Round Two: FIGHT!

The dust has settled and now only eight teams remain in the hunt for the greatest trophy in professional sports — the Stanley Cup. Plenty of great match-ups can be found across the board, but only one will receive that extra special level of media attention. It’s been four years in the making, but Gary Bettman finally gets his ultimate dream match-up — Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins versus Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

And I suppose some jerk named Malkin will be involved, too. Last I heard he won a race of some sorts. Not exactly sure what kind of an impact a runner or a sprinter will have on a hockey series, but we shall see, right? After all, the playoffs are all about one thing — unpredictability!

That being said, here are my predictions as to what’ll go down during the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

  • Gary really, really likes this match-up. Unless the Derby is on.

    Gary really, really likes this match-up. Unless the Kentucky Derby is on.

    In a bold move, Gary Bettman forces the NHL Board of Governors to introduce a radical new rule change, effective immediately: “In the event of a playoff series involving Washington and Pittsburgh, the two teams shall be forced to play a best-of-fifteen series as opposed to the traditional best-of-seven. No other series shall be affected.”

  • NBC will cut away from Game One before it even begins to show footage of the Kentucky Derby horses eating. No commentary, no interviews, no pre-race analysis, no betting odds … just horses eating.
  • Jose Theodore is all smiles on the bench, content that he doesn’t have to face Crosby and Malkin every other day.
  • The rink crew at the Verizon Center still won’t know how to replace a broken pane of glass in less than 10 minutes.
  • Donald Brashear returns from his suspension and score a hat trick to win the Game Six for the Caps. That, or he gets suspended again for doing something retarded because he’s too slow and untalented to actually make a difference on the ice. Flip a coin, really.
The very definition of a complete, two-way player.

The very definition of a complete, two-way player.

  • During a TV timeout, Bruce Boudreau orders a hot dog from a vendor and proceeds to eat it while behind the bench, simply because he looks like the type of guy who would do that sort of thing. He did spend a hell of a lot of time in the minors, if you recall, and if Slap Shot taught me anything, it’s that the minor leagues are full of crazy antics and goofball shenanigans.
  • Intrepid reporters will finally reveal the truth that, yes, Evgeni Malkin is indeed the result of human-troll relations.
  • Alex Ovechkin starts at centre so that he can engage in fisticuffs with Sidney Crosby immediately after the opening faceoff of every game. Crosby eventually gets shifted to the wing to avoid being utterly destroyed before the start of each game.
Stop hiding behind the ref, Sid! Take your beating like a man!

Stop hiding behind the ref, Sid! Take your beating like a man!

  • In a marketing stunt gone wrong, staff at the Verizon Center place bullseye markers all along the end boards. Whenever Ovechkin misses a shot and hits one of the targets, one lucky fan wins a free beer. In the end, numerous people will be escorted out of the building due to public drunkenness.
  • During the final and deciding game of this series, Simeon Varlamov lets in an uncharacteristically soft goal when he allows Malkin score on him from centre ice. Amidst the shock and confusion, Varlamov then goes all “nWo” on his teammates by pulling off his Capitals sweater to reveal a Penguins sweater underneath. He then uses the referee’s microphone to state, in perfect English, that he had been in cahoots with Comrade Malkin the entire time and had actually poisoned the Gatorade of Jose Theodore in order to get him off his game so that he could take his place and ultimately sabotage the Capitals in their most crucial moment.
  • Some other teams will win some games (or not) in some other series. The NHL doesn’t care about Boston or Carolina, so why should I? Ovechkin! Crosby! Ovechkin! Crosby! Match of the Century! BE THERE!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Ah, mid-April. Truly the most wonderful time of the entire year. The birds are chirping, the days are getting warmer, seasonal allergies have yet to launch their assault … and 16 teams are about to embark on an epic journey in an attempt to earn the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The greatest trophy in professional sports.

The greatest trophy in sports.

Yes, tonight marks the start of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and like a kid on Christmas Eve, I can’t wait for the games to begin. Even if my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t in on the festivities (an occurrence that has happened far to frequently in recent years), it’s still playoff hockey, and I’ll be damned if I miss out on the action (even if I’m not emotionally invested on who wins or loses). The highlight-reel goals, the close calls, the great saves, the triple-overtime nailbiters, the unlikely heroes, the unparallelled passion and emotion … it’s all amplified to a whole new level in the post-season. Quite frankly, it’s “must-see TV” at its finest.

