Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Stanley Cup Conference Semifinals Started Already

Go figure, I took a while to start writing about hockey because I spent a lot of today watching the hockey instead. (A triple-overtime session in the early game didn't help matters much.) This, you see, is the danger of not getting one's predictions for the round done before the round starts. The other danger might normally be that the already established results could colour the predictions -- like "oh, this team is already two games up, sure whatever" -- but since three of the four series are at 1-1 after two games, and the fourth series is completely capable of being 1-1 after the next outing, that isn't as much of a concern here.

So let's ruminate, starting with the:

Eastern Conference

(1) Boston Bruins vs. (6) Carolina Hurricanes

Boy, good thing the Montreal Canadiens fired Guy Carbonneau when they did or they'd really have looked pathetic in that four-game sweep Boston gave them! HUNDREDTH SEASON YEAH BABY

So Boston had plenty of cooldown time after their first round, whereas Carolina took it right to seven games with the Devils and drew out as entertaining a series as you're ever going to get out of New Jersey. (Augh, the Devils. I'm always glad to see them eliminated, because if they have their way they bore me and everyone else in the entire world to tears.) And the long rest helped Boston win Game One, but then the scrappy enthusiasm of Carolina's continued playoff grind helped them win Game Two, so who the hell knows.

Full disclosure: I think of this every time I see Rod Brind'Amour and it still cracks me up, every time. ("I bet his mom thinks he's ugly." "Probably.") But that doesn't compare to the elation that Tim Thomas always inspires in me, and he makes me smile real wide when I think of him because he's always really entertaining. He makes gigantic sprawling floppy saves as his trademark, he gets mic-ed up and narrates his own goaltending during the All-Star Game, he curls up and spins himself on his back like a turtle when a snazzy shootout goal gets by him (yes, really), and occasionally he just loses his temper and punches dudes in the face when they skate by. My kind of goalie! He's like Ray Emery, except with better team chemistry; he's like Dan Cloutier, except he makes saves. (Ha!)

Full appreciation to the Hurricanes for eliminating New Jersey, but I don't think this is their year. Boston has been pulling the Team of Destiny routine all season, and I'll be surprised if they manage to choke that away this quickly. They're not San Jose or Dallas, after all. So:

What I'd Want: Boston in five.
What I'll Guess: Boston in seven. Carolina's tricky!

(2) Washington Capitals vs. (4) Pittsburgh Penguins

Hey, sports media: shut the fuck up about Sean Avery, seriously, no one even cares any more. I know somebody somewhere mistakenly believes that Avery equals ratings, but he's a thoroughly mediocre player who has only ever functioned passably on one team and nobody appreciates your constant efforts to try and make us pay attention to him. It wasn't even subtle, either; the promotional blurbs inevitably read something like "Tonight, it's Avery and the Rangers versus Ovechkin and the Capitals!" and guess how well that went for the Rangers. There was only the one player on the New York side that brought his A-game in the series; fortunately for them it was their goalie, because Lundqvist on his A-game is all a team needs to steal three games by himself. (On a side note, it's kind of weird to know that I can correctly spell 'Lundqvist' in one try without having to look it up. Same way I've always felt about the name 'Tchaikovsky', but that's a different post entirely.) But the Capitals ultimately prevailed, being the appreciably better team, and now we get the big money match against the only other team in the League that mainstream America pays attention to.

Pittsburgh versus Philadelphia had all the potential in the world to be a tremendous classic battle between hated rivals and then it was only a sort of okay series until the Flyers inevitably rolled over and died. Alas! But this really should be the awesome series that the last one wasn't, the kind of bitter slugfest between teams with a history of animosity towards each other that makes my violent Canadian heart sing.

Besides being the most marketable playoff series that the NHL has had in, what, decades, the series should be really fun because the two teams are largely similar and about evenly matched. Both the Capitals and the Penguins feature a couple of game-defining top superstars, strong bases of young talent, a rapidly aging former-Cup-winner, a gigantic stupid goon, and hilariously spotty goaltending. Both teams are great fun to watch, but I think I'd rather see Washington prevail here; the Penguins had their shot at the Cup last year, so it's only fair that the Capitals get their turn next.

What I'd Want: Washington in seven, all of the games dramatically entertaining, and with at least three fights between superstars who make their coaches really nervous when they get into fights. (A shame Jerome Iginla went out so early this year; he was always good for at least one of these kinds of scraps.)
What I'll Guess: Washington in six. Malkin, so far, is not known for showing up in the playoffs when he's needed.

As for the:

Western Conference

(2) Detroit Red Wings vs. (8) Anaheim Mighty Ducks

Detroit swept the Columbus Blue Jackets without any particular effort, then took a collective nap because the team's average age is like seventy years old. Anaheim fought and clawed with the San Jose Sharks for six games until the Sharks finally remembered that they're the Sharks and just rolled over and died in the playoffs. So nothing much is new here; Anaheim is playing gritty playoff hockey like they've been doing for months, and two rounds in the Red Wings still have yet to need an elevated effort beyond the regular season level. (Four straight casual games against Columbus? Is that any different than a regular season stint for Detroit? Especially when the deciding goal in the deciding game comes off a Too Many Men penalty in the final two minutes?)

Detroit is so god damn good at everything that they don't even understand what losing is like, having won four Cups in twelve years and having been first in their division for the entire decade. Detroit is a phenomenally talented team and almost absolute perfection on ice to watch, and even despite that I am so incredibly tired of seeing them win that I can barely even express it in human language. One might expect that the Ducks would be a good match against the Red Wings here, because Detroit's goaltenders are both incredibly suspect and Anaheim's strong-checking physical play is a good quick way to wear down older players, but the Red Wings are all rested up to resume their absolute command over the intricacies of the game of hockey and I am slowly growing to hate them. It won't be easy -- in fact it'll most likely be a continuous string of one-goal games, because this is the Western Conference -- but Detroit is probably going to emerge the winner here.

What I'd Want: Anaheim in six, credited mostly to Randy Carlyle's mad-science line-matching wizardry.
What I'll Guess: Detroit in five, because all that Detroit ever does is win and it makes me mad.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (4) Chicago Blackhawks

It was nice to see St. Louis in the playoffs, wasn't it? That was nice. Good for them! They were a feel-good story and I was rooting for them, so of course they lost in four games. Cough cough thud. Chicago had a considerably tougher time with Calgary, because nobody in the Northwest ever goes down without a fight any more, but here they are and good for them. The Blackhawks deserve better than the past twelve or thirteen years.

Honestly, both of these teams are good fun to watch and have some solid Winnipeg connections behind 'em, so I don't have any particular loyalties or preference. It's not like either team has won anything in the last decade or so, either, so it'll be a neat change to see either of them advance. Some fast skaters, some solid goaltending, some hostility left over from the regular season -- good times! I can get behind this kind of stuff.

What I'd Want: Oh, either team is fine, I like 'em both. Whoever's more likely to beat Detroit, I guess.
What I'll Guess: Vancouver in six, when Roberto Luongo Hulks Up and justifies his captaincy. Like the letter, get it? Captain-C? HEY-YOOOO~oh, don't give me that look, that's gold and you know it. If it would have been good enough for Foghorn Leghorn, it's good enough for me.

Playoff hockey! It's what's for dinner!

1 comment:

Keith Bailey said...

Good to hear from you again. It's been a while.