Wait, that can’t be right. Matt’s finished last, like, every year we’ve done this. Save maybe last year because I got boned on Game 7s early on. But anyway. Congrats to LA, preseason dark horses who couldn’t put the puck in the ocean for 3/4 of the season, then changed coaches, traded a crappy defenceman for a great forward, then went on one of the most dominant runs in recent playoff history. People will conflate this to mean that Parity Rules the Day and so forth, but I think that’s dramatically overstating things. This was always a good team – the possession numbers and the eyeball test both bear that out – that couldn’t catch a break to save their lives. Jonathan Quick, Conn Smythe (and possibly Georges Vezina) Trophy winner, saved LA’s season long enough for them to get in, and from there, posted all-world numbers to cement victory. And the best part is, because most of their players are on (relative) value contracts, the cap shouldn’t bite them in the ass as it did Chicago a couple of years ago. The Kings have a deep prospect pool, and could be an elite team in the coming years. You kind of feel bad in a way for Terry Murray, Jack Johnson, and Ryan Smyth, who left right before the best part, but that’s how sports go sometimes, right? On the plus side, former Oilers Matt (The Goat of ’06) Greene, Colin Fraser, Dustin (Pancakes) Penner, and Jarret Stoll will have their day in the Sun, Fraser and Penner for a second time. Also, I thought it was nice that they let the Black Aces take a spin with the Cup (though I’d call that tempting fate to a degree), if for no other reason than the fact that former Hitman Martin Jones got 10 seconds with the Holy Grail. Unfortunately for Jones, I think he’s not in the best position for establishing himself as an NHLer and earning it for real anytime soon. Such is the downside of being a prospect on a deep team.
Meanwhile, kudos to the Devils for their effort here. You could argue that they had a pretty easy path to the Finals, facing (in order): the worst playoff team in 15 years (by goal differential); the worst playoff goaltending to make it to the second round since the dark days of the Norris Division Finals; a passive, shot-blocking team that had played two seven-game series and was far too worn out to actually counterattack. But as with most teams that make it this far, they did overcome some adversity along the way. They didn’t roll over when they were down 3-2 to Florida (?!), and they didn’t roll over when they were down 3-0 earlier in this series. Martin Brodeur, after Round 1, put up a vintage performance, and while it may not be sustainable at his age, it nonetheless makes a wonderful story; you’d almost like him to retire just so he has something close to a storybook ending. Steve Bernier will likely eat it over the summer for taking that costly major penalty, but as always, a loss is a group effort, and that penalty kill was absolutely abysmal. Ilya Kovalchuk was crucified for his effort in later rounds, but I’m gonna go ahead and say that none of the media jackals would be capable of getting out of a wheelchair if they had a herniated disc, never mind playing playoff hockey. Maybe he shouldn’t have been playing, but no one can question his grit and determination. It’ll be an interesting summer for New Jersey, with the Zach Parise question hanging over their heads, but I’d like to think that this run to the Finals gave them the money they needed to commit to their captain long-term; it’d be a shame to see him go after everything that’s happened this year.
So, until next year, congrats Matt, fuck you Matt, and Fuck Vancouver. That’s Why.
Addendum: By the way, with Winnipeg/Phoenix’s NHL-record 23-season run without a playoff series victory is now done, we have a new clubhouse leader in the New York Islanders, at 18 seasons (1994-2004/2006-12). Following them are Southeast Division cousins Florida (15) and Atlanta/Winnipeg II (12), with Columbus (11) rounding out the double digits. The Islanders are just two years away from the 20-failed-season mark, the long-held record set by the New York Americans (if you include their predecessors from Quebec and Hamilton, 1914-17/1920-35) and matched by their Manhattan bretheren, the Rangers (1951-70). It would only be fitting if all three historic New York franchises could hold the same mark for long-term playoff futility.