Wrapping Up A Great Stanley Cup Final (And Some Reflection on The Overall Boston Sports Landscape)

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The immediate aftermath of the Bruins’ game 6 giveaway to the Blackhawks was so strange. I had no urges to set all my Boston sports gear on fire. There were no chairs or couches kicked across the living room. And I barely even thought about lining up four shot glasses to try to erase the painful memories.

Of course I thought about the missed opportunity. And I was definitely kicking myself for daydreaming earlier on Monday about eight Boston Championships over 11 years. But there was a weird sense of being able to immediately step back and appreciate an incredible Stanley Cup Final, and an even more impressive Boston Bruins season.

This might be an unpopular thought in Boston, but it sort of feels like a gut-wrenching loss in the Championship round is a right of passage for this current installment of Boston athletes and their fans. We’ve had three Patriots Super Bowl victories, but also those two unthinkable losses to the New York Giants. We got Celtics banner #17 when the new Big Three was assembled, but no one’s forgotten how close they were to #18 when they fell to the Lakers in game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. And while the Red Sox haven’t lost in the World Series during this extended run of Boston sports success, their game 7 losses in the 2003 and 2008 ALCS belong in the same miserable category.

So now it’s the Bruins turn.

Are you one of those people who can filter out the missed chances when thinking back on this ridiculous run that started in February 2002? Or are you going to remember David Tyree and Mario Manningham’s catches, Ron Artest’s three-pointer, and Aaron Boone’s home run more than anything? (You’re right, no one will ever forget Boone’s home run. That moment is not erasable. And no, I would never link to that clip in a blog post)

Maybe part of the reason this Bruins loss will bring a shorter grieving period is because it was never about anything more than this particular Stanley Cup Championship. It wasn’t about anyone’s legacy or needing another banner to win an argument over another city’s fan base. Every time the Patriots’ season ends short of a Super Bowl Title now, we can’t help but think of Brady and Belichick needing just one more to solidify their places atop the all-time quarterback and coaching ranks, respectively. And another Larry O’Brien trophy for the Celtics is always needed to stay ahead of the Lakers.

LeBron James got all of two days to enjoy his latest NBA Championship before people were talking about how he needs a few more if there’s ever going to be a real comparison to Michael Jordan.

In hockey they don’t talk like that. Think about everything you’ve read and heard about the Bruins and Blackhawks over the past 10 days. It was all about the hockey. There were no sideshows. No talking about how badly one star needs to get the monkey off his back. There was no Spygate, no PEDs talk, no flopping or referee conspiracies, and no former or current murder suspects on either team. Every bit of analysis concerned matchups on the ice or strategic line-shuffling by the coaches.

Am I the only one who finds that refreshing?

Even if I kind of do hope that a report surfaces this summer saying the entire Chicago team was more doped up than Lance Armstrong before a leisurely ride through the Alps.

A few more notes before I put an amazing hockey season in the rearview mirror:

  • It took me about two hours last night to go from stewing over the disappointment to throwing myself into fantasy football analysis. Just like an athlete turning the page to focus on the next game, we can’t harp on this too long or else we’ll be missing out on the next sports priority.
  • We’re spoiled as Boston fans. We get to turn our attention to a surprising 1st place baseball team and a perennially contending football team (Aaron Hernandez drama notwithstanding).
  • Since you may not have taken a step back recently to do the math on this 11 year run, I did it for you. Boston teams have won seven Championships in that time (3 Patriots, 2 Red Sox, 1 Celtics, 1 Bruins). Those teams have also combined for four Championship round losses and six more Conference Finals round losses. That means 17 times in just over a decade our teams have been on the doorstep of winning it all (or a step away from the doorstep).
  • The odds are against that kind of success happening again. I hope you were paying attention.
  • Looking on the bright side of this Bruins letdown…we can all start acting like normally-functioning humans again. We can wash our lucky shirts (they were becoming as firm as cardboard due to all the dried up beer, pizza sauce and tears on them). We can shave our playoff beards (and some of us can even knock down our playoff afros). And we can cut our lucky playoff lawn (heard a rumor that fans in Chicago and Boston were letting the grass in their yards grow for good luck….so random)
  • People will naturally point to games 4 and 6 as missed opportunities, but don’t sleep on game 1. Remember, the Bruins took a 3-1 lead with just under 14 minutes left in the 3rd period. A win in game 1 means the Bruins would have taken a 3-0 series lead eventually if things played out the same otherwise.
  • Of course if things had really played out the same after that, we’d be talking about how the Bruins have to win game 7 on Wednesday to avoid the crazy choke job of blowing a 3-0 series lead.
  • This is the first time in my life that I’ve felt the need to congratulate the opponent and their fans after a Boston loss.

