The Detroit Red Wings recently set the all-time record for most consecutive wins on their "home ice". Some will say that mark may be tainted because of overtime and shoot-out wins along the way. In the old days, those games would have been considered a tie and the streak broken long before they approached the record. That's certainly debatable, but given the modern day sports world, where the geeks invent stats for just about everything, particularly in baseball, while the average fan understands about half of them, let's at least give credit to the Wings for being on a remarkable roll at home. They currently find themselves on top of the NHL point standings, but not by that much, because of their not-so-good road record. Nevertheless, they have a majority of their remaining games at home, which means they have a pretty good shot at winning the President's trophy for being the best regular season team.
Claiming that honor would mean the Red Wings will enjoy home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. But what does it REALLY mean? Not much. Once the playoffs start, what happened in the regular season does't matter; it's a different brand of hockey, everything tightens up, and it's basically a crap shoot. Hockey fans in Detroit likely remember that the Wings have been in that position before -- only to get bounced out of the playoffs in the early rounds. Translation? When the pressure got cranked up -- they got beat at home, somewhere along the way.
The so-called "best" team doesn't always prevail. Look at the New York Giants, current Super Bowl champs. They barely made the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Defeating the Atlanta Falcons on the road was one thing. Waltzing into Lambeau Field and putting a beat-down on the mighty Packers was quite another. Then off to San Fran, where Jim Harbaugh had the 49ers playing smash-mouth football, to win yet again. Who amongst you would have wagered the Giants could run that gauntlet and survive, much less beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl? But it happened. Four years ago, when the Patriots were 18-0, nobody gave the Giants a chance at beating them in the Super Bowl. But it happened.
Last year the St. Louis Cardinals barely made the playoffs. We know who eventually won the World Series.
Weird things have happened to determine titles in the past. The Miracle Mets. The late Jim Valvano's NC State squad winning the NCAA hoops tourney. It could be the best example is the 1980 "Miracle On Ice", where the US olympic squad, made up of a bunch of college kids, defeated the formidable Russian Red Army team. (That same team, from the then USSR, had breezed through many NHL teams while touring North America.) If that would have been a best of 7 series, I doubt many would question the Red Army team would have embarrassed those kids for the next 4 games. The guys in red were obviously the vastly superior team and shouldn't have lost. But they did.
Most times, heavily favored teams win, but not always. Once in a while an underdog comes through with an unforeseen spectacular performance and pulls an upset.
In baseball, the difference between a slugger hitting a grand slam home run, a pop-up, or grounding into an inning ending double play is probably about half an inch either way in how the bat strikes the ball. Hockey? A deflected puck here, clanging the goal post there, and who knows? Similar comparisons could be made about basketball, football, golf, tennis, soccer, you name it.
Sometimes it might involve hundreds of feet -- and other times it's a game where a fraction of an inch can be crucial.
That's the best part about sports. Nobody knows what's going to happen -- until it happens.
Come to think of it, that's pretty much what goes on around here most of the time. But this is a sports blog, so I'll leave it right there.