For the first time in 25 years, I didn't have a horse in the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I'm a Detroit Red Wings fan and thanks to a front office that is incapable of handling an NHL that limits everyone's spending, we found ourselves on the outside looking in without a playoff spot to be had.
This is just one instance of how the National Hockey League has changed over the years. The other would be to look at the conference finals match-ups right now, with the Nashville Predators set to take on the Anaheim Ducks in the West and the Ottawa Senators getting ready to battle the Pittsburgh Penguins in the East. In both cases, one team waited for the other to finish a seventh game in the semifinal round. Anaheim did so against Edmonton in a series that went back and forth with lead changes until the Ducks finished the job in Anaheim, while Pittsburgh nearly blew a three games to one lead, losing Games 5 and 6 to Washington before shutting out the Capitals 2-0 on the road to reach the conference finals yet again.
Ok, maybe not everything has changed over the years in the NHL. The Washington Capitals still can't be counted on to win. Anything. Ever. As bad as this season was for the Red Wings, I couldn't imagine being a Caps fan overall. At least I have 4 Stanley Cups in the past 20 years to show for some tough times. All a Caps fan has in that same period of time is 6 conference semifinals losses, 7 first round playoff exits, 7 seasons of missing the playoffs and ONE Stanley Cup Finals appearance......in 1998 when they were swept by the Red Wings.
It's not for lack of trying either. The Capitals have tried almost everything. Talent, coaching, organizational changes and even a major rebuild that helped them land one of the best players in the world who would become the face of the franchise in Alexander Ovechkin. Yet for his entire NHL career now spanning 12 years, he's never even been to the Eastern Conference Finals, usually running into Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers or Tampa Bay pushing them out of the playoffs in two rounds or less. I thought they might have a shot with Barry Trotz behind the bench, but even he can't get this franchise to the conference finals, let alone the Stanley Cup Finals. If you're a Caps fan, you likely need a hug......a BIG hug for the last 20 years of abject failure. I'd give you one if I could.
Now we have to deal with the Penguins in the conference finals. Again. As if we haven't had enough of Commissioner Gary Bettman's golden boy Sidney Crosby and his next-level catalog of cheap shots and chippy play to go with his future Hall of Fame career, playing once again for the chance to hoist Lord Stanley's chalice. The Ottawa Senators, a franchise younger than The Simpsons that briefly tasted a Stanley Cup final in 2007 stands in Pittsburgh's way after dispatching two Original Six teams, Boston and the Rangers, in six games each. They don't have home ice, but they are surely our only chance to keep Crosby and his motley crew from reaching the final round. As a long time Crosby and Penguins hater, I need that to happen for sure.
That's only half the battle, though. The other half is out west with a franchise that is also younger than The Simpsons and kept Ottawa from winning a cup in 2007, the Anaheim Ducks, and their next opponent the Nashville Predators. After sweeping Calgary in the first round, Anaheim needed every bit of seven games to dispatch the Edmonton Oilers to reach its fifth conference final in franchise history. Nashville on the other hand, swept Chicago in Round 1 and took care of St. Louis in six games for Round 2 to reach its first conference final ever. In Everdom. For the record, the Predators are barely older than Family Guy for reference.
My hatred of the Ducks goes back to when they were still associated with Disney and called themselves "The Mighty Ducks." Don't get it twisted, I love those movies but the team was more than annoying and pesky on the ice. Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne were just annoying to deal with, even on a team that missed the playoffs more often than it made them in the first decade. I respected the talent, but they would win games they had no business winning a lot of times and they almost won a cup that they had no business winning in 2003 with a team that had no offense and a white hot goalie. It wasn't long after that they dropped the "Mighty" from their moniker, changed the logo and color scheme and became the consistently decent to solid Anaheim Ducks we have seen for the last decade. My hatred still remains though, and Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry haven't done anything to change that one bit.
I SHOULD hate Nashville still for the time that Shea Weber tried to decapitate Henrik Zetterberg in the 2012 playoffs, but he's in Montreal now via a trade for one of my favorite players, P.K. Subban, so my hatred has waned in that regard, along with time. In addition, the Preds have been a great story so far and they are definitely the biggest underdog left in the playoffs so they aren't too difficult to root for. Plus, Nashville is 2-0 against the Ducks in the playoffs all-time, winning four games to two in the first round of the 2011 playoffs and four games to three in the first round last year as well. I'm sure plenty would say that Anaheim is due for some payback and home-ice advantage will assist them, but the Predators will be a tough out to say the least.
At any rate, my displeasure for both Pittsburgh and Anaheim means that I am rooting for an Ottawa-Nashville finals, which would be great theater as the Senators would try to become the first Canadian NHL franchise to win a Stanley Cup in 24 years, and the Predators would try to win their first cup in franchise history on their first ever finals appearance. Putting my fan preference aside, wouldn't that be more exciting than watching Anaheim try to win its second cup in a decade or Pittsburgh trying to win its third cup in 8 years and also win in back-to-back seasons? I think so. You probably don't agree with me if you live in Anaheim or Pittsburgh, though. Oh well, here's hoping you both lose in the conference finals. It's not like I have a team to personally root for anyway. Why hasn't Ken Holland been fired yet? That's another topic for another offseason blog post. There's still a lot of hockey left to be played this season yet.