A Song of Rubber & Ice

The Recorder’s Guide to the 2013 Stanley Cup, Round 1

I must say, I was having a smashing time in Portland, OR, last week. It was a lovely bit of relaxation after the awesome madness of C2E2 the week before. In a surpisingly beautiful weekend in the Pacific Northwest, I was catching sun and swimming in whiskey while I was guided around the Rose City.

Who needs to watch this so-called Gatsby film? Not I, for one.

Why, I even had the opportunity to catch some junior hockey – game 1 of the WHL championship series between the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Portland Winterhawks. I walked away from the game disappointed but enlightened by the following lessons:

  1. The Winterhawks’ jersey & logo look damn near indistinguishable from the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. This made it rather easy in choosing for whom we would cheer.
  2. There were a lot of scouts erm, former players in the crowd. It’s almost as though the NHL just held a lottery for its draft, and the two teams were chock-full of draft-eligible players.
  3. Making all those centering passes won’t do shit if you don’t have someone in front of the goal to put said pass into the bloody net! Looking at you, Portland. That’s a damn good way to lose by a few goals, in fact.

Thankfully, the Winterhawks also seemed to learn this last lesson, as they’re now one game away from winning the WHL championship.

It was upon my return from this West Coast foray that my fellow Addisonian broke some troubling news to me: it was his distinct opinion that the Stanley Cup playoffs were getting lost amongst all the flim-flammery of other sports – even the off-season ones!

A quick perusal of the Worldwide ‘Leader’ in Sports lent credence to my associate’s troubling observation. Item after item flashed on the TV without the barest indication of the Stanley Cup excitement! We at the Addison Recorder wish to rectify this situation, which is why I shall be providing you with our pop-culture-infused look into the NHL playoffs, one round at a time. Grab some whiskey (or whisky, for our Canadian audience), and let’s get on the ice.

The EAST

I’m starting with the Eastern Conference. Not because I’m biased, per se, but it’ll allow me the chance to set up for better references and call-backs when I get to the West. Since this is round 1, I’ll try to keep my capsules for each series as brief as my verbosity will allow.

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins –VS– (8) New York Islanders
The Penguins were the best in the East this season, and were rewarded with an opening series against the New York Ra— wait, what? The Islanders? Seriously? Who let them into the playoffs? C’mon, this is like matching up Superman against “unnamed street thug #2.” Pittsburgh has a top defenseman, more MVP forwards than most NHL divisions, and BGSU alum Dan Bylsma as its coach (who could pass for Clark Kent, if you squint real hard). I mean, even if the Islanders had kryptonite, they…

What’s that? Someone put kryptonite in front of the Penguins’ net? Ah, that’s why the series is tied 2-2, and why Supes is looking a little peaked in the crease. Still, it is Superman, and he’ll find a way to win in the end, right? Right?

(2) Montreal Canadiens –VS– (7) Ottawa Senators
The Canadians are the NHL’s most storied franchise, but weren’t expected to be this good this season. The Senators aren’t so storied. They’re not Original Six, even though a team of the same name was a founding NHL member. The Canadiens dominated this year; the Senators were decimated by injuries. Nobody would’ve thought less of Ottawa if they missed the playoffs; these years happen. Instead, they held onto their playoff spot with sheer grit, utter moxy, and probably more than a few rolls of duct tape.

The Ottawa Senators may be the 7th seed, but they’re playing like prize-fighters trained by Wildcat himself, and they set the tone early. A bloodied Canadien player lead to a 2-game suspension for a Senator after game 1. In game 3, so many fights broke out that there were barely enough players left on either team for two full lines. Ottawa has a 3-1 series lead, and is looking for the knockout punch.

Yes, that is the entire line of both teams brawling right after a puck drop. And it only got worse / better…

(3) Washington Capitals –VS– (6) New York Rangers
“Someone had to win the Southeast” versus The Preseason Favorite®. The mortal formerly known as Ovechkin versus the best team on paper. A match-up that early in the season looked laughable, has become a very interesting series. Ovechkin and the Capitals were a team floating in the toilet bowl, according to at least one TV blowhard. And yet the joke turned. Someone forgot to flush, and Washington (and Ovie) has climbed back to become a fast, formidable team.

Meanwhile, the Rangers never quite lived up to potential. They’re a good team, and this is a hard-fought series, but New York will need to expend every last bit of potential to return to the Capitals from whence they came. Washington is up 2-1, and game 4 will be a huge tipping point.

(UPDATE: Game 4 ended up in New York’s favor by a single goal — the series is now tied 2-2, and it continues to impress.)

(4) Boston Bruins –VS– (5) Toronto Maple Leafs
Congratulations, Toronto! You’ve finally made your way back to the playoffs, and now maybe the rest of the Original Six will stop making fun of you. Maybe. As your reward, you get to run face-first into the giant threshing machine that is the Juggernaut. I mean, the Boston Bruins.

