In case you were busy running into a heavily padded man one last time for the kids, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Former Boston head coach Doc Rivers's emotional return to Boston was a success as his Clippers came from behind to top the Celtics 96-88. It was a less successful return for Clippers center Ryan Hollins, who mistakenly assumed that the pregame tribute to Rivers was in honor of his own brief tenure with the Celtics in 2012 and awkwardly had to turn his grateful wave to the fans into an arm stretch/scratch of the head combo when he realized his mistake.
Welcome to a weekly grab bag of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL hockey.
The Three Stars of Comedy
Recognizing the NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.
The third star: Joffrey Lupul elbows his own teammate
Here’s Lupul trying to deliver a flagrant elbow to Henrik Sedin’s head, getting confused, and taking out Nazem Kadri instead. Which is an odd mistake to make, since I’m pretty sure there was a player in that game who look more like Henrik Sedin than Kadri does.
The second star: Alexander Ovechkin blinds his own teammate
Congratulations on your first NHL point, rookie! Don’t mind me as I mash this towel full of shaving cream directly into your eyeball. (That link is worth clicking just for the photo of a crazy-eyed Ovechkin stalking his prey.)
The first star: Corey Perry finds a loophole to avoid being injured by his teammates
Screw this, if everyone is going to keep injuring their own players, Corey Perry is just going to go hide out on the other team’s bench for awhile.
The One Star of Totally Not Comedy
Recognizing the NHL personality from around the league who produced the least comedic fodder for fans.
The first star: The drunk couple that stole Adam Pardy’s helmet then poured beer on him
In case you were busy walking the plank at the behest of Bill Belichick, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
LeBron James and the Miami Heat opened their NBA championship defense with an impressive 107-95 win over Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. An optimistic Rose, who was playing in his first regular-season game since recovering from a torn ACL, said, "I'm disappointed in the loss, but my performance, I can easily change that by making shots and keeping down the turnovers." When Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau heard his point guard's comments, however, he flew into a rage, screaming, "He could have made more shots and avoided turnovers? Well, why didn't he? What the hell was he thinking?" Thibodeau then threw his hands in the air and said, "Jiminy Christmas, he was only out for a year. I have to micromanage everything with this team."
A look at three of the biggest stories from the NHL weekend and how they’ll play into the coming days.
Breaking: Reigning Stanley Cup Champions Good at Hockey
With most of the attention in the West focused on the dominating Sharks and the surprising Avalanche, it’s been easy to lose track of the Chicago Blackhawks. But it’s worth checking in with the defending champs, who now have points in five straight games and have climbed to within two points of Colorado for first place in the Central.
On Saturday night, the Hawks toyed with the Maple Leafs, outshooting them 40-20 in a game in which the 3-1 final score probably flattered Toronto. All the scoring came in the second period, with the winner coming on the first career goal from Michael Kostka, a 27-year-old defensive defenseman who spent last year with the Leafs.
That 3-1 final probably felt like a blowout to Chicago fans, as it’s the first time since the season opener against Washington that a Blackhawks contest didn’t end as a one-goal game. All those close games have left Chicago with a goal differential of just plus-4 on the season, despite a 5-1-2 record through eight games.
In case you were busy stridently fighting off accusations of having brought the weather with you, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Adam Wainwright guided the Cardinals into the NLCS, throwing a complete game as St. Louis eliminated the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 6-1 win, because of course he did. David Freese hit a clutch home run in an elimination game, because of course he did. Yadier Molina was a rock both behind the plate and in the lineup all series long, because of course he was. Two of St. Louis's three Matts — Holliday and Adams — picked up the third, a slumping Carpenter, because of course they did. And the St. Louis Cardinals will now move on to the NLCS, where they will have home-field advantage against the Los Angeles Dodgers, because of course they will. In the NLCS the Cardinals will play a hard-fought, professional series, where win or lose the players will be able to leave with their heads held high, because the St. Louis Cardinals are the St. Louis Cardinals and will always be the St. Louis Cardinals.
The St. Louis Blues, meanwhile, continue to back up their preseason hype, getting a goal from Alexander Steen with 21 seconds left in regulation to edge the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, 3-2, and maintain their perfect start to the NHL season. Looking forward, the Blues will somehow contrive to both win their division by 12 points and get swept out of the Western Conference finals by inferior opposition, leaving them unable to hold their heads up high, because the St. Louis Blues are the St. Louis Blues and will always be the St. Louis Blues.
