By Rob Ficiur
Playoffs are full of surprises – even when the surprise is something we have seen last year and the year before or never. Confused? Read on, we have had more surprises (and perhaps a bit of confusion) as fans are in awe of the predictable and unpredictable.
1. Same two teams in the final three years in a row – For the third straight year, the National Basketball Association’s championship final will be between the Cleveland Cavaliers the Golden State Warriors. Never in NBA history, have the same two teams met in the finals for three consecutive years. The teams to nearly identical paths to reach the championship round. In the first three rounds, Golden State has twelve wins and zero losses. In the East, Cleveland has twelve wins and one loss. Seeing them meet in the finals is no surprise. They were two of the top four teams in the regular season.
A three-peat final has only happened three times in the century of North American team sports. In Major League baseball, the only time the same two teams met three consecutive years in the final was from 1921-1923 when the New York Yankees and New York Giants met in the World Series. In the 1921 series, the Giants beat the Yankees in eight games. Yes, that said eight games; 1921 was the last of the four years the league tried a best of nine World Series. The longer final was used in 1903, 1919. 1920 and 1921. The last time the same two teams met in consecutive years in the World Series was 1977 and 1978 when Reggie Jackson became known as Mr. October leading the Yankees over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The only time the National Football League had the same two teams for three straight years was from 1952 to 1954 when the Detroit Lions played against the Cleveland Browns. The Detroit Lions won the first two meetings, with Cleveland finally winning in 1954. The Browns were a powerhouse team that decade, making it to the championship final six consecutive years from 1950-1955. The Browns went on the finals again three more times in the next decade. The Browns won their first, last and only championship in 1965. Since the Super Bowl era Cleveland has not made it to the final.
Back in the original six era of the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings met in the finals from 1954-56. The Gordie Howe Red Wings won the first of the two meetings. The Rocket Richard led Canadiens defeated the Wings in their 1956 meeting. The 1956 win was the first of five in a row for the Montreal. For the same team teams to meet in a six team league is a lot easier.
2. Seven-peet for the King – Lebron James will be in his seventh straight NBA final. Prior to his three years in Cleveland, LeBron lead the Miami Heat to four consecutive championship finals. Basketball more than any other team sport experiences ups and downs based on their stars. Cleveland was good before LeBron returned, but he made them into a championship.
When was the last time a team (forgetting the individuals) made it to a league final seven years in a row? In basketball the Boston Celtics were in the final eight years in a row from 1957-1966. In our modern era, the LA Lakers 1982-1985 and the Boston Celtics 1984-87 were in the finals four years in a row. Boston Celtics eight in a row from 1957-1966.The New York Islanders were the last NHL team to be in five Stanley Cup championships 1980-1984. The Montreal Canadiens (1950-1959) appeared in ten consecutive Stanley Cup finals.
3. Two Surprising Stanley Cup finalists – When the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins begin the 2017 Stanley Cup final, you have to wonder how either team got here.
Pittsburgh is the only the fifth defending champion in the last 29 years to make it back to the final. The most recent was Detroit Red Wings, who won in 2008 but lost to Pittsburgh in 2009. Other teams to lose in their title defense were the Dallas Stars (win in 1999 and lose the final in 2000) and the New Jersey Devils (win in 2000 then lost in 2001). Only twice in the last three decades has a team repeated as Stanley Cup champion these were: Detroit (1997 & 1998) and Pittsburgh (1991 and 1992).
Pittsburgh’s run to the final is surprising in a personnel way. Kris Letang, their top defenseman has not played in the playoffs. In the 2016 Cup run, Letang averaged 28 minutes of ice time per game. This year he has not played one playoff minute. I don’t remember a team that went all the way to the finals without their #1 defenseman? To make it worse, Pittsburgh spent part of the time with their top two defenseman out as well. Every time a new injury came up, I kindly said the Penguins had a great run, but nobody can win with this many injuries. As unpredictable as the weather the Penguins keep winning.
The Nashville Predators surprised everyone as they made their way to the final. They were ranked 8th of the eight Western Conference Playoff teams. They beat the best in the west Chicago black Hawks in round one, then the second best in the west Anaheim Ducks in round three. When their top center Ryan Johansson went out after Game #4 – we all “knew” that Anaheim take over, eliminate and in every other possible way destroy the Predators. Wrong! Instead somehow the unpredictable happened and Nashville won the next two sending this team to their first ever Stanley Cup championship.
As the final round begins in each league – what other unpredictable things will happen? The only accurate prognosis is that the unpredictable will happen again.