“There’s not much you can say at a moment like this,” the Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after his team lost the Stanley Cup finals on Monday.
But there is always something you can say, and the words we choose in moments of duress say something of our character.
Sixteen teams made the NHL playoffs; 15 ended the season losers. For the inevitable vanquished, the response came in two main veins: acceptance or denial.
People were more inclined to be in denial when defeat came as a shock. Detroit led Tampa Bay 3-2 in games in their first-round series, but then the Lightning rallied.
“We didn’t give them much at all over the whole 60 minutes,” the Detroit defenceman Jonathan Ericsson said after the Red Wings lost 2-0 in Game 7. “I didn’t exactly see the (first) goal, but for me, it looked like a really, just lucky shot — like a missed shot that goes in the far side. It’s a bounce their way, and that’s how they win the game. I think we were better.”
Nashville likewise often outplayed their opponent in the opening round, but it was Chicago’s shots that found the net.
“I felt like in some of the games the puck had eyes,” the Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne said after it was over. “You look at at least three games, the winners, a couple of (overtime) games and then tonight, just generated from the point and just find a way through the maze.”
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Two rounds later it was Anaheim’s turn to be stunned by the escape artists from Chicago. “I know they’re a good hockey team over there but we’re a great hockey team, too,” the Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler told the Los Angeles Times afterwards. “We have better players in here than they do and I think at the end of the day we need to be better.”
The Washington Capitals led their second-round series against the New York Rangers 3-1 before it all went sideways, culminating in a Game 7 overtime loss. “I thought my top guys delivered,” the Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “All my top guys delivered. … They were great today. They grew up. They grew today.”
“It’s just tough. I hate to say it, but I’m getting older and the window might be closing,” the Rangers’ Dan Girardi, 31, told the New York Daily News after the team lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to Tampa Bay. “ I thought we had the team to do it this year. … First in the league, good record coming into Game 7s here, we felt good about our game going in here, and it’s just tough.”
Acceptance is the more common reaction, with two main branches: it was them; or, it was us.
“You have to give them credit,” the Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins said, walking along the first of those branches after losing to Calgary. “They found ways all year, and they found a way again tonight.”
“Anaheim was better than we were in this series,” the Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said after his team was swept. “Over a potential seven-game series the best team almost always wins, and they were better than we were.”
“They deserve it. They were hard to play against,” Calgary’s Joe Colborne said one round later as Anaheim progressed again.
“We got beat by a pretty good hockey club and, when we get over it, we’ll feel pretty good about what we accomplished here,” the Ottawa coach Dave Cameron said after losing in six games to Montreal.
Others put the spotlight on their own side’s limitations.
“The theme for us all year long, the power play has been there for us,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said after his team went 0-for-14 with the man advantage and fell to Washington in the first round. “You can’t go through a series (without a power-play goal). We didn’t get a goal from our defencemen.”
“Our power play could have done a little more,” the Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby said after the Penguins’ unit went 0-for-13 against the Rangers.
“They made us work for our chances. They made us work for them and we didn’t score,” said the St Louis coach, Ken Hitchcock, after the Blues’ series loss to Minnesota.
“I didn’t play well enough,” Montreal’s star goalie Carey Price said after Tampa sent the Canadiens packing. “I think that’s more or less what it comes down to. We lost a lot of tight games. I just needed to make that one more save in all the games that we lost, and I didn’t do that.”
A DEEPER LOSS
At his locker in the Minnesota Wild dressing room after being swept by Chicago, Ryan Suter, whose father died in September, spoke of more than hockey when he expressed what he had been through: “Bad dream … a nightmare. I don’t know, just a bad year.”
He nodded his head, as if pondering a lesson, and looked away. He had no more words.
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