10 Things I Learned After Four Rounds Of Playoffs



1. VITAL MOMENTS: In a sense the Devils-Kings Final was decided in the first period of the opening game at The Rock. Instead of being spurred by the home crowd, Peter DeBoer’s club played tentative hockey. By contrast the visitors appeared to be shot out of a cannon. Before you could say “Where’s Kovalchuk?” New Jersey had lost two straight sudden-death games, finally finding equilibrium when it was almost too late to mount the comeback-of-all-comebacks. A more robust, energetic opening for the Devs could have resulted in an entirely different ending.

2. A TERRIBLY TEPID SMYTHE-WINNER: Jonathan Quick is as weak a Conn Smythe Trophy-winner since Jean-Sebastien Giguere mistakenly was awarded the MVP prize in 2003 for losing the playoffs to Martin Brodeur. Quick’s Smythe win was based on media madness blinded by the fact that the Connecticut Kid’s Final performance was vastly overrated. The goalie hardly had a tough save to make in Game Six. Marty Brodeur out-goaled him in at least two games. This was a tough Smythe call; there was NOT a truly outstanding choice in the lot. I favored the most overlooked King, Willie Mitchell. At least Willie talks to the media before winning The Cup; unlike slow-talking Quick.

3. HELLO, GOOD-BYE, DARRYL: Full credit to Darryl Sutter who somehow — I’m not even sure how — converted the Kings from chumps to champs from early to late Spring. You can figure that the Sutter “magic” will evaporate before next Christmas. After all how many months of sourpuss coaching can a club take before saying, “Enough, already?” Sutter may survive the 2012-2013 season and squeeze into another eighth place. But as for a second-straight Cup, he’s got about as much chance of repeating as Mr. Christopher Columbus.

4. THE HIDDEN INJURY SHAM: The hockey media accepts the fact that NHL teams successfully disguise injuries with nebulous terms such as upper body, lower body, medium body and, whatever other terms are meant to confuse. Because teams refuse to come clean, journalists are compelled to be pretend-doctors, guessing at ailments. Exhibit A was Kings captain Dustin Brown. When Brownie hit a Final round slump the word on Rue De Rumor linked it to an unspecified “injury.” In the end, the only one “injured” by Brown was Martin Brodeur’s net.

5. RAMPANT ZEBRA-ITIS: During the recent NHL general managers’ confab in New York it was quietly acknowledged that competent refereeing was as rare as the Dodo Bird. In fact if that rarest of birds still was around it likely would have out-reffed the zebras who worked the playoffs. The refs reached their absolute nadir in Game Six of the Final. One longtime coach confided to me as follows: “That was the worst job of officiating I have ever seen in a Final round!” No doubt, Jarret Stoll who escaped with no-penalty after dangerously ramming Stephen Gionta into the boards would disagree. All it took was one non-call (Stoll) and one exaggerated call (major penalty to Steve Bernier) to decide a game and a Cup-winner. As Monsieur Brodeur so aptly put it: “That’s what happens when one person has the fate of the hockey game in his hands!”

6. INEXPLICABLE IMMUNITY: Speaking of ridiculous refereeing, has anyone stopped to think about the fact that zebras never have to face the media and explain their inexplicable decisions. Apart from Bernier being — unnecessarily — tossed out of Game Six, how come the Devils were deprived of two more forwards at critical times? There still is no explanation as to why Ryan Carter and David Clarkson each were handed ten-minute misconducts. Zebras treated the most important game of the season as if it was a September exhibition in Apalachacola, Florida.

7. COMMISH AND HIS DONALD: Ever since the All-Star Game it was hoped that labor negotiations between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association could get crackin’. But the union’s new czar, Donald Fehr, had a convenient alibi for stalling. The Donald wanted to ensure that his entire constituency was informed of all the issues. Man, it sure took a long time for Fehr to explain why his card-carrying members are doing so swell. At long last Gary Bettman and The Donald are now ready to get down to talking and, we hope, settling this seemingly resolvable Collective Bargaining Agreement before mid-September.

8. MY FAVORITE DEAL: Of all the trade rumors we’ve heard during three playoff months, the one I like best has Rick Nash becoming a Flyer for James van Riemsdyk. Right off the top, I’d say that Philly would win this exchange for one very good reason. When was the last time the Blue Jackets high command did anything right?

9. MY FAVORITE LOSING PERFORMANCE: Anton (The Tank) Volchenkov rarely wins headlines nor commands interviews, two facts that never bother him. But in Game Six of the Final, New Jersey’s tank laid on more hard, clean bodychecks than I can remember in one game since the bruising days of Bill Barilko Bill Juzda and Bill Moe of the late 1940s. Even when his team was hopelessly out of contention, Volchenkov maintained his intensity, levelling Kings left and right. The Maven loved every whack of it!

10. MY FAVORITE SELF-ANALYSIS COMMENT: “This playoff run answered a lot of questions about (my) coming back (next season)” — Martin Brodeur who, despite playing for the losing Finalist, won more admiration than the winner, Quick.