Mike Maniscalco

The best or the hottest? Stanley Cup seeks to answer timeless question

Posted June 17, 2013

The Stanley Cup Finals between Chicago and Boston is going to answer the question of ‘Is it better to be the best team or the hottest when trying to capture a title?’

It is an observation of the last few years, that in most pro sports ,the regular season’s ‘best’ team is rarely the one celebrating at the end. That bit of information is not good for the Blackhawks.
To show where this idea has stemmed from, the 2007 New England Patriots were clearly the best team in the NFL, 16-0 regular season and a run to the Super Bowl, but it was the New York Giants that got hot at the right time and will be remembered as the champs. The 2008 Arizona Cardinals were a toenail away from winning the Lombardi trophy, yes the Cardinals.

In baseball, it is hard to say the San Francisco Giants were the best team in either of the franchise’s recent two World Series victories, or that the St Louis Cardinals were greater than the Tigers or Rangers. Come to think of it, maybe it is in the names - Giants and Cardinals - but I digress.

Back to the Stanley Cup Finals where last season it was the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings that won the prize, riding the wave of great play by goalie Jonathan Quick – similar to the way the Boston Bruins were led by Tim Thomas to its first Cup win in 39 years. Goaltending can do that during the playoffs; cover up a lot of weak spots and steal games, which does lend itself to the hot team is better than the league’s best.

The Chicago Blackhawks entered the post season with the best record in the abbreviated regular season, a line-up that was deep and skilled and owners of one of the longest winning streaks (keep the shootout comments to yourself) in NHL history. They were the Death Star and the Western Conference was Alderaan. But as we know, even the ultimate power in the universe could be stopped. They only question for Chicago was in goal where Corey Crawford has proved to be more than the answer. He has been just short of magnificent. The Hawks staved off the defending champion Kings that heated up at the right time - and that was just to get back to the Cup Finals.

Boston did not squeak into the playoffs, but there were doubts about how good this team could be. With Tim Thomas gone to some sort of self-imposed exile, could Tuukka Rask fill his skates? Rask has been outstanding. It was his Bruin teammates that struggled in the first round against Toronto, almost surrendering a 3-1 series lead, only to storm back in game seven. That momentum sent them ripping past the New York Rangers and sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins - that were the favorite and top-seed in the East - and into the final round.

When it comes time to crown a champion, there are hundreds of variables, and I am not a sabermetrics guy, but sometimes the better team is just too good to be stopped. I wouldn’t bore you with an article that is just filled with stats to prove an opinion as fact. I’ll leave that for other guys. What can’t be denied in recent years is that the difference between ‘the best’ and ‘very good’ in professional sports just isn’t that big. Blame it on injury or parity, but this Stanley Cup Finals is showing once again that playing great at the right time is just as good and might be better than being great the whole year through.

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  • Gunnstigator Jun 18, 4:42 p.m.

    In the end, it is rarely the best team that wins unless the team is overwhelming superior. For... View More

    — Posted by Wags

    That's what I'm talkin! They were the Cardiac Canes that year! Those were the days. Staal was a stud and Ward made spectacular saves. The planets were aligned that year, and I agree: luck does play a part. It seems like the Canes didn't get any "lucky bounces" last season.

  • Hammerhead Jun 18, 4:16 p.m.

    The Stanley Cup Finals between Chicago and Boston is going to answer the question of ‘Is it... View More

    — Posted by Hammerhead

    As is always the case, the Bruins and Hawks can only settle it for one year, not "once and for... View More

    — Posted by Ken D.

    I'll assume you knew it was a joke.

  • Ken D. Jun 18, 2:22 p.m.

    The Stanley Cup Finals between Chicago and Boston is going to answer the question of ‘Is it... View More

    — Posted by Hammerhead

    As is always the case, the Bruins and Hawks can only settle it for one year, not "once and for all". And would we want it to be otherwise? What would we talk about?

  • Wags Jun 18, 9:15 a.m.

    In the end, it is rarely the best team that wins unless the team is overwhelming superior. For example, the Heat last year, Kentucky in basketball, a few years ago. Hockey is a bit different. Injuries play a big part on who is left standing at the end. And a lot of luck. Someone else mentioned the Canes in 2006. How many games were won in the waning moments that kept the momentum going?

  • Gunnstigator Jun 18, 7:28 a.m.

    Good argument, Mike, and while this is a hockey article, I think the CWS is the perfect example of how "hottest" is better than "best". Carolina was the "best" for most of the year, but they got smoked by State, who is arguably the "hottest" team in the country.

    As a Canes fan, I don't have a dog in this fight, but these two Original Six teams sure are fun to watch. I remember back in '06 the Canes were picked in the preseason to finish at the bottom of the NHL. They sure were hot that year, and I remember so many thrilling games with the Canes scoring the winning goal with only a few ticks left on the game clock.

  • Hammerhead Jun 18, 12:17 a.m.

    The Stanley Cup Finals between Chicago and Boston is going to answer the question of ‘Is it better to be the best team or the hottest when trying to capture a title?’

    About time somebody settles this debate once and for all.

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