North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Nightmare Series

with 2 comments

In what now seems like a long time ago – my high school days – I used to date this girl whose parents were a lawyer that liked sailing and a teacher that had this talent, of a sort, for turning a phrase – like when she described a party that was thrown by one of her sons: a horrid mess of loud music, broken glass and the police breaking it up in the hours of the morning. It was, in her words, a “Nightmare Party”.

And right now, the Edmonton Oilers/ Detroit Red Wing series is starting to look like a nightmare series.

Remember in 1987, when Pat LaFontaine scored deep in the fourth overtime to beat the Capitals? Orin 1990, when Petr Klima scored in triple OT in the Stanley Cup finals? Or even when Dave Elliot scored in double OT in game three of the 1990 quarterfinals? All of those were the longest games of the series – and the only overtime games. I can’t honestly remember a time when a #8 seed even took a #1 seed to two double OT games in the first three games of the series. I swear, this thing is going to be perfect as a DVD set or a marathon special on ESPN Classic.

This series is starting to look like something different then the other matchups – has there ever been a #1 seed that was so evenly matched with a #8, perhaps more evenly matched then any other matchup possible in the current playoff tree? I’m going to venture a guess that there isn’t – for several reasons.

The first reason is that the Red Wings are like the “Brokeback Mountain” or the “Lost” of pro hockey: not especially overrated, but not as good as the stats (or reviews or viewership or popular opinion) would have you believe. The Red Wings finished the season with 124 points, by far the best in the league – but look at the division that they played in:

1) Detroit: 58 wins, 16 losses, 8 Overtime losses – 124 points
2) Nashville: 49-25-8 – 106 points
3) Columbus: 35-43-4 – 74 points
4) Chicago: 26-43-13 – 65 points
5) St. Louis: 21-26-15 – 57 points

Three of those teams didn’t just not make the playoffs, they finished in the bottom of the league:

1) Detroit – 124 points
2) Ottawa – 113 points

25) Columbus – 74 points
26) Boston – 74 points
27) Washington – 70 points
28) Chicago – 65 points
29) Pittsburgh – 58 points
30) St Louis – 57 points

So whereas teams like Ottawa faced playoff teams like Buffalo (#4 eastern seed), Montreal (#7 Eastern Seed) and the almost-playoff bound Toronto (#9, two points behind the #8 seed) on a regular basis and still came away with over 110 points, Detroit played three of the bottom five teams of the league on a regular basis and got over 120 points. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but they had a fairly light schedule – they played Columbus, Chicago and St. Louis 8 times this year, winning all but three(!) of those games, two of them in either overtime or in a shootout (where the losing team still gets one point) – and were pretty much a lock to make the playoffs from game one.

Yes, those were games that like the CBC colour commentator guy said last night – or was it this morning? – “You gotta win if you wanna get in the playoffs”, but my point is that unlike the Oilers, the Red Wings got to play subpar teams on a regular basis thanks to the NHL’s new (or as I call it, the “Why the fuck are the Leafs playing the Bruins again?”) schedule and may well not be as good as their Presidents Trophy indicates.

***********

My second point is pretty much the same as my first; the Oilers are better then the #8 seed usually is. Unlike the Red Wings, they play in a fairly tough division:

1) Calgary – 103 points
2) Colorado – 95 points
3) Edmonton – 95 points
4) Vancouver – 92 points
5) Minnesota – 84 points

Out of those five teams, three made the playoffs and the fourth would have made them in the Eastern Division – and Edmonton had to play each of them eight times this year. For the Oilers – and the Flames and the Avalanche – points were harder to come by then they were for the Red Wings, as they were playing teams of better quality (that entire division finished above the bottom three teams of the Central Division) on a much more regular basis.

******

My final point is the age factor: The Red Wings are an experienced team that is comprised mostly of older players. Both of their starting goaltenders are 33 years old, their average age is 31.7 years old and they have two starters who are over 40 years old, whereas the Oilers only have two players that are older then 36. And while experience surely counts for something, when you have a player that played in the 1987 Rendez-Vous series (and wasn’t even a rookie then) you can’t expect that experience to compensate for the fatigue that older players accumulate in a long, multiple overtime game.

Indeed, as players like Chris Chelios log large amounts of ice time – over 30, maybe even 40 minutes – you can expect them to both slow down and take a few penalties, leading to more scoring chances for the younger team.

So due to those factors, this is quite possibly the most even match of the playoffs; and this round will not the Mike Tyson fight (over fast and before you know it) that the 1-8 matchup usually is, but will be more like an Ali-Foreman fight that keeps going on and on – or, as the mom of one of my former girlfriends would have said, like a Nightmare party that never seems to really end. After all, this isn’t going to be a series that has one marathon 4OT game that seems never to end; it’ll be one with double and single overtimes with more overtimes then either team will get on their own in the rest of the postseason.

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Written by M.

April 26, 2006 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Hockey, nhl, playoffs

2 Responses

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  1. Go Devils!

    Roger Yang

    May 1, 2006 at 9:39 pm

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