Hockey fans have an uneasy relationship with the second round of the NHL playoffs. Don’t get us wrong. We like it. It’s fun. No complaints. It’s just that well, if we have to be honest, it’s probably the postseason’s least interesting round.
We can all agree that the first round is pretty much the greatest thing ever. With eight series going on at the same time, there’s always a game on. The action is unbelievably intense, every other game goes into overtime, and the matchups feature a nice mix of powerhouse favorites and plucky underdogs.
By the time the third round rolls around, every game is crucial and every remaining team is a legitimate Cup contender. And most years, the finals are packed with enough tension and drama to make up for the fact that the league schedules each game nine days apart to make sure there’s never any momentum.
But Round 2 is just kind of there. There are still a lot of games, but after Round 1 it feels like it’s not enough. There are always a few underdog teams who have almost worn out their welcome. And injuries are starting to tilt a few of the series in unfortunate ways (as opposed to the later rounds, when everyone is hurt so it doesn’t matter).
It wasn’t always like this. Prior to 1994, the second round was actually the divisional final, which meant guaranteed intensity and gave us clutch goal scorers like Doug Gilmour, Peter Stastny, and Steve Smith. But since the league ditched its divisional playoff format, Round 2 has become the NHL playoffs' unloved middle child.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We can learn to love the second round. To help, here’s a look back through 10 great second-round moments since the NHL moved to a conference-based system:
By now, hockey fans have probably seen the video of a group of Toronto Maple Leafs fans watching last week’s Game 7 loss to the Bruins. If you haven’t, it’s below. Fair warning: It’s downright painful to watch.
You don’t have to be a Leaf fan or even follow hockey to understand what you’re witnessing. If you’ve been a die-hard fan of a team in any sport for long enough, chances are you’ve suffered through watching a game like that. Depending on which teams you follow, you may have been there far more often than you’d care to remember.
There’s no right or wrong way to react to the sight of your favorite team self-destructing on national television. But through the years, fans seemed to have developed a variety of methods for handling it. The next time you have to sit through a sports disaster for the ages, here are 20 different types of unhappy sports fans you might find yourself in the room with.
On Thursday night, Barry Derr was reminded in stark metaphorical terms of his place in the entertainment pecking order. Thousands had come to downtown Los Angeles to see the big matchup: Candice versus Kree on American Idol. Barry and a few dissidents had come for Kings versus Sharks, a second-round NHL playoff game. The idols were greeted by a wide red carpet outside the Nokia Theatre, where teleprompters spit out inane questions (“What’s going on down there on the red carpet?”), and entertainment correspondents wore heavy makeup. The Kings had a deejay playing “Sweet Home Alabama.” Someone had strung up balloons. “If you’re born in L.A.,” Barry said, “you gotta fight to see a hockey game.”
You could forgive Kings fans for feeling like members of an out-of-the-way cult. This is partly because their team plays at Staples Center, which is nestled in a vast entertainment complex called L.A. Live and is just steps from the Nokia Theatre. L.A. Live is a place where TV shows are filmed so they can be shown to the West Coast on tape delay. It is also a favored site of movie premieres and VIP visits. Thus, a Kings fan leaving Staples often finds himself encountering Twilight fans who have bivouacked for the premiere, or emissaries from the South Korean presidential delegation. The two groups stare at one another as in a first-contact moment on Star Trek.
There’s a secret that Toronto fans aren’t supposed to talk about, but after what happened Monday night, I don’t care about anything anymore, so here it is: Heading into Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, Leafs fans were OK with losing.
Not "OK" as in we wouldn't care. Leafs fans wanted a win, were hoping for a win, and — in some cases — may even have talked ourselves into expecting a win. And we were ready for the three hours of agony we knew were coming. A Game 7 in the NHL playoffs is pure torture, and Leaf supporters were feeling that every bit as much as fans of the Bruins.
But there was an insurance policy, because the 2013 Leafs season was already a success. A team that hadn’t made the playoffs in seven seasons and was expected to miss them yet again had ended the drought. Young players who’d been written off as busts suddenly emerged. A franchise that floundered for a decade had finally found an identity. And though they were written off after falling behind three games to one in a series against a team that had spent the last few years kicking sand in their faces, the Leafs clawed back with a pair of gutsy wins to force a deciding game.
A loss would sting for a while, sure. But it couldn’t really hurt, not the way big losses are supposed to. It couldn’t leave a scar, whether it came in a blowout or sudden death or somewhere in between.
