On the Radar: Stanley Cup Storylines
Here we are in mid-May, and it’s a wonderful time to be a sports fan. The NBA Playoffs are nearing the midway point. The baseball season is a month and a half old, and teams have their first tangible impressions of who they really are. The NFL Draft has given 32 fan-bases new hope for the year to come. Even fringe sports like horse racing and golf reel in fans with the Triple Crown and the major season in full swing. (No pun intended) As an added bonus, this year the World Cup is rapidly approaching contributing another dish to the sporting buffet.
Again, it’s a wonderful time to be a sports fan.
And yet, despite the overwhelming number of viewing options, there is nothing that can equal the entertainment value of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Even the most casual fan will tell you that the NHL Postseason is the best tournament in sports. If you’ve watched this year, you’ve been reminded why once again. There’s a reason why the atmosphere inside the AAC for Games 3, 4, and 6 of the opening round felt, looked, and sounded the way it did. There’s a level of excitement and intensity in NHL playoff games that is rarely found anywhere else in sports. And it lasts for two months.
Through two rounds, this year’s postseason has not disappointed. There have been historical performances, rivalries started, rivalries renewed, and a number of close games and matchups that have twisted their way to thrilling finishes. Two teams have already punched their ticket the NHL’s Final Four. At least one more will join them tomorrow. Just about halfway through what’s been a remarkable Stanley Cup Playoff year, here are some of the more interesting storylines that have developed:
The Year of the Comeback
So far ten different series have ended in the 2014 playoffs. Incredibly, almost half of the series victors at one point trailed by two or more games in the best-of-seven. The biggest comeback was the Los Angeles Kings opening-round rally from down 0-3 to beat the San Jose Sharks in seven games. The Kings became just the fourth team in NHL history to win a series in which they lost the first three games. Because of that, they deservedly grabbed most of the headlines. However, The Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks rallied from 0-2 holes in the opening round as well. In the second round, the New York Rangers climbed out of a 3-1 deficit to best the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Anaheim Ducks have crawled back from 0-2 to take a current 3-2 in their series with the Kings. When you factor in the Wild battling back after trailing 0-2 versus Chicago, and the Stars who came back from a 0-2 hole to tie their first-round series with Anaheim, seven of the twelve series (58.3%) in these playoffs have seen a two-game lead erased. In a race to four, that’s an insanely large number.
What the Duck?
The Stars former foes, the Anaheim Ducks, are continuing to defy the odds and win games despite a ridiculously large shot-discrepancy in the opposition’s favor. So far this postseason the Ducks have won seven games. In those seven wins, they have only outshot their opponent just once. (That game was Game 6 vs. Dallas, when they used the eventual series-defining, late surge to outshot the Stars 16-5 in the 3rd period & OT combined). All told the Ducks have been outshot 232-167 in those games. And remember, those are in Anaheim’s wins! That’s an average of about 30% more shots allowed than taken, and a 7-0 record to show for it. Strangely enough, in their four losses, Anaheim has outshot their opponents twice. But it still adds up to just 3 of 11 games where they’ve outshot their opponent, and they are one win away from the Conference Finals. The Ducks led the NHL in the regular season with a 10.2% team shooting percentage. In the playoffs, they have bettered that by scoring 32 goals on 299 shots – a conversion rate of 10.7%.
Going the Distance
Nothing adds to the drama of the NHL Playoffs like series that go deep. This year we’ve seen an overabundance of them. Ten of the twelve matchups through the first two rounds have gone to six or seven games. There has only been one sweep of the twelve – Montreal’s four-game ousting of Tampa Bay in the opening round. The first round featured three Game Sevens. The second round has already had one, and has at least one more are to follow. If Los Angeles beats Anaheim on Wednesday, three of the four second round series will go the distance.
Increasing the dramatics, once these series have gone deep, the outcomes have not gone according to script. It has often been said that you play the entire regular season in order to earn home ice advantage, just in case the season comes down to one game in the playoffs. Yet, this season the road team has prevailed in three of the four Game 7s thus far. Montreal looks to make it four of five on Wednesday night. If the Kings win on Wednesday, they’ll try to become the only team so far to win two different Game Sevens on the road.
Through Tuesday night, it’s surprising that Los Angeles deadline-acquisition Marian Gaborik leads the NHL with eight goals this postseason. Players that are at least tied in the Top-5 include usual suspects like Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane. Despite playing in just six games, Stars captain, Jamie Benn remains tied for 11th with four goals. That places him in a tie with players like Anze Kopitar, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, and Milan Lucic who have played about twice as many games as Benn. It is always fun to check the playoff leaderboard to see who has raised their play in the second season. But the other end of the goal column gets examined, too. And players who have not performed as expected have to deal with a very bright spotlight for the wrong reasons. This year, the list of players who went deep into the second round, yet have scored just one or zero goals this postseason includes Sidney Crosby (1), Matt Moulson (1), Rick Nash (0), and Brad Marchand (0). Crosby and Moulson were both eliminated on Tuesday and lost the chance to turn things around. Nash has been spotted at least another series thanks to the Rangers advancing to the Conference Finals. Marchand has the chance rewrite his postseason with a big Game 7 on Wednesday.
These are just a few of the many storylines in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Six teams remain alive with a chance to hoist the most famous trophy in sports. That number will soon be trimmed to four. Enjoy the remainder of what’s been a phenomenal postseason.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for the Stars radio broadcasts. He can be heard 30 minutes before face-off and immediately after games all season long on SportsRadio 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.