Just a great series that hopefully we’ll look back on fondly even though our team came out on the wrong end.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy a new Patriots hat so I have something to set on fire when Tom Brady falls short of Super Bowl #4 in about seven months.

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A Rivalry A Decade In The Making: Guest Blogger Breaks Down The Stanley Cup Finals

[Editor’s Note: One more time, guest blogger Nkilla is delivering all the bloggy goodness of the Stanley Cup Finals matchup. He sent me this preview with less than 8 hours to go before the puck drops for Game 1. You’ve probably read plenty of previews about this series already, but what’s one more? You know you’re looking to kill some time before you convince yourself it’s acceptable to crack open a beer and turn on the TV anyway.]

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Well here we are, the Stanley Cup Finals. Two of the original six teams (and two of the last three Cup Champions) going head-to-head to lift arguably the best trophy in sports. Before we break down the rivalry and breakdown the matchup, let’s take a quick look back at the Conference Championships.

Boston defeated Pittsburgh 4-0. As you can see from my previous post, I fully expected the Bruins to advance to the Finals, but I did not think they would dominate Pittsburgh the way they did in this series. In games one and two, Pittsburgh decided they were going to try and play Boston’s style of hockey: very physical. Boston totally dominated both games, Pittsburgh started up the goalie carousel, and the series was basically over. Some may argue that games three and four were one goal games that could have gone either way, which is true, but both those games were dominated stylistically by the Bruins. They were not final scores of 5-4, but rather 2-1 and 1-0. Also, Tuukka Rask and the Bruins defense gave up a total of two goals the entire series. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had a total of zero combined points in the series. Again, complete domination by the Bruins.

Chicago defeated Los Angeles 4-1. Admirable title defense for the Kings. In order to beat Chicago though, they were going to need a fairly healthy team and for Jonathan Quick to steal them a couple games. Neither happened. In retrospect Quick played so well to steal the series against San Jose that he had to have a little let down against Chicago. As for the Blackhawks, Corey Crawford outplayed Quick in this series and the offense got more than enough goals to advance fairly easily. A dominant, quick performance for the Blackhawks which is probably exactly what they needed coming off the long series against Detroit in the previous round.

And now onto the rivalry. And I’m not talking about the Bruins vs the Blackhawks. I’m talking about me and Rmurdera against our friend Todd. I’ve been friends with Todd for at least a decade, and Rmurdera has been associated with him for six or seven years. Todd is the Chicago fan equivalent of me and Rmurdera. He loyally follows all the teams from Chicago, he has well-formed and informed opinions, but also the occasional irrational opinions and emotions. [Editor’s Note: If I’m not mistaken, during game 5 of Chicago’s first round series against Phoenix last year, Todd watched the entire 3rd period and overtime with his pants pulled down because it was “good luck.” So I can back up Nkilla’s claim that Todd is as irrational as us Boston fans.]

Todd doesn’t have to go running out for Blackhawks gear for himself and his kids for the next two weeks because he just jumped on the bandwagon…he already has everything he needs. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, Todd did not celebrate. He said something along the lines of “who the fuck cares, I’m a Cubs fan.” Again, a true sports fan and a loyal Chicago fan. You can understand why we became friends.

So anyways, Rmurdera and I have been waiting for Boston to face Chicago in a championship round for several years. Up until now Todd has always been able to say “Super Bowl 20” which stings a little, but is also pretty dated. In the grand scheme of things, there isn’t really any hatred between Boston and Chicago. I actually have no ill-will towards the Blackhawks unless they are playing the Bruins (this could all change in two weeks). Now that the Red Sox have two championships in my lifetime, I hope the Cubs fans get theirs someday. This is all to say that the banter between myself and Todd will be of the “fun-loving” nature, as opposed to the “murderous nature” that exists when Boston goes head-to-head with New York for a title, or any time Chicago plays Green Bay or Minnesota. Since the Red Sox playing the Cubs in the World Series would be a sign of The Rapture, and by the time the Bears rid themselves of Jay Cutler, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s career might be over, I’m glad the Bruins and the Blackhawks are finally giving us a very meaningful Boston/Chicago title bout.

