Monday 26 Sep 2016

NHL Playoffs 2016
Bob Stark

A weird time in which we are alive. We can travel anywhere we want, even to other planets. And for what? To sit day after day, declining in morale and hope. Philip K Dick, "The Man in the High Castle."

There seems to be a grand mist of sadness rolling in off the seas from coast to coast to coast, covering the entire land. The inhabitants of our beloved country, bent over, heads hung low, unable to sleep, walk aimlessly about chanting "now is the springtime of our greatest discontent.”

No, we are not in a state of despair and lost hope because Tom Mulcair got sent packing by the NDP and forced to read the Leap Manifesto, but rather because, for the first time in eons, there will be no Canadian-based hockey teams in the annual chase for Lord Stanley's famous mug, the Stanley Cup.

Another year, the 23rd in a row, when the hockey championship caps and rings will stay south of the border. Where once again the president of that Donald Duck circus land will misname the winners names when he has the team over to the possibly very White House. Someday, when he's not busy handing out nuclear missiles to the Japanese and South Koreans, he’ll have the team over.

God, it almost makes ya wanna hope that Canadian-born Ted Cruz wins the US election! Wait, he'll have one hand on a hockey stick and the other on the Bible, with his minions handing out AK47s shouting "follow me boys, we're going to take down the IRS!"

Hillary? She'll claim she's been a hockey fan all her life, helped change the rules and coaches a women's college team in her spare time. Bernie Sanders will get it all over with quickly, saying he has no time for such frivolity and has to get back to breaking up the banks, while reminding everyone that he didn't vote for the Iraq War.


I digress.

Twenty-three years and counting, with seven teams in a 30-team league, the odds on that are a bit weird, not to mention the odds regarding not having one of our seven teams in the play-offs.

Despair, then, is a plausible option but with baseball season beginning, I'm thinking of the Chicago Cubs. One hundred and seven years since that team won the World Series. Lives have been lived, generations passed, and the alleged 'Curse of the Goat' remains intact. 

I recently read about a 95-year-old former Supreme Court judge who was in attendance when Babe Ruth pointed to Centre field before whacking a homer over the wall at the very spot where he had wagged his finger. The judge opined that it wasn't a matter of 'if' but 'when' the Cubs would win, hoping that it might be this year, while he was still alive!

Hope trumps despair every time.


Calm down and suck it up Canada.

This is not the end of the world as we know it! More symbolic of that is the big Red Flashing Light that Budweiser beer toted up to the North Pole where it will emit a high-pitched siren-like sound while spinning madly around, signifying someone has scored a goal. Seriously, I didn't make that up.

There are no words.

We have over 130 native reserves without fresh drinking water. If ya wanna get all despairing, try thinking about that for more than a minute without going slightly loony in the noggin.

Well, back to the matter at hand, and speaking of words, the word "sports" derives from the Roman "disport" which means to divert or amuse; not 'send into catatonic state.’

Ergo, lively up yourself, as Bob Marley advised.

In Greek times, one popular athletic event was a combined form of wrestling and boxing, allowing kicking and strangling, but not biting and gouging.


Then there are NHL hockey play-offs!!

Pull out an organic-based, locally brewed, beer from the fridge. Hit the couch, turn on the electronic aquarium and imagine yourself a Roman Emperor at the Colosseum or a Greek God surveying the Olympics from high above. Watch the uniformed-soldiers battle for a little black round thing, for two months, in order to win a huge silver mug, which could hold enough beer to last the summer.

I'm sure everyone has her or his own Oracle of Delphi or Ides of March soothsayer to consult before wagering any money on the outcome. Well, not to be too puny, but when it comes to predicting NHL hockey games this time of year, it is a bit of a Mug's Game. Alas, here I go.

Philadelphia Flyers versus Washington Capitals

You want mythology! The city of brotherly love, the liberty bell, Rocky, et al, versus the long-suffering Caps from government town, the president's trophy winners, Washington, whom fate keeps tripping-up at the goal line. A bit like the Cubs, this, many think, is their year! Yikes, Flyers owner Ed Snider passed away on the weekend as his team, after wandering the desert for most of the year, slid into the play-offs. Yowser; as the 2916 election, God versus Capitol Hill. American Pie Kate Smith singing 'God Bless America', by hologram from the other world, versus 'The Great 8', aka 'Ovie', from the former Evil Empire, atheist Russia. Alas, I am an agnostic who couldn't decide not to celebrate Easter.

Washington in 6 games.

New York Islanders versus Florida Panthers

I haven't reviewed my pre-season predictions, but I did pick Florida as my 'dark horse' in the East. The Panthers have a great mix of youth and rejuvenated youth in Jagr and Luongo and others. The team from Brooklyn may be gone in time to vote for Bernie in the New York Primary. The Islanders have too many injuries. Allegedly, the Islands threw their last game of the season so they wouldn't have to face the Penguins in the first round. Bad Karma fella; we are not amused. Get out the rubber rats!

