Well, now, seems like it’s about time for me to revisit my predictions for the first round of the NHL playoffs (Eastern Conference), and … my stars, what do you know? My new method of choosing teams by way of citing random passages from experimental literary texts has proven to be spectacularly successful! To recap:
Caps in 5
Flyers in 6
Bruins in 7
Lightning in 6
Caps in 5
Flyers in 7
Bruins in 7
Lightning in 7
I think this pretty much proves that Dreyfus was guilty.
I am of course sorry for the Penguins, whose horrendous 8-2 mauling Jamie and I witnessed in person last Saturday.* But it really is difficult to get far in the playoffs when your two best players are in street clothes and your “power” play puts up the Rangersesque stat of 1-for-35. In the postseason you simply have to make the most of whatever man-advantage chances you get, because you’re dealing with evenly matched teams playing at very high levels of intensity. Winning the Cup with an abysmal power play is sort of like winning the Masters without playing the 5s under par. It can be done, theoretically, but it still ain’t gonna happen. So as JP Stormcrow said to me earlier today, it’s totally fitting that the Penguins’ season ended on … a failed power play.
Are anemic power plays the cause of playoff collapses (see, e.g., the case of Washington v. Montreal ), or a mere symptom? Discuss amongst yourselves.
But you can hardly fault the poor flightless birds. It’s amazing they got here without two of the best players on the planet. The only question for next year is whether the NHL is going to ban all hits to the head and institute year-long suspensions for people who deliver them. It can continue its current policy, sure—namely, solemnly insisting that blows to the head are Very Bad Indeed and fining/suspending every third or fourth guy who renders someone unable to stand up without seeing double, getting dizzy, and vomiting. That course of inaction would be stupid, and it will help to destroy the game. Which is why it’s probably what the league will do.
As for Bruins-Habs, a series haunted by Zdeno Chara’s totally conscious (imho) decision to behead Max Pacioretty earlier in the year (even if he didn’t necessarily foresee the consequences): obviously, that contest could have gone either way, right down to the final seconds. My pick was determined by a coin toss, and a sense that the Bruins’ goaltending would hold up. Alas, the Bruins now have to face the team against which they coughed up a hairball of world-historical proportions just one year ago, losing in seven not only after being up 3-0 in the series but also after taking a 3-0 lead in game seven itself. My guess is that the Bruins are going to take one look at those hideously ugly Flyers jerseys, complete with their beer-league-quality nametags on the back, and have a series of severely debilitating nightmares and flashbacks. Fortunately, this series of flashbacks will not last very long, because the series will not last very long. The Bruins will be done in five. Their only hope is that the Flyers’ goaltending turns as ugly as those jerseys.
But the Flyers-Bruins matchup will not make my eyeballs bleed the way Caps-Flyers will in the conference final. I’m sorry. I know I should be thinking strictly of the quality of play on the ice, and the question of whether the better team will advance (for the Caps and Flyers surely are the better teams in these tilts). But the Hawks-Flyers red/orange finals were aesthetically painful to watch last year, and I’m not looking forward to a similar experience this year. Because when the Caps dispatch the Bolts in six, it’s gonna be bright red/dull orange all over again, and that will suck.
Speaking of ugly jerseys, I have to say I like these Lightnings (and their new sweaters and stylish sox) more than the crew that won the Cup in 2004. That club won games mostly by giving Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier 40 minutes of ice time every night and hoping that Nikolai Khabibulin could stop 40 shots; this club has ten players who scored ten goals or more this season. Stamkos and Gagne are great snipers, and Moore, Malone, and Purcell are a solid supporting crew. This series is going to be a delight, with lots of brilliant skating, crisp passing and stunning stickhandling. I’ve always thought St. Louis has the best hands in the game (here’s hoping he wins the Hart Trophy this year for MVP), and I hear that this Ovechkin kid isn’t bad either. (This would be a good time to remark on how profoundly appalling and enthralling the Internet can be.**) So there will be finesse, and the Bolts will almost be good enough. Whereas Bruins-Flyers will be muck and mire. But thankfully brief.
I want to make it clear, as if it isn’t clear already, that I am rooting for the Bruins. I just don’t think they’ve recovered from last year’s trauma.
Speaking of trauma, it was nice to see the Canucks pull themselves together long enough to kill off a colossally stupid penalty in the opening seconds of OT in game 7, and then win it a few minutes later. It was also nice that the guy who got that penalty, Alexandre Burrows, scored that goal to redeem himself. (He also scored the Canucks’ first goal. And missed a penalty shot. Basically, the entire night was All About Him.) But then, it was extra extra nice to see the Blackhawks scare the living bejeezus out of Vancouver by coming back from 3-0 and then somehow scoring shorthanded by sheer force of will with two minutes left. As for the other matchups in the West: it would have been nice if both the Sharks and the Kings could have advanced. The Sharks deserve a break this year—last year’s conference-final loss wasn’t their usual spineless collapse; it was simply the bad luck of running into a tremendous team playing at its very highest level—and I think the Kings are a likely bunch of young men. I was glad to be able to catch a game at the Staples Center during this year’s MLA convention, and glad to know that I saw the Kings as they really are—that is, as a very talented group who can stun a team (that night, the Columbus Blue Jackets) with four incandescent goals and then forget how to play for 10-15 minutes at a stretch. Of course, like the plucky young Rangers, they need to be reminded (perhaps by, I dunno, maybe a coach) that there is no mercy rule in hockey, and that the game is not shortened to 40 minutes when you go up 3-0 or 4-0. (About game 4 of the Rangers-Caps series, the Versus announcers were praising Rangers coach John Tortorella for calling a time out when the Caps closed it to 3-2. No. That is wrong. By the time it’s 3-2, the flames are already engulfing the house, and sure enough, the next Caps power play tied it up. You call time out after the Rangers score two in seven seconds to go up 3-0, because you’re dealing with 23-year-olds who are ecstatic to have suddenly pwned the Caps so thoroughly and need to be reminded, calmly, that there’s still 26 long minutes to play against a very dangerous team. But everyone thinks you call time out only when the team is on the ropes.) The Red Wings-Coyotes series would have been more exciting if the Coyotes had shown up. And here’s a friendly tip of the hat to the Predators for chasing down the Ducks and eating them. Welcome to the second round, Predators! Enjoy your time here, because you only have another two weeks of hockey this spring.
I will leave the Western predictions to Lemieux, adding only that I fear he is wrong about the Sharks, even though I do hope they advance (see “needing a break,” above). Oh, no, wait—I could also add that while I went 4-for-4 in the first round, Scott went only 2-for-4 (and 2-for-4 in the East, though of course that’s not his domain), thereby rendering him unable to criticize Roger Kimball’s prediction that McCain would win 40 states, according to the standard geometric logic employed by Althouse fanboys.
* Because the game started at noon, which is a human rights violation in and of itself, I looked around for things we could do later that evening, since we were planning to spend the entire weekend in Pittsburgh. It just so happened that the touring company of Mamma Mia were playing at Heinz Hall that week, and since Mamma Mia is one of Jamie’s Favorite Things Ever, I got two tickets to the 8 pm show. Sigh. It was fine. Much clean fun was had by all, and I survived. But later, I began to wonder whether it is really fair, in this universe or any other, that the masterminds responsible for ABBA have managed to contrive to earn more than one trillion dollars twice in the course of their lives.
** Too bad for you if you clicked on that link. But I hope you availed yourself of all 64 options!