OK, enough about our somewhat awkward “tough love” style rivalry with Todd. Let’s breakdown the series. One very important note: Due to the lockout, the Eastern Conference and Western Conference did not play each other at all this year, so we have no idea if there was a huge disparity in talent between the two conferences or not. This is somewhat of a wild card heading into the finals and makes all comparisons a little less certain.

Important: Goaltending. It may seem obvious that goaltending is going to be important in the Stanley Cup Finals, but that doesn’t mean I should just ignore it. I think at this point we know we’re going to get above average to outstanding play from Tuukka Rask in every game. With a few more games like the way he played against the Penguins, Rask can make himself the defining player of these playoffs. (Side note: Do you think Peter Chiarelli wishes he rushed onto the ice and signed Rask with ten minutes to go in game seven of the Toronto series? Or was it twelve minutes left?) What are we going to get from Corey Crawford? Do we get the Crawford who outplayed one of the top three goalies in the world in the previous round, or do we get the Corey Crawford that can be shaky at times?

Not Important: Home Ice. Both these teams have proven they can win anywhere and that crowd noise/taunting does not bother them.

Important: Physicality. Boston wants this series to play out almost exactly like their series with Pittsburgh. Play very physical, hope Chicago tries to match their physicality, and in turn Chicago forgets how potent their offense can be. This is not to say Chicago is not physical, but they will want the physical aspects of the game to be an ancillary story rather than the determining characteristic of the series.

Not Important: Special Teams. Both teams’ penalty kills are awesome, and both teams’ power plays suck. And by “suck” I mean both teams should check the rulebook to see if declining power plays is allowed.

Important: Coaching. Somewhat related to the physicality point. Both coaches need to remind their teams to play their style of hockey and not get sucked into the other team’s style. The Bruins need to dump the puck into Chicago’s zone and chase after it. Chicago needs to get their defensemen (and therefore their forwards) flying up the ice with the puck and staying out of the extracurricular physical altercations that Brad Marchand and company will try and suck them into.

Not Important: Coaching. Not a typo. In terms of X’s and O’s both coaches and their staffs are great. And both coaches have won Cups with their respective teams. So from a tactical point of view there is no advantage.

Most Important: Forechecking. This is the biggest factor in the series as far as I’m concerned. Chicago’s defense is very fast, very big, and very offensive-minded. You could argue that two of Chicago’s top four offensive players are defensemen. When Chicago is clicking offensively their defensemen are carrying the puck out of the zone and starting the offensive break. The Bruins forwards need to get the forecheck going all series. They have to make it so that Chicago’s D is sick of getting hit in their own zone, are turning pucks over, and most importantly making Chicago’s forwards come back to help on defense, which slows the entire offense down. A daunting task, but fear not Bruins fans as this is what the B’s do best when they are playing well. If the Bruins’ own defensemen are feeling comfortable in a game, it is really, really hard to score on them. Chicago’s forwards have to create a steady forecheck to tire out the Bruins defense, create some turnovers (the Bruins are not shy about turning the puck over in their own end when they are under duress), and get better looks at Rask. Not an impossible task, but do Chicago’s forwards want to commit to this? It’s easy to imagine the Bruins’ top two lines sacrificing goals for a good defensive play because that is what they do every game. Do you think Patrick Kane, Andrew Shaw, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp want to commit to that style of play for six or seven games? They might, but I think it’s the less likely scenario. Sorry Todd (and his fellow Chicago fans), Bruins in 5.

[Editor’s Note: One of the many reasons why I like having Nkilla do these predictions is because I find it pointless and impossible to get an accurate read on two hockey teams. For instance, every expert in the world said that in the Eastern Conference Finals the key was for the Bruins to stay out of the penalty box, you know, because Pittsburgh had such an amazing power play. Well the B’s didn’t stay out of the box, but the Penguins’ power play was a complete non-factor. I said it would take a minor miracle for the Bruins to advance over the Penguins, but that four-game sweep looked more like a precise surgery than a miracle. Therefore, I’m abstaining from making a prediction. I will continue to grow my good luck afro and wear the same Bruins t-shirt that has helped them win 9 of their last 10 games. I’m just trying to do my part to make sure the dominating Boston sports run continues.]

