Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Sigh. I realize that the puck has already been dropped in two playoff games, and that I am therefore late with this year’s hogging (that’s hockey blogging for you noobs). What can I say? Yesterday I was otherwise occupied, and today, being a member of the Cultural Elite in good standing, I had to teach my graduate seminar (this week, the moment of Black British Cultural Studies—strangely relevant to my response to Ms. McArdle in ways I may or may not have a chance to explain in the near future!). Furthermore, I am keenly aware that Scott of the West has all the truly juicy matchups with real contenders and plucky pretenders, like Phoenix-Detroit. Phoenix-Detroit! The mind boggles. The Coyotes, a franchise left for dead last I looked, compiled a 50-25-7 record this season, 107 points, by far their best season since leaving the wilds of Winnipeg for the deserts of Arizona. We’re talking about a franchise that has not won a playoff series since 1917, when they were known as the Vancouver Millionaires.* And their reward for all their hard work? They get to play the hottest team in the league, a Western Conference dynasty and perennial Cup contender that apparently decided to win every single goddamn game after the Olympic break. Go Coyotes! If you live in this world, you’re feeling the change of the guard. Unless the Red Wings sweep, in which case, never mind.
The Eastern matchups are not so interesting. Here are my perfunctory picks, about which I am not sure I could care less:
Washington (1) v. Montreal (8)
I saw only one regular-season game this year: in November, I watched the Habs beat the Caps 3-2 in D.C. It was a curious experience: as you may know, much of the metro population of Washington, D.C. did not know they had a professional hockey team in the area until this time last year, and more than one wag suggested that the Verizon Center was urging fans to “rock the red” in last year’s playoffs because so few “fans” knew what color the home team would be wearing. So I was surrounded by 15,000 people in Ovechkin jerseys, is what I’m saying. OK, one woman had a Backstrom jersey and some young man was wearing Semin’s shirt. But that’s about it.
What in the world am I talking about? The Habs were quick and deft that night, and took a 3-1 lead into the final five minutes, whereupon the Caps realized that they were a world-class team, scored a goal, and hit a crossbar. That’s not gonna happen again. Caps in 5.
New Jersey (2) v. Philadelphia (7)
Yes, the Flyers have matched up well against the Devils all year. But (a) they don’t deserve to be here, and (b) Brian Boucher, their third-string goalie, will make point (a) for me emphatically. The Devils will wrestle with their special devil-demons—Spirits of Postseason Collapses Past—but will nonetheless move on in six. Also, you heard it here first: this may be Martin Brodeur’s last hurrah. Devils in 6.
Buffalo (3) v. Boston (6)
Sabres in 5. Please, get these weak-sauce excuses for Bruins off my radar. Bruins, Flyers, Canadiens—your early-May tee times await. Let’s move on to the second round with the real teams ... which brings me to....
Pittsburgh (4) v. Ottawa (5)
Oh mighty Moloch, please please please let the Pens beat the Sens, just this once. OK, I know they’ve met twice before in the first round, three years ago when the Penguins were just baby birds who were thrashed in five, and two years ago when the Penguins swept in four. But just this once, please please. Because there’s no way I’ll get to see Crosby, Malkin & Co. in Ye Olde About-To-Be-Demolished Igloo unless they manage to squeak by in round one. I can’t get down to Pittsburgh for a game until May, and since the Pens are 0-10 against the Devils and Capitals there’s no way they’re getting out of the second round, so my only chance to see playoff hockey in the ‘burgh this year rests on this series.
All the Penguins fans I’ve spoken to say the same thing: last year, an 11th-place team canned its coach, caught a fire, and stormed into the playoffs. They were almost stymied by the incendiary young Capitals, but outlasted them in a scintillating 7-game series; they then walked blithely through the overmatched Hurricanes in the conference finals, then were almost stymied by the wily old Red Wings, but outlasted them in a scintillating 7-game series. This year, the defending Stanley Cup champs are good sometimes, very good sometimes, and not very good at other times. And they’ve been that way all year. They speak of “finding their game,” as if they left it someplace and can just pick it up whenever they want. They’re ripe for the plucking, these flightless birds, is what I’m saying. But still, I hope they keep playing long enough for me to see them in person. And I will not be surprised if they don’t. Pens in an agonizing 7. After that, the flightless birds will very likely be roadkill.
* This is not true. The true history of the Winnipeg Jets is available in a Wikipedia near you. The last time they won a playoff series was 1987, a mere 23 years ago.