This NHL playoff year more than ever, hockey fans, social media and bloggers are all singing familiar tune. They all embraced the idea of how much better Western Conference is compared to East and how quickly any team from West will dispose of any team from Eastern Conference when it meets them in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Western love and affection grew that much stronger after destruction of Toronto Maple Leafs (darling of media giants like TSN and CBC), which exploded the latter part of the year, (reminded me of another pro-sport team in that city that accomplished similar feat, but that's for another day) the story was dead and "Blinded by the Sun" was waiting.
This talk based purely on regular season statistics and records seem to sweep hockey world, even veteran writers and reporters of this game can hardly contain themselves with jumping to quick speculations, comments and conclusions.
An example of that was well displayed for everyone and just how blinded those involved have become during last night's contest between Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers. Well known figure on NBCSN that interviewed NYR's player right before the game was just a small example of how little attention and effort is put by one. The question was asked of how did this team (NYR) turned their game around in the playoffs after struggling towards the end of the season. Now wait a second. Where were you the last quarter of the season? NYR struggled towards the end of the season?! Yes, they did have their problems at the beginning of the season, but the end? It is a news to me.
Fact is, the last 15 regular season games, Rangers have lost only 3 times in regulation and all by one goal. If this is considered a struggle by someone who eats, sleeps and breathes hockey and does it for a living, many teams in this league will be more than happy to trade places with NY for that kind of "struggle" record.
Yes, I understand Western teams were the top dogs this past regular season. (4 out of top 5 teams this year were in fact from the West). And as the season was coming to an end most media focused squarely on the West as a clear favorite conference to have a winner coming from and paid very little attention to what has been happening in the East, as above example clearly shows. And that opened up a social media faucet that is still wide open, spewing pro-West or anti-East teams agenda and no matter what seem to happen in the playoffs so far, stories of Western domination will continue to flood until the winner is crown. Media also took a bet that more juicy stories would play out where the sun sets. Questions were asked and repeated often and buzz grew stronger by hours. Some of the top ones:
-Will that be considered a "Dynasty" team as it would be their 3rd championship in the past five seasons?
-Will San Jose Sharks, who found a way to beat regular season on consistent basis for a decade now, will they finally join two other California clubs and hoist the Stanley Cup up in the air?
-Who will win "the Battle of Cali" as all three teams are strong and present in the playoffs?
-Will St Louis Blues who many considered a Cup favorite very early in the season finally have their first Cup in their franchise after acquiring Ryan Miller and duplicate what LA Kings did two years ago?
And on and on.
Some of these questions were answered already. Some will play out in upcoming days and weeks.
Looking down on past 10 Stanley Cup winners (5 were from the East and 5 from the West). Being top team after 82 game season does not guarantee that your team will have an instant playoff success or Stanley Cup ring . In fact, only 2 of the past 10 Cup winners were a top seeded team. And this year Boston Bruins already joined the ranks of 1st overall teams after 82 games to exit the playoffs and winning just one round. The Stanley Cup winner's average position is around 5th (4.7th) overall over last 10 years. The two Cup finalists combine average position over past 10 finals is 10th (10.4th) overall. Clearly being a best team during regular season and winning Presidents Trophy doesn't mean much at all when it comes to playoffs.
And as the NHL playoffs go on, I'm looking forward to witness more familiar storyline. Storyline that is not hyped by the media and yet it always happens. Storyline that almost never disappoints me and repeats itself. Year after year. Storyline I can always count on. Storyline that happens more often than best team winning it all. A story like an "unexpected" upset. A goaltender getting hot and stealing a game or two, perhaps even a series. A player that makes a name for himself overnight. A rookie who just began a long NHL career. A veteran with historic heroics. A fourth liner playing above and beyond his skill level and expectation. An instant OT hero. And more importantly, seeing a team rise to something bigger than their team stats would say. Something grittier than their standings tell us. Something stronger that you've never seen before and something that hockey media guy might not understand or make sense out of but it makes all the sense in the world to you and me.
Playoff hockey, where heart takes you further.