Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Around The Rink - Stanley Cup Finals Wrap-Up

by Bob Herpen
The Phanatic Magazine

You know what I'd like to do to Michael Leighton?

I'd like to see him somewhere in the city and its environs, walk right up to him, hold out both my hands in front of his face...and give him a big ol' bro hug.

It would be a touching scene right out of "Good Will Hunting" where I'd put to rest all his fears and apprehension by repeating "It's not your fault" over and over.

But I can't...because it technically is his fault.

Say what you want about how talented the Blackhawks were or how tired the Flyers got near the end of Game 6 because of the collective weight of their entire playoff run -- ultimately it's what Leighton did (or didn't do) which brought this memorable postseason to anti-climax.

There was no defensive breakdown, or manpower shortage. No fluke bounce to blame it on as so often happens in sudden-death OT.

Body on the post, kid. Square to the shooter. How could he, a goaltender who works best when playing a technically-perfect style, have forgotten the basics with the season on the line? It turned Patrick Kane into more of a hero than he should have been.

The final goal-slash-dagger-to-the-heart reminded me of another young goalie who got burned by the spotlight when he was first thrust into the glare.

Scott Clemmensen, who now serves as the back-up for the Florida Panthers, was a freshman netminder for the 1998 Boston College Eagles. BC, another cinderella team with an improbable run to the finals -- in Boston, no less -- lost a crushing overtime game to Michigan in the NCAA championship.

In that game, a little-known forward named Josh Langfeld was able to sneak out from behind the net and slide a shot in a three-inch space between the post and Clemmensen's body. Goal-cam replays showed that the 20-year-old came off the left pipe just far enough that the puck skittered between the metal and the bottom of his leg pad.

Some of us might have awoken in the night screaming "Pad to the post, Scotty!" until he and the rest of the formidable Eagles crew won it all three years later.

But I digress...

It's an awful, awful thing to have the responsibility of a Stanley Cup-clinching goal, in overtime, hung to you when you've done everything else in your power to help the team get that far. But Leighton is in the big time, and he's going to have to learn to deal with the aftermath, professional and psychological, until he's able to erase it.

Clemmensen put '98 behind him by setting a school record for consecutive shutouts and scoreless minutes the next season. While tending the crease, he was instrumental as BC reached the national semifinals in his remaining three years along with two more national title games.

He then went on to garner one of the best paychecks in pro sports -- backup to Martin Brodeur in New Jersey -- before bouncing around the NHL and AHL.

At age 29, Leighton has a golden chance to put that harsh lesson to good use, whether it's in Philadelphia or somewhere else. He's certainly reached a level of age maturity where it's more than likely that he can transform that misfortune into greater success, and it will definitely come with the elite 30.

Formula for Success

The NHL's viewing numbers for the 2010 edition of the Stanley Cup really come down to one thing, using a clean version of Howard Stern's vaunted formula for success.

Goals = Ratings

The Flyers and Blackhawks combined for a whopping 47 scores in six games -- the most since the Islanders and North Stars potted 42 in a five-game set back in 1981. Since the original expansion of 1967, only the Canadiens-Blackhawks debacle of 1973 (56 goals in six games) has matched the latest title round for offensive potential realized.

We'll see how the league reacts to these cold, hard facts, because every time a club with some kind of offensive mojo wins a championship, there are a dozen lesser teams who use some form of the trap (ahem, Montreal) to try and beat it back into submission.

You have to go back to the Penguins' Cup wins of 1991-92 to find a league which continued to embrace offense as a primary force for success when a high-powered team captured the silver.

Of course, the NHL of 1993 was helped by expansion and a high percentage of future Hall of Fame talent, but you'd hope that a young, fresh team like the Blackhawks can finally make a dent where the 1996/2001 Colorado Avalanche, 1997-98/2008 Detroit Red Wings, 2006 Carolina Hurricanes, and 2009 Pittsburgh
Penguins couldn't quite puncture.

Records Galore

The Stanley Cup Finals also revealed the depth of talent on both sides, quantified in the number of team and NHL records set during the six-game sojourn.

Philadelphia's Danny Briere set a new Flyers record with 30 points in the playoffs, topping Brian Propp's original mark of 28 set in 1987. Briere also came up with 12 points in the series, one off the all-time NHL mark for points in a Finals first set by none other than Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky who had 13 in the 4 1/2 game sweep of Boston in 1988.

In addition, Ville Leino tied the NHL's point record for rookies with 21. The last to do it was Dino Ciccarelli in 1981 with the North Stars. Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger also matched a single-season point record for
defensemen with 18, knotting Doug (Booooo!) Crossman from 1987.

On Chicago's side of the ledger, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Toews ended the Cup run with 29 points -- tying Denis Savard's previous team mark set back in 1985. In an era of total offense, Savard accomplished his record through just three rounds.

Kane was no slouch either, ending the playoffs with 28 points, the second-highest single point total in one postseason in Blackhawks history.

To Be Honest, It's Getting a Little Old...

The Flyers have now played the role of noble loser in three of their last four Stanley Cup Finals appearances.

Last week, they entered the title round with the lowest points (88) of any challenger since Vancouver had 85 (in 84 games) in the memorable 1994 Finals. They endured a ton of misfortune throughout the season that is pointless to recap here, and made it within a goal of a Game 7.

Mike Keenan's boys in 1985 and 1987 were also only able to bathe themselves in the reflective glow of the Oilers' second and third titles.

In the former year, they advanced without their leading scorer and second-best defenseman, taking a virtuoso Game 1 at home before being progressively worn down by the champions.

During the latter, the orange and black left an international imprint on the hockey community by riding a hot rookie goaltender, bucketloads of guts and the inability of the Oilers to take it seriously into the final minutes of
a Game 7 before losing.

After a generation of competitiveness that has only led to heartbreak and memories of what could have been, is it too much to ask for one team that is built to win it all? I think we all agree that the fanbase deserves a roster that isn't just prepared to beat the Penguins and Capitals (as it was constructed to get by the Devils, Panthers, Rangers and Islanders in earlier times), but to take down the best that the superior West has to offer.

The front office owes us that much, because we are a Philadelphia that is not content with years of positive numbers anymore.

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