This guy just tried to check Milan Lucic of the Bruins. No word if Lucic quoted Vinnie Jones after the ill-advised hit.

Boston has long been a sublime synthesis of physicality, skill, and intimidation. But some of the parts wore down at season’s end, and we last saw the Bruin machine at the side of the road, waiting for AAA. In addition, since the Maple Leafs traded for an actual #1 goalie at the deadline, they might… What’s that, Toronto? You didn’t trade for a goalie? You stuck with that nice Reimer kid, who’s perfectly adequate so long as he doesn’t have to make 40 saves a night? Well, good luck with that. Toronto is down 2-1, but it feels like so much more.

(UPDATE: Well, it’s now 3-1 in Boston’s favor. To his credit, Reimer had a solid game with over 40 saves — but his Boston counterpart was just that much better.)

The WEST

Okay, time to take a breath, refill the whisky, and pause before we dive into the Western Conference. I would apologize to the Marvel fans for my seeming bias towards DC references, but I’m not sorry. Speaking of…

(1) Chicago Blackhawks –VS– (8) Minnesota Wild
If Pittsburgh is Superman, then the Chicago Blackhawks are Team Batman. Think about it: they’re lead by Captain Serious, he’s got a young ward on his wing, and coach Joel Quenneville could easily be Alfred’s gruff American cousin.

“I think, Master Wayne, that you failed to properly finish your check.”

But the comparison goes deeper – Chicago doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, and they always seem to pull exactly what they need to win from their utility belt of players. Not to mention that Marian Hossa with a bottle of Jeppson’s Malört make a great crime-fighting duo.

I like Minnesota. The acquisition of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter has likely turned the Wild into a perennial playoff team. But they’re no Bane. They weren’t going to break Chicago’s back when this series started, and they won’t now that they’re down 3-1.

(2) Anaheim Ducks –VS– (7) Detroit Red Wings
I’d make another allusion to another series being an unexpected juxtaposition, but I think that horse has become more like a misshapen carcass by now. But this match-up is a damn good example of how the lockout turned this season into Bizarro NHL.

Bizarro Babcock not miss Nicklas Lidström. Not miss him very much.

Nobody expected Anaheim to make the playoffs, much less win their division. Everyone was watching Detroit, wondering if this would be the first time in over two decades that they would miss the playoffs. Instead, we have this series: a team that’s trying to hold onto its playoff legacy (Red Wings), and a team that experts don’t think is as good as its seeding (Ducks). Thankfully, it’s been a close series that’s fun to watch, and is tied up 2-2.

(UPDATE: In another overtime game, Detroit was really missing its defensive prowess of previous years. The Ducks are now up 3-2 in the series.)

(3) Vancouver Canucks –VS– (6) San Jose Sharks
To say the Sharks are streaky is to test the limits of understatement. San Jose’s mascot could easily be a light switch: When it’s on, they are a shining beacon of breathtaking hockey. But then something flips, and they’re like a bunch of kids stumbling around the dark, stubbing their toes and losing whole swaths of games.

Someone left on the light, because the Sharks played a skilled, solid, and utterly relentless series against the Vancouver Canucks. After years of winning the President’s Trophy, the Canucks looked like dazed pedestrians watching the oncoming truck. The Sharks didn’t need much help to sweep the series 4-0, but they got some love from the refs on the final play of the series. Because that penalty? The one that lead to the winning OT power play for the Sharks? It set a new high-water mark for bullshit.

What, you wanted me to talk about the Canucks’ goalies? Haven’t you had enough of that melodrama?

(4) St. Louis Blues –VS– (5) Los Angeles Kings
Last year, these teams met in the second round of the playoffs. Both were riding hot goaltending, but entered from different ends of the spectrum: St. Louis was one of the league’s top teams, while Los Angeles peaked at the perfect time, riding momentum from the 8th seed to the Stanley Cup. This year, both teams have watched their netminders struggle early and find their quality late. Both are solidly middle-of-the-pack, and that has resulted in a very even series.

As someone who loves hard-fought, defensive hockey, this has been a great series for me to watch. It’s like someone cloned the Incredible Hulk, and set the two Hulks against each other just to see which would emerge victorious. Currently, the series is at 2-2, and could go either way.

(UPDATE: In an overtime thriller, the series has tipped in the Kings’ favor, 3-2)

Stop back next week for the round two match-ups. And while we’re at it, bring more whisky. Mine seems to be gone.

-J.

-J.

The entity known as -J. would be at home in a place like Carcosa or Night Vale, but instead lives near a far more dreary place -- Wrigley Field. He is the patron Addisonian of whisk(e)y and tabletop games, and is often adorned with a waistcoat & his ridiculous mustache.

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