Monday, April 23, 2012

See, I Don't Really Know Much About Hockey, Is The Thing

So, some of you might remember last fall when I became a huge television star in Canada noted for his absolutely remarkable hockey acumen. In fact, my hockey acumen was so strong that I felt comfortable going on the public record declaring that without any argument, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the San Jose Sharks were guaranteed to win the Stanley Cup at long last. After all, the team had been to two consecutive Western Conference Finals and after years of knocking on the door, the offseason additions of Brent Burns and Martin Havlat were surely going to be the missing ingredients that finally helped the Sharks blow that door down.


Well San Jose rewarded me with an impressively mediocre regular season that very nearly had them missing the playoffs, and when they finally did manage to clinch the seventh seed in the West, all it won them was a meek first-round exit at the hand of the far superior St. Louis Blues.

But not to fear! For the ability to have foresight and understand that teams are not the same in October as they are in April is important, and as such, I was able to amend my picks. Right here on this very site I made my choices for the Stanley Cup Playoffs' opening round known, and while I didn't post my predictions all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, I was not shy about telling the world that absolutely, no questions asked, beyond a shadow of a doubt, this year's Stanley Cup was going to finally be won by the Vancouver Canucks, who had just won their second consecutive Presidents' Trophy for having the best regular season record. And what's more, they would win that title over the red hot Pittsburgh Penguins, who were loaded with talent and finished the season as strongly as any team in the League.

Seemed like a no-brainer, right?

Well, I certainly thought so, and I wasn't the only one. Sports Illustrated also foresaw a Pittsburgh-Vancouver Final that would brighten the television set and warm the soul. Somehow that didn't come to pass, however, as yesterday, the Flyers capped a six-game series win over a disappointing Penguins outfit, and the Canucks saw their dream shockingly die at the hands of Jonathan Quick and the upstart L.A. Kings, another sexy offseason Cup pick that had had a shockingly disappointing season.

So what does this all mean, really? I think the answer to that question is pretty apparent. It means I'm really awesome at predicting hockey games. Really, there are no two ways to go about it. My genius can't be matched. Need more proof? Just take a look at the other postseason series being played right now. In the Eastern Conference I had the Rangers and Bruins easily getting past their first-round foes. After all, New York was facing a hapless Sens team that had outperformed expectations before stumbling down the stretch, while Boston drew the perennially puzzling Capitals, who despite being loaded with talent, never seem to succeed in the playoffs and were literally just happy to be there.

Naturally, the Rangers are facing elimination tonight in Game 6 up in Ottawa. No biggie, though, the Rangers have overcome 3-2 series deficits a number of times. Or rather, one time. One is a number, so I'm technically correct, and unfortunately, I remember that one time a little too well. Meanwhile the Bruins, who I pegged for a five-game series victory, have been pushed to a decisive Game 7 Wednesday night, that wouldn't even be happening were not but for the grace of God and Tyler Seguin.

In the West meanwhile, I've actually managed to be right about two whole series, picking the Blues to move on and the Predators to oust the Red Wings, but in both cases I somehow managed to pick series that would take longer than they actually did. And then there's the series in the West I'm most partial to, Chicago and Phoenix. Now I picked the Blackhawks to win that series, which is still theoretically possible, but I picked them to do it in six games, something that went out the window after Phoenix took both Games 3 and 4 in Chicago to jump out to a 3-1 lead. Then again, that series really could have gone either way each night considering every single game has gone to overtime. I suppose I can't really beat myself up on that one.

One that I can easily beat myself up over, however is the one that may very well reach its denouement Tuesday night in New Jersey, that of my Devils against the Florida Panthers, a team that despite winning its mediocre division, frankly, isn't particularly good, nor is it particularly deep. That hasn't seemed to matter so far. New Jersey should probably be up 3-2 in the series were it not for the team choking away a three-goal lead in Game 3 that it crafted together with the best eight minutes of hockey the Devils played all season, which I witnessed in person. After a strong effort in Game 4 knotted the series up, the Devils turned in a pretty listless effort in a pivotal Game 5 Saturday night and now face elimination in just over 24 hours. This is particularly disconcerting considering after a year without postseason hockey, I have decided to grow a playoff beard and see what the results might muster.

The answer: the beard isn't bad, but the hockey isn't particularly good either. I probably should have seen this coming considering I last grew a playoff beard for the Devils in 2010, a season in which they left the first round in five games at the hands of the Flyers despite being the No. 2 seed in the conference. If New Jersey can't find a way to get to the second round, I may have learned my lesson that postseason facial hair simply isn't the answer to winning a Cup.

So, looking at everything as it stands, I have already gotten two series right, I have gotten two major series wrong, and the teams I picked to advance in the remaining four all face elimination in their next game. I've been pretty spot on with my hockey knowledge so far this postseason, but even if I wind up getting an absurd six of the eight first-round matchups wrong this year -- a very distinct possibility -- there is a light at the end of that tunnel. I'll get to shave again, and my face won't feel so damn itchy. In the end, that's not the worst thing in the world.

Trust me. As I've made pretty clear, I know what I'm talking about.

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