There’s a certain stigma that comes with winning the President’s Trophy as the best team in the NHL. In no other league do fans cringe when they hear the award their team won—because no other league has the same track record with their best teams. Somehow, I don’t think Chicago Bulls fans of the 90’s were concerned with their fresh meat like Capitals fans are this year.
Where else do we see the best team in the ENTIRE league so routinely challenged by an overmatched opponent in the first round? I don’t see Duke getting challenged by Northeast South Carolina State A&M. Every once in a while, we’ll see the NBA give us a similar upset (think Dikembe Mutombo’s Nuggets in 1994). In fact, only once has a #1 overall seed lost in a best of 7 series: Golden State’s 2007 upset of the Dallas Mavericks in 2007. But those are the only two times it’s happened in NBA history.
Not surprisingly, none of those sports have a “Best in the League” myth like the NHL does. It’s so bad, we have a name for it: The President’s Trophy Curse (despite common misconceptions, it’s NOT called the Sharks Curse). Even the Versus’ Twitter feed is getting into the action with their headline: “Will it be a Capital ‘C’ for Choke?”
All kidding aside, even the most hardcore hockey fans admit that there’s something strange going on. Sure, the San Jose Sharks had a bad match-up last year with a strong playoff team in the Ducks. Yes, the Blues were a young team a decade ago. But at some point, you have to stop making excuses and wonder why the best team in the league isn’t consistently competing for the Stanley Cup. Why would this year be any different?
(Are) the Capitals feeling the pressure of the President’s Trophy curse?
Sure as hell looks like it. With an opportunity to put a dagger into the Canadiens at home, they lost again. Jaroslav Halak was awe-inspiring as he stopped 53 shots in a 4-1 Montreal victory. Habs fans took to the streets in celebration, apparently forgetting that they still have to win game 7. Ahh, Habs fans. They’re like Leafs fans, except their team makes the playoffs.—Nucks Misconduct
Since the President’s Trophy was introduced in 1985-86, there have been 23 winners (excluding this year’s Caps).
|Won Stanley Cup||7 times (Last: DET 2007-08)||30%|
|Lost in Cup Finals||2 times (Last: DET 1994-95)||9%|
|Lost in Conference Finals||5 times (Last: BUF 2006-07)||22%|
|Lost in 2nd Round||5 times (Last: DET 2003-04)||22%|
|Lost in 1st Round||4 times (Last: SJ 2008-09)||17%|
What can we learn from those numbers? First of all, the Detroit Red Wings have been pretty good over the last two decades. But secondly, we almost have no clue as to how a President’s Trophy winner is going to perform in the playoffs. There’s just as good of a chance that the team goes to the Finals as there is losing in the first 2 rounds (which considering their lower quality of opponents, is always classified as a major upset). It means that even if the Caps survive the Habs in Game 7, they haven’t escaped that so-called Curse yet.
This season, the Capitals are the #1 overall seed for the first time ever for a reason. Their franchise-best 54 wins over the course of the season weren’t a fluke. Not only were people predicting that the Caps would win their 1st round series—they had them winning quickly. We’re not talking about your average guy at the bar in a Caps hat either, we’re talking about respected people picking a sweep. We had other people that were SERIOUSLY contemplating taking the Habs in 7—but these predictions were few and far between.
So what the hell is the problem this year with the Capitals? Some could say goaltending. Some could say their defense doesn’t have the depth that a team needs to make a Stanley Cup run. Some could say it’s because a few of their superstars have not shown up yet (Alex Semin and Mike Green) and some would say its because roll players haven’t played as well as they did during the regular season (Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr, Eric Belanger, etc.). The truth is that when there are so many questions as to why they’ve lost, it’s probably a little bit of everything. Is that a curse or a problem of a few too many guys going into the tank at the wrong time? Or is the team built wrong? It could be any one of those answers—but at no point did we mention the voodoo of a President’s Trophy curse.
Re: The burden of responsibility weighing on him:
“Not at all. We go out on the ice and don’t think about anything like that. The season ended and that’s how it turned out. But it turned out surprisingly well. Right now I’m talking with you and then going to a restaurant for a team dinner. It’s a sin to not pay attention to such things.” –Alexander Semin (Japers Rink)
The goaltending question is interesting. It’s the great equalizer in the playoffs—a hot goaltender can carry his team and a struggling goaltender can negate the efforts of the 18 guys in front of him. In this series, both teams have put in back-ups in hopes of turning around their luck. The Caps have stuck with Semyon Varlamov since benching Jose Theodore. On the other side of things, the Habs went with Carey Price in Game 4 only to immediately put Halak right back into the action in Game 5. Two victories (and unbelievable performances) late, we’re looking at a Game 7.
But none of this should really come as a shocker—this isn’t the first time that goaltending has threatened to knock-out a President’s Trophy winning team. And it’s not the first time it’s happened to the Caps. And it’s not the first time that a goaltender in Montreal threatened to steal a series.
Let’s be honest, whenever there’s a huge upset in the first round, it’s a two-way street. There has to be a healthy dose of the top-seed choking a bit with the underdog playing out of their mind. Put those two things together and any team can win in any sport. Even an 8th seed beating the best team in the league.