Stanley Cup Conference Finals Preview via Guest Blogger (Who’s Getting Quite Arrogant At This Point)

[Editor’s Note: Guest-blogging extraordinaire Nkilla is back with his preview of the Conference Finals. That’s right. We’re finally halfway through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. One month down, one to go.]

Well, well, well… look who pulled off a sweep in the second round of the NHL playoffs. That’s right, I did, your favorite guest blogger. I predicted the winner of all four second round series correctly. Before I basically give you free money by picking the semi-final winners, let’s quickly recap what happened in round two.

[Editor’s Note: Classic douchey sports prognosticator move by Nkilla here. Highlight the fact that you got the winner of each series right, but ignore the fact that you didn’t correctly pick the right amount of games for any of those series. It’s like anyone who picked the Baltimore Ravens to win the Super Bowl before last football season by saying they would be the #1 seed in the AFC and go on to win their second Championship. Yeah, buddy, you knew exactly how things were going to play out.]

Pittsburgh eliminated Ottawa 4-1. This series was never really close. In fact, if the five players on the ice for Pittsburgh in the last minute of game three do not collectively stop playing defense for eight seconds Pittsburgh probably sweeps Ottawa. After fending off a feisty Islanders team in round one, Pittsburgh apparently decided to take the playoffs seriously in round two and just go out and dominate their opponent. Ottawa may have fooled us a bit by how easily they eliminated Montreal in round one, but Montreal was probably more inured than they let on, and they let on that they were very injured.

Boston eliminated New York 4-1. This series was never really close either. In fact, if Tuukka Rask does not forget how to play goalie in game four Boston probably sweeps New York. After the Toronto “almost a fiasco but really one of the great Boston sports moments of the last thirty years”, the Bruins, much like Pittsburgh, decided to get serious and end their second round series quickly. A couple of things factored into this being a quick series: just because one sucky team (New York) beat another sucky team (Washington), the winner does not all of a sudden become good; the Bruins three rookie defensemen added some much needed life into the Bruins and helped them dominate the series; and most of all, the growing legend of Krug.

Los Angeles eliminated San Jose 4-3. The home team won all seven games in this series. It was a very well-played series with five of the seven games being decided by one goal. Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick is starting to look as unbeatable as he was during last year’s Stanley Cup run, and he really carried the Kings through this series. San Jose probably lost this series when they gave up the game-tying and game-winning goal twenty-two seconds apart with less than two minutes to play in game two.

Chicago eliminated Detroit 4-3. Best series of the second round between two long-time division rivals that will not even be in the same conference anymore as of next year. Chicago dominated game one, and then Detroit came out and cruised through the next three games to take a 3-1 series lead over the West’s top seed. At this point Chicago came to life offensively and dominated game five at home, came from behind to win game six on Michael Frolik’s sick penalty shot, and then won game seven twice, once with one minute left in regulation that was overturned on a horrendous penalty call, and then a second time in overtime.

 

So, that leaves us with a great final four. If you look at the sixteen teams that started the playoffs, it is tough to come up with a better final four option than how it actually played out. All four of these teams are worthy of winning The Cup, which isn’t always the case once you get to the final four in any sport. These are also your last four Stanley Cup champions. Let’s break the two series down and reveal the winner of each:

Chicago v Los AngelesChicago wins if: They score on the power play and Corey Crawford does not give any games away. The power play is going to be particularly important for Chicago because Jonathan Quick is playing so well right now. I think goals are going to be hard to come by in this series. Also, if Chicago gets two or three goals past Quick in a particular game, Crawford cannot have a shaky game and give up five goals.

LA wins if: Jonathan Quick keeps playing like he did during last year’s championship run. Listen, LA’s offense has by no means been lighting up the scoreboard this postseason, but with the way Quick is playing two goals is going to be enough most nights.

And the winner is…: Chicago was the best team in the regular season and dominated their first round matchup against Minnesota, but showed some weakness in the Detroit series. Quick seems to be getting better as the playoffs go on. If LA was scoring goals at even an average rate during these playoffs, I could see LA winning a short series. The Sharks won three games against the Kings by a score of 2-1 in the last round. I see no reason why Chicago can’t grind out a couple wins like that in this series. I think this goes seven, and I want the better goalie in game seven. LA in 7.