And it all start tonight — a night where, just momentarily, every team is back on equal footing. Every squad has zeros across the board. No wins, no losses … just hopes, dreams, and potential. What you did in the regular season counts for diddly now — it’s what you do over the course of the next few weeks that really matters (psst … San Jose Sharks, I’m looking in your direction).

So, who am I picking to go all the way? Well, I’ll tell you who I’m not picking — and that’s the aforementioned Sharks. I’ve been burned too many times in the past by picking the Sharks to go deep, so screw San Jose. I say the Anaheim Ducks pull off the upset and send the regular season champs packing early.

Overall, I like the chances of Pittsburgh, Boston, Vancouver, and Detroit. I feel that those four are the teams to beat this year. The Penguins have been phenomenal since Therrien got kicked to the curb and any team with Crosby and Malkin simply can’t be ignored. The Bruins have been consistently superior all season long, with Tim Thomas leading the league in GAA and save percentage. Vancouver has Roberto Luongo, of course, but unlike recent years, it seems like the Canucks actually have a bit of offence, as well. As for Detroit, well, the Wings are the Wings. Say what you will about the porous defence and the terrible stats of Chris Osgood, but when you have the likes of Hossa, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom on your team, how do you bet against them?

I’d love to see Ovie and the Caps go far, and I think they can hang with the Bruins and Pens in the East, but for Washington to have any chance at all Jose Theodore will have to bring his game to a whole new level. While he won’t run into many problems against the New York Rangers, it’ll be a different story against the likes of Sid and Geno.

Of course, my predictions could be totally wrong. In fact, they probably will be. Heck, last year I picked the San Jose Sharks to defeat the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup, and as we all saw, that didn’t come anywhere close to happening. But the unpredictability of it all is just one more reason to love the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I mean, it could be basketball, where the underdogs never, ever win. Or it could be baseball, where the same teams make the playoffs year after year. Anything can happen during the NHL’s post-season … and I wouldn’t have it any other way (unless it results in a Carolina vs. Columbus final … I wouldn’t approve of that very much, and neither would the league itself).

Indeed, mid-April is the most wonderful time of the year. Let the games begin!

Who will lift the holy chalice this year?

Who will lift the holy chalice this year?

How to Improve Baseball (and Make It More Like Hockey)

It’s early April, and you know what that means — playoff hockey is just around the corner! Of course, the beginning of spring also signals something far more sinister in the sporting world — another baseball season has arrived. That’s right, 162 games of yawn-inducing tedium. Can you feel the excitement?

What kind of a name is "Rance", anyway?

What kind of a name is "Rance", anyway?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate baseball. In fact, I used to love baseball and was a huge fan of the late ’80s / early ’90s Toronto Blue Jays teams. Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, Kelly Gruber, Tom Henke, Dave Steib, Cecil Fielder, Tony Fernandez, Rance Mulliniks … they were all awesome (but not as awesome as the Joe Carter / Roberto Alomar teams that actually went all the way, of course). And while I still can appreciate the sport and all of its subtle little intricacies, I rarely ever watch it anymore — and if I do, it’s usually the last couple innings of a playoff game.

And why is that? Because baseball is downright boring to watch — and if it’s the regular season, it’s absolutely dreadful.

So, in order to spice things up and infuse a little bit of April hockey excitement into boring April baseball, I am proposing the following changes to the game:

Full Contact Baseball

Of course, step one would to be unpussify baseball by making it a full contact sport. Yeah, I know, there’s already a little bit of contact involved in the play (especially at home plate), but these cases shouldn’t be isolated incidents — they should be actively encouraged. I see absolutely no problem with allowing first basemen to deliver a crushing shoulder check to the baserunner as he comes charging in, and I particularly relish the thought of seeing the shortstop sending a runner head-over-heels with a devastating hip check as he dashes between second and third.

Like this, but anywhere on the field!

Like this, but anywhere on the field!