Well, what can I tell you? Some nights, you just show up in the wrong arena. Up in Boston, the Bruins came roaring back to win a Game 7 on Monday night because the Toronto Maple Leafs picked the wrong night to stop sniffing glue or something. Meanwhile, here in Washington, his team already trailing 3-0 and with all of 13 seconds elapsed in the third period, John Erskine of the Capitals surrendered a chocolate éclair of a turnover along the left boards. Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers accepted the gratuity and went sailing in to lift a backhand past Caps goalie Braden Holtby. At which point, Verizon Center became the quietest hockey arena in America. I am not kidding about this. There was more energy in the former Hartford Civic Center at ten o’clock Monday night than there was in this joint, and Pucky the Whale was livelier than the entire Washington bench. Meanwhile, on the TV, the Capitals broadcast crew ominously began using the phrase “played their hearts out this season” a lot, and opined that the Capitals defensive corps would be even stronger next year with a full training camp under their belts. All that was missing from the wake were weeping old ladies and a spray of flowers from the local Elks.
The juice went out of the place long before the 5-0 final closed the book on the first-round series and sent the Rangers along to an Original Six–a-palooza against the Bruins. Both Washington and New York looked tight and jittery at the beginning of the game, and no player more so than Holtby, who had the devil’s own time controlling rebounds and, at one point, completely lost control of the puck behind his own net. The comparison between the two goalies was striking, as we shall see. But whereas the Rangers managed to get beyond the early shakes, the Capitals never seemed to get fully organized, or entirely into the game.
In case you were busy trying to prevent the refrain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind from morphing into the theme from The Sting in your mind, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The Bruins overcame a 4-1 third-period deficit before completing the comeback with a Patrice Bergeron overtime winner as Boston eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the NHL playoffs in a heartbreaking Game 7. While congratulations are in order for Boston, it should also be noted that the devastating loss was taken well by the people of Toronto, who, luckily, are fairly agnostic toward the game of hockey and have a very limited history of suffering with the town's most popular team.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat dominated the Chicago Bulls on both ends of the court en route to an 88-65 win at United Center. Diminutive Bulls guard Nate Robinson, who had starred earlier in the series, was held without a field goal in the defeat, which he attributed after the game to being, "Yeah, shorter than everyone else. That's why. Guess after all these years that finally caught up to me. It wasn't at all because of Miami's defense combined with a little bit of fatigue. It's my genes. Thanks, Randy Newman."
In case you were busy asking, "yeah, but when is Spoiled Only-Child Day?" here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Tiger Woods won his second career Players Championship and his fourth PGA Tour event this year, finishing the tournament at 13-under. Woods benefited from Sergio Garcia's quadruple-bogey on TPC's iconic 17th hole. "I can't believe it," Tiger said after the tournament, "I thought for sure I was in trouble. You don't just stare down Sergio Garcia and live to tell the tale. I'm shocked that he made it easy for me. Shoooooocked." When told of Woods's comments, Garcia said, "Why? What's his problem, man? Guy has everything. He has a boat that holds other boats in it. He has a trophy case that is just all of the trophies he doesn't like melted down and turned into a trophy case. Why's he gotta come after me? What's he compensating for? What trouble has Tiger f-ing Woods ever had to deal with? Can we talk about that for a second? Can we talk about Tiger Woods's hypothetical personal troubles?" When told of Garcia's questions, Woods asked, "Wasn't he married to Greg Norman's daughter?" before winking provocatively at the press corps. When told of Tiger's wink, Sergio let out a frustrated scream. When told of Sergio's scream, Tiger let out a sarcastic chuckle. When told of Tiger's sarcastic chuckle, Sergio sighed. When told of Sergio's sigh, Tiger fist-pumped. When told of Tiger's fist pump, Sergio's lip began to quiver. When told of Sergio's lip quiver, Tiger didn't look up from his dinner of truffles and lobsters. When told of Tiger's feast, Sergio let one tear trickle down his cheek. When told of Sergio's tear, Tiger turned his laptop toward the reporter talking to him; the laptop had a really smug animated GIF playing on loop. When told of Tiger's GIF burn, Sergio asked, "Isn't that pronounced with a hard 'G,' like Garcia?" But it isn't, and when a reporter went to tell Tiger of Sergio's foolishness, he was too busy watching someone polishing his trophy case made of trophies to acknowledge the reporter's existence.
Even with Stephen Curry at less than full strength, the Golden State Warriors evened up their series with the San Antonio Spurs with a 97-87 overtime win. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was concerned after the game, saying, "Now that Curry is banged up, Mark Jackson discovered he's allowed to rest him. That sprained ankle cost us a massive competitive advantage in this series."
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.
Playoff time in Toronto and Ottawa used to mean the Battle of Ontario. That was the creative nickname slapped onto the rivalry between the two teams who faced each other four years out of five from 2000 to 2004. Fans of either team don’t need to be reminded how that went: The Leafs won all four series, in increasingly cruel fashion.
This season marks the first time since 2004 that both teams are in the NHL playoffs, although this time they are not facing each other. This week, I dropped by Ottawa’s Scotiabank Place and Toronto’s Air Canada Centre to take in a pair of Game 4s.