Pittsburgh v BostonPittsburgh wins if: They continue to play outstanding special teams and their offense continues to run amok. Pittsburgh has the number one power play in the playoffs and the number three penalty kill. Most of the time their power play looks surgical. When their five-on-five offense is clicking, they can make it look like they are on the power play even when they are not. They have three of the top four goal scorers and point leaders so far in the playoffs.

Boston wins if: They continue to play the best two-way hockey in the playoffs and the rookie defensemen continue to play like veterans. The Bruins have the top four plus/minus players in the playoffs so far, and that is because when the Bruins are playing well the forwards are forechecking and helping on defense. Based on what I just taught you about Pittsburgh’s offensive proficiency, the Bruins young defensemen need to not only provide the youthful energy they brought against New York, but they have to play solid defense.

And the winner is…: On paper Pittsburgh is slightly more talented and their offense really started to click against Ottawa. As good as the Pittsburgh offense is, their defense is a little soft. A couple of these games may end up being of the 6-4 variety, and I prefer Rask over Vokoun easily in those games. If you watched the Pittsburgh/Ottawa series, by game four it seemed like Ottawa was afraid of Pittsburgh. The one thing the Bruins will not be at any point is scared of this Pittsburgh team. In fact, I think the personality of this Bruins team is one that wants to go through Pittsburgh to get to the finals. I think there is a small part of Pittsburgh that wishes someone else took care of Boston for them. Boston in 6.

[Editor’s Note: I love that Nkilla picked a Stanley Cup Finals between my hometown team (Boston) and my new hometown team (Los Angeles). Really, there’s no wrong answer for the NHL when it comes to the possible Finals matchups. It’s either Pittsburgh vs Chicago (the two most-talented teams and the top two teams from the regular season), Pittsburgh vs LA (the best offensive team against the best goalie/last year’s champs), Boston vs Chicago (two original-six teams, great hockey cities) or Boston vs LA (the last two Cup winners, the two most physical teams, and my overall preference). This is going to be a fun four weeks.]

Guest Blogger Predicting Round 2 of the NHL Playoffs (He Promises To Get More Than 1 Series Right This Time)

[Editor’s Note: Nkilla is back with his 2nd round predictions. I can’t even get away with watching two hockey games a night before my girlfriend is questioning how invested I am in our relationship. This friggen guy somehow has a wife, a kid and even a full-time job, yet somehow he’s allowed to watch every game?? Makes no sense, but glad to have him on board predicting (mostly incorrectly) all the results of the games.]

Round One of the Stanley Cup playoffs is in the books. Glad you all made it through with all your teeth still in place. Before we dive into the round two series rankings, let’s recap what happened in round one where my predictions went right and completely ignore any predictions I got wrong.

Chicago v Minnesota – As predicted this was a fairly uneventful series. The teams split two overtime games, and Chicago won the other three games easily. The most exciting thing that happened in this series is that Minnesota’s starting goalie got injured during pregame warmups for game one, so they had to go to their second-stringer at the last second. For those of you that do not follow the NHL very closely, players prepare for the goalie they are about to face similarly to the ways a batter prepares for a pitcher in the old man’s game (baseball): studying tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. So anyone that got excited because Minnesota forced OT in game one and thought the Wild might make a series out of it was ignoring the fact that Chicago would study up on the new goalie and make the appropriate adjustments.

Pittsburgh v Brooklyn – I was completely off on this series. This turned into one of the better series in the first round. The crowds for the games on Long Island were fantastic, which always helps elevate a series. I also did not see the Vancouver-esque goalie drama that was coming Pittsburgh’s way. Not that I thought their first-stringer, Marc-Andre Fleury was great, but I thought Pittsburgh would score six goals a game so the fact that he was giving up four a game wouldn’t matter. After Brooklyn had huge comeback wins in games two and four, Pittsburgh had to make a goalie change. The backup pitched a shutout in game five (see the pitcher analogy above) but started to let in goals in game six. It will be interesting to see how this plays out going forward. Pittsburgh won the two overtime games in this series which was probably the biggest reason they advanced with a 4-2 series win.

