Covering defeat in the wake of victory and the post-series media narrative
In the hours after the Tampa Bay Lightning concluded it's sweep of the Washington Capitals, the media narrative (minus ooh-ing and aah-ing over Sean Bergenheim and several members of the Tampa Bay Lightning roster) have been focused squarely on the loss.
On the loss. There's been more of a focus on the Washington Capitals failings than there has been on the Tampa Bay Lightning's success.
Red Light District frames it up in this excellent piece:
This happens in the NHL. When teams that are major marketing targets such as the Caps, Red Wings, Blackhawks, or Penguins are knocked out of the playoffs, the attention is on how they lost not on how their opposition beat them. It is understandable with the media machine pushing the teams that get the ratings, and now those ratings generating fans want to hear about their team, and not the team that won.
The problem is, it does nothing to acknowledge the victors, and it does nothing to soothe the belief that hockey cannot work in non-traditional markets. It makes sense from a Caps angle, if you are writing for Japers' Rink or one of the other fine Caps blogs out there. However, at some point, the Bolts need to be given some credit somewhere.
For the love of everything holy, the Tampa Bay Lightning just swept the Washington Capitals. With the firepower the Caps have, France would surrender to them; and yet the Lightning played their system, shut down the big guns and did the most important thing in professional sports.
Washington itself (the franchise, the fans) has little to do with this, and I am not here to rag on them or their disappointment of the moment. What's done is done. What I am going to rag on is the fact nothing's changed since 2004 from the northeast-centric media.
I watched round after round of 2004 NHL playoffs with the major-media-market accentuated and heralded by the likes of TV personalities and the press. The Lightning were usually dismissed despite the skills and thrills on display with a young team bursting with talent (Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Ruslan Fedotenko, et al).
NHL fans were told that the New York Islanders were going to surprise the Lightning in round 1; the Montreal Canadiens would do a number on the Bolts in round 2; the Philadelphia Flyers were getting what amounted to a bye to the Stanley Cup Finals by facing Tampa Bay and its lack of history (hello, Damien Cox).
Who ultimately raised the Cup in 2004? And who ultimately failed to build up its own coverage of the 2004 Stanley Cup finals by playing down the team from outside the northeast corridor?
That bias may be on display once more if the Nashville Predators come back and win against the far-outside-the-media-complex Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Semifinals. Vancouver has been a juggernaut this season, but the inconvenience for media coverage is that Vancouver is not an East coast team, nor anywhere near the Los Angeles media hub on the West coast. The "Cinderella story" of the Preds win will sooner play out through than a "Vancouver Lost / the Canucks failed" narrative like we've seen with the result of the Tampa Bay / Washington series. It's just more convenient for the media to pay homage to an East TV-ratings-favoring team than covering an out-of-the-way market, despite what should be a world of expectations on their shoulders.
On May 4th, the Washington Capitals did not lose and were not swept; the Tampa Bay Lightning won and completed a four game sweep. It was the second time in club history they won their Eastern Conference Semifinal series by way of sweep. Just don't expect the media institutions in Toronto, Bristol, New York, or elsewhere to frame it as such.
Alex Ovechkin's Capitals lost. The victor, the positive side of the contest results, is an afterthought in the narrative.