On the first day of the government shutdown, the Washington Capitals arrived in Chicago, looking to bring a momentous occasion to a screeching halt. Though the organization has long since dropped the ’90s look — a jersey featuring the Capitol building and two crossed sticks — the Caps, backed by a scorching power-play unit, had every intention of playing spoiler. Not that Blackhawks fans are particularly adversarial with this altogether random opponent. When the second Stanley Cup banner in four years is raised to the United Center rafters, one assumes a storied rival would be on hand. But such is the new normal in a realigned NHL featuring more conference crossovers.
The last Blackhawks banner raising, in 2010, was soured by a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings, the team shoehorned into every ceremonial slot in Chicago since before I can remember — not that we had many before the Rocky Wirtz era. The 2010 home opener is something of a blur now, and Hawks fans sincerely hope the Wings enjoyed their sendoff to the Eastern Conference, courtesy of a floater from Brent Seabrook.
Here are 10 vaguely connected thoughts from six hours of opening-night hockey.
The good and the bad of pregame ceremonies
The first game on the schedule came to us from Montreal, so you know there had to be a pregame ceremony. And indeed, the new season was welcomed into existence by this:
I know I can lose my Canadian passport for saying this, but that was awful, right? It was a ceremony involving the Habs and dimmed lights and a torch, so we’re all supposed to nod reverently and pretend that it was fantastic (and most Montreal ceremonies are). But that one didn’t work.
The basic premise was apparently “What if we made every Canadiens player awkwardly hold a torch at center ice while everyone stared at them for 30 seconds?” As it turns out, a player in that situation has only a handful of options:
• Stare straight ahead like a badass (P.K. Subban)
• Try to stare straight ahead like a badass and fail (Alex Galchenyuk)
In case yinz were busy getting to Pittsburgh to wait, yinz? Who the hell are yinz? Anyway, here's what you may have missed in sports on Tuesday:
Oh my goodness, hockey's back? Hockey's back! And with it came a barrage of goals from defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago, which beat Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, 6-4, in its season opener. "Ten goals?" yelled 58-year-old Blackhawks fan Gary Habermeyer. "What the hell is this garbage? Polo? What happened to hockey?" When his son-in-law Dan Nielson tried to explain that there were a number of offseason rule changes put in place by the NHL to increase scoring, Habermeyer slammed down the legs of his Barcalounger and shoved a finger in Nielson's face. "I'll tell you what the problem is," Habermeyer shot back. "It's your generation. A bunch of showboaters. No one willing to do the hard work. No one willing to play defense. Patrick Kane? That's just a child wearing skates carrying around a big stick. When things get hard he'll just shut down the government. Not like Bobby Hull. Now there was a real man. Don't look at your phone when we're having a heart-to heart conversation!" But Nielson didn't look up from his phone, as he was texting his wife, Bridget, to say that she owed him more than one for spending the evening bonding with her father, and also to ask what Patrick Kane had to do with the government shutdown.
Pittsburgh's battery of Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin made sure the Pirates' first postseason trip in 21 years would not be a one-game affair, as they topped the Cincinnati Reds, 6-2, in the NL wild-card playoff. "I just keep thinking, What could I have done differently?" said Reds manager Dusty Baker after the game. Baker then took a moment to think back over the events of the game, during which he managed to use seven pitchers without deploying superstar closer Aroldis Chapman, before adding, "And the answer is nothing."
When fresh hire Alain Vigneault addressed reporters at Radio City Music Hall last week after an unprecedented bicoastal Torts swap, he shared a recent Kodak moment. Having browsed some snapshots of the New York Rangers' 1994 victory parade, it became “real clear ... there is no better place” to win the Stanley Cup. (It’s a far cry from this.) Toronto fans nursing a 46-year Cup drought, thousands of whom transformed Maple Leaf Square into a sea of royal blue merely for this year’s quarterfinals (and to watch televised away games, no less) might disagree. When 2 million Blackhawks fans flooded the Loop in 2010 to celebrate their first Stanley Cup victory since the Kennedy administration, a convincing case was made that Chicago was North America’s premier venue for postseason sendoffs. Standing atop the media deck at Hutchinson Field in Grant Park only three years later, looking out across an even more resplendent crowd, I can’t disagree.
You see, Chicago, this is not the way it’s supposed to work.
Not in the salary-cap era, at least. We lost an entire season to get this system, and then we lost another half-season to well, nobody’s quite sure, but to tweak it, we guess. This is supposed to be the age of parity in the NHL, and that means everybody needs to play by the rules.
Here’s how it’s supposed to go: You lose. You draft high and pray you find a superstar or two. You try to find a few more stars on the trade market or in free agency. That’s your core, and you build up a supporting cast around it as cheaply as possible.
And then the window opens, maybe for a year or two, maybe longer if you’re lucky. That’s your chance to win the Stanley Cup. At that point, all you can do is cross your fingers and hope.
