Where Smart Picks Go to Die
I get it. I live in the deep south. There’s fried foods, church on Sunday, and football. No one wants to talk about or even consider anything outside the realm of what their favorite team is up to. But this is year round. Conversations such as “Did you hear (insert player here) benched 250 lbs 20 reps this week?” and “What about that guy who just committed to our program? He looks like he’ll be a great asset in 2020!” don’t interest me.
To begin let me explain a little more about myself. Several things draw me to sports. Strategy has always peaked my interest. Whether it’s which reliever do you bring in to face this left handed batter, or what formation give our tightend the best matchup for the next pass, or since the other team is going small I’ll bring in my tall 5 to get rebounds and score in the paint. I love great story lines and captivating games. The most memorable sports moments I remember mostly happened in the bottom of the 9th, with less that 2 minutes to go in the 4th quarter, or with 3.2 seconds left on the clock.
Finally, as I have grown older and been able to sit down and really watch a game with a greater understanding of how they are played, I have found myself more and more a fan of movement. Not just any random floundering. Organized, elegant, coordinated movement in sports can be the most beautiful thing to watch. I have found this movement in basketball with the 3-on-3 weave during a fast break. I have begun to respect soccer more as I get older when I see perfect ball movement to free up a scorer.
But most of all, I have found these things in hockey. Hockey has become the epitome of all of these concepts that I love in sports. The strategy is there with line changes, offensive, and defensive formations. The story lines have been abundant during this years playoffs. And the elegance of motion rivals any sport on any continent. Maybe the ice adds to the effect but I find myself captivated when watching hockey. Defense can become offense in the blink of an eye. Goalies look more like contortionists, bending and twisting to block pucks thrown their way. Deflections might be the most fascinating and difficult to conceive concepts in all of sports. An average NHL slap shot is traveling somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 mph. The width of the blade on a hockey stick is just a fraction of an inch and IS CURVED! To deflect a puck going at that speed, with something that thin, with any type of accuracy is truly amazing!
So…it has been established that I have a respect and admiration for the game of hockey. This year’s NHL playoffs has reinforced my interest in the game. It has been a terrific playoffs so far (just started round 2) and has been full of story lines and excitement. The following is a brief breakdown of just some of the stories in this years playoffs.
First, the Ottawa/Montreal series was the worst series so far in the playoffs. Montreal came in as the 2 seed and made an embarrassing first round exit in a series that finished 4-1. Ottawa had two blowout wins, both finishing 6-1. Outside of the 7 seed beating a 2 seed, this one had little pop.
Then there were two series that, at first glance, most would say lacked excitement. This is because one series ended 4-0 and the other ended 4-1. However, combined the San Jose/Vancouver and Chicago/Minnesota series produced 4 overtime games! 45% of the games in the “least exciting” series during the NHL playoffs were decided by 1 goal in overtime. That’s a good start.
Then there’s the Pittsburgh/NY Islanders series. New York should never have had a chance against the might Penguins. With a roster that has the likes of Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, and Marc-Andre Fluery this should have been no contest. The only problem was that no one told the Islanders they didn’t have a chance. After getting blown out (5-0) in the first game, the Islanders fought back with a win (4-3) and a close overtime loss (5-4) followed by another win (6-4). With the Islanders scoring almost at will, the Penguins made a gutsy move in benching their star goalie and going with Tomas Vokoun. This gave the Penguins what they needed as they finished out the series 4-0 and a tight 4-3 overtime thriller. Fantastic series that made the number 1 overall seed fight for their lives in the first round.
The Kings were last year’s Cinderella team winning the Stanley Cup as an 8 seed. This year they came in as a 5 seed and are not going to sneak up on anyone. The St Louis Blues seemed to shake off their historic playoff woes with two quick victories (2-1 in overtime and 2-1). But the Kings have learned to never count themselves out of a series and went on to win 4 straight games. By itself, that doesn’t seem too exciting. However, there were two overtime games. More impressively, EVERY SINGLE GAME was decided by 1 goal (2-1 OT, 2-1, 1-0, 4-3, 3-2 OT, 2-1). An amazing series that was exciting from the first drop to the last horn.
