So far in this week of tributes to Teemu Selanne, we've discussed the major milestones/eras of his career - the 76 goal rookie season, the trade, the Kariya years, the recovery from knee injury oblivion/return to Anaheim and the 2007 Cup run. But I wanted to talk about one that I think is severely underrated, his unreal performance in the 2011 playoffs against the Nashville Predators.
As you may have gleaned from the headline, I believe that this was the last time we really saw Teemu fully armed and operational. Yes, he played three more years; and yes, he did lead the team in scoring the following season, and we'll have more on that tomorrow, but to me that 2012 regular season was sooooo terrible that it was more a factor of the rest of the team (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan in particular) not living up to their potential than of Teemu really elevating above them.
In the Nashville series, Teemu truly led the team with six goals in six games at 40 years of age. He added an assist to finish second in points on the team to Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry (who apparently used up all his goals in the regular season and went 2-6-8 in the playoffs). He had at least a point in each of the six games, and a four game goal streak. For reference, he only scored five goals in the entire 2007 Cup run, that lasted 21 games. Not only that, his six goals in that series was twice as many as any other player for either team (Bobby, Jason Blake, Shea Weber, Mike Fisher and Joel Ward each had three).
The only minor caveat that could be argued against him in that series was that he dined out on the power play. Four of his six goals came with the extra man (and actually one of those was a 5-on-3). So in some sense it was a little easier for him to rack up those numbers, but that's pretty ticky-tacky considering he's third all time in career power play goals with 255, behind only Dave Andreychuk and Brett Hull. Also, think of it this way: What would you give to have a player on the team right now, the way that this power play is floundering at times, who can score four PPGs in six games? Sami Vatanen leads the team right now with five power play goals in 41 games.
But Teemu's dominance in those six games probably gets forgotten because the only thing anyone remembers is that one goal Bobby scored, and how it went to waste so heartbreakingly at the end of that game. Maybe a few Preds fans remember Bobby stomping on Jonathan Blum, or it being their first ever playoff series win, but whatever. So, let's take a look at the series game by game, shall we?
was pretty much an abomination in every respect for the Ducks. They fell behind in the first five minutes and were down 4-0 almost midway through the third when the Ducks scored their only goal of the game. That goal was scored on a 5-on-3 by Teemu Selanne.
So, nothing much to see here, just a meaningless goal, and about as easy as one gets with a two man advantage, but we're just getting warmed up.
A much better effort from the team as a whole, and probably the only one where the big boys really showed up entirely. The Preds got in penalty trouble early, Perry scored a 5-on-3 goal 5:24 in and Teemu added one 38 seconds later also on the PP. After the embarrassment of Game 1, it was exactly the start the Ducks needed.
By the end of two periods the Ducks were up 4-1, they let Nashville back in with two third period goals but Bobby Ryan's empty netter closed it out. Teemu-wise, still nothing spectacular, but he was just a part of a much better team game.
Here's where we really get going. The Ducks were back to their Game 1 tricks, simply playing terrible hockey. They were two minutes away from going into the third down two goals and out shot 28-8. Then Teemu came to the rescue, scoring two goals in 30 seconds.
All of a sudden, the Ducks had life in a game they had no business being in. They fell behind again early in the third, tied it again and eventually lost in regulation, as they deserved to.
Here's where I lose some (most?) of you, the importance of this wasn't just about two goals in 30 seconds, it was about leadership. If you listen closely to that first goal of this game, you'll hear Pierre McGuire say that Getzlaf was off for fighting, and we all know what that means, the captain had given up and the rest of the team was about to follow. But not Teemu, he was the guy still in the game, using that frustration for good, not wasting it in a fight like Getzy has a tendency to do at times.
After the game Teemu reportedly ripped the team a new a**hole and blew up in the media as well. On my own rinky dink blog, before joining AC, for some catharsis I imagined what that dressing room speech may have been from Teemu, with some inspiration from Bruce Boudreau in 24/7 (ironically, I never imagined he'd be the coach of the Ducks a scant few months later). It went a little something like this:
Come the f*** on! We had no f***ing business even being in that f***ing game! We played like s*** in the first game and played like s*** for two periods in this game! Where the f*** is the compete level that I saw out of this team on Friday?! If we’re going to go anywhere in this f***ing series somebody needs to f***ing grab their f***ing s**k and take control of the game! I don’t know who it’s going to be, but I do know that my 40-year-old ass can’t carry you f***ing guys much longer! So, f***ing suck up and play like it’s the f***ing playoffs for f***s sake!
Scoff all you want, but I consider that to be a big deal. This was Getzlaf's first season as captain, before he had any clue what the hell he was doing, and really just before the rock bottom of his career (that would come in November 2011). Normally Teemu is portrayed as the jovial, happy-go-lucky guy that lightens the mood. He never really wore the C for any extended period of time and was happy being a leader by example and demeanor rather than by proclamation. And in this instance, while everyone else, including Getzlaf and Bob Murray was whining about poor refereeing and diving, Teemu took it upon himself to hold the team accountable to themselves and the media/fans as well as being the best player on the ice. Oh yeah,,, he was also nearly twice the age of most of his teammates.
This one was a lot more like Game 2 where the team seemingly used their terrible performance the game before to motivate them into starting very well, playing a much better game overall and, of course winning. Teemu scored his goal with a redirection, again on the power play, in the middle of the second period to make it 3-2 for the Ducks.
The Preds tied it back up before the end of the second, but Perry, Getzlaf and Brandon McMillan (remember him?) finished it off in the third to bring the series back to Anaheim tied at two.
This was the only game of the series in which Teemu didn't score a goal. And oh, how we wish he had, perhaps it may have spared us from what I consider to be the third or fourth most disappointing games in Ducks history (behind Game 7 last year, Game 7 2003, and a toss up with, but probably just short of, Game 7 2009). Bobby Ryan scored the goal that will likely define his career but it all went to waste when Weber tied the game with 36 seconds left and Jarred Smithson inevitably won it in overtime.
Heartbreak aside for now, Teemu did register an assist and as much as the goal he scored in Game 4 was a little ho-hum, this was an insane effort to get the puck to Jason Blake. Watch:
He gets CRUSHED by, former Duck great, Shane O'Brien but still has the wherewithal to make a play from a prone position. ANNNNNND he didn't just make a play, he practically got a shot on goal while laying on his stomach from BEHIND THE GOAL LINE, creating a rebound for Blake to tap home. Have I mentioned yet that this guy was 40-f***ing-years-old?! Unbelievable.
The must win Game 6 again started poorly for the Ducks. They were more than doubled up in shots on goal (10-4) after the first period, but thanks to one guy they were tied 1-1 after 20. That's right, Teemu opened the scoring in the do-or-die game halfway through the first. This time he skated circles around the zone and scored a nifty backhander.
They went into the third tied at two, but Nashville obviously ended up winning. After David Legwand scored the empty netter to seal it, things went sour, as they do sometimes with the Ducks. Teemu was effectively ejected from the game with 10 seconds on the clock by a 10 minute misconduct. Finally the frustration had gotten the better of him after realizing the game, the season and possibly his career were over, but he went out swinging.
My interpretation of the evidence above is that Teemu went into that playoff expecting to retire more so than any of the other times he considered it (except maybe after 2007) and to paraphrase Dan Fouts from The Waterboy it was the last few games of the career, can't hold anything back now. He went 100% balls to the walls for six games and came up short, but the way he played convinced him that he could still compete at the highest level so he returned for three more seasons. And although he may never have reached that level again, who could blame him? That was one hell of a series.