And then — and this is the important part — the window slams shut. Those discounted entry-level contracts end, the secondary stars want their chance to be the main guys, and that cheap supporting cast gets their chance to cash in elsewhere. You pick your two or three franchise players, throw all the money you can at them, and everyone else leaves.
In case you were busy anxiously looking over your shoulder like a wraith was following your every step, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Lord Stanley smiles upon Chicago again, as the Blackhawks scored two stunning goals in the final minutes of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final to earn a series-clinching 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins. Patrick Kane was named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, an honor that Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask mournfully referred to as "Rask! Rask! Rask!" before letting his head fall back and bellowing out a final, tragic "Rask!" as his counterpart, Corey Crawford, skated around Rask's home ice with the Stanley Cup held high over his head.
Rafael Nadal is out of Wimbledon in the first round after falling improbably in straight sets, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-4, to Steve Darcis of Belgium. The defeat outranks Nadal's second-round exit last year as the most stunning early-round exit at Wimbledon for a top seed among people who totally forgot that Nadal exited last year's tournament in the second round. For these people, this loss was a perception-rattling affair, a seismic shift in the world of tennis, akin to the shock associated with LeBron James's recent ability to get the NBA Finals monkey off of his back, and yesterday's cathartic Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship.
Patrick Kane was the first person to realize that the Chicago Blackhawks had won the Stanley Cup. He had put a low-angle shot on net during overtime of Game 6 in Philadelphia, and the puck had disappeared from view, but Kane knew it wasn't stuck somewhere in Flyers goalie Michael Leighton's pads. He had seen it go in the net, where it got lodged behind some webbing and out of sight. But he knew. He shed his bulky gloves and skated down the ice, his now-tiny-looking hands trembling high in celebration. (I can't be the only one to think of SNL's "Lawrence Welk Show" every time I watch the clip.)
That was just over three years ago, in early June 2010. On Sunday, Kane was asked whether he or his Blackhawks team had envisioned returning to that moment: a Stanley Cup–clinching Game 6 on the road, just like the one they're potentially facing tonight in Boston.
The Stanley Cup will be in the building tonight in Boston, with the Chicago Blackhawks one win away from claiming the championship. And that means it’s time to get excited about one of the highlights of the NHL season: Watching commissioner Gary Bettman struggle through presenting the Cup.
In the years since Bettman’s debut as the Stanley Cup presenter, the ceremony has evolved into one of the most awkward traditions in all of sports. Bettman fidgets, the crowd boos, the posed photo takes way too long, and the winning captain fakes a smile while he waits for Bettman to just let go of the Cup and hit the bricks.
Calls for Bettman to step aside and let somebody else do the honors have reached the point where it’s practically a consensus. But he’s made it clear that he has no intention of doing so, and he will be back out there again this year.
All of which is great news for fans of unintentional comedy. So to mark the occasion, I thought it would be fun to go through all 20 years of Bettman’s reign (there are 19 presentations total, thanks to one year lost to a lockout) and rank them in order of awkwardness.
We’ll be using the following criteria:
Crowd Response: The more hostile the better. Unfortunately, not every video clip I found includes Bettman’s introduction, but we’ll do our best to piece everything together.
Cup Handoff: A combination of factors, including: How disgusted does the captain seem to be by Bettman’s presence? How long does it take them to get the photo right? Can they figure out which hand goes where? Is Steve Yzerman involved? (That last one turns out to be important.)
Bettman Awkwardness: A catchall, and the most important category. We’re looking
at everything from hair to wardrobe to random gesticulation to attempted one-liners to his level of flusteredness, which I don’t think is a word but should be.
Overall: The combined level of overall awkwardness. Not necessarily an average.
So here we go 20 years’ worth of presentations, ranked in order from the least to the most awkward.
In case you were busy bounding home incredibly after being left in the woods by your family, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Blackhawks are one game away from a Stanley Cup championship after Patrick Kane scored two goals in Chicago's 3-1 Game 5 win over the Boston Bruins. Kane's anticipation and hand control carried the day, which he explained as coming from "being like any other boy. You know, you're lonely, looking for things to do, and your hands naturally you know." When met with a decidedly awkward silence, Kane said, "What? I'd practice wristers and close control by myself. What? Oh. Oh. Ohhhhh. Well. Hmmm."
After extensive negotiations, the Los Angeles Clippers have their man: Doc Rivers will take over as the team's head coach with a first-round pick headed to the Boston Celtics as compensation. "This move is just what the doctor ordered," said Clippers general manager Gary Sacks, before receiving a call from his physician Dr. Pete Shulman reminding him that the acquisition will not be a suitable replacement for the Atorvastatin prescribed to help Sacks maintain control over his high cholesterol.