Monday, May 9, 2011

(Almost) Halfway There

How awesome are the NHL playoffs?

So awesome that I, who am often accused of being obsessed with politics, have not bothered to blog about the killing of Osama bin Laden. In fact, when the White House announced the killing late last Wednesday, my first reaction was to feel annoyed that attention was being taken away from the Tampa Bay Lightning's series sweep of the top-seeded Washington Capitals.

After my most recent post, I figured I would wait until the second round was over before writing anything else about the playoffs. But tonight I am feeling the itch to opine, even though the San Jose-Detroit series is still not here I go with some relatively random, stream-of-consciousness thoughts:

I have to start by praising my Lightning (or as I put it before, giving them their due because the MSM will not). As noted above, they did not merely defeat the Eastern Conference's top seed, they swept them. But even more impressive is the fact that they got significantly better as the series progressed, and did that despite being without two very important players who were injured in Game One (LW Simon Gagne and D Pavel Kubina).

Although I have never liked the Caps, I never hated them until now. Watching the series that just ended, I realized how dirty they are from top to bottom; and while Alexander Ovechkin has never been known as the most virtuous player on the planet, it was not until I watched him four times in seven nights that I realized what a thuggish cheap shot artist he is. As repulsive as it is that he routinely high-sticks opposing players in their faces and throats without being sent to the penalty box, it is even more repulsive that no one in the media bothers to point that out.

But of course, Ovechkin has been sent home early, Cup-less yet again, to watch other players pursue hockey's Holy Grail. So I will move on to relevant topics, like the Eastern Conference Finals where the Lightning will be facing the Boston Bruins.

Although Boston is favored to win, it is striking how similar these two teams are when you look at their results. They finished the regular season with identical records and both had to go seven games to win their first round playoff series, after which they both swept their second round series. Their goaltenders are ranked one-two in playoff production, with numbers so close they are a statistical tie -- Tampa Bay's Dwayne Rolsoson has a .941 save percentage versus .937 for Boston's Tim Thomas, while Roloson's goals-against average is 2.01 versus Thomas's 2.03. And as it turns out, Thomas and Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis were college teammates for the exact same years at the University of Vermont (1993 through 1997). Who will win this series, nobody knows; but I will go out on a limb and say that whoever does win it, will win the Stanley Cup if they face Vancouver and probably win it if they face San Jose.

On a semi side note, I have to mention I am loving the fact that Roloson is playing Conn Smythe-caliber hockey without bothering to think about the fact he is 41 years old.

Getting away from the Lightning, I must give props to the Nashville Predators and their fans. Earlier tonight the Preds got eliminated by Vancouver -- but they made it obvious they are the kind of team that is built for post-season victories, and their fans made it clear that Nashville is a legitimate hockey market. Look out for the Preds over the next few years, because they are only a couple of tweaks away from having an excellent chance to become the third Southeast U.S. franchise to win Lord Stanley's Cup.

And about that San Jose-Detroit series, what's a fan to do? Well, since I am 40, I suppose I should root for Detroit because they have a lot of very productive older guys on their roster. I love that Nicklas Lidstrom, nine months my senior, continues to play a key role for the Red Wings. And since I am a Lightning fan, I suppose I should root for Detroit because the presence of so many older guys should make them less conditioned and easier to beat by the time the Stanley Cup Finals roll around (please God let us make it!) than any of the other teams in the Western Conference.

The Stanley Cup represents the hardest championship to win in all of the world's professional sports. Whenever San Jose and Detroit finish their second round series we will finally be halfway through the playoffs that will determine this year's Cup winner. May the best team win, but Go Bolts! no matter what.

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