In case you were busy finally piecing together why the Buffalo Bills' mascot is a Buffalo, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
In a battle of reigning Cy Young winners, David Price's Rays upended R.A. Dickey's Blue Jays, 5-4, in 10 innings. The Blue Jays, preseason favorites in the hypercompetitive AL East, now sit at the bottom of the division with the second-worst run differential in baseball. Meanwhile, something deep stirs within Cito Gaston, and he rises to dust off the ol' Blue Phone, the one wired straight to the Rogers Centre, awaiting a call that he knows is coming soon.
The Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Minnesota Wild with a comfortable 5-1 win as they won their first playoff series since the Stanley Cup finals in 2010. "I guess fives are Wild," said Marian Hossa, who had two goals for the Blackhawks, after the game. When met with silence, Hossa explained, "In my native Slovakia, we have a game called poker in which sometimes, in smaller less serious games, some cards are deemed wild and can be used in a number of different hands. One might say 'Fives are wild' in Slovakia, meaning they can replace threes or fours or any other card. I was referencing that situation, and also the fact that we were playing the Wild and we scored five goals, which is wild." Hossa then furrowed his brow and promised to stop trying to make references that Americans cannot understand.
In case you were busy dusting off the old Maypole a few days early so you can really get your Maypole dancing where you want it in time for May Day, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Denver kept its playoff hopes alive with a chippy 107-100 win over the Golden State Warriors. Both Warriors coach Mark Jackson and guard Stephen Curry complained about the Nuggets' physical play, and forward Kenneth Faried was singled out for a few illegal screens committed in the first quarter. "Is it illegal to commit an illegal screen?" Faried asked after the game. "Is jabbing a smaller man in the chest with your elbow, just to make him think all of a sudden, against the rules of basketball? Is it?" When told that it was, Faried responded, "Oh, it is? Really? Oh, man, I had no idea. I'll clean that up in the next one. My bad, Steph."
If the Los Angeles Kings are going to defend their Stanley Cup crown, they'll have to do better than their 2-1 opening-game defeat to the St. Louis Blues. Kings goalie and noted hockey satirist Jonathan Quick, whose careless giveaway led to the winning goal in overtime, said after the game, "I was caught in reverie, devising a modest proposal whereby the people of St. Louis might avoid the blues: They could eat their young. And then I thought maybe I could just let them score. And before the thought was even finished in my head, it had happened."
In the next few hours, a winning-goal scorer will think briefly about his accomplishment, and he will shrug and toothlessly smile. "Hey, that's playoff hockey," he will say, as if that explains it. In another room not far away, a heavy and defeated defenseman will shake his head, trying to find an answer for what went wrong. "We can't be making these mistakes," he will say. "This is playoff hockey."
The concept of playoff hockey is like the notion of wellness: It's an ideal, an asymptote, something to strive for and live by but not something that can be explained other than to crane your neck and give a head nod when a living example walks by. When it comes to wellness, routine begets stability and control. In playoff hockey, familiarity breeds sweet, sweet contempt.
And coming off a lockout-shortened season, this particular edition of playoff hockey ought to be as insane as ever. We'll be previewing the postseason series that begin this week. Here's a look at the three games making up the playoffs' opening schedule tonight.
The NHL playoffs are here, and if you cheer for one of the 16 teams that made the cut, you know what you need to do: Put fresh batteries in the remote, kiss your loved ones good-bye, and get ready for the emotional roller coaster that you’re about to ride.
But what if your team didn’t make it? What if you find yourself looking for a bandwagon to jump on over the next few weeks? Well, in that case you could refuse to do that because bandwagon-jumpers are the absolute worst fans in sports better choose carefully!
It’s not an easy decision. In fact, choosing a temporary team can be one of the toughest calls a sports fan can make. You want a team that’s fun to watch, is riding a nice story, and preferably has a chance to win at least a round or two. You might prefer a franchise with some recent success, but not so much that you seem like a front-runner. And of course, you’ll want to be associating yourself with a worthy fan base, even if the relationship is only going to be short term.
I’m here to help. So I went through all 16 playoff teams and ranked them in terms of their desirability as a bandwagon destination. If you want someone to root for during the postseason but you’re not sure which team to choose, consult this handy guide to make sure you don’t make a decision you’ll regret.
In case you were busy recording your sophomore album, It's Hard Out There (On the Road), here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The Chicago Bulls used their strength and rebounding advantage to beat Miami, 101-97, snapping the Heat's 27-game winning streak. After the game, LeBron James complained about the Bulls' physicality and hard fouls: "I believe and I know that a lot of my fouls are not basketball plays." Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau responded, saying, "I'm soooooo sorry. Reeeeeeallly. I would never tell my guys to be physical in a big game. Especially a brute like Kirk Hinrich. My deeeeeepest apologies."
Despite the absence of Metta World Peace, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 22nd straight time, 120-117. The game was not without controversy, however, as Ricky Rubio appeared to be fouled by Kobe Bryant on a game-tying 3-point attempt. After the game, Bryant was defiant when asked about the non-call, saying nothing as he pulled down a large map of the world from above his locker and blacked out Spain with a magic marker.
There are umpteen NHL games going on at any given time, and it's always hard to know how to allocate your attention. Here's our recommendation for the most interesting of the week's many matchups.
