The Boston Bruins are starting to look unstoppable. After shutting down the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night, they hold a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup final heading into Game 4 at home tonight. They’re two wins away from a championship that would cap off one of the most impressive playoff runs in recent history.
A quick recap: In the first round, the Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since then, they’ve found themselves facing the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and now the Blackhawks. Or, to put those matchups in some perspective: last year’s top seed in the East, this year’s top seed in the East, and this year’s top seed overall.
Heading into tonight’s action, here’s how those teams have fared against Boston:
Without putting too fine a point on it, those numbers don’t make any sense. How could the Bruins be rolling over three of the best teams in the NHL so easily, when they needed a historic Game 7 comeback just to survive against a very average Toronto team?
Or, to rephrase the question in a more intriguing way: Is it possible that the Leafs knew something that everyone else has missed?
The good news is that, as a Maple Leafs fan, I watched that first-round series closely. The bad news is that, as a Maple Leafs fan, my therapist has ordered me never to discuss it again. So if he asks, the next few thousand words never happened.
I floated a version of the question — What the hell happened in that Leafs series? — on Twitter a few nights ago. Here are some of the most common theories I got back in response, and my thoughts on whether there could be some truth to them.
The theory: Obviously the Leafs are the second-best team in the league!
The explanation: Right now, the Bruins look like the best team in the league. And since the Leafs were the only team to come close to beating them, then logically that would mean
Does it make sense?: No. Also, this is stupid. Next.
After the opening two games between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins, the Stanley Cup final is tied at one game apiece for the first time since the lockout.
Well, not this year’s lockout. I mean, that would be true, but it wouldn’t be very interesting. And because we need to be more specific in Gary Bettman’s wonderful world of perpetual work stoppages, let’s try this again: This year’s final is tied 1-1 for the first time since the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season. Much better.
Yes, in all seven Stanley Cup final series since 2004, the team that won the first game also won the second. (Although two of those teams still ended up losing the series.) Given that, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at the most recent 10 times that we’ve found ourselves even after two games, and to see if the past has anything to teach us about what we might be able to expect this year.
The year: 1986
The teams: Montreal Canadiens vs. Calgary Flames
The first two games: Calgary rolled to a 5-2 win in Game 1 and had a chance to take a 2-0 series lead when Game 2 went into overtime. Instead, it took Montreal’s Brian Skrudland just nine seconds to tie the series.
What happened next: Montreal swept the remaining games, winning the series in five behind the goaltending of an unheralded rookie named Patrick Roy.
What we can learn: That getting an overtime done with early won’t kill you, for one thing. Beyond that, the Flames shared more than a few similarities with this year’s Hawks: both held home ice, both won Game 1, and both missed a chance to take a 2-0 series lead with an overtime loss in Game 2. The Flames didn’t win another game after that lost opportunity, which would make Bruins fans happy if it were possible for a Montreal Canadiens Cup win to do that. (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)
What do you do when you're completely exhausted? Me, I get cranky. My eyes redden, my skin sags, my temper shortens, and everything seems like a much bigger deal than it probably is. Small tasks become grand impositions. Minor snafus seem life-ruinous. Overheard conversations feel intolerable. I begin considering Joffrey Baratheon in a more sympathetic light.
As for the Chicago Backhawks' Andrew Shaw? Him, he drops F-bombs on national television. He sits down at a press conference behind the wrong placard, one that says “Jonathan Toews,” and he seems content not to care. (You can't say as much about Toews, who notices almost immediately and swaps the two name tags so that everything's where it should be.) And, when asked to walk everyone through the triple-overtime goal that he had scored for the 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final on Wednesday night, Shaw can only explain, "Luck."
He wasn't being humble, just accurate. His game-winning goal was scored when Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival took a long shot from near the blue line that caromed first off Dave Bolland and then finally, fatefully off Shaw.
The Stanley Cup final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins start tonight. And that means it’s time to break down the various matchups that will decide the series, such as coaching, goaltending, and special teams.
So yeah, hopefully somebody will do a post about those, because they’re super-important. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the other key matchups to keep an eye on when Chicago and Boston face off for the Cup.
This is the time of year when you can expect to repeatedly encounter some variation of these words: We’re down to just two teams left standing in the NHL playoffs.
That phrasing always seemed oddly appropriate, since it implies that the rest of the league must be on the ground. And metaphorically speaking, that’s true. By the end of the third round, the floor is littered with failed playoff teams. Some may have collapsed from sheer exhaustion, others are sprawled out after a swift and bruising knockout, and a few are curled up in a little puddle of tears, wondering how it all went so wrong.
So before we move on to praising Boston and Chicago, let’s spend a few minutes picking through three rounds of postseason wreckage. Here are the 14 playoff teams that have been eliminated, ranked in order of how disappointing their playoff runs ultimately were.
The fans inside United Center were the very last to know. They were on their feet (most up off their feet, really) hollering and high-fiving in their Kane and Chelios and novelty Griswold jerseys, finally releasing all the tension that had gripped them throughout Wednesday's Game 7 between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. Chicago's Niklas Hjalmarsson had just scored to break a 1-1 tie with 1:49 to play, and now "Chelsea Dagger" was DA-da-da-DA-da-da-DA-da-da-DA-ing over the PA system, and life was pretty great.
Viewers watching at home found out almost immediately that the goal was being disallowed. In the press box, partially deafened by the goal horns, we struggled to make sense of the little things that didn't seem quite right — the refs were huddling, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews seemed angrier than usual, and no one was skating toward center ice. But most of the fans were too busy celebrating to really notice — like some scene from a dark comedy in which a happy, waving, unsuspecting dude doesn't realize he's about to get taken out by a bus. (Actually, that dude could be Hjalmarsson himself: "I was probably looking like a fool celebrating in the middle of the ice," he later said.)
The NHL playoffs can define a player’s career. It’s when some elevate their games while others crumble, when legacies are made and lost, and when we separate the clutch performers from the choke artists.
There are two schools of thought on all this, and one of them is that everything in that last paragraph is complete nonsense. The playoffs are far too small a sample size to draw any meaningful conclusions, and because there’s little evidence that “clutch” even exists in sports, all we're really doing is just crafting lazy and often unfair narratives out of statistical blips that should actually be credited to random chance.
The other school of thought is that while all of that might be true, we don’t care because overreacting to the playoffs is part of the fun of being a sports fan.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going with option no. 2. So here are 10 players that have seen their stock move significantly up or down during the first two rounds.
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.
The Senators and Penguins opened their second-round series Tuesday night, with Pittsburgh claiming an early series lead thanks to a 4-1 win on home ice.
The no. 1-seeded Penguins are the consensus favorites over the 7-seed Senators, but nobody would be surprised if the series turned out to be a long one. In the end, it may come down to which team can manage an edge in the key matchups.
Which key matchups, you ask, since you assume that’s what you’re supposed to do? Good question! Here are a dozen battles to watch as the series resumes on Friday night.