Sigh. And here I thought today’s youth would usher in a new era of creativity.

In a week that saw playoff hopes end in varying fashion, there was something Charlie Sheen-esque about the demise of several playoff hopefuls. Yes, the man that’s equal parts glory and colossal failure can be linked to the game of hockey beyond Chris Pronger.

For glory, we turn to the Leafs, a team that finally had its slim playoff hopes buried on Tuesday, but gained league-wide respect along the way. Toronto’s season started with a swift injection of false hope in the form of four-straight wins, and then the usual list of injuries and December dull-drums followed. As Don Cherry astutely pointed out Saturday night (did I just describe a Cherry observation as “astute”?) if two of those injuries happened just a little earlier, the Leafs could be facing off with Washington this week. James Reimer’s emergence followed injuries to Jonas Gustavsson and J.S Giguere, and the young goaltender may have saved Ron Wilson’s job.

The Leafs transition into the offseason with a sense of accomplishment and hope, two things that haven’t hovered around the franchise in quite some time. The Dallas Stars have no idea what this feels like after their disappointing effort Sunday against a Minnesota team that finished 12th in the Western Conference. Dallas’ start was unexpected, and Brad Richards’ concussion began the spiral, with the Stars winning only four of the 10 games he missed in late February and early March. But hey, you should have known about Dallas’ impending demise, because we called it months ago.

So before we look ahead to the playoff matchups starting this Wednesday–and trust me, we’ll be doing plenty of that–let’s look back on not only the week of failure and missed opportunities, but other areas where the seven-month grind took a wayward turn for teams that fell just short.

Top Storyline: The clarity of hindsight, and how the playoff losers lost

The Leafs received much of the attention in the Eastern Conference for their second half push, and that’s partly because of sheer popularity, but mostly due to the franchise’s now seven-year playoff drought. The last time the Leafs made the playoffs, SARS was rampant–or so we were told–and Saddam Hussein was concealing himself by not shaving and hiding in a bunker.

But enough with the Buds. It’s not like just putting the word “Leafs” in a headline, or buried somewhere in a post automatically gets us more pageviews (Leafs, Leafs, Leafs). Carolina finished just two points shy of the eighth-place Rangers, a painful failing that can be blamed on the month of February. One of the most dreary and useless months of the entire year become ever more cloudy down in Raleigh, with this year’s all-star hosts winning only four of their 13 games that month, and getting just nine of a possibly 26 points. That stretch exposed the Hurricanes as a non-playoff team with loses to the East’s top talent, including the Flyers and Lightning.

Meanwhile, Calgary’s shortcoming in the West became a matter of not only needing to play consistent hockey earlier, but maintaining their push once it began. After winning six of their first nine games, the Flames won only six more in their next 20. Then the offence began to click, and starting on Dec.13 the Flames went 29-22 throughout their remaining schedule before finishing in 10th, three points shy of the Blackhawks and a playoff spot. But amidst their new-found inspired play Calgary also strung together some losing streaks that slowed progress, with one coming in January that saw six losses over eight games.

Lastly, the Devils dug the deepest, hole and didn’t have a realistic shot at making the playoffs after winning just eight games prior to Christmas (that didn’t stop us from talking playoffs though). Anyone frequenting the swamp found two developments especially infuriating:

  • Only seven of Ilya Kovalchuk’s 31 goals came in the first 30 games of New Jersey’s season.
  • Those capable of analyzing the game with advanced statistics far better than I can will usually cringe at phrases like “chemistry in the locker room,” hurling their monitor off a balcony at even the hint of a coaching change sparking a turnaround. But I’ll just throw this out there then, and if you don’t like it, you can throw it right back. After firing John MacLean on Dec. 23 the Devils eight games over .500 (28-20) for the rest of the season. With Jacques Lemaire keeping the seat warm, New Jersey reeled off several lengthy winning streaks, including a run from the beginning of February until mid-March that saw 17 wins in 20 games.

Quick Hits

  • I’ll keep making this observation until it stops being remarkable, which is never. With the season now concluded, Sidney Crosby’s 32 goals tied the likes of Rick Nash, Jonathan Toews, and Thomas Vanek, and beat Ilya Kovalchuk, and he did it while playing in only 41 games.
  • Samuel Jackson wants the snakes off the ice in Phoenix.

Plays of the week(end)