St. Louis v Los Angeles – Here is what I wrote about this series in the round one preview: “In the last month or so the Kings have been getting back to form. I think this is one of those series that goes five or six games but seems like it was a sweep.” Nailed it. After losing the first two games, the Kings won the next four (which is essentially a sweep, right?) to take the series. All six games were decided by one goal, but other than a few late-game goals it was not all that exciting.

Anaheim v Detroit – Not to keep bragging, but nailed it again. Here is what I wrote about this series before round one: “This series may very well go all seven games and we will probably get a couple of OT games as well. The reason this series is not higher on the list is that there is almost no history between the two teams and not a lot of household names on either team.” This was a fantastic series that nobody noticed. Anaheim erased a three goal deficit with 12 minutes left in game two only to lose in OT. Detroit came from behind and won in OT in game four to stay in the series, only to have the Ducks return the favor in game five. Anaheim scored two goals in the final three minutes of game six, only to lose in OT capping off three consecutive OT games. Again, great series, just too bad almost nobody was talking about it.

Washington v New York – I stand by my statement that both of these teams are bad. What I did not calculate was that when two bad teams play each other they can cancel each other out and you might get an entertaining seven game series. As expected you have a ton of built-up hatred because it is two close proximity east coast teams. There were plenty of entertaining skirmishes and an extremely entertaining 5-on-5 brawl after the final whistle of game six.  What ends up diminishing the enjoyment of this series a bit was that game seven was a giant dud.

Boston v Toronto – Let’s just go with my tweet immediately after game seven since I still can’t believe how things unfolded in this series, especially the last ten minutes of this series, and I certainly cannot coherently sum it up yet: “Well then, that was something.”

Vancouver v San Jose – Well, at least I predicted that San Jose would win this series. And Vancouver was nice enough to switch up goalies at least once, but this was not a very entertaining series. Vancouver never had a chance, which I understand for most NHL fans is nice to see since I think most non-Vancouvans are sick of this team by now. But in terms of playoff hockey value it was not a great series. And my advice to the Canucks – blow it up. You have taken a step back every year since losing in the Cup finals. It is time for a fresh approach.

Montreal v Ottawa – So close yet so far away. For three games I was looking like a genius. Everything I wrote in the round one preview about how great this series could be was coming true. After three games Ottawa was up 2-1 in the series, there had been what I can only describe as a small lake of blood on the ice at one point during game one, and this happened in the middle of game three:

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how much you despise the Canadiens) Montreal blew a two goal lead with nine minutes to play in game four, eventually lost the game in OT, suffered some season-ending injuries to several players including their goalie, and Ottawa won the series in five games.

 

So now onto the second round. There are four series in this round, enough to rank them from worst to best in terms of predicted entertainment value:

4. Chicago v Detroit – It is not that I think this is going to be a bad series, I just think the other three series will be better. Two of the original Six teams meeting in the playoffs. Both these teams have great fan bases and long histories. Detroit was unable to beat Chicago in four regular season meetings, but based on what we just saw in the Anaheim series and their history you never count Detroit out in the playoffs. I suspect the intensity of this series to grow with each game.

The Pick: Chicago in 6.

3. Los Angeles v San Jose – Southern California vs Northern California, Dodgers vs Giants On-Ice, Snoop Dogg vs MC Hammer, I could go on for days. These two teams played four very even games in the regular season. As mentioned in the round one preview, the Kings seem to be rounding into title defense form very nicely. The Sharks are coming off of the only round one sweep. The Sharks have a nice little story going. This is their least hyped team in years and they just completed the franchise’s first playoff sweep. LA is not going to be caught off guard like the Canucks were though.

The Pick: LA in 6.

2. Pittsburgh v Ottawa – On paper, Pittsburgh should be able to handle Ottawa in five games. That is what I thought about the Islanders too. Ottawa may not have the explosive offense that the Islanders had to keep pace with Pittsburgh, but they are a much more physical team than Brooklyn. And the crowd for every game in Ottawa should be going bonkers. And what happens if the wheels come off with the Thomas Vokoun experiment? Let’s not completely rule out Ottawa and their zany coach.

The Pick: Pittsburgh in 7.

1. Boston v New York – All bets are off in this series. You’ve got a Boston team vs a New York team. I know most of North America is sick of that story line, but it is always a story line. Both these teams just survived seven-game series against lesser opponents. Somehow this is the first playoff series between these two teams in forty years. The Bruins had a better season and are probably a better team on paper, but, well, nobody is sure this Bruins team wants to try until their backs are against the wall. And New York has a very deep team that has played better the second half of the year. These teams played three very evenly-matched games during the regular season, and you know both fan bases are going to bring it. Let’s just fast-forward to the inevitable OT of game seven and see how it plays out.

