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.
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:
- Shea Weber only gets a fine for evoking professional wrestling on Henrik Zetterberg’s head.
- Torres gets the NHL’s equivalent to Roger Goodell’s bounty punishment.
- Chris Neil doesn’t get any punishment for a controversial hit on Brian Boyle.
- The Penguins receive an array of suspensions, from a hefty price for Arron Asham to one-game deals for James Neal and Craig Adams.
- Nicklas Backstrom gets one of the most surprising punishments when he’s forced to sit Game 4 — which the Capitals win anyway (naturally).
- Carl Hagelin sits out three games for elbowing Daniel Alfredsson while Matt Carkner only receives a one-game slap for attacking Boyle.
- Byron Bitz receives a two-game suspension for boarding Kyle Clifford.
- Andrew Shaw gets a three-game ban for bumping Mike Smith.
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?