In case you were busy watching The Great Gatsby in 3-D as an ill-advised cram session for your 11th-grade English final, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Miami Heat rebounded from a disappointing Game 1 defeat by pasting the Chicago Bulls, 115-78, to even up their second-round series. After a pair of ejections, the Bulls found themselves playing without Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson, meaning they had to play a mostly reserve lineup of B.J. Armstrong, Jud Buechler, Toni Kukoc, Bill Wennington and Luc Longley. Despite the influx of forgotten veterans, the oldest player on the court remained Heat reserve Juwan Howard, who was inactive with "being tired, man; real, real tired."
Klay Thompson had 34 points and 14 rebounds as the Golden State Warriors held off the San Antonio Spurs, 100-91. Midway through Thompson's explosive first half, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was seen staring at the Warriors' wing, mumbling, "decent athleticism, floor-stretching 3-point shooting, on a rookie contract … how do I not possess him?" Popovich then wiped off the small amount of drool that had collected at the corner of his mouth, snapped at Spurs guard Danny Green for being a "lollygagger," before making a mental note to himself to take the title of "general manager" back from R.C. Buford after the game.
In case you were busy discovering something magical, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The New York Knicks blew out the Indiana Pacers, 105-79, behind 32 points from Carmelo Anthony to even their second-round series at a game apiece. "Now I will grant an exclusive interview to any member of the New York media who didn't write our epitaph after Game 1," Anthony announced after the game while sipping an ice-cold Diet Coke. But no one in the New York press stepped forward. "Come on, anyone? OK, how ’bout anyone who didn't call me Car-Smell-O." But again there was only silence. "Um, anyone who didn't personally insult my family?" Howard Beck of the New York Times then raised his hand to ask if cousins counted, but Anthony granted him the interview before Beck had the chance to clarify.
Craig Kimbrel gave up back-to-back home runs with two outs in the ninth inning as the Cincinnati Reds shocked the Atlanta Braves, 5-4. "I'd be more ashamed if it weren't the Reds," Kimbrel explained after the game. "They were cool, which is what I think of when I think of things wrapped in red-and-white. They were ice-cold. You could throw six of them in a cooler, take ’em on a picnic, and have a hell of a day. As an Atlanta man, that's just an instinct for me at this point."
Sunday was a happy/depressing day in the happy/depressing history of the New York Islanders, a franchise that’s set to move to Brooklyn (a happy/depressing borough) in 2015. The Islanders were playing the Penguins in a first-round playoff game at Nassau Coliseum, their first postseason appearance in Uniondale since 2007. I thought I ought to go and make notes on the fan base while it was still in its natural habitat.
Shortly after 10 a.m., about two hours before the opening faceoff, Jason Coyne and his friend Michael Decotis were sipping Jack and Cokes in the parking lot. “I’ve been an Islanders fan since I was 2 years old,” Jason said. “Now, I’m 35.”
“Thirty-seven,” Michael corrected him.
“Thirty-seven,” Jason said. He added apologetically, “Jack Daniel’s.”
The Hockey Gods are capricious. The Hockey Gods are cruel, but they are fair. The Hockey Gods giveth, and then they taketh away, and then they giveth again, occasionally right in the chops. (The Hockey Gods also get mysterious and nasty rashes for which they take a lot of guff from the other gods, which is when the Hockey Gods drop the gloves. That’s how we wound up with Hudson Bay, which used to be a nice piece of forest land before the bench-clearing brawl among the gods broke out.) And Thursday night at Verizon Center, the Hockey Gods had some fun with Steve Oleksy of the Washington Capitals.
In case you were busy making a new nonalcoholic mixed drink that's half soda water, half tonic water called the Van de Velde, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Playing without Luol Deng, Derrick Rose, and Kirk Hinrich was too much for the Bulls, who fell 95-92 to the Brooklyn Nets. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau regrettably informed his team of their depleted forces before the game, adding, "I didn't know the games were optional." He then proceeded to drink straight from a bottle of Gilbey's gin, tell Taj Gibson that he wanted to sleep with his sister, and unleash a barrage of awkwardly profuse "real talk about love and pain" upon the injured Hinrich. Bulls forward Carlos Boozer then yelled out his signature catchphrase, "Can you smell the booze stank in the room?!" before being told by Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin that games are not optional. A visibly intoxicated Boozer fouled out of his team's defeat in the fourth quarter.
Even though he had another solid outing, Atlanta starter Kris Medlen fell to 1-4 as his Braves lost to the Washington Nationals, 3-1. Medlen, snacking on biscuits after the game, blamed his spotty start to the season on fatigue based on his home life. "I've got young boys, and they're up at all hours," he said. "I've only been a little off, which just makes me think I could be 5-0 if it weren't for those Medlen kids!"