As the Stanley Cup is hoisted by the Los Angeles Kings for the first time in franchise history, we take a moment to reflect on what the 2012 NHL playoffs taught us. Here are 12 things we learned:
1. If you get injured shortly before the playoffs begin, you risk losing your job.
Flashback to fall, and big things were expected out of Washingotn Capitals netminding duo Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth. But when both went down to injury as the season winded down, young Braden Holtby was called up from the AHL. Holtby led the Caps to a dethroning of the defending champion Boston Bruins, nearly outdueled Vezina favourite Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2, and played his way into a starting role come September. Stay tuned for more expressive cutaway shots of Holtby’s hockey mom.
2. Screwing around has its consequences in Nashville.
After blowing curfew, the Predators’ Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn — both late additions acquired to beef up a defensively sturdy team’s firepower — were forced to sit out two crucial second-round games as punishment. The strict decision divided public opinion like a tequila lime, raising the debate of whether a coach should play his best guys regardless or adhere to club rules even when the club has its best-ever shot at winning a Cup.
3. Parity has never been more rampant.
In light of the fragility of so many teams’ playoff lives during the last two weeks of the regular season, we already knew the NHL was throwing a parity party. The postseason’s bevy of road wins and overtime games confirmed it. The East-leading Rangers were the only team with a dominant regular-season record to make the final four, and even they were pushed to two Game 7s to make it that far — only to lose to a sixth seed that was given home-ice advantage (for the first time in the playoffs) in the Cup final because they were facing an eighth seed.
4. Even though the season stops, Patrick Kane doesn’t
With the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated early in a bad-blood battle with the Phoenix Coyotes, forward Patrick Kane — two summers removed from his Cup-clinching overtime goal — embarked on a weekend bender in Madison, Wisconsin, documented in detail by the sports blogosphere and turned into a comical Photoshop contest. Kane’s reign at the bar, however, is no joke. The NHLPA ordered mandatory intervention and Chicago GM Stan Bowman expressed his disappointment, leading some to believe Kane might benefit from a uniform change.
5. Raffi Torres is a better scapegoat than Shea Weber.
The suspension-soaked first round seems like a distant memory, but perhaps the list of supplementary discipline measures that marked, if not marred, the Round of 16 would have never gotten quite so long had Nashville star defencemen Weber been suspended (or, even better, penalized by the ref) for his gratuitous turnbuckle-style head-slam of Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg. (A major penalty and maybe the Wings score three goals. Thing things happen.) By the time Phoenix’s repeat offender, Torres, left his feet and injured Blackhawks playmaker Marian Hossa, enough was enough: 25 games.
6. The exact length of Roberto Luongo’s playoff leash.
That would be two games. A goalie change for Game 3 overshadowed the most impactful factor of the Kings-Canucks opening draw — that Vancouver’s leading scorer, Daniel Sedin (concussion), didn’t show up until the series was essentially over — and set the table for what promises to run neck-and-neck with Rick Nash’s fate in Columbus for the summer’s biggest trade tale.
7. Just because you have the two best players on your team doesn’t mean you get to advance past the first round.
They were already the hottest team in the league and a great story, threatening a run at the Presidents’ Trophy despite being down the consensus Greatest Player in the Game (Philly coach Peter Laviolette’s opinion notwithstanding). Then Sidney Crosby joined MVP favourite Evgeni Malkin toward season’s end, and Pascal Dupuis went on a 17-game scoring streak. Pascal. Dupuis. Unhinged emotions, a jacked-up Claude Giroux-led Flyers team, and some regrettable netminding by Marc-Andre Fleury got the best of the Penguins. An early Cup pick was done in six.
8. Tim Thomas still has it… he’s just boycotting it.
The 38-year-old all-star goaltender may be an enigma strapped with a facemask wrapped in a Facebook post, but his on-ice performance is undeniable. Thomas’s play in the closest playoff series ever contested, Round 1’s seven-game OT-heavy thriller against the Washington Capitals, was stellar (2.14 GAA, .920 save percentage, and a shutout). His confirmation of a yearlong sabbatical will hopefully benefit the three F’s in his life — friends, family, faith — but will rob the NHL of a sure starter.
9. How the Phoenix Coyotes really feel about not having an owner.
Until their impressive run ended to the Kings in the Western Conference final, the Coyotes players did a fantastic job of focusing on the task at hand, downplaying their seemingly everlasting ownership limbo and bandwagon attendance counts. But once the Kings eliminated the Desert Dogs, seconds after a questionable non-call, emotions surfaced. “I don’t want to go through another year and be a doormat in the league where you don’t have ownership and people to stand up for you,” veteran Ray Whitney told Azcentral.com. Complaints of unjust officiating and unfair scheduling bubbled up. “Who are we going to complain to? Our owner gave the trophy out to the other team.”
10. The earlier Canadian teams are eliminated, the sooner the trade rumours and draft gossip begins.
With the rapid ousting of the Vancouver Canucks and a commendable close-but-no-cigar effort from a pleasant surprise Ottawa Senators team, who pushed the No. 1 Rangers to seven, Canada lacked a team in the elite eight. Meaning it didn’t take long for attention north of the border to drift towards the June 22 entry draft — in which the Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs each hold a top-five pick — and the rumour mill to churn out steady speculation on the fates of household names like Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Scott Gomez and Luongo. Key phrase: unconfirmed reports.
11. Why Dustins Brown and Penner weren’t shipped at the deadline.
Only Kings GM Dean Lombardi knows how close L.A. was to actually trading this pair of rumoured bait — captain Dustin Brown and soon-to-be-UFA Dustin Penner — at the February deadline, but everyone knows he made the right call in holding on. (Adding Jeff Carter via Columbus didn’t hurt either.) The oft-maligned Penner has been a playoff stud, scoring 10 points, including two game-winning goals, while providing the press and his Twitter following with a witty quote. And Brown’s 20 points (five of them shorthanded) have made him a star.
12. Age ain’t nothing but a number.
Despite having their 40th birthdays in their rearview, Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney, and Martin Brodeur capped off solid seasons with notable playoff runs. Jagr and Brodeur have already expressed leanings toward another go-round. And after a return to the playoffs, Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson, 39, could be lured back by a young well-coached squad that is maturing quicker than expected.
Seven bonus revelations:
- Marian Gaborik is willing to play hurt, but like most humans, he won’t play well hurt
- Maybe Claude Giroux should’ve been nominated for the Hart Trophy after all
- Alex Ovechkin doesn’t have to play a ton of minutes for the Capitals to succeed
- Alex Ovechkin does have to play a ton of minutes for him to be happy
- Damn the idiots, Rangers coach John Tortorella conducts teams and press conferences on his terms
- “Pulling a Steve Bernier” is now a thing
- That Quick kid is the real deal