When I was a young boy I asked my father what one of his favorite things in life was, what he didn’t say was me was “you, my son”, which would’ve crushed my 10-year-old heart had he not caught me by surprise by stating, “That first ice-cold beer on the first hot-ass day of the summer.” This is of note because my mother said the same thing verbatim about two weeks later. How this relates to hockey, aside from drinking beers and watching hockey, is simple: I love inflection-point broadcast calls wherein built-up anguish (the aforementioned “hot-ass day”) washes away and becomes overzealous kid-like joy (guzzling that “ice-cold beer”) when a team finally, finally, exorcises their playoff demons. In the first round there was no better exorcism than WRHU’s own Chris King calling the Islanders’ thrilling Game 6 overtime clincher on their home ice:
Listen to King’s professionalism melt away under the heat brought by that goal. Look at John Tavares’ face, it’s filled with 23 years-worth of demons evaporating. Or at least the release of his seven seasons of frustration. And why shouldn’t he be that ecstatic? Tavares dragged the Isles’ offense kicking and screaming into the second round with his one-man demolition of Florida’s defense. Of course, Thomas Greiss will have to continue to be the Islanders’ backbone. Of all the remaining goalies, he is easily the one who is not like the others. That .944 save percentage looks about as big as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, but here’s the thing about playoff hockey – it’s just a tournament. Greiss posted a .934 even-strength SV% in 41 games during the regular season, after all.
Speaking of save percentages, Dallas’ percentage is a joke. Dallas advanced with an .897 SV%, and as many goals allowed (15) as the ousted Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, and Jonathan Quick. How do they expect to topple a San Jose team who allowed 30 fewer shots on net in one extra game versus LA? With a relentless attack, of course. The Stars are deploying the ol’ “best defense is a great offense” strategy and it worked to great effect through the regular season and against the Wild in the first round. With real estate tightening up against San Jose and with the Sharks bruising bodies happy to slow things down, it’s on Dallas to prove their Kung-Fu is better. One solution for the Texas team? Keep the play at the other end and let league-wide scoring leader, Jamie Benn (10 points) lead the way, because neither Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi will suddenly morph into a brick wall like its Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey.
For the first time since 2009, the Penguins and Capitals are facing off and that means we all could witness Game 2 of the second round from ’09 all over again:
That’s right, your memory hasn’t failed you yet, slugger. Both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby scored hat tricks in that game. The Great Eight would post eight goals and 14 points in the series, while The Next One had eight goals and 13 points. Pittsburgh won the series, and later the Cup to end Detroit’s dynasty.
But this isn’t about either player, or any player. It never has been, no matter how much fans and media profess otherwise. This is about the Penguins trying to capture one more Cup before their Crosby-led window closes. This is about the Capitals trying to capture their first Cup ever, and canonizing their patron saint. (Okay, so it’s a little about each player.) It’s also, for one side, about agony.
The Capitals were founded in 1974 and have been to just one Stanley Cup Final, a four-game sweep at the hands of the mid-dynasty Detroit Red Wings back in 1998. The next season current owner Ted Leonsis bought the team and they’ve become a model franchise though his guidance.
Which is to say the Caps feel that they’ve waited long enough, and their fans even more so. Ovechkin has certainly worked hard enough, but he’s also had the misfortune of being born a Russian thrust upon him since his debut despite the fact that the Cold War has been over for at least two generations now. Imagine if we wouldn’t let Greiss’ German heritage go either. Ovechkin meanwhile has gone on to do things like this, this, and perhaps most importantly – this, much to the delight of any person worth their daily resources to maintain existence. He also scored this goal, which ought to be in a .gif form on a trucker hat with the caption, “Make Hockey Great Again.” (Yes, resist the written pun too.)
Getting back to today, without hyperbole the Capitals have been and continue to be, despite a pesky Flyers squad, the NHL’s best team. The Penguins are the NHL’s hottest team, taking out the Rangers with wins from third-string goalies. The victor can only hope they have enough left in the tank for the conference final.
Which brings us to tonight’s final game of the first round, Game 7 between Nashvhille and Anaheim. A franchise in their first ever Game 7 versus a team who’s failed to show up in them in three straight seasons. In fact, Anaheim has been out-scored 14-7 over that span.
So what should we expect?
I have no bloody clue.
We’ll probably see both teams display bountiful nervous-energy through the first period. Watch for dumb penalties. We’ll also likely see both teams clutch their sticks too tightly in the third period if the score is within a goal. Watch for safe/conservative play. Anticipate an announcer saying something cliche.
Most of all, we’re going to see two desperate teams. One clawing to earn respect across the NHL, and the other merely to justify it.
Honestly, it’s all rather unfair to both organizations. The Ducks and Predators, right or wrong, have grown a stigma of collapsing under pressure and one victory tonight won’t change that. Nashville and Anaheim will end in tears tonight, probably for both teams.
That’s why we can’t predict a series that could just as well end in a goofy way like this.
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