction to learning that his season was done: “When he heard the news, our captain was crying in my arms.”
Now, as I’m sure you guessed, everyone and they’re uncle jumped all over this as some sign of weakness, lack of manliness, whatever. But look, this isn’t baseball, where we have to live up to some idealized, Hollywood version of a sport that is so wrapped up in Americanness that it’s synonymous with motherhood and apple pie. So, yeah, maybe there’s no crying in baseball, but then again, hockey doesn’t let you on the 15-day disabled list because you have a boo-boo on your finger, either:
Montreal wasn’t the only team to be missing their starting goalie by the end of their first round series.
Not sure if it was an act of God, or just that the prospect of facing the Hawks put the fear of God into him, but Minnesota lost Nik Backstrom to a sports hernia during the warm-up before Game 1 and had to go with Josh Harding. At the other end of the spectrum, Alain Vigneault decided he wanted to alienate Roberto Luongo even further, and went with Corey Schneider, who was still nursing a sports hernia of his own.
Not sure what the logic was there. Maybe it was just Vigneault’s way to force the issue and ensure that he didn’t have to deal with the distraction of two No. 1 goalies again next year. Not sure if this made a Luongo trade any more likely, but either way, I think he got his wish:
Finally, I must touch on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who actually would have benefitted from an injury to their starting goaltender. Unfortunately, the Hockey Gods did not smile upon them, and the only reason they escaped an embarrasing first round loss to the New York Islanders was that Dan Bylsma finally had the sense to start Tomas Vokoun.
Pittsburgh may score goals in bunches, but they give them up in flurries:
Ok, that wraps up my review of the first round. But I just wanted to circle back to the top for one last point.
I started this whole thing off talking about emotional investment, and that really is what makes us hockey fans. Over at The Leafs Nation, Cam Charron finished off his recap of the reactions to the Game 7 loss thusly:
If you’re a sports fan, "hope" is the worst. Hope turns into "expectations", and "expectations" except for a single fanbase, turns into "heartbreak". "Hope" sucks.
And he’s absolutely right. Inevitably, those expectations meet reality. And for seven of the eight fanbases left out there, the agony will only get worse.
So yes, I’m actually glad that if the Canucks had to go, they went out early. I’ve enjoyed the last week of Canuckless playoff hockey quite a bit. It has been entertaining in a way that Canucks’ playoff games are not.
But damn, it’s just not quite the same:
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