The Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway today, starting in the Western Conference, with the Chicago Blackhawks vs the Minnesota Wild. The Hawks started the season on a 24-game streak of not losing a game in regulation but still getting points for the games they lost after regulation; a streak whose very existence proves how ridiculous the NHL’s standings system is. To wit:
Casual sports fan: The Hawks had a 24-game win streak? That’s pretty cool.
RFT: Well, not exactly. It was 24 games without a loss in regulation.
Casual sports fan: So it was a 24-game unbeaten streak?
RFT: No, they lost a few times, but if you lose in overtime or in a shootout, you still get points…
Casual sports fan: (returns to watching basketball)
The Blackhawks also did something no NHL team has ever done; namely, be on Sportscenter every day for like two weeks. The Hawks won the Presidents Trophy, which is the trophy given to a team who has a great regular season and then loses in the first round of the playoffs. Perhaps that what happens when you get so many points for losing.
Minnesota made a big splash in the offseason, signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching $98M contracts, beating out offers from other big-market teams like the Rangers, Flyers, and Lakers. Now that the Wild have made the postseason, their goal is clear: play as many home games as possible to pay off those ridiculous contracts.
The Blackhawks will look to break the President’s curse (which sounds like a FoxNews show) and maybe, just maybe, get back onto Sportscenter. Blackhawks in 7.
Also on tap today is the St Louis Blues vs the Los Angeles Kings. Last season the Kings mowed down the Blues (along with other Western contenders like the Canucks, Coyotes, and Lakers) en route to their first Stanley Cup. The Blues also lost all three games against the Kings this season (“How many points did they get for those losses?” asks the Chicago Blackhawks), so one figures sooner or the later the Blues are going to win once? Right? But LA is all about sequels, so expect this series to be bigger and louder than last year’s, and possibly to feature a cameo by The Rock. Kings in 7.
Lastly tonight we have the Anaheim Ducks vs the Detroit Red Wings. Many people thought the retirement of Nick Lidstrom would have a significant negative impact on Detroit. Those people were right. The Wings didn’t make the playoffs until the last day of the season. The Ducks are to the hockey landscape what “Mad Men” is to the television landscape. The team wins awards; there’s talent from top to bottom, but not a lot of people pay much attention. Presumably this means that most fans watch the games two days later on DVR.
Lipreader alert! Ducks’ coach Bruce Boudreau is genetically incapable of going more than three words without swearing, so be sure to pay attention during any closeups. Ducks in 6.
Western Conference Quarterfinals:
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs #6 Chicago Blackhawks
Phoenix has never won a playoff series. Last year, they failed to win a single playoff game, getting swept by Detroit in the first round. But they allowed their goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov, to sign with Philadelphia, the eventual destination of all goalies who struggle in the playoffs, and have turned instead to the goaltending of Mike Smith.
Smith has put up stellar numbers all year, and now in Phoenix “Mike Smith” is synonymous with “shutdown goalie” rather than being synonymous with “name his teammates use when they want to check in to motels anonymously”.
The Phoenix roster is a good blend of youth and experience, and also boasts one of my favorite names in the NHL, Kyle Chipchura. Every time I hear his name, it makes me want a chocolate chip churro, which, sadly, doesn’t exist yet.
The Blackhawks are looking to rebound after a first-round exit in last year’s playoffs. Team captain Jonathan Toews has battled concussions this season, and may not play when the series starts. He probably would have been cleared to play sooner if one of the team’s baseline tests wasn’t “How do you spell ‘Dustin Byfuglien’?”
The Hawks and Coyotes have the two worst power plays of any playoff team, so look for each team to take penalties on purpose.
90210 alert: The Blackhawks’ roster includes three Brandons and one Dylan. Start growing those playoff sideburns, boys!
Coyotes in 7.
1 Vancouver Canucks v 8 Chicago Blackhawks
The Canucks earned the Presidents’ Trophy with the best regular season record, though the previous two “winners” of the award have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. (So it’s President more like Jimmy Carter, less like FDR.) The Blackhawks are the illegal aliens of this year’s postseason. They snuck in under the wire because some guys in Texas couldn’t do their jobs.
Vancouver’s offense is led by brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin, dynamic players and a very disappointing image search result for “Swedish twins.” And they have world-class goaltending in Roberto Luongo. Shockingly, Luongo has twice been traded by teams claiming he was their goalie of the future (Islanders, Panthers). But I suppose if you have your chance to pick up an Oleg Kvasha, Bryan Allen, or Alex Auld, you have to pull the trigger.
The Blackhawks struggled early, in part because they lost some 30% of the previous year’s roster. One expects that kind of turnover at a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, not with a Stanley Cup champion. Still, they are the champs, and heavy underdogs, which is a dangerous combo for a team with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and a lot of leftover Dustin Byfuglien sweaters in the gift shop.
KEY MATCHUP: Jeremy Roenick vs Crying
After watching last year’s Hawks team hoist the Cup, NBC broadcaster and former Blackhawk JR was moved to tears, despite having spent much of his post-Hawks career trashing his former team. This year…will he continue to cry tears of joy? Or of sadness when he learns that Pierre Mcguire makes more NBC money than he does?
Blackhawks in 6.
And we have our first gay Guardian! The Blackhawk is a “happy go lucky man’s man” who “prides himself” on saying things like, “Jump on my big shoulders and let’s get it done.” The last time someone from Chicago said that to me, I woke up in the apartment of a guy with a Ditka moustache who wanted to show me the “Monster of the Midway.”
The Blackhawk wants people to look to him when things get bleak, which is a good trait to have in a city that doesn’t see the sun for months at a time. Other powers include the ability to trade Jeremy Roenick and then later make him cry about it.
His bio also claims that he is an ” ‘environmental empathy’ (sic) that is able to control the element of wind.” Presumably this means he can mentally force The Hurricane to jump on his big shoulders and get it done.