At first glance the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been relatively even through 28 games. Only one series (Colorado-Nashville) looks like sheep-to-the-slaughterhouse, and the four series that have gone four games deep are all tied. Home teams are 18-10, which is a little high for this particular data point, and first-goal scorers are 23-5, which does tend to suck a bit of fun out of the room when 1-0 becomes 3-0 so quickly.
Mostly, though, the games have sort of sucked because so many of them have been flat blowouts. Since the glorious three-overtimer between Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers on Day 2, the games have been mostly tedious regulation, and even the relatively new phenomenon of pulling the goalie down three for the sheer heel of it does not provide enough deception to even an untrained eye.
Take Kings-Oilers as an example. Los Angeles cheated the reaper in Game 1 by beating the Oil in Edmonton, 4-3, then lost by six in each of their next two games, then last night, when you’d figure the Kings are ready to roll over, they win 4-0. Or Caps-Panthers, where it’s win by two, lose by four, win by five. Or Blues-Wild, which has been Blues by four, Wild by four, Wild by four again, and in a cliffhanger Sunday, Blues by three.
Much of this has been goaltending, which if you’re not Dallas’s Jake Oettinger or Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom, who happen to be playing in the same series, has been sketchy at best. True, the coaches, 67-year-old Rick Bowness of Dallas and 63-year-old Darryl Sutter of Calgary, are among the oldest of the old schoolers, and for them playoff hockey is a preciously tight checking war of attrition as well as attention. But the other 14 seem to subscribe to an alternate theory, which is “Score five as fast you can, and we’ll all go back to the hotel and pound beers.”
Not that there is anything at all wrong with that strategy. As Herm Edwards once said, “You play … to cover … the over.” And there is a comfort in winning by more than three goals, which is the average margin so far. But if you don’t know whether you’ll be winning 6-2 or losing 5-1, your team has a consistency issue; if this was happening to the Flames, Sutter would have employed his detachable jaw to swallow his own face in exasperation by now.
The other thing these lopsided games tell us is that there has been too little of the thing that makes the Cup the Cup: overtime. We’d been given hope last Tuesday when the Penguins and Rangers ended just short of midnight in a three-bonus-panel game, but since then, there has only been an eight-minute foregone conclusion overtime in Denver in which Nashville, which has already shredded starting goalie Juuse Saros and watched backup David Rittich melt down into a hunk of slag, tried without success to save Connor Ingram from the Avalanche’s avalanche. Two days later, Colorado won, 7-3.
Point is, without overtime, playoff hockey is just hockey, and this year it is hockey without nightly drama. If Sutter, our guru and wisdom on such matters, tells you that there is no such thing as momentum between games (and there isn’t), this must be the year that surely proves it. Almost anyone can win, provided they win by four. Frankly, if we didn’t have Boston’s uberpest Brad Marchand turning face against Carolina’s Tony DeAngelo, or the New York Islanders lopping off the neckless head of Barry Trotz because it’s a slow news day at Lou Lamoriello’s house, we’d have almost nothing to discuss today.
But we live in hope, as stupid a concept as that is, that the games will tighten and extra time will issue forth even in series as over as ‘Lanche-Preds. Not because such things are preordained, but because nobody you know has ever said, “Now that was a great 6-1 game.”