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Mike Schopp's Blog



SCHOPP: Puck luck

Still trying to keep my feet attached to the Earth given the upside-down nature of the hockey playoffs. You come to think that the universe has rules, laws of nature. Then an 8-seed that finished 29th in regular-season goal scoring rips through  the NHL and wins the Stanley Cup.

What does it mean?

No team ever seeded so low won it all. Was it a matter of time? Many hockey fans for a while have been saying yes. Philadelphia, a 7-seed, came close in 2010. Edmonton as an 8-seed came closer in 2006, losing a tight seventh game to the Team that Won't Be Spoken Of.

Given their capable roster of forwards, it's hard to figure how the Kings finished with such a paltry ranking on offense this season. But they did. And for all the insisting I have done for years that a Cup champion need be strong offensively, this team wasn't.

While the Kings in some ways make sense within commonly held beliefs about championship hockey teams -- they're big enough, their goaltending was outstanding and, well, that's about it -- I am inclined to think that they owe a great amount of their success to luck. Games are close. Many goals are scored on good bounces. And you don't have to beat everybody in these tournaments, only four teams. Had the Kings not lost two overtime games in the season's final weekend they would have opened with Chicago and not a wobbly Vancouver team that was missing Daniel Sedin, a team they played tough in last year's playoffs.

Were the Kings fortunate in that respect? For me, it's either that or they suddenly were just flat better than the rest of the league. And I just refuse to accept that. LA was 16-4 in the playoffs. I want the Kings to have to play 20 more games against random NHL opponents. Maybe they'd go 12-8 or so.

On second thought, hockey season is long enough.

Whether or not this underdog run was to be predicted, for me it isn't a good result. We all strive for fairness in life, for the idea of an ultimate meritocracy. This is a binding American principle -- work hard, do your best, and you will succeed. Not "might" succeed, will. But is it true? Not all the way. You have to be lucky. Every success story has some luck in it.

This point would be no different for me if New Jersey had won it all, or even the New York Rangers despite their top-seed status. The differences between these teams and some others were so slight that it seems building premises or drawing conclusions on the construct of these clubs is doomed to be faulty. Jersey was very lucky to get past Florida, the worst team entering the playoffs, in Round 1. In 2011, Boston was similarly fortunate to win its first-round series. Two Cup finalists, one a winner -- a bounce either way and instead you're looking at two seasons considered failures.

I want to think in sports that a knowledgable fan can tell good from average, and great from good. In this sport that's as hard -- and seemingly futile -- as ever to do. Whose goalie is good? They're all good. Whose coach is good enough? All of them probably.

What makes you a winner? Winning.




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