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Limping to the Finish line
Playoffs right around the corner
4/7/14 - By Ryan Hall -

What happened?! That's the question that has been burning through my mind for the last 10 days or so as I have watched the titans of the Pacific Division limp towards the finish line of the regular season. For months on end the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks provided a thrilling display of how hockey should be played, with the Ducks rattling off a home unbeaten streak that lasted for half of the entire campaign!

Not to be outdone, the Sharks held their own and more not only pummeled teams in the Tank, but displayed a rare talent to choke the life from them on the road as well. With powerful lineups, these two teams looked like the class of the NHL; and when the Kings and Canucks were added into the picture the Pacific Division appeared to be the toughest in the league.

And then the clock struck midnight. All of a sudden the Sharks and Ducks can't win games for anything - or when they do manage to post a W it is in the most eyesore way possible! What the heck has gone wrong?

It's always easier to criticize other teams, so let's start with the Ducks and their penchant for spotting the other team 2 and 3 goal leads. For a squad that was so stingy during the bulk of the season, this new found generosity is baffling, and raises questions about just how engaged they are in these last few games. Competing is a choice, and it isn't just a switch that can be flipped on and off at will.

The process of wanting to win, striving to succeed, and reaching those goals can't involve taking periods and games off. A really good team would know that, and so would a coach who saw this happen to another regular season juggernaut/playoff washout squad he used to lead over in Washington.

Not that the boys in teal have been much better themselves. Putting up fancy shot totals may make the box score look better, but all too often there is lack of desire to do the dirty work that leads to victories. In 10 days the playoffs are going to start, and the likelihood of slick plays for easy goals will drop dramatically as the whistles get put away and the games get more intense.

Deciding to start competing then usually doesn't work, as the mental toughness to keep going even when your body wants to quit is forged during the repetitiveness of the regular season. Without that pre-existing discipline the road forward gets harder - and maybe impossible.

Look, this might all change with the Sharks and Ducks meeting in the 2nd round of the playoffs and one of them going on to lift Lord Stanley's Cup, but as it stands right now that seems less likely than a Marc-Eduard Vlasic hat trick. Rather, this slow, painful struggle to the finish line - with a Division crown at stake no less - appears to be a harbinger of more disappointment and missed opportunities.

No matter what happens, one thing should be clear to all who have been watching this spectacle for a while, and that is to never trust the standings. Use your eyes and judge what you see, because if you do you'll understand the best teams aren't always those with the most points; which turns the supposed alpha hunters of the Pacific division into wounded prey.


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