And so it is…the NHL will be hosting an outdoor game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, pictured here in the dead of winter. Setting aside the climate issues (which are formidable, unless you are in a Roland Emmerich movie), it’s a shame to see the NHL take a good idea and get greedy with it. Does anyone remember back when ABC decided to air “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” like, five nights a week? You don’t, do you? Exactly.
My solution: an outdoor All-Star Game. You keep the Winter Classic, in cold-weather cities, and then rotate an outdoor ASG for everyone else. This would give cities like LA a chance to host an outdoor game, and could accomplish the even more difficult task of giving people a reason to watch the All-Star Game.
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.
Our last two years, in our first series, we’ve lost the first game. Obviously, we really wanted to come out with a good effort tonight.
- LA Kings center Mike Richards, on their Game 1 win over Vancouver.
See, this is why I love Mike Richards and was sad to see him leave Philadelphia. That first sentence — our, our, we’ve — refers to two seasons when he wasn’t even on the Kings! He wasn’t part of those years, series, or games, yet he (a) knew the history of the team, and (b) referred to that history in the first person. Total team guy. This would be like if your girlfriend remembered what you bought your parents for Christmas two years ago, even though you weren’t dating her then.
Western Conference Quarterfinals:
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs #8 Los Angeles Kings
The Canucks won their second President’s Trophy in a row, and yes, they came within one win of the Cup last year, but so what? Is anybody really afraid of the Canucks?
As for that President’s Trophy, let’s be honest; The Manitoba Moose could win the President’s Trophy if they played in the Northwest division. The Canucks went 18-5-1 in a division in which no other team even made the playoffs. The St. Louis Blues, meanwhile, finished a mere 2 points shy of Vancouver, despite going 10-9-5 in a division with 3 other 100+ point playoff teams. The Rangers, who also came within 2 points of the Trophy, went 15-7-2 in a division that also includes three 100+ point playoff teams. The Canucks play in a glorified AHL division and still barely squeaked away with the league’s best record.
Luongo has been shaky all year; he lacked confidence in last year’s playoffs, and the coach is ready to pull him for Corey Schneider (whose GAA and SV% are better) at a moment’s notice. Keeping goalies on short leashes in the playoffs doesn’t work. Ask the Flyers.
Speaking of whom, the Kings pulled two blockbuster trades to reunite former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Carter’s addition has helped an offense which was not as good as it looked on paper (which also describes your typical LA headshot).
The Kings are stacked with former Flyers. Ron Hextall is in the front office (no doubt two-hand slashing other executives with a letter opener), Simon Gagne and Justin Williams are on the roster; former coach John Stevens behind the bench, and ex-coach Terry Murray was fired earlier in the season. The Kings are almost like the regular Flyers, except with solid goaltending and healthier food at the concession stands.
The Kings played in close games all year, and their offense is starting to come together. Goalie Jonathan Quick need only play a little bit better than the Luongo/Schneider tandem, and the Kings could pull the upset.
Kings in 7.
Here’s another of the “new look” Flyers, gritty forward Wayne Simmonds, explaining to the Philly media that he is *not* Joe Frazier.
2 San Jose Sharks v 7 Los Angeles Kings
In 2009, the San Jose Sharks, a team with a history of regular season success and postseason disappointment, added Dany Heatley, a player with a history of regular season success and postseason disappointment. The move paid instant dividends, as the Sharks made it to last year’s Western Conference Finals, but didn’t feel the need to actually win any games once they got there. The Sharks then signed goaltender Antti Niemi away from Chicago, the team that had beaten them. This is like asking for dating tips from the guy who stole your girlfriend.
The first hurdle for the Sharks to barely clear this year is the LA Kings, a team with lots of young, talented players, and also Ryan Smyth. Unfortunately for Kings fans, two of their best players — Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams — are injured, which means the Kings will be counting even more on Sharks D-men Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray to step up and not make plays.
There is an interesting Philadelphia connection with the Kings’ front office. Behind the bench is head coach Terry “Choking Situation” Murray, who coached the Flyers from 1994-97, and also assistant John Stevens, who coached the team from 2006-09. Both were fired. One of their GMs is former Flyer Ron Hextall, who holds the NHL records among goalies for most goals scored and for most fights with Chris Chelios. Hexy is also one of the few players (and one of two Flyers) to win the Conn Smythe trophy on a losing team. With that kind of pedigree, the Kings have what it takes to get to — and lose — the Stanley Cup Final.
KEY MATCHUP: Teal v Purple
It’s going to feel like the 90s all over again, with all that teal and purple out there. So many great rivalries…Raptors/Magic…Rockies/Marlins…Ravens/Panthers. Throw in some very dull, all-black alternates, and this series is the best candidate for online listening. (Open letter to the Kings: if you’re going to wear purple, do it right. Just go back to these uniforms.)
Sharks in 7.
Despite rubbing elbows with celebrities, for The King, “super stardom isn’t his priority.” “Not a problem, ” says everyone responsible for the Guardian Project.
Apparently, his sword causes earthquakes. “Ehh, not impressed,” says Marshawn Lynch.
His shield creates force fields. If he had been able to create a force field to protect the Kings from Kelly Hrudey, they might have won a Stanley Cup.