No, the title is not a typo. It’s been 7 days since the Blackhawks swooped in from Chicago, and won the Stanley Cup on our home ice. It’s still painful, but it’s an event frozen in history forever. There’s no going back, there’s no changing it. There was one great moment of glory in these past few days, and this was on Tuesday night. Comcast Sportsnet aired a replay of the Game 7 against Boston. The game was fun as hell to watch as it happened, but soooooo much more relaxing and enjoyable to see it replayed, knowing how it ended. Reliving Lavy’s timeout and reading his lips again. Briere wrapping around the net to tie things up at 3, with a whole period left to play. You know the rest, you know how it ended. But man, what a memory to cherish forever.
Which got me thinking, of course, about how to look back upon the season. I think when it comes to grading it, you have to look at two things: expectations and goals. This was such an up and down season, that there ended up being two sets of expectations.
Preseason expectations were high. We just got Pronger and Emery, the rest of the roster was pretty solid. We were coming off back-to-back postseason losses to the Penguins. Still, we were one of the favorites to go to the finals. The Hockey News picked us, Barry Melrose and John Buccigros did as well. Aside from Melrose, the other two actually picked us to win the Cup. With a high-powered offense, revamped defense and goaltending, we were sure to dominate, right? Well, not exactly. Injuries, rumors of locker room turmoil, poor coaching, and more injuries derailed us. I did a fairly comprehensive season review, so please check that out. But the main point, is that once Boucher stopped Jokinen to clinch the playoffs, there was a different set of expectations.
After an rollercoaster season saw the Flyers land in the 7 spot, we were no longer favored to do anything. Washington and Pittsburgh were on fire, Ryan Miller was nearly unbeatable for the Sabres, and many Flyers were just simply underachieving. At this point, expectations are rather low. My prediction at the time: second round exit.
Well, didn’t the cards just fall our way? New Jersey, one of the biggest paper tigers ever, was our first round opponent. We easily overmatched them, and make quick work of that series. We had the depth and the talent, and NJ just wasn’t ready for us. My prediction: Flyers in 5. The result: Flyers in 5.
Next came the Boston Bruins, or as they are now called, the Boston Strangled. Teams looked pretty evenly matched on paper. This could have gone either way. Boston won the first 3, and the Flyers ripped out their spines, hearts, sphincters and a few other major organs en route to winning the next 4. Historic, amazing, spectacular comeback! At series start, I honestly didn’t know which way to go. As I said then, I’m biased, so let’s go with Flyers in 7. The result: Flyers in 7.
Luck favored us again, as the Conference Finals featured the Montreal Canadiens. The surprising Habs had beaten both Pittsburgh and Washington. A Cinderella in their own right, Montrealwas an 8 seed, gving the Flyers home ice advantage. Again, the Flyers looked a lot better on paper. They were getting scoring from everywhere, had just come off an emotional comeback, and it seemed that the series was theirs for the taking. But then again, Montreal had somehow upset a pair of giants. Halak was the best goalie in the playoffs, and looked unbeatable. Still, I figured they’d be tired, and decided to go with Flyers in 6. The result: Flyers in 5.
Finally, came the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Chicago Blackhawks. This was finally going to be the greatest test for the Flyers, by far. Not only had Chicago swept aside the Sharks, but they were completely living up to their preseason hype. The same experts who had picked the Flyers to go to the Finals, had also picked the ‘Hawks as their opponent. Scoring goals, tough as nails defense, solid goaltending; they had it all. Aside from a brief losing streak in the regular season, they had competed for the President’s Trophy all season long. Once again, on paper, I felt the Flyers matched up well. Experts picked Chicago to win easily. The experts were wrong. They didn’t look at the teams closely enough. I broke it down, and the prediction was hard for me. But I felt Chicago was no mistake, and picked them in 6 hard fought games. I hoped, begged, and prayed that I would be wrong. But no: the result: ‘Hawks in 6.
So in the end, the Flyers had earned everyone’s respect; Briere and Pronger proved their playoff worth; Leino and Giroux emerged as rising stars; Richards leadership erased all questions; and we learned a lot about the heart and ability of other players as well.
So, looking back at the two sets of expectations, we were close. We lived up to the preseason picks afterall. We took one hell of a twisted path to get there, but we made it to the Finals. Only the bold few who picked the Flyers to win it all were left disappointed. And given the regular season, the Flyers far exceeded what most picked them to do once the playoffs began.
But, as I began, when reviewing the season, you look at expectations, and you look at goals. And really, there’s only one goal. Conference trophies, regular season awards, statistics, and all other achievements are nice, but that’s just clever marketing. Every season, every team, every player, and every fan wants the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, in that mission, we failed. Only by two games, but failure is failure.
My final grade: B+. Sorry, A’s are reserved for champions. This team was good enough to win the cup, it just didn’t happen. And that, is that.
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