Kings over Rangers? I think we all saw that coming.
Well, maybe not all of us. But while the Kings certainly followed an unusual path to get their hands on the Cup, nobody who was paying attention would call it a shock that they ended up as champions. And even the Rangers’ unlikely run was a possibility that plenty of smart fans had been whispering about for much of the season’s second half.
But even if you weren’t surprised by how the postseason ended, you probably got to enjoy a few unexpected twists and turns along the way. That’s because there were several points we all seemed to agree on in the playoffs’ early days, and which turned out not to be such a sure thing after all.
So here are a half-dozen things that, in hindsight, we were wrong about when it comes to the 2014 playoffs. And yes, it goes without saying that “we” doesn’t mean everyone. Hockey fans are never unanimous on anything, and some of us surely turned out to be right on a few of these. But I do think it’s fair to say that there was, at the very least, a strong consensus on these points.
(Except for you, of course; you knew that all the stuff would work out exactly the way it did. You just forgot to tell the rest of us.)
The Penguins’ chances all came down to Marc-Andre Fleury
What we thought: The Penguins cruised to the top seed in a weak Metro Division. But the regular season didn’t matter in Pittsburgh; they’d be judged by how they did in the playoffs. And no player would be under the microscope more than Fleury, their much-maligned goaltender with a history of playoff struggles. If he played well, the Penguins would head for the conference finals or beyond. If they fell short, he’d be the reason why.
What actually happened: Fleury was fine, putting up his best playoff numbers in five years. The Penguins still lost, and it cost lots of people their jobs, but the blame couldn’t be directed Fleury’s way.
Where we went wrong: For the Penguins, plenty. They blew a 3-1 series lead to the Rangers, with the offense drying up to the tune of just three goals over those final three games. Sidney Crosby slumped, James Neal all but disappeared, the defense struggled, and the team’s lack of bottom-six depth was exploited. Once the playoffs ended, GM Ray Shero and (eventually) head coach Dan Bylsma were fired, and we could be on the verge of major roster changes in Pittsburgh.
Fleury, meanwhile, largely escaped any blame for the team’s disappointing postseason. He wasn’t great, outside of posting back-to-back shutouts early in the Rangers series, but he wasn’t the story. In fact, he seemed to be about as much of a nonfactor as a goaltender can be under the playoff spotlight.
In a sense, that puts the Penguins in a tough spot. If Fleury had struggled again, there’s a good chance the team would have moved on from him via trade or buyout. Instead, there’s a good chance they go into next year with him as the starter, and face many of the same questions once their 2015 playoff run starts.