Random Musings On Almost Important Issues

You know, there ought to be a “stuff” option for a topic. Anyway, I came up w/ ideas for three seperate articles, and in an effort to get all three posted, I combined them all into one big uber-article! Creative, eh? Yeah…about as creative as my username. Anyway, w/o further ado…

Playoff Upsets…

With everyone talking about what an incredible upset it is for Anaheim to have gotten this far in the playoffs, I thought I’d look at the other tremendous upset playoff runs that have occurred since 1990 and the last hurrah of the Oilers dynasty that dominated the league in the 1980’s, w/ the help of the Isles.

1991 was the start of a new era of hockey: the era of upsets. Not all of these Cinderellas went on to win the Cup, but there have only been 3 years since 1991 that hasn’t featured a 4 seed or lower in the Cup Finals. Here is every Cup final since 1991, w/ the winner first and the loser second (except this year, I just put NJ first b/c they’re up and the higher seed). Note: seeds are based on straight standings, not divisional standings, and I didn’t bother w/ tie breakers.

SEED OF CUP WINNER

91: Pittsburgh (3) vs. Minnesota (7)

92: Pittsburgh (t.4) vs. Chicago (3)

93: Montreal (t.4) vs. LA (6)

94: NYR (1) vs. Vancouver (7)

95: NJ (t.5) vs. Detroit (1)

96: Colorado (2) vs. Florida (4)

97: Detroit (3) vs. Philly (2)

98: Detroit (2) vs. Washington (4)

99: Dallas (1) vs. Buffalo (t.5)

00: NJ (2) vs. Dallas (3)

01: Colorado (1) vs. NJ (1)

02: Detroit (1) vs. Carolina (7)

03: NJ (2) vs. Anaheim (7)

As you can see, Anaheim is hardly the first 7 seed to make it to hockey’s holy grail. Even the 99 Sabres, when Carolina and tie breakers are introduced, was actually a 7 seed in the playoffs. Interesting to note: every other 7 seed eventually lost in the finals. By the time this article is posted, we may or may not know if Anaheim will join those ranks. Of course, Anaheim is a stronger 7 seed than most, w/ 40 wins and 95 points (as opposed to the 1991 North Stars, who were 27-39-14 w/ 68 points…to put it in persepective, Western #15 seed Columbus Blue Jackets finished the season w/ 29 wins and 69 points).

Another interesting point: the upsets lately almost all happen out East. New Jersey and Philly are the only teams to make it to the Cup Finals ranked higher than 4 since the Rangers in 1994. Another interesting point: a 1 seed has only won the Cup 3 times in this 13 year time span, and only one #1 has lost to a lower seeded team in the finals…and yes I do realize who it is, so no smart comments. :p

As you can see (and probably knew anyway), upsets in the NHL playoffs are nothing new, in the most balanced, evenly matched league of all 4 major sports (don’t give me the NFL BS…total chaos and losing 10 players each year to free agency and balance are two seperate concepts).

DEFENSE

This is inspired by something I saw defenstrate say. “Do not confuse work ethic w/ interference”. That’s not the exact quote, there was another word before interference, but its close enough. Now to me, that quote is, quite simply, wrong. Let me begin to explain why.

When you close your eyes and just think of hockey, everyone of us has our own set of images that pop up. Some are similar for everybody…Bobby Orr’s OT goal. The Stanley Cup being lifted by whoever…Yzerman, Bourque, Hasek, Modano. The face of Wayne Gretzky. The 1980 Miracle On Ice (or for Canadians, whatever you think of when you think of the 1972 Summitt Series).

For me, another one of these images is Steve Yzerman’s Game Seven double overtime goal against the St. Louis Blues in 1996, but not for the reasons you think. The goal, to me as a Wings fan, is pretty irrelevent. The first hockey game I ever watched was the last regular season game of that season, so at this point of my life, my opinion of hockey was still, “that’s pretty awesome” and not “all consuming life sucking void that overpowers all else in the universe in terms of importance” like it is today. I did watch part of the game, but I was also about 9 at the time, so I didn’t stay up for the whole thing…stupid 8:30 bedtime. The Wings proceeded to get smacked around by the Avalanche in the next series anyway, so on the whole, it was about as irrelevent as a Game Seven double overtime goal can get regardless of my interest or disinterest (I suppose Blues fans would disagree, but its not like they had a shot against the Avs either…stop deluding yourselves).

To me, the true significance of the goal is a visual representation of the transition from 80’s firewagon, pond hockey to systematic, defensive oriented, even trapping hockey that is what hockey is today. You may ask yourself: how can a goal from 1996 represent this? You may also say: “hey homer moron, you just have a mental block. The 1995 total ass whooping by the 5th seeded Devils on your President Trophy winning Wings, where they held your vaunted offense to one freakin’ shot in the 3rd period of Game Four, when you’d think they’d start being a little desperate, is the true representation of the transition of hockey”.

Well, yes, this is true. The merciless slaughter and pounding into the ice of my Wings at the hands of those Devils, who wouldn’t even make the playoffs the following season, is the true transition point. It is also part of the all consuming hatred towards the Devils I possessed when I read descriptions of that series, that led me to actually root for the Avs in Game Seven of 2001…(well, actually I wanted Bourque to win it and the rest of the players involved to die in a fiery plane crash, but you know how it goes…that was a really sucky year for Wings fans).

However, when I read that comment, it made me think of that image, which I know only from replays.

Let me describe it to you, if you don’t already know. Yzerman takes the puck through the neutral zone, undresses a defenseman, and fires a wrister from the blue line that somehow beats…was it Fuhr or Casey back then? Can’t remember, it doesn’t really matter anyway, it was a horrible goal either way. But what I remember most of that goal is this.

As Yzerman cuts through the neutral zone, you see a perfect shot of Wayne Gretzky, standing about six feet away. I say standing, b/c that was about what he was doing. He was coasting through the neutral zone, feet not moving a stride. He was easily close enough to jump on Yzerman and strip the puck away, as any player who wants to keep his job would do today. Instead, in sudden death in every way possible, he watched. He watched Yzerman score and eliminate his team and his last possible shot at a Cup.

THAT is the difference between today’s hockey and 80’s hockey. That is the image I hold to me whenever I think of the difference. Beyond trapping, obstruction, all of that, it is the simple fact that today, players CARE about defense. There are 50 blocked shots a game now. Everyone backchecks all the time. Players are not allowed to stand in front of the net unchecked anymore. You can’t even get a shot from the point. THIS is why goal scoring has dropped, b/c there is EFFORT, SACRIFICE, and DESPERATION on BOTH ends of the ice.

Alright, I had one more thing I wanted to write about, but this is getting long already, so I’ll save it for another day. Anyway, w/ all the negativity and bitching going on lately, I figured I’d post a couple positive articles about hockey itself, and the fire behind it that makes us love it so much. That is all. Show’s over ppl, go home, read a book or something.


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