By Rob Ficiur
Playoffs are a time of surprises. Every year we know that. Every year we anticipate what the playoff surprises might be. In the end we are still surprised by the playoff surprises. The following are the 2016 top playoff surprises (so far).
1. Curse of being first- The Washington Capitals finished first overall in the NHL standings. The Capitals were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by Pittsburgh. This should not be a surprise. In the last 11 seasons the President’s trophy winner for the most regular season points has only won two Stanley Cups (Detroit 2008 and Chicago 2013).
The NBA playoffs are different. The last three teams that had the best record in the regular season won the NBA championship. The Golden State Warriors, who set an all-time regular season wins record this year, hope that the trend continues. They are playing Game #7 of the semifinals Monday May 30.
2. Which Goalie? not a Final four question- Three of the four teams in the NHL’s final four had a goalie controversy. Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh entered the semifinals with their top goalies on the injury list.
Rookie Matt Murray took the Penguins to the final four. After Murray lost game 5 veteran Marc Andre Fleury was put in the nets again. When Fleury lost that start, they Penguins went back to the rookie and won two in a row to get to the finals. St. Louis has played the last several seasons. After Eliot lost Game #3 by a score of 3-0, the Blues went with Jake Allen for Games four and five. When Allen lost game five the Blues went back to Eliot in game 6. Experience shows that flip flopping goalies is like telling the other team we don’t trust either one.
3. Unpredictably great – or awful- Toronto Raptors surprised fans every game. In each of their three playoff series they played so poorly that we were sure they were about to be eliminated. The next game they came back and showed why they had the second best record in the Eastern Conference. In the Eastern final they were blown out by Cleveland in both of the first two games. After everyone gave them no chance they routed the Cavaliers in Games three and four. In the end they surprised fans by getting farther in the post season than they have ever gone.
4. Coach Boudreau lost in Game 7 at home (again)- For the fourth straight year Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau lost a Game #7 at home. Counting his Washington days, Coach Boudreau (now of the Minnesota Wild) has lost seven Game 7 playoff games. He did win a Game 7 in 2009. How can a coach with the best wining percent of our era lose all the close games? Anaheim fired Boudreau two days after this year’s Game 7 loss. Eight days later the Minnesota Wild hired Boudreau. The Wild think (hope) he can win with them.
5. Jonathan Drouin team- we won’t give up on you now- On Jan. 20, 2016 Tampa Bay forward Jonathan Drouin was suspended for refusing to play in the minors. The third overall pick in the 2013 entry draft had not performed well at the NHL level. Time in the minors often restores confidence to a young struggling player. When Drouin refused to play in the minors the rumor mill had a field day. Now what was Tampa going to do with a potential star? Trade him for nearly nothing? We all knew he would never play in Tampa again. After Steven Stamkos went out with a season ending injury, Drouin was called up. He scored fourteen points in Tampa Bays’ seventeen game playoff run. By the end of the playoff run everyone now knows Drouin is in the Tampa Bay plans for years to come. In reality everyone is surprised that he has gone from spoiled brat to star.
7. Blue Bautista suspended for … ? what?- In the 2015 playoffs Blue Jays star Jose Bautista hit a home run that eliminated the Texas Rangers. This was not an ordinary walk around the bases with a somber look home run. This game winner was accompanied by the famous bat flip that apparently insulted every Texas Ranger player and fan and all their ancestors back in time.
When the 2016 Blue Jays played their final regular season game against Texas on May 15 the Rangers “accidently” hit Bautista during his last at bat. After Bautista purposely slid hard into second baseman Rougned Odor he was out on the play. Odor tried to knock him out with a right hand to the jaw. Odor got a seven game suspension for hitting. Bautista got a one game suspension for… for what? For sliding too aggressively into second? It was not that rough a slide? It all goes back to last playoffs, he showed up the other team. Surprise! We still are surprised as we try to figure that one out.