2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: What We’ve Learned

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Considering the endless stream of zany happenings, it’s hard to believe the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs only began on April 11. In that time we’ve seen upsets, the rise of easily dismissed goalies and a whole lot of controversy.

Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned.

The mighty have fallen

The Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks are already out of the playoffs. The Boston Bruins face a Game 7, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves one loss away from an early vacation and the New York Rangers might fall to the biggest playoff surprise of them all in the Ottawa Senators.

There’s a legitimate possibility that the Florida Panthers could be the East’s top seed by the second round. (Yes, seriously.)

A summer of upsets/defense reigns

As I’ve mentioned before, the uncomfortable thing about rooting for most NHL “underdogs” is that you’re often also cheering for tight checking and stifling hockey — at least in some form. It’s easy to root for Nashville over Detroit and Phoenix against Chicago for the “David vs. Goliath” angle, but in those cases, David is slinging Ambien instead of rocks at his foe.

Everyone looks silly

Obstruction worries aside, it’s fascinating to watch all the “bracket busting” in 2012 after the 2011 postseason essentially followed the script. Almost every night, hockey writers and fans watch well-reasoned predictions shrivel up in dramatic fashion.

That said, it’s all good fun if…you don’t take yourself too seriously.

source: Getty ImagesReputation alone won’t stop pucks

Some of the biggest goaltending storylines from the last 11 days:

  • Craig “cut himself making chicken” Anderson is having a better series than Henrik Lundqvist. Just let that marinate for a second.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury had one of the poorest playoff runs in recent memory and was worse than Ilya Bryzgalov.
  • Braden Holtby — Washington’s third goalie at one point — might outduel Tim Thomas.
  • Roberto Luongo played in fewer playoff games than Cory Schneider.
  • The St. Louis Blues lost their starter (Jaroslav Halak) to injury, which opened up a chance for their All-Star backup Brian Elliott.

The Wheel of Justice turns

Aside from some wacky Phoenix Coyotes fans, most people probably believed Raffi Torres deserved a lengthy suspension for his hit on Marian Hossa. That said, you can’t blame players for not knowing what exactly is legal or not. Here’s a quick list of some of the most interesting suspension, fines and non-decisions:

That’s a dizzying array of decisions that has many players asking the question: “What, exactly, is illegal in the 2012 playoffs?”

Claude Giroux crowned?

There are plenty of solid candidates for the “breakout star” of the postseason, but Philadelphia Flyers wunderkind Claude Giroux took the most prominent step forward. He scored 14 points in a six-game series and was demonstratively better than Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Couple of resume-stuffers, those.

Lots of overtime

There’s been plenty of “free hockey” in the 2012 playoffs — 13 overtime contests in 42 games. That’s about 30 percent of the playoff games going to sudden death and more than one per night on average. In other words, if you committed to watching postseason contests during any given evening, you had a great chance of witnessing a game that would be tough on Joel Quenneville’s ticker.

No obvious favorite

Just about everyone’s rubber stamp choice for the Stanley Cup is either a) already out of the playoffs or b) fighting for their playoff lives. It all comes back to this, then: have we learned anything about who the real favorite is now?

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.