Anaheim Ducks at Minnesota Wild Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET Fox Sports West 2/Fox Sports North
When the Chicago Blackhawks' prosperous romp through the NHL was finally stopped by the Colorado Avalanche on Friday — and stomped on by the Edmonton Oilers two days after that — the most noteworthy thing atop the Western Conference standings wasn't that Chicago had taken some sort of Secretariat-style lead on its opponents — it was that after all that, the Blackhawks actually weren't very far ahead of the flying-under-the-radar Anaheim Ducks.
In case you were out drunkenly explaining that Joel Schumacher was never a good enough director to "lose it Rob Reiner style," here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
The Los Angeles Lakers were again bested by the Oklahoma City Thunder, 122-105. The Thunder played solid fundamental basketball, limiting themselves to only two turnovers on the night while shooting over 90 percent from the free throw line. "We give the fans what they want here in Oklahoma City," said Kevin Durant after the game, before spending the rest of his night handing out small bags of baby carrots to kids asking for his autograph.
There are umpteen NHL games going on, and it's always hard to know how to allocate your attention. Here's our recommendation for the most interesting of the week's matchups.
Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. ET CSN Chicago/Fox Sports North
Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET NBCSN
Welp, here's when you know we might be reaching Peak Nonpointlessness Streak: SportsCenter is sending a reporter — please be Stephen A. — to Tuesday night's Blackhawks-Wild game, as Chicago looks to continue its historic run. What I like most about this particular streak is that theoretically, a team could come along next year with an 0-0-23 start and wipe the record book clean. I kid, I kid — stop looking at me with those Toews Death Stare masks! Here's something that genuinely is kind of amazing about what the Blackhawks have done, though: All three of their extra-time losses have come in shootouts, not during overtime. Seven times, they've come out of overtime or a shootout with a win — including Sunday, when their win over the Red Wings came with this peacocky Patrick Kane make:
It would appear that the NHL’s firing season is upon us. We’ve already seen two GMs relieved of their duties since the lockout ended — Brian Burke’s oddly timed dismissal in Toronto, followed by Scott Howson finally being put out of his misery in Columbus. Last week, we got our first coaching casualty.
And it was a big one. Lindy Ruff had held the distinction of being the NHL’s longest-serving head coach but this month got the pink slip after more than 15 years on the job in Buffalo. If Lindy Ruff can be fired, anyone can.
So who’s next? Let’s take a look around the league at some of the coaches and GMs who find themselves on the hot seat.
We’ll use the same format as we did earlier this week — expectations, reality, and whether it will continue — but add a special fourth category to deal with the possible fallout if the player continues to struggle.
We’re roughly 10 percent of the way through the NHL season, and that means it’s time for some teams to panic.
Not really, of course. Even in this abbreviated season, jumping to conclusions based on four or five games would be downright irrational. So any of you hockey fans who are completely rational when it comes to your team can go ahead and stop reading right now.
The other 98 percent of you still with me? Good. Let’s hit the panic button.
One note: We’re focused here on teams that are struggling relative to expectations. The Blue Jackets may have been iffy so far, but they’re clearly in rebuilding mode, and just about everyone had already picked them for last place. A team like that can’t be considered to be in panic mode by any reasonable definition.
The same can’t be said for many of the early season’s other underachievers. Here’s a look at some of the teams that aren’t living up to expectations right now:
Two weeks ago, the Minnesota Wild came thisclose to having a 51-year old embroidery store owner named Paul Deutsch suit up as an emergency backup goalie. The Wild's top guy, Niklas Backstrom, was scratched late on game day, Josh Harding would be starting in net -- and it wasn't clear whether the team's preferred backup guy, 21-year-old Matt Hackett of the AHL's Houston Aeros, would be able to make it to the game in time.
Less than a week before the beginning of the season, an article about the Phoenix Coyotes in the Arizona Republic had this to say about the team's personnel in net: "Mike Smith, who calls parts of his game 'a work in progress,' will be in goal when the Coyotes open the regular season Saturday night at San Jose."
It wasn't exactly a rousing outlook for the Coyotes, who lost their starting goaltender, Vezina Trophy candidate Ilya Bryzgalov, in the summer to the far richer Philadelphia Flyers. The Coyotes, who are currently owned by the league and may not be long for Phoenix unless a new buyer can be located, instead inked former Tampa Bay and Dallas backup Mike Smith to a far thriftier two-year, $4-million contract than the nine-year, $51-million deal Bryzgalov ultimately wrung out of Philly.
All the NHL's attention lately has been focused on its players' heads. The league voted this summer to broaden the scope of several rules addressing the kind of contact that can cause concussions — those hits that land up high or from behind — and it has even gone so far as to actually enforce them. New VP of player safety Brendan Shanahan has doled out 60 pre- and regular-season games' worth of suspensions, most of them for head shots, in this year's preseason alone.
It's safe to say that no small factor in this crackdown was Sidney Crosby, the league's most talented and marketable player, who has been sidelined since January with a concussion. (This weekend he announced that while he continues to progress, he will not be suiting up for Pittsburgh's season opener Thursday night.)
And yet over the weekend, a loud and impassioned debate was revived within and around the NHL community about a rule that many deem to be the most dangerous in all of hockey. As usual, it took a sickening injury to get everyone talking, but this time it wasn't a superstar's rattled head that did it — it was a relative unknown's shattered leg.