April 25, 2010
(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. Gone but not forgotten, we've asked for these losers to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The fans who hated them the most. Here are is NHL stats wizard Gabe Desjardins from Behind The Net, fondly recalling the Colorado Avalanche. In this case, it's less about hate than it is about cruel logic. If it's hate you want ... well, Ottawa's honors are coming soon.)
By Gabe Desjardins
"Stats are great, but in the end they don't determine wins/losses." - some random guy on the internet, March 16, 2010.
The Colorado Avalanche were one of the biggest surprises of the 2009-10 season.
Looking back over the season previews, you see a team that was projected to finish in the bottom five in the league, with a goaltending tandem that might be average, and offense and defense that you wouldn't want your children exposed to.
Then they broke out of the gate with just one loss in their first 13 games despite getting completely outshot and outchanced by their opponents. This prompted me to write:
"If Colorado finishes with 98 points...6th in the West, and makes a 1st-round playoff exit, their fans should be overjoyed."
I hope that as Avs fans look back on their 95 points and their 4-2 first-round loss to the Sharks today, they really are overjoyed. Because their playoff exit could have resembled Apollo Creed's last fight: Their winning percentage against western playoff teams was 38 percent while being outscored 92-70. And just to build up everyone's confidence, they failed to register a win in regulation over the last 13 games of the season.
But most of the time, the Avs were like Rocky Balboa fighting Ivan Drago. They were horribly outpunched but still in the game because of a spectacular ability to withstand blows (a.k.a. - Craig Anderson's(notes) amazing goaltending.) Then, in the 15th round, they were ready to deliver a knockout blow of their own using their historically (and unsustainably) high shooting percentage on offense.
Unfortunately for the Avs, they had a best-of-seven against Drago in the playoffs. And in a best-of-seven, "stats" have this nasty habit of determining wins and losses.
As I noted in my playoff preview, the Avs were last in the league this season at outshooting their opponents in tie games, while the Sharks were 2nd. That didn't change in the playoffs.
Sixty percent of this series was played with the game tied, and the Sharks outshot the Avs 267-151 and outchanced the Avs by a similar margin in that time frame. In fact, the Sharks outshot the Avs across the board, no matter what the score was.
In that context, you need to be extremely lucky to win, and Colorado was: Their two winning goals in the series went in off of Sharks' defensemen. It wasn't "heart"; it wasn't "chemistry"; it wasn't "nothing to lose" or "something to prove." It was a puck off Rob Blake's(notes) skate and Dan Boyle(notes) shooting the puck into his own net that gave the Avs their wins.
If the Avalanche had come up against any team other than supposedly-shark-bitten San Jose in the playoffs, I don't think people would have felt quite so emboldened to think that "intangibles" somehow made it likely that they'd win the series.
After five games, the Capitals are up 3-2 on the eighth-seed Canadiens and the Hawks are up 3-2 on the seventh-seed Predators, but that's just something that happens every year, right? Montreal and Nashville have better odds of winning their series than Colorado did theirs, but yet another "choking" Sharks team made for a good story.
That's why good underdog stories are best written after the fact -- anybody who predicted an Avs win in this series was dreaming, and the bookies in Vegas couldn't wait for them to place those bets.