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NHL

All Right, Which Of You Clowns Is Going To Make A Comeback?

1:20 PM EDT on May 24, 2023

Carolina Hurricanes mascot Stormy and Victor E. Green of the Dallas Stars
Josh Lavallee/Getty Images; Glenn James/Getty Images

There are many, many reasons to enjoy playoff hockey: the late nights, the frantic shifts of momentum, the unlikely heroes, the immortalized moments, the dozens of stories that build upon and battle each other until they finally give way to one exhausted, triumphant champion. All of these delights combine to make this the coolest time of the year. Usually.

You know what's not cool? A four-game sweep. Do you know what's twice as uncool? Try simultaneous four-game sweeps when there are only two series on the schedule. That dull, dire, unfortunate situation is what the NHL faces in its conference finals.

I actually, to my shame, defended these series to my elite, uninterested Northern acquaintances when they expressed disappointment at the lack of historic franchises in this final four. I liked the potential for large swaths of bandwagon fans, I told them, for young athletes to maybe get swayed away from other sports and for new cultures to flourish around this chilly game. I liked the proud profanity of the rats in Florida, the garishness of the Vegas experience, Dallas's transformation into South Helsinki, and even, perhaps, the scrappy local-business charm of the Hurricanes, who, it must be said, were responsible for the best crowd at a game all season. These teams had stories, too, even if they weren't as well known as the ones in Boston, New York, or Canada.

But stories need drama. Taken on their own, most of the individual games of the conference finals have had that, with a parade of one-goal finals and overtime finishes. But the cumulative effect has been a lopsided one. The Knights lead the Stars 3-0, and the Panthers (who even as they've played brilliantly still have to fight for oxygen with the Cinderella Heat) are up on the Hurricanes by the same margin.

The cushion on which these winners sit makes their Game 4s immensely skippable, and even if the series stretches to a Game 5, the outlook is dreary. If the trailers take one back, it feels like scooping a bucket of water out of the Gulf of Mexico. (That's a reference to the South! I'm trying to learn!) There's nothing to grab the neutral fan right now, certainly nothing but depression for fans in Texas or the Carolinas, and even the beneficiaries of these potential sweeps are missing out on the meaningful joys of pressure. Vegas and Florida are trying to arrive at the Finals on a monorail when they could be riding a roller coaster.

I'm not greedy enough to ask for two miracles, but one of you jerks has gotta make things interesting. Win one, then win another; it's not actually that hard!

Canes: You dominated possession all year, stymied opposing offenses, and just flushed out the Devils in five games. You're facing a goalie that my colleague Kelsey refers to as "Little Bobby." You're really going to let Little Bobby crush your hopes and dreams? Stars: The top of your roster is amazing. You've got thrilling young talents, grizzled vets who've still got it, and a netminder who, even if he's reeling right now, has consistently been terrifying in must-win scenarios. And Vegas doesn't have a Joe Pavelski chasing what might be his one last shot. All their old men already have Cups! Don't let their greed spoil your season. And don't let the precious few games of hockey left before summer go to waste.

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