It has certainly been a weird postseason. Not only are a No. 6 and 8 seed battling in the Stanley Cup Final – first time in current playoff format two non-division winners have met in the Final – but there have been a lot of teams and individuals that have disappointed along the way. Who has been the biggest disappointment this spring? Tab and I debate…
By Tab Bamford
In spite of the incredible performances of Jonathan Quick and Martin Brodeur, this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs haven’t been kind to many goaltenders.
One of last year’s finalists left his organization with questions to answer. Roberto Luongo only started the first two games of the Canucks’ attempt to defend their Western Conference championship. He allowed seven goals in those two games, and his .891 save percentage has opened the organization to the idea of making a permanent change. (Whether or not they can find a new home for Luongo, and his contract, will be something to keep an eye on this summer.)
For Pittsburgh, expectations entering the postseason were sky-high. With a healthy Sidney Crosby, many thought the Penguins were a lock to win the Eastern Conference. But six games into their postseason, they were scheduling tee times. Marc-Andre Fleury had a shockingly mediocre postseason, allowing 26 goals in six games and struggling to a .834 save percentage in Pittsburgh’s first-round loss to the Flyers. Coming from a former champion, Fleury’s performance was stunning.
The biggest free agent “prize” of last summer’s free agent market, Ilya Bryzgalov, may have escaped the first round (thanks, in large part, to Fleury), but he was not able to hide from his underwhelming postseason. He allowed 37 goals in 11 games, and his .887 save percentage wasn’t what Paul Holmgren and company were imagining when they handed him a nine-year, $51 million deal.
Last year, Chicago’s Corey Crawford earned a lot of praise (and a new contract) for his play against the Canucks. But a first round highlighted by a couple soft overtime goals on Crawford has given way to Chicago management asking for better than an .893 postseason save percentage from their starter.
Similarly, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard left a great deal to be desired in the Red Wings’ first-round loss. In five games against Nashville, Howard posted a pedestrian .888 save percentage. With Nicklas Lidstrom retiring, the Wings will look to fill an enormous void – both in skill and leadership – on their blue-line this summer. But expectations for Howard were not fulfilled.
While a great deal of attention has rightfully been given to the exceptional play between the pipes for the two teams doing battle in the Final, many of the teams that qualified for this year’s postseason didn’t enjoy the same experience.
With a number of goalies on the free agent market this summer, and some others available via trade, an area of focus before the 2012-13 season begins will be improved play between the pipes around the league.
By Ryan Porth
A handful of great teams were unexpectedly knocked out in the first round, but the biggest disappointment of this postseason actually went farther than Vancouver, Pittsburgh and Boston.
On the surface, the Nashville Predators’ second-round loss to Phoenix may not look so bad, but it was the way they went out that makes them this postseason’s biggest disappointment.
The Predators entered the ‘second season’ with sky-high aspirations with only one thing in mind: the Stanley Cup. It was a realistic goal, considering GM David Poile had gone ‘all-in’ to acquire Hal Gill, Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn, to bring back Alexander Radulov.
They lived up to the hype in the first round, swiftly dropping rival Detroit in five games. It seemed as if the Predators had turned the corner and that the stars were aligning for a deep run. Top-seeded Vancouver had been eliminated, so had Chicago and San Jose. All four Western Conference clubs to get put out in Round 1 had previously beaten the Predators in past postseasons.
Predators head coach Barry Trotz is one to tell you that you have to be lucky to win 16 playoff games. Luck wasn’t on their side in the second round.
A lot of times the playoffs are all about matchups, and the Predators ran into the league’s hottest goaltender (at that time) in Mike Smith. Nashville’s Pekka Rinne was great against Detroit, but Smith had been white-hot since mid-March. The Predators also ran into a team that was playing sound defensive hockey in front of Smith, so the Coyotes, from the start, were a bad matchup.
However, the disappointment of the Predators’ five-game exit in this series surrounded Game 2 in the desert. Forty-eight hours after an overtime loss in Game 1, the Predators played one of their worst games of the entire season in a numbing 5-3 loss. It was a complete, utter disaster.
In the days following the loss, the hockey world learned that Radulov and Kostitsyn, two of the team’s late-season acquisitions, broke team curfew the night before Game 2. They were suspended for Game 3 and didn’t play in Game 4 (which triggered harsh backlash towards Trotz for sitting them in Game 4). After the series, their teammates admitted the entire situation was a distraction in the locker room.
After that Game 2 loss, the Predators never really covered. They convincingly won Game 3, 2-0, but were shut out in Game 4. The Coyotes finished off the series in Game 5.
It was supposed to be the Predators’ time to shine. Two weeks after their momentous series win against Detroit, one that appeared to be a launching point for something special, they were packing up for the summer.
With clouds of uncertainty looming this off-season, the Predators had to go deep this spring. They didn’t, and they didn’t go deep in such a way that will sting for some time to come.
Photos credit: Getty Images