You’ve heard the cliche before: “It’s a game of inches”. It’s often used to explain why a team lost or missed that vital goal, but the reality is that hockey is indeed a game that where the difference between success and failure is small.
The Rangers just concluded a six game series to eliminate the Montreal Canadiens, scoring almost the bare minimum to force the result. If you remove empty net goals in game 1 and 6, then the scores would read 1-0, 2-3 OT, 1-3, 2-1, 3-2 OT and 2-1. In six games, both teams scored eleven goals with a goaltender in the net, and both goaltenders ended up with sub 2.00 goals against average.
Generally speaking, the better team wins more often than not in these situations, and the longer seven game series – the league used to use five, three and even “home and home” series – is intended to reduce the number of surprises in the result.
Few would argue that the Rangers were not the better team, but it’s easy to get caught in hyperbole and exaggeration when describing the fate of the winners and the losers in the series.
It’s one thing for the #1 seeded Chicago Blackhawks to be swept by the #8 Nashville Predators, it’s another to draw long-lasting conclusions on the Canadiens and Rangers.
There’s little debate that Henrik Lundqvist had a strong series, with few mistakes across the more than 200 minutes he played. By contrast, his opponent Carey Price has had his peformance called into question by some, despite the reality that he gave up the same number of goals as his opponent.
The same could in some ways be applied to Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens captain and leading goal scorer during the regular season who failed to hit the back of the net in the six game series. Pacioretty has become the center of attention on a team that has struggled for offensive throughout the year.
Meanwhile on the Rangers, the top point getter – JT Miller – and the top goal scorer – Chris Kreider – both struggled through much of the series, neither scoring a goal. Fortunately for the pair, along with Kevin Hayes, they ended up on the winning side of the ledger, and thus did not attract the same level of scrutiny.
Certainly teams that lose are going to get a lot more questions, but it’s important to keep criticism – and praise for that matter – in context.