There were three series that went to 7 games. All three were packed with excitement, so it’s difficult to decide which was more exciting. I am going to try to represent them from least to most exciting. Since this is relative and extremely subjective, feel free to argue with my order in the comment section.
The Capitals/Rangers series marked the 2nd straight year and fourth time in 6 years that these teams have met in the playoffs. There is no love lost between these teams and it was a very physical fight to the finish. The Capitals started off well, winning the first two games including a thrilling 1 goal overtime win in game 2 (3-1, 1-0 OT). The Rangers responded at home with back to back 4-3 victories. With the series edge on the line, the Capitals mustered up everything they had and won a thrilling game 5 (2-1 OT). The Rangers were backed into a corner at home and faced their playoff exit in game 6. But the Rangers would not see their season end just yet as they snuck away with a 1-0 victory. In game 7, the Rangers dominated the Capitals for a 5-0 win. Another lower seeded team (Rangers were 6th seed) advanced and the excitement of the playoffs was heightened.
The Red Wings/Ducks series pitted a good 2 seed against a scrappy 7 seed who had to win a game at the end of the season just to make it to the playoffs. The Ducks have been strong all year, while the Red Wings have been playing “playoff” hockey for two weeks. This series literally went back and forth with each team winning a game in response to a loss. Anaheim won the first game 3-1. Detroit then stole one in Anaheim 5-4 in overtime. The Ducks responded by taking the first game in Detroit 4-0. The next three games were decided in overtime (Det 3-2, Ana 3-2, Det 4-3)! 4 overtime games in one series and it wasn’t even over! With the series tied 3-3, the play moved back to Annehiem. Detroit struck first early in the first with a goal to put them up 1-0. In perfect symmetry with the rest of this series, the Ducks quickly respond (again in the first) to make it a 1-1 game. Detroit’s goal on a break-away later in the first made it a 2-1 game. Instead of a responds, it was Detroit who struck again in the 2nd making it a 3-1 game and the Red Wings were able to hang on and upset the Ducks 3-2. What a series!
That brings us to what I felt was the most exciting playoff series of them all. Each team had something to represent for their cities. “Boston Strong” could be seen on almost every fan during their home games. For Toronto, the Maple Leafs hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2004 and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967. In a city that lives for hockey, the Maple Leaves haven’t been producing. This series was an emotional roller coaster from beginning to end.
It began with Boston winning the first game handily (4-1). The Maple Leafs responded in Game 2 (4-2) to send the series to Toronto tied 1-1. In front of a raucous home crowd who has craved a playoff series for almost 10 years…the Leafs were man-handled and lost 5-2. The next game was another heartbreak as Boston won 4-3 in overtime. Many experts believed that the series was over. Toronto can’t come back from being swept at home. But the Maple Leafs won back to back 2-1 games (one in Boston and one at home in Toronto). The series was sent to a decisive game 7 in Boston. The Maple Leafs took advantage of some defensive breakdowns and took a 2-1 lead into the 3rd period. Toronto then scored twice in the third to make it a 4-1 lead. Cameras in Toronto showed crowds of people rejoicing in the streets. No one can come back from down 4-1 in the third…right?
Boston made it a little closer with about 10 minutes to go in the third by scoring a goal and making it 4-2. Then, with only 1:22 left on the clock, the Bruins scored again to make it 4-3. Boston fans inside the arena were going insane. Toronto fans on the streets were more hushed, but still hopeful. I mean the Bruins had less than a minute and half to score. Still a difficult task for any team. Boston made the gutsy decision to pull their goalie for an extra attacker, and with only 50 seconds remaining score the game tying goal! The stadium erupted and Toronto fans across the country cried a little inside. Regulation ended and a fierce overtime battle began with attacks going back and forth. 6:05 into overtime Patrice Bergeron scored for the Boston Bruins and they completed their improbable comeback with a game 7 win and a bid into the next round of playoff games.
The second round is already underway and has already seen an improbable comeback (Kings rally from down 1 to win in regulation with little time to do it in). If this article has interested you, tune in and see the wonders of the world of playoff hockey. If you are still singularly minded when it comes to sports, it’s your loss.