Tis the season – the most wonderful time of the year: the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Forget the only-a-week-long Super Bowl party, baseball’s single-game wild card round, or watching any NBA basketball game until the final two minutes (only to watch a myriad of missed foul shots). The intrigue of the NHL playoffs continues to go unmatched in North American sports.
And with contests often stretching deep into the night with double- and triple-overtime thrillers, there isn’t a bartender from coast-to-coast who would turn the channel to watch the predictable Heat-Spurs series in June. Just bring me a beer, drop the puck, and tip the sweet bar maid who politely serves you with a twinkle in her eye.
Just like Las Vegas the week before Christmas when many shows on the Strip go dark and the performers and support staff take vacation, the final week of the NHL regular season can be difficult to gage.
Many teams are preparing for the playoffs by either playing hard to enhance their playoff position (or to simply qualify), others seek to heal wounds and be healthy for a long postseason run. And the remainder already have golf clubs packed and are seeking tee times back home.
Here are some observations on this week’s slate.
Looking to play: It may be a coaching mistake, but Patrick Roy’s Colorado Avalanche seek to complete the schedule on a rise.
Goalie Semyon Varlamov shut out first place St. Louis on Saturday, equaling the franchise record with his 40th win of the season. The last time an Avs goalie hit 40 was Roy, who went on to take 16 more and capture the Cup in 2001 to open the millennium.
Of course, Roy seeks to take the pressure off his players and let the media focus on himself, which may be a smart move. His latest: calling Blues captain David Backes “gutless” for wrestling young Nathan MacKinnon to the ice during one of several late dust-ups in a penalty-filled 4-0 victory.
Think about it. Roy wants his team to play tougher, which may be an obstacle when defending Cup champion Chicago comers to Denver to open the playoffs. With the Blackhawks hurting, should Colorado jump to a quick 2-0 series lead, a ton of Futures tickets on Chicago will quickly find the floor.
Don’t play on: Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
After the Penguins were shut out on home ice by St. Louis, they realized there was little chance to catch Boston for the top seed in the East, so this club has been on cruise control.
The stroke suffered by Kris Letang back in January is bad enough. Now the latest injury finds defenseman Olli Maatta day-to-day with an upper-body woe.
The only hope for a long playoff run in Pittsburgh is if they can meet Detroit, another finesse club ravaged by injuries, giving them time to get healthy for Round Two.
The Kings, once they realized Phoenix would no longer catch them for third place in the Pacific Division, are almost going through the motions. Their shot totals have dropped, with the emphasis continuing on defense in a pair of 2-1 losses in San Jose and Vancouver.
And with a pair of games in Alberta against teams with players making salary dashes, L.A. looks like a go-against team this week.
Good night, now: Washington.
Everyone talks about the play in which Alex Ovechkin allegedly tanked, leading to an opponent’s goal. More importantly, the Caps can’t score a 5-on-5 goal.
And with fewer penalties called in the playoffs, how this team would score if they should get into the playoffs means a quick exit.
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