Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Remembering each year’s ultimate playoff losers (and why the 2019 Penguins could top them all)

I’ve always been kind of fascinated with the concept of a postseason’s biggest loser. Maybe it has something to do with being into my fourth decade of cheering for a team that never wins the Stanley Cup, but I’ve never bought into the idea that one team wins, 15 teams don’t, and all those losers are basically in the same boat of leaguewide failure.

Nonsense. Not all losers are created equal, and some come closer to the Cup than others. Obviously, the team that loses in the final is a near-miss, one their fans will probably always remember. But depending on how you look at it, other teams could claim to have come close too.

And then you’ve got the other side of the coin: The one and only one team each year that has the worst possible playoff experience. That’s the one I’ve always been interested in.

Specifically, I’m looking for the team that lost to the team that lost to the team that lost to the team that lost to the team that won the Stanley Cup.

That’s a lot of losses. In fact, the first time you read through them all, it feels like too much losing to cram into one postseason. But it all adds up. We’re looking for the team that suffers a first-round exit at the hands of an opponent that goes out in the second round. And then the team that beat that team goes out in the third round. And that team goes to the final, where they lose to the Cup winner.

It all leaves that first team as far from the Cup as possible. Four degrees of playoff failure. The ultimate loser. A quad fraud. The tetrad of bad.

OK, maybe the name needs work, but I love the concept.

Let’s say you’re a team like this year’s Maple Leafs or Jets. Sure, you’re disappointed by a first-round exit, one that initially made you feel like you were still a long way away from contending for a Stanley Cup. But what if the Bruins or Blues go on to win it all? That changes your perception. Now, you gave the eventual champs all they could handle. If you really wanted to, you could tell yourself that you might even have been the second-best team in the entire playoffs, one that just had the bad luck to run into a tough early matchup with the eventual champs.

But if you’re the team that lost to the team that lost to the team that lost to the team that lost to the Stanley Cup winners? There’s no sugar-coating that. You were miles away from winning anything. You lost as badly as you could possibly lose.

Or at least, that’s what I always thought. But this year, the concept is getting a new twist that I’m almost afraid to bring up. You know how you’re not supposed to talk about a pitcher taking a perfect game into the ninth inning? That’s where I’m at on this. It’s almost too wonderful to mention. But I wouldn’t be much of a journalist if I didn’t talk about an important developing story, and besides, I know from my recent Twitter mentions that many of you are already on top of this one. So I might as well spit it out.

Ladies and gentlemen, we might actually see the first ever case of a team that got swept by the team that got swept by the team that got swept by the team that got swept by the Stanley Cup champions.

That is insane. It shouldn’t be mathematically possible for us to be anywhere close. And yet here we are. And it’s made even better by the identity of the team that might pull it off: Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They were swept by the Islanders in Round 1. Then the Islanders were swept by the Hurricanes in Round 2. The Canes were swept by the Bruins in the conference final. If Boston goes out in four straight in the final, the Penguins will have finished as far from the Stanley Cup as is even theoretically possible. They’d basically be 0-for-16. If it happens, I’m pretty sure the entire league has to fold.

Needless to say, I am way too excited about this possibility. I’m not going to go as far as to ask the Bruins to come right out and throw the Cup final, because that would be ridiculous. But if they lose the first two games at home then yes, they should absolutely throw the Cup final. Just devote the rest of the series to hanging a historical embarrassment on a longtime rival. As the song goes, the chance may never come again.

Of course, if the Bruins refuse to play along and actually win the final, that will let the Penguins off the hook entirely. Instead, this year’s ultimate loser honors would go to the Flames, since they lost to the Avs who lost to the Sharks who lost to the Blues. Still fun, but not quite as mesmerizing as the possibility of the quattro-sweep.

As we all wait with bated breath to see which scenario plays out, let’s take a few moments to celebrate the history of the NHL’s ultimate playoff losers, dating back to the first four-round playoff back in 1975.

The recent history

By definition, the quadruple loser has to come from the opposite conference as the eventual Cup winner, so the last few years have been dominated by the West.

Last season, it was the Avalanche who earned the honors – they lost to the Predators, who lost to the Jets, who lost to the Knights, who lost to the Capitals. In 2017, it was Sharks; they lost to the Oilers, who lost to the Ducks, who lost to the Predators, who lost to the Penguins. And in 2016 it was the Wild, thanks to their loss to the Stars, who lost to the Blues, who lost to the Sharks, who lost to the Penguins.

So already, we can start to get some clarity on one of the questions that you may have been wondering about: Does any of this actually matter? And the answer: Apparently not!

The Avalanche followed up their nightmare playoffs by having pretty much the same season, making it back to the wild card this year. The Sharks rebounded to become one of the league’s best teams. The Wild are currently not that. Three teams in, and we’re already all over the map.

That’s where any reasonable person would probably give up on the whole concept. Gentle reader, I am not that reasonable person. We’re just getting started.

Going back a few years, we get to the 2015 Islanders, who lost to the Capitals who lost to the Rangers who lost to the Lightning who lost to the Blackhawks. That one nearly pulls off the opposite of this year’s Penguins scenario, as the first three series were all seven-gamers. Alas, the final only went six.

Next comes a three-year run of dominance by the Atlantic division, who give us the 2014 Red Wings, 2013 Canadiens and 2012 Bruins. Skip a few years and you get to the only repeat winner of the cap era, as the Bruins show up again in 2008.

Other cap era teams include the 2006 Stars, the 2009 Blues, the 2010 Senators, the 2011 Coyotes and our first team that no longer exists: the 2007 Thrashers, who lost to the Rangers who lost to the Sabres who lost to Senators who lost to the Ducks. Considering that Atlanta team was also swept in four straight and was making the only playoff appearance in Thrashers history, and it might well stand as the single worst example of the ultimate loser phenomenon ever. You know, until this year’s Penguins.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free seven-day trial.)

No comments:

Post a Comment