Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
You've heard of the phrase "hurry up and wait?" Well, the NHL seems to have misunderstood that concept to the point of getting it backwards.
The confusion began last week, when the league issued a statement saying that if both conference finals series were not completed by Tuesday, May 26th, then the Stanley Cup Finals would begin on Friday, June 5th.
Pittsburgh completed its four-game sweep of Carolina by the Tuesday deadline but, in theory, Chicago had already ensured a June 5th start date for the Finals by beating Detroit in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday. Right?
Wrong. A few hours before the Blackhawks and Red Wings took the ice in Detroit on Wednesday night, news reports surfaced that if the Wings were able to end the series in five then the next round would begin on Saturday, May 30th.
Thankfully, the Red Wings rescued hockey fans from having to live in playoff limbo by defeating Chicago in overtime to cap the series. Moments later the NHL announced that the Stanley Cup Finals between the Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins would begin in Detroit on Saturday. It will mark the second straight year that the Wings and Pens will battle for the Cup, after Detroit claimed its fourth title in 11 seasons by ousting Pittsburgh in six games last spring.
Somewhere along the line the league ditched its originally-stated plan and correctly opted to begin the Cup Finals this weekend. The NHL even took it a step further, staging the opening two tests on back-to-back days this Saturday and Sunday before heading to Pittsburgh for Game 3 on Tuesday.
Just like that, the league went from inserting a long pause between the last two rounds of the postseason to playing the first three games of the Cup Finals over a four-day span.
This scheduling fiasco calls to mind a few questions for the NHL.
First, why on earth were you contemplating putting eight scheduled off days between the end of the conference championships and the Stanley Cup Finals? And, what made you decide to announce this to the hockey world before considering the possibility that both conference final series may end quickly?
Of course, no real answers will be supplied, and maybe we're better off not hearing the actual hows and whys. It's better to simply pretend that the NHL never released last week's scheduling memo and just move on to the hockey ahead.
The NHL is fortunate to have a compelling matchup in the final round, as the youthful Penguins take on an immensely talented Detroit squad loaded with veterans. Perhaps the league felt it needed an entire week to hash out the storylines?
The important thing is that, in the end, the NHL regained its scheduling sanity and opted to give fans less wait and more hockey.
'CANES AND HAWKS OVERMATCHED
The conference finals didn't go as planned for Carolina and Chicago, but both clubs still had impressive and surprising playoff runs this spring.
Carolina appeared to have finally worn down after earning the nickname "Cardiac 'Canes" in winning both Rounds 1 and 2 in seven games.
Hurricanes star forward Eric Staal and most of his teammates looked tired as Pittsburgh outscored Carolina by a 20-9 margin over the course of the four- game sweep in the East finals. After losing Game 1 by a 3-2 count, the 'Canes were easily outgunned in the final three contests.
Chicago, on the other hand, seemed to be slightly out of its depth from the outset. But the young Blackhawks played Detroit close for most of the series, and still gained loads of experience in losing to the Red Wings in five games. Not to mention, it was the Hawks' first trip to the conference finals since 1995.
The difference between the Blackhawks and Carolina is that Chicago may become a powerhouse in years to come. The Hurricanes, however, may have caught lightning in a bottle this spring and could struggle to get back to the conference finals next season.