As Batman once said “Perception is reality” (don’t fact check that).
Perception, of course, is a funny thing. It can change day-to-day or even hour-to-hour. This is what makes the NHL playoffs such a high stakes game of poker for NHL clubs and teams. The reputations of players, coaches and executives of NHL clubs rise and crash with each game, sometimes to shocking lows. The ultimate touch of death in the hockey world is “not a playoff performer” which is the equivalent of telling a chef to quit the business because he can’t put together a complete meal.
“Sure, the souffle was nice, but the risotto? It was garbage Henry, and it’s always garbage. YOU NEVER MAKE CLUTCH RISOTTO.”
Two examples of perception are Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. The Sedins have long struggled with the moniker of “poor playoff performers”, which carries more weight with some people than “Hart trophy winning regular season”. Kesler, while not universally adored, will always have that 2011 Nashville series in his back pocket which will go a long way with people.
As Canucks Army writer Grainne Downey termed it, it was a “signature series” for Kesler (“signature series” also sounds like a line of sandwiches at Safeway). Grainne also pointed out that for some reason Henrik Sedin’s series against San Jose in 2011 is largely ignored.
What exactly did Henrik do against San Jose?
Game 1: 2 points
Game 2: 3 points
Game 3: 1 point
Game 4: 4 points
Game 5: 2 points
He eviscerated them. He carved them up like a line of signature series sandwiches at Safeway. He put up 12 points in 5 games against a very good Sharks team (this was back when San Jose was good and Joe Thornton wasn’t screaming at everyone around him).
Still, it didn’t garner the lore that Kesler’s series did. Maybe it was because the Nashville series was a close defensive affair. Maybe that grind it out hockey makes it look more impressive when one player shines. Maybe Henrik made it look too easy against the Sharks. Maybe setting up three power play goals in three minutes isn’t as iconic as splitting Shea Weber and Shane O’Brien to score a goal.
Whatever the reasons are, it just shows the power of perception. Some people make careers out of scoring a timely goal in the playoffs, as if they alone have discovered the secret to scoring big goals in the postseason (Dave Bolland’s bank account is thankful for this).
And that’s the thing, aside from that Nashville series, Kesler hasn’t had another monster series like that. He played one of the best Game 7s I have ever seen against Chicago in 2011, and he had that infamous tying goal against San Jose on one leg, but nothing to the extent of that Nashville series.
And that isn’t to admonish Kesler. We shouldn’t be expecting one single player to destroy every single team they face. This isn’t the 80s, we don’t have Gretzky blowing people away with his cardio by not drinking a six pack and having a quick smoke during the intermission. Just look at Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, two of the best players in the NHL, to see how you simply can’t rely on one or two superstars to win everything for you.
It just shows how perception can alter everything and just how powerful playoff games are in relation to regular season success. Ryan Kesler scoring that tying goal against San Jose in Game 5 of 2011? That makes for great story telling. It’s hard not to get caught up in retelling it.
“So Kesler, he pulls up lame, and his leg is like, dangling, barely attached to his body. Dude goes to the back and screams ‘SOMEBODY GET ME A STAPLER’. Then we hear silence…then…
Kesler comes limping back to the bench, bloody stapler in hand and tosses it to the trainer. ‘You need to refill the staples” Kesler says before jumping across the boards. Next thing you know he’s out on the ice with under a minute left and he ties the game up on a leg stapled to his body. It was crazy dude. Crazy.”
That is both the beauty and the beast of the playoffs. One series can change everything. Right or wrong, that’s how sports works. It’s a game fueled by emotions, and with emotions comes grand fantasy in recording the history of the game (not everyone, mind you, some people try and ignore all the fluff and go with the stats only. It’s not as fun, but it is usually more accurate).
That is what the current Canucks face right now. Heading into last night’s game, they were facing a pretty grim off-season narrative. The Canucks, who by all accounts had a season better than anyone expected, were suddenly facing the prospect of having that mean nothing.
The core? Too old.
The GM? Too old school.
The coach? Too dumb.
The future? Bleak and ruled by robots after Skynet lost control.
Again, fair or not, this came about because of 2012 and 2013. The team went out with a whimper both times, both with a decided lack of offense. 2015 was shaping up to be the same way, except this time with the caveat of it not being against a team like LA. It’s hard to sell a product to people when the last three times they bought in, they got no results.
This is why the Canucks need to take this series against Calgary to seven games. They need to “go out on their shield” in order to avoid any idea that they are the same as the 2012 and 2013 teams. Ticket sales and emotional investment, the two things hockey club executives worry about a lot, are on the line. The team needs to sell the future to the fan base, or at the very least, show the fan base that even if the team’s future is murky, they can still expect a fight out of the home town boys.
Will the Canucks face horrifying consequences if they stink it up in Game 6 and come home with their tail between their legs? No, of course not. It will however have done damage to the team’s reputation with the fan base. Some people will be fans no matter what, we know that. But what we have seen is that the ticket sales, once a source of pride for the team, have become questionable. Playoff games, once sold out in minutes, were still available on game day. It’s easy to write that off with a smirk and say “so long, bandwagoners” but you can bet the team is concerned about losing fans and money. Mostly money.
So as Batman once said, “I’m Batman”. Go be Batman, Canucks. Go be Batman and beat the Flames in seven.