Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Beware the Ides of Sochi

How many times do we have to have an 82-game compressed schedule thanks to the Olympics for any "experts" out there to figure out even weirder things happen in the playoffs in Olympic years?

Hardly anyone from Sportsnet to TSN to...OK, Puck Daddy has his pulse on this but who else?

Since 1998 when NHLers started going to the Olympics, the playoff teams with the least Olympians in their lineups won their first round series 17 out of 32 times. Not an overwhelming advantage until you break it down into Olympics held outside North America in 1998 and 2010.

Then we see 10 out of 16 first round series won by the team with the fewer Olympians.
Now we're talking.

So with that in mind let's have a look at this year's Olympian task of making it out of round one:

Boston (6 Olympians) vs. Detroit (10)
Tampa (5) vs. Montreal (8)
Pittsburgh (7) vs. Columbus (4)
NY Rangers (8) vs. Philadelphia (4)

Anaheim (8) vs. Dallas (3)
San Jose (4) vs. Los Angeles (6)
Colorado (5) vs. Minnesota (4)
St. Louis (9) vs. Chicago (10)

With the Olympics more than other seasons we're seeing those extra games have taken their toll with injuries to key players that will affect the first round. More on the fatigue factor later, here's how things could shake out:

Losing Finalist '13 
vs. the Grand Rapids Griffins
Can Boston overcome the curse of the Losing Finalist from the playoffs previous? Since '95, the Losing Finalists have missed the playoffs entirely six times and been bumped out in round one seven times. So 13 out of 18 playoffs have seen the Losing Finalist not show up at all for the playoff party or go home early.

In Boston's favor is they improved their regular season record moving up from 5th overall in '12/13 to the President's Trophy winners in '13/14. Of the teams who improved after their Finals' appearance, here's their results the following season:

Detroit '96 finished 1st overall again - lost in round three to Colorado 
Dallas '01 moved from 6th to 5th - lost in round two to St. Louis
Calgary '06 jumped from 12th to 7th - lost in round one to Anaheim
Philadelphia '11 long jumped from 18th to 3rd - lost in round two to Boston
Vancouver '12 1st again - lost in round one to Los Angeles

Other than the Flames, who we all know (thanks to the Curse of Trading Doug Gilmour to the Leafs (seriously, of all teams?) either go all the way to the Final or lose in round when they make the playoffs, and the Canucks who are a dysfunctional organization to begin with, the above failing Finalists at least got out of round one.

Just don't think the Bruins are pulling an '84 Oilers or '09 Penguins run to back-to-back Finals after losing unless you think the B's are a dynasty in the making or they're a Coach Q type Blackhawks in disguise.

There's also the Olympic goalie medalist curse. Other than Dominik Hasek (who was a Gumby and certainly not of this Earth) who managed to will a Buffalo Sabres team to round three in '98 and Roberto Luongo in '10 who managed to wait till round two to turn into Sievongo again vs. the Blackhawks, the rest of gold, silver or bronze medal-winning goalies lost in round one of their Olympic years.

The other factor that may scare B's fans is their regular season vs. the Speed Wings. You can't take too much stock in the regular season except when one team dominates the other. Detroit's 3W-1L is not all that "dominant" but that's out there.

Whichever you prefer Zdeno Chara and the makeshift Providence Bruins callup D or the Pavel Datsyuk's imitation of Stevie Y on one lag in 2002 and a possible return of Henrik Zetterberg's Swedish beard to end all Viking beards with the Grand Rapids Nyquist callups, just don't bet the bank on either getting to the Final.

Tampa Bay Stamkoses 
vs. Montreal Vanekiens
If Ben Bishop was playing you'd have to call this series in the 'Ning's favor no matter how much you think Carey Price has finally found his mojo. Remember the Olympics is one thing, the NHL playoffs are completely another.

Maybe Anders Lindback is no Bishop but sitting on the bench now and ready to stone any team is Latvia's goalie hero at Sochi, Kristers Gudlevskis.

Just once I'd love the Habs to get a dose of their own Dryden, Penney, Roy, Halak back at them. Script written. Tampa, you know what to do now.

Lastly, Thomas Vanek with his 15 points in 18 Hab games is hopefully going to feel the buzz in the Bell Centre and re-sign with the team. As much as most of us hate the Habs, we need a strong Habs just to give us more Habs vs. Bruins insanity now we've gone to the divisional playoff format. Mike McPhee insists on this!

Pittsburgh Fleurys 
vs. Columbus Toy Cannons
I don't know what's up with the Team USA knockoff jerseys but Columbus has to either take my idea and put the bug front and center or stick with their toy cannon jerseys. I'm just saying that if you want to sell jerseys, you need to think fashion forward, as Tim Gunn would say.

Anyway, the Pens dominated the Jackets (5W-0L) in the regular season so no matter how wonky Marc-Andre Fleury may be in net again, can anyone realistically see the Jackets even with The Bob standing on his head winning four games when they've yet to win one vs. the Crosby Malkins?

Dale Rolfe vs. Dave Schultz
You know someone will bring up this classic mismatch of a '74 playoff fight in the that Game 7 that has been overhyped and distorted out of all proportion. Rolfe did not get injured in the beatdown. He played the rest of the game. The Flyers did score three unanswered goals after the fight but the Rangers came back outshooting the Broad Street Bullies 15-9 in the third period and manged to clawback into the game only to lose 4-3 on Spectrum ice.

Enough history lesson, Mr. Peabody, would you bet against Claude Giroux in this year's playoffs? After the Flyers' horrible 1W-7L start and the coaching change from Peter Laviolette to Craig Berube, Giroux went from 0G 7A in 15 early season games to 28G 51A in the other 75 games.

Plus all this talk about how well the Rangers have done with the AV Club running the show, let's see how they stack up:

under Alain Vigneault as coach
'13/14 12th overall, 18th in GF, 4th in GA

under John Tortarella (the Funk Soul Brother)
'12/13  12th overall, 12th in GF, 4th in GA
'11/12    2nd overall, 13th in GF, 3rd in GA

I threw in that last full 82-game season that the Rangers had to give a little tang to the debate. Basically, the Rangers are happier under AV and finished exactly where they were last season with a poorer offence. In fact Martin St. Louis has gone from averaging almost a point per game (61 PTS in 62 GP with Tampa) to invisible on Broadway (8 PTS in 19 GP). Yes, the Curse of Gaborik is alive and well and not just affecting you Rick Nash, adds Brad Richards.

Seriously, as much as I love King Henrik, go with the Flyers. Giroux is on a mission and don't we all want another Flyers vs. Pens Tong War?

Tomorrow: The Way The West Will Be Won

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