Not only would this suggestion make the baseball highlights on TSN slightly more bearable to watch, but as as added bonus, baseball becomes a much tougher sport to compete in. As the injuries pile up and the fatigue sets in, Bud Selig will have no choice but to drastically reduce the schedule as he sees that the players are no longer capable of participating in 162 meaningless games. It’s a win-win situation for everybody, really.

Replace Walls with Boards and Glass

This suggestions calls for short boards and glass be installed along the entire perimeter of the baseball field, just like a hockey rink. First, it would provide a bit more protection from errant foul balls and broken bats for the fans in the first few rows. Second (and most importantly), it would add a touch of excitement to the routine fly ball. Can you imagine the centre fielder running back to the warning track to make a catch, and then at the last moment jumping into the glass for the grab, re-enacting an Alex Ovechkin goal celebration as he’s surrounded by screaming fans pounding on the glass? Now that would be interesting.

Back ... back ... back ... Ovechkin grabs it at the wall! What a catch!

Back ... back ... back ... Ovechkin grabs it at the wall! What a catch!

Feeling Shame in the Penalty Box

In baseball, when a player commits an error, nothing really happens. Sure, maybe a run gets scored, but chances are the scorekeeper was just tired of seeing zeros in the last column of the game’s boxscore and decided to take matters into his own hands. Why not make an error actually mean something by sending the offending player to a newly-created penalty box, forcing his team to play a man short for the rest of the inning? It would up the offensive output considerably, as there would be many more gaps in which to bloop singles — and if the “new” NHL has taught us anything, it’s that more offence puts butts in the seats, right?

Those are just a few ideas that could add some life into mundane springtime baseball. Would they actually generate excitement for the sport once implemented? Well, there’s only way to find out — which means the ball’s in your court now, MLB. Or is that dugout? Batter’s box? Whatever, you have the ball, just do something with it, jerks.

The Habs are Choking … And I’m Loving Every Minute of It

Although I currently live in Ottawa, I grew up in Southwestern Ontario. As a result, I bleed the Blue and White of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark being my favourite Leafs players of all-time.

As such, I have a moral and legal obligation to seethe venom in the general direction of the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators (yes, I said legal obligation — it’s in the contract one gets when they join Leafs Nation).

In the case of the Habs, it’s a no brainer. Toronto and Montreal have been and always will be hated rivals. Heck, this very fact is taught to us in grade school as we read Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater. Well, let me tell you something … I never wanted to comb my ‘air like Maurice Richard. I’d rather have a bitchin’ Wendel Clark moustache (except for the fact that I can’t grow a moustache).

Every time Carey Price loses, an angel gets its wings.

Every time Carey Price loses, an angel gets its wings.

Even though the Leafs and Habs haven’t met in the playoffs in a million years, this long-standing historical rivalry is the very reason that I can never bring myself to cheer for the Canadiens. Ever. Not even if they were the only Canadian team left standing in the playoffs, as they were last season. The mere thought of cheering on the Habs is just plain wrong on so many intangible levels.

But Steve, you ask, shouldn’t you be a good Canadian patriot and have a burning desire to see the Cup come back home? Well, yeah, that would be great, and I was actively cheering for Calgary, Edmonton, and yes, even Ottawa to bring home Lord Stanley’s mug (partly because it would have been cool to see a Stanley Cup parade in person. But I actually rather enjoyed seeing Alfie and the Sens get dismantled by Anaheim).

But the Habs? I was hoping they would collapse completely and lose to the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs (and they almost did). I can’t quite fully explain it. It’s almost more a gut instinct, really. All I know is that the Habs must lose.

In fact, I’d rather see the Columbus Blue Jackets win the Cup instead of Montreal … which is why I derive great satisfaction from their current slump. Indeed, nothing would be sweeter than seeing the Habs miss the playoffs entirely during their centennial season. And it would be suitable punishment for the Habs fans that voted that heartless chump Kovalev into the All-Star Game starting line-up over the greatest player in the league today, Alex Ovechkin.

I mean, seriously … did you see that goal he scored the other night against Montreal? As Pierre “Monster” McGuire said, “it was insanity.”

Hey, I may be a Leafs fan, but I’m not stupid. I know they’re not making the playoffs (unlike some delusional Senators fans), so I’m throwing my support behind Ovie and the Caps. Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Green are an absolute pleasure to watch.