Florida in 6 games.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Rangers

The Pens had a miserable start to the season. It looked like another year of a star-studded squad under-achieving and missing the play-offs. Injuries didn't help. Sid the Kid was looking like a ghost off his former self. Kessel made the Toronto brass look like brain surgeons. Then, well, it was shortly after I watched several of the Pens, including Sid the Kid, in an Edmonton Hotel lobby, heading for the team bus, that Pittsburgh turned it around. Mired in a slump, Sidney Crosby, whom I've never been a huge fan of, stopped for everyone who wanted a picture of him, even signed a sweater; "this is a real pro" I said. God bless you, Sid the Kid. Well, they did change coaches. Maybe that had more to with it. New York, New York had an up and down season in many ways and, now, a few banged-up players. Pittsburgh, not exactly healthy either, will have to rely on their third-string goalie and be without Malkin, among others. There's probably, combined, more players in sickbay than on the bench! It'll come down to puck possession. Who will be the most possessed? Ya can't score if you don't have the puck. New York goalie King Henrik, aka the Dark Knight, will have an even earlier exit this year in his ever-fading hopes of winning the Cup.

Pittsburgh in 5.

Detroit Red Wings versus Tampa Bay Lightning

Speaking of streaks, it is now 25 years and counting that Hockey town, Detroit, has made the dance; remarkable, but success in the play-offs has eluded them in recent years. Tampa Bay were Cup Finalists last year, but struggled much of the season. The Drouin situation and Stamkos in his last year of his contract were distractions. Drouin reinstated, with Stamkos is out indefinitely with a very serious illness. Stralman is also on the shelf and others on the team list as 'day-to-day'. Last year when these teams met in the first round, it went seven games with TB winning. For Detroit, the 'Magic Man,’ Pavel Datsyuk, will retire at year's end and return to Russia. Hey, Detroit is more in Canada than the US! Ya gotta pick one upset, right?

Detroit in 7 games.

Minnesota Wild versus Dallas Stars

There were many who wrote-off the Stars as a Cup contender when Taylor Seguin went down and out, most likely for the season. Au contraire. Dallas just kept motoring and finished atop the Western standings. Meanwhile, the Wild snuck into the play-offs, losing 5 games in a row, because the Avalanche lost 6 in a row! The Wild's only chance is if their goalie, Dubnyk, steals a few games.  This is definitely a contest of offence, the Stars, versus, defence, the Wild. The one vulnerability of the Stars is their goaltending. Erratic. Dallas has home-ice advantage, where they have the best record of the western teams. It'll be enough to get them to round two.

Dallas in 7 games.

Nashville Predators versus Anaheim Ducks

There was a time early in the season when it looked like pre-season Cup favourite Anaheim were going to fire their coach, and possibly languish at the bottom of the standings all year. After Christmas, the Ducks starting quacking and haven't looked back. While I'd love to see those Nashville Cats take it to them, it's hard to detect any moulting in the Ducks feathers. Preds goalie, Rinne, had a mediocre season by his standards. Might they go with Hutton? Is that risky or not. One thing in their favour is that they are healthy, well, at least until the second period of game one! Then, there’s the element of surprise. Are the Ducks vulnerable by looking too far ahead? They are a cocky bunch. Go Nashville, with a caveat.

Anaheim in 5 games.

San Jose Sharks versus Los Angeles Kings

How many years have I opined that, if not this year, then never for the Sharks? This team is truly the Chicago Cubs of hockey. Let's face it, Jumbo Joe, Patrick Marleau are almost at the end of their journey. That said, Jumbo Joe has had another remarkable year. It is in the play-offs that you leave your legacy, one way or the other. The Sharks are likely thankful they're starting on the road where they have been excellent. It's at home where they've tanked, holding a losing record. What of those Kings; it’s hard to argue LA is not a legitimate contender. Maybe a few injuries may slow them down but they really do have a solid team and Darryl Sutter behind the bench. The Kings, however, might do better against Anaheim. Not to differentiate too much, the Sharks do hold an edge in team speed. D-man Burns is somewhat like Erik Karlsson in Ottawa... an offensive-style defenceman. Martin Jones had a good year in the Shark's net and, don't laugh you Leaf-haters, but getting James Reimer from the Laffs may turn out to be thee trade of the year. Then again, Quick has lived-up to his name in L.A. net. My head says Kings. but upset in the West.

San Jose in 7 games.

Chicago Blackhawks versus St Louis Blues

Maybe St. Louis should change its name, change its luck. Like the Sharks, the Blues have been picked to win it all for several years now, and yet fold.... early. Healthy, relatively, their reward is a first round meeting with last year's champions. Is fate on their side? Somebody up there has it in for ya boys! Well, is there any hope? The Hawks always seem to start slow. This year Chicago has some injuries, will be without Keith for the first game and even with him, some feel the top four are not as good as in previous years. The Hawks did fortify their line-up before trade deadline day. The Blues have home-ice advantage, another asset. In nets, Crawford has been out for the Hawks, but Darling is more than an adequate replacement. See last year! The Blues have Elliott and Allen, although the latter has battled injuries and their success in the dance has been less than Conn Smythe-like! In the end, there's the old adage about being from Missouri, the so-called 'show me' state. Until dumped, how can ya not pick the Chelsea Daggers, Toews et al from the Windy City?

Chicago in 6 games.

 

Bob Stark is a musician, poet, philosopher and couch potato. He spends his days, as did Jean-Paul Sarte and Albert Camus, pouring lattes and other adult beverages into a recycled mug, bearing a long and winding crack. He discusses, with much insight and passion, the existentialist and phenomenological ontology of the Vancouver 'Canucks,' a hockey team, "Archie" comic books and high school reunions. In other words, Bob Stark is a retired public servant living the good life on the wrong coast of Canada.

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