The Pick: Boston in 7.

Should We Predict the NHL Playoffs’ 1st Round Winners or the Most Entertaining Series? How About Both?

[Editor’s Note: Two months ago I wrote about the Boston Bruins and how they were quietly becoming Boston’s most consistently competitive team. This is probably surprising to nobody who knows me and my sports jinxing history, but since I posted that article on February 25th, the Bruins have won 17 games and lost 16 games. Not really the dominant trajectory my article put them on. When it comes to sports not named football, you’ll notice my blog posts are typically limited to ball-washing my Boston teams. I don’t usually write anything about the going-ons outside of the New England area. But that doesn’t mean my readers don’t have a thirst for more balanced sports coverage. Therefore, I’ve invited back a guest blogger who regularly abandons his husbandly and fatherly duties to watch more sports than you or I could imagine. He’s here to break down the NHL playoffs in his no-nonsense, marginally humorous style. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the only blogger in internet history to write 10,000+ words about something called the “Euro Soccer Championship”….Mr. Neil “nkilla” Gariepy.]

Your favorite guest blogger is back! I know what most of you are thinking – if I am blogging, then there must be some sort of obscure sporting event coming up that I am going to try and get you to pay attention to. Well, if you consider the NHL “obscure” then you are correct…it is time for playoff hockey. For those of you that are not NHL regular season regulars, it is time for your annual “jump onto the NHL bandwagon”. No more shootouts, lots of sudden death overtime drama, and teams building up genuine hatred for each other as each series moves to the next game. [Editor’s Note: Someday Neil will learn to link to certain YouTube clips to support his claims, but for now I’ll give him an assist (pun intended!). If you want to see what Neil means by genuine hatred, just watch the first two minutes of THIS CLIP from the Penguins/Flyers playoff series last year. I promise it’s worth it.]

There are eight first round, best-of-seven series. I’ll go ahead and rank the eight first round series from least exciting to most exciting so if you have an actual life and can only follow two or three series you should probably use this blog post as your guide.

8. Chicago v Minnesota – This should be a quick series, a 1-seed vs 8-seed matchup where the 8-seed has very little chance for an upset. Chicago was the best team in the Western Conference, and Minnesota is probably the worst of the sixteen teams to make the playoffs this year. During the regular season Minnesota lost two out of every three games against teams that eventually made the playoffs. For you gamblers out there, Chicago -360 to win the series is not a horrible bet; I expected it to be more around -800. Chicago to sweep is +400. Also, my friend Todd is at -2000 to puke after reading the last paragraph and realizing I just jinxed his team.

The Pick: Chicago in 4


7. Pittsburgh v “Brooklyn” – Another 1-seed vs 8-seed matchup where the 8-seed probably has very little chance of winning. The difference between this series and the Chicago series is that the Islanders will have a nice little underdog story about them that everyone in America likes to root for. The Islanders last made the playoffs six seasons ago, and they have not won a playoff series since 1993. Their current team is built around 22-year-old-star-in-the-making John Tavares and a bunch of cast-offs from other teams. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh was arguably the best team in the league this year, winning four out of every five games against eventual playoff teams. It is almost impossible to root for Pittsburgh unless you are from Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby is way too whiney for most of us and then there is Matt Cooke. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Cooke’s work, go ahead and google “Matt Cooke Cheap Shot.” One of the video compilations is titled “Matt Cooke Cheapshotting History.” It is almost four minutes long. And it is from 2009. If you can find the 2013 version with four more years of footage, it is probably twelve minutes long. [Editor’s Note: Interesting that this time Neil even tells you how to google the right video in order to see Matt Cooke’s cheap shots, but still doesn’t link to the video. As much as I hate doing someone else’s work for him, here you go]:

The Pick: Pittsburgh in 5


6. St. Louis v Los Angeles – This is the 4-seed vs 5-seed matchup in the West. St. Louis is the better seed here, but LA had a slightly better record against eventual playoff teams in the regular season. Most people are predicting a close series with LA prevailing in six, or St. Louis winning in seven. So why would I rank this as the third worst series of the first round? Well, LA won The Cup last year, brought almost the same team back to defend the title, and started the season off with a little bit of a residual hangover from all the celebrating. In the last month or so they have been getting back to form, winning games and moving up the standings. Also, they went 3-0 against St. Louis this season. I think this is one of those series that goes five or six games but seems like it was a sweep. Gamblers, LA at -120 to win this series is not a horrible bet, no need to get tricky by picking the right number of games.

