By Rob Ficiur
0. The Toronto Raptors won zero games against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs. This is the second year in a row the Raptors have lost out to Lebron and friends. Not all is gloom and doom; the last four years have been the top four seasons in the team’s 22 years history. Nevertheless losing in round two of the playoffs feels like a failure. What direction does the team go in? Do they trade their one or both of their elite players and start again? Do they try it again with the same core players? Days after the team was eliminated all-star guard Kyle Lowry declared free agency. How hard should the team pursue Lowry and the team’s other free agents? Too many changes can set the team back to the non playoff regime they were for most of their first 20 years. The best answer of what to do might come from the Pittsburgh Penguins. After winning the 2009 Stanley Cup, the team did not get past the second round of the playoffs for six years. The Penguins, who kept their core players after many disappointing playoff runs, are in the final four again.
1. For the first time since 2014 there is one Canadian team in the NHL’s final four. The Ottawa Senators keep winning long after most of us think they don’t have the players to win another round. The Edmonton Oilers were one win away from making two Canadian teams in the final four. The last time there were two Canadian teams in the final four was 1994. In 1994, Vancouver and Toronto faced each other in the Western final. (Yes, young fans, Toronto was in the west for many seasons.)
2. Alexander Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals were eliminated in round two for the fifth time I his career. In his twelve year NHL seasons the Great 8 has never gone past the second round of the playoffs. Like the Toronto Raptors listed in item #1, Washington has to decide what direction they will go in the near future. With Ovechkin turning 32 before next season starts, his best years are behind him. The easy thing for the team to do is try (again) to surround their super star with the right type of players to help them make a playoff break through. The Calgary Flames did this with Jerome Iginla, the Vancouver Canucks have done this with the Sedin twins. Both Calgary and Vancouver had come within one game of a championship, and they hoped to get back there again. In both cases the superstars aged as the team drew further and further from a realistic chance at a Stanley Cup. Washington will try the same strategy, because they were the best regular season team in the NHL for the past two regular seasons. When you think your team is that that close, you can’t give up.
3. Toronto Blue Jays are now three games out of the second wild card playoff spot. After the worst April in team history 8 wins and 17 losses, the chances of a playoff spot were measured in rare comeback stories not numbers.
Since we turned the calendar to May, the Blue Jays are 9-4. A recent five game (so far) winning streak has changed the outlook in Toronto. The winning streak occurred when the team had injuries to six key players, who account for 46.5% of their salary. How can a team go on such a winning streak when half of their best players are out? That question leads to the question fans were asking a month ago, which was how cold this team get off to the worst April in franchise history? The answer to both questions is simply – no one knows. So keep playing and make up that three game playoff deficit this week.
7. Justin Williams, Mr. Game 7, lost a game 7. After winning an all time league record seven consecutive Game #7 playoff games over his career, Justin Williams lost one a seventh game this past week. Winning any Game #7 is sometimes a matter of luck. A bounce here and play there can be the deciding factor in a close game. This time his luck ran out. Williams did play more minutes in Game #7 than Alex Ovechkin; which leaves fans wondering another why.
8. The Anaehim Ducks won a Game #7. The last four seasons the Ducks somehow lost Game #7 at home. In those four games, the Ducks lead for a total of zero minutes. This year they fell behind Edmonton in the first period. As luck and skill would have it the Ducks bounced back to win Game #7.
9. Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid had nine points in 13 playoff games this year. For most first time playoff competitors this would be a great level of performance. Fair or unfair more was expected / needed from the Oilers new superstar. In the seven game series against the Ducks McDavid scored five points. To beat the best team in the west, the Oilers needed their best from their elite star. Playoff points are harder to come by – Oilers and McDavid learned this painful lesson.
The Oilers can choose to focus on their seven playoff wins. That is seven more than they have had in a decade; and more than most predicted they would get this year. Like all plans for the future – how to get more is unpredictable.