In 2007, I desperately wanted the Yankees to face the Indians in the ALDS. The other option was the Angels and after the four-game loss in the 2002 ALDS and the five-game loss in the 2005 ALDS, I wanted no part of the Angels. I didn’t care that the Indians had won two more games (96) than the Yankees (94) to tie the Red Sox for the best record in the majors or that they had the best 1-2 punch in the league with CC Sabathia (19-7, 3.21) and Fausto Carmona (19-8, 3.06), who no longer goes by that name. To me, the Indians presented the easiest path for the Yankees to the ALCS.
While the Red Sox swept the Angels in their division series, the Yankees were embarrassed 12-3 in Game 1 and then Joba Chamberlain blew a one-run lead in Game 2 thanks to Joe Torre not pulling his team off the field while the Cleveland midges attacked his phenom setup man (while Carmona ate the midges on the mound) and the Yankees lost 2-1 in 11 innings. The Yankees came back to win Game 3 at the Stadium thanks to a relief performance by Phil Hughes and with 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang facing journeyman Paul Byrd in Game 4, it looked like the series would head back to Cleveland for Game 5. It didn’t. Wang was destroyed in Game 5 like he was in Game 1 and the Yankees’ season was over.
Sure, my rooting interest didn’t matter and the Yankees were going to play the Indians whether I spent the month of September pulling for it, but it was a devastating blow to have wanted a matchup so badly and then to have it backfire as badly as it did. (I don’t need to tell you what happened in the ALCS or World Series that season.)
For the last six weeks of the NHL regular season, I had the Scared of the Rangers Playing Them in the Playoffs Power Rankings. And for most of that time, I wanted the Rangers to face the Capitals in the first round. That might have seemed like the worst idea to 2012 me after what happened in the 2008-09 ad 2010-11 playoffs, but after the Rangers were able to eliminate the Capitals in seven games in 2011-12 and again in 2012-13, the Rangers had overcome the Capitals and 2015 me gladly accepted the matchup. (The Yankees did this with the Angels in the 2009 ALCS. I’m still waiting for them to do it with the Tigers.) But since the end of February, the Capitals became a team no one wanted to play. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh the Penguins were folding as badly as the Bruins.
So the last time I updated the Scared of the Rangers Playing Them in the Playoffs Power Rankings on April 9 it was the Penguins I wanted to see in the first round. They had gone from NHL power and a lock to win the Met early in the season to playing for their season in Game 82. After years of being a 1- or 2-seed and a lock for playoffs, the Penguins had become the Rangers we have gotten used to: a slightly-above average team that wouldn’t clinch a playoff berth until the second-to-last game or last game of the season.
Before May 7, 2014 when the Penguins beat the Rangers 4-2 in Game 5 to take a 3-1 series lead, I would have never wanted to face the Penguins in any series. But after what happened in Games 5, 6 and 7 last year, the Rangers were able to overcome the Penguins the way they had the Capitals two years prior and it changed everything.
When the Penguins won the Cup in 2008-09, I expected them to become the latest NHL dynasty and mimic the Oilers of the ’80s. Entering the 2009-10 season, they had the best player in the world at age 22 with already one Cup, two Final appearances, a Hart and an Art Ross on his resume. They had the next best player in the world at age 23 with an Art Ross and a Conn Smythe and a former first-overall pick goalie at age 24, who had just held off the Red Wings in seven games. The Penguins were set up for a decade of success with the foundation of their team in the early-20s and the two best players in the world on the same roster. But that Game 7 win in Detroit on June 12, 2009 was the last Stanley Cup Final game they have played.
In that 2009-10 season, the Penguins blew a 3-2 series lead in the first round to the Canadiens and lost Game 7 at home. In 2010-11, they blew a 3-1 series lead in the first round to the Lightning and lost 1-0 in Game 7 at home. In 2011-12, they lost in six games in the first round to the Flyers, allowing 30 goals in the series. In 2012-13, they were swept in the conference finals by the Bruins and scored two goals in the four games. And then last season, they blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round to the Rangers and lost another Game 7 at home.
The Penguins are still waiting to cash in again on their 2003, 2004 and 2005 draft fortunes, and there’s a good chance we are looking at a 30 for 30 in the future being made about how much of a disappointment the Sidney Crosby Penguins era was.
No one is backing the 8-seed Penguins this postseason after their 39-18-10 record on March 12 turned into a 43-27-12 finish and without the Bruins finishing even worse, the Penguins might be home right now looking at another regime change instead of in New York waiting for Game 1. Two years ago, the Penguins were four wins away from reaching the Final. Last year, they were one win away from returning to the conference finals. Now they are the 8-seed in the East and the underdog, which is somewhere and something they haven’t been in the Crosby era.
I got my wish: Rangers-Penguins in the first round. Maybe this is an example of being careful what you wish for since it might not have been the best idea to pull to see the best player in the world and at times the second-best player in the first round. Not exactly the most sound decision. But like with that 2007 ALDS, it was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not. It better not backfire.
Rangers in six.