The Pick: Los Angeles in 6


5. Anaheim v Detroit – Bit of a compelling storyline here. Many view Detroit as “old-blood NHL” and Anaheim as “new-blood NHL.” Detroit had to struggle to make the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive year whereas Anaheim stayed just behind Chicago most of the year and locked up the 2-seed in the West.  This series may very well go all seven games, and we will probably be treated to a couple overtimes as well. The reason this series is not higher on the list is that there is almost no history between the two teams and not a lot of household names on either team. Gamblers, Detroit to win the series at +125 or “the series goes 7 games” at +165 are probably your two best moves, but neither are recommended.

The Pick: Anaheim in 7


4. Washington v New York – I know what most of you are saying – “This is the worst ranking blog ever. How could one of the league’s most marketable players, Alex Ovechkin, playing against the New York Rangers in the playoffs just be in the middle of the pack for entertainment value?” Well, the problem is one of these teams is not good, and the other is really, really bad. The Rangers are the 6-seed and are basically “Minnesota of the East.” They only won 37% of their games against eventual playoff teams, and only five of those wins came in regulation. They are the “not good” team mentioned above. Washington did not beat a team in regulation that eventually made the playoffs until April 9th. When everyone was saying Washington was the “hot team” about a month ago, it was because they were beating up on their horrible division. Ovechkin vs New York still carries some weight, but I have a feeling this is a short series.

The Pick: New York in 5


3. Boston v Toronto – Shocking confession, I’m a huge Bruins fan/homer, but the following paragraph is in no way a reverse jinx. This Bruins team is a little too much like last year’s team  for my liking. Looked like the best team ever assembled for the first half of the season, played .500 hockey for the second half of the season, got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by an inferior Washington team. Meanwhile, people in Toronto like hockey more than any fan base likes any sport in the world. And Toronto is in the playoffs for the first time in eight years. The worst seats for the home games in Toronto are going for $2000. According to Vegas, Boston is a 2:1 favorite to win this series. Most experts are predicting Boston in five or six. I just don’t see it. Toronto is going to be so jacked up for every home game with a completely bonkers crowd. Toronto was slightly better than Boston during the regular season against eventual playoff teams. Both teams are original league members, physical, and are going to bring it. I think first team to lose a home game loses the series. This should be a very entertaining, long series.

The Pick: Toronto in 6


2. Vancouver v San Jose – San Jose, the 6-seed in the West, actually had a slightly better record than 3-seed Vancouver against eventual playoff teams. The teams are pretty evenly matched although Vancouver was not able to beat San Jose in the regular season. Both of these teams have had lofty expectations over the past eight years and neither have been able to bring home The Cup, and now one of them is getting knocked out in the first round. Both fan bases are knowledgeable, so there will be a great atmosphere at each game. Vancouver always seems to bring some team drama with them into the playoffs…you never know when the goalie carousel might get going with them, or when Alex Burrows might bite someone, or when the Sedin Sisters might admit they are not only sisters but also lovers. This has all the makings of a long, intense series. For the gamblers, being able to get San Jose at “plus money” (currently +105) to win this series is very good value.

The Pick: San Jose in 6


1. Montreal v Ottawa – Any time two Canadian teams play a long series against each other the intensity gets ratcheted up eh. Montreal is the 2-seed in the East and Ottawa is the 7-seed, but these two teams had basically identical records against playoff-qualifying teams in the regular season eh. Also, they split four games during the regular season eh. So we have two Canadian teams eh, that are very evenly matched eh. A series that is probably going seven games eh, and again all the games will be taking place in eh Canada eh. This may not have the high profile players of some of the other series eh, but the intensity and location should make it the best series of the first round eh. Eh.

The Pick: Montreal in 7

For the record, Neil picked four upsets in the first round, two series to go seven games, only one sweep, and somehow managed to squeeze in “eh” 11 times in the final paragraph.