Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The NHL Gives Us a Classic

There’s an interesting little dynamic going on in the parallel playoffs in the NBA and NHL. Last night, for the first time in the NBA Conference Finals, we had a different team win, as the Rockets blew out Golden State to stave off elimination. It is 3-1 now out West, with Game 5 a pretty safe bet for Golden State. It is 3-0 in the East, with a good chance that series ends tonight. It is unfair to say the Western Conference Finals have been uncompetitive – the Rockets played well in each of the first two games, but neither series is likely to go beyond five games. This comes after a NBA playoffs that have given us very few good series – only one great series with the Spurs vs. Clippers first round treasure. Over on the NHL side, it is a little bit different.

Last night, while the Rockets added some intrigue into a listless round, the Ducks and Blackhawks played their second consecutive 5-4 OT game. This time it didn’t go to two OTs (or three OTs as the ‘Hawks are wont to do), but it still provided great drama, greater skill, and a wonderful, bananas ending that the NBA has at times (‘Did you call bank?’… ‘No, I called game!’). The NHL playoffs had a few memorable first round series, and at least one very good second round series (Washington vs. New York), but these two Conference Finals have both been amazing, a sign of the level of parity in the NHL that just is not there right now in basketball. The lack of competitiveness in the NBA made the league consider moving the start of the NBA Finals up. The excess of it in the NHL has allowed us hockey fans to wade in the waters of people openly saying that these playoffs are superior.

I’ll concentrate on the Blackhawks vs. Ducks series because I think that while it has been no more well played than the fantastic Eastern Conference Finals, it has been more dramatic and more representative of a great NHL series. I had high hopes for Blackhawks vs. Ducks heading into the series. These were the two best teams in the Western Conference (apologies to the Blues, who won the Central Division). It is a rare treat in hockey to actually get the two best teams to square off against, and even rarer that when they do they actually bring out the best in each other. We all remember the upsets, the darlings that make deep runs, the goalies that stand on their heads, but generally when those teams make runs they don’t always play in great series (Ducks ’03, Flames ’04, Oilers ’06, Canadiens ’10, Kings ’12). You need two powerhouse teams to meet to have a great series this deep into the playoffs. You need teams that can roll four lines and have enough great players to make up for the ones that get hurt along the way. Both the Ducks and Blackhawks have it, and they’ve shown it.

This series has had so many amazing subplots. First is if the Ducks can get over the hump. This Ducks team may have had the most points in the Western Conference, but by regular season performance this was the weakest Ducks’ team of the last three years. The last two teams had their runs ended in Game 7 losses at home. While those brought up questions about their mental ability to play in the postseason, it also hardened them into the steely team they are today. The Ducks have the talent, and the leadership (their top two guys have won a Cup, lest people forget), but hadn’t had the results. Now they are getting that.

The Blackhawks have the whole dynasty angle. They’ve won twice in the last five years, and made the Conference Finals now 5 times in 7 years. They have a core of seven guys that were on all 5 of those teams (Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmersson), which is pretty incredible in today’s NHL). They have an air of calmness and unbeatable-ness that is pretty hard to overlook. They have a composure commensurate with that of a team that has lifted the Cup recently, and probably would be going for a threepeat had they not blown a late lead in Game 7 last year against the Kings. They are, in many ways, the anti-Ducks, which is what makes this series so fascinating.

People thought we were beyond 5-4 games in this NHL. There were many stories earlier in the playoffs about how goal scoring is down, and how the games needed more scoring. Aside from the fact that number of goals and excitement generated are only loosely correlated (see: any number of 2-1 wins this year), it isn’t even true (there was major news made when Tyler Seguin led the NHL in points with just 89 – of course league-wide, more goals were scored this year than last). Still, to have back-to-back games end at 5-4 and come out of thinking that those were fantastic games and not slop-fest just shows how well matched these two teams are. Game 4 was a sign of the Ducks growing up and also a sign of their amazing skill that penetrates that young roster. They turned a 1-3 deficit into a 4-3 lead in literally 37 seconds. Of course that game was also a sign of the Blackhawks resolve to hold onto their place on top of the West, tying the game late and winning their 6th straight multi-OT game. That game was exciting, end-to-end, with tons of shots and posts and great saves and continuous action.

Game 5 was a little slower, and played out in reverse. The Blackhawks did show their mental resolve and skill, but this time that came first, as they clawed back from 0-3 and 2-4 to tie the game with two goals from Jonathan Toews (of course, the captain) to send into OT. This time the Ducks showed how much they’ve grown up by scoring and winning the game, and not letting the fact that they were even playing OT take away from their ultimate goal. Game 5 was another showcase for the Ducks ridiculous skill level, with Cam Fowler (24) scoring a rocket shot, and Sami Vatanen (23) scoring another and setting up a beautiful goal. But it was also a sign of the ways this Ducks team is different – they don’t have to rely on Getlzaf and Perry for everything (just two goals this series), and they have a 2nd center to battle in the West in Ryan Kesler, who is playing Jonathan Toews to a draw.

I really want the Western Conference Finals to go the full 7 games – who wouldn’t when the collective level of play is so incredibly high. Not only is that the natural conclusion for two teams so evenly matched (four one goal games, three that went to OT, and the other was 2-1 midway through the 3rd period), but it would be the best way for either the Hawks to continue to show how special this run has been, or it would be the best way for the Ducks to show that they’re ready to move beyond the failings of the last two years and ride their even more youthful team further. This has been some of the best hockey I’ve seen – if you include the Lightning vs. Rangers series this is probably the best combination of Conference Finals since 2000. I don’t want this to end. I don’t want to only have one series to turn to. I don’t want to lose one of these two amazing teams. The Blackhawks and Ducks have done something so rare: make each other team better. They have contrasting styles, the Hawks with more speed and possession, the Ducks with more physical play and specific skills (shooting – the Ducks have had the top shooting percentage in the league three years running). But those two have combined to not cancel each other out, but supplement each other to create a higher level of intensity.

I like to mention the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals as much as I can. Not only for the obvious reason that it was a series the Devils won on their way to their most recent Stanley Cup, but also because it was similar in that sense. Here you had easily the two best teams in the Eastern Conference (arguably two best in the NHL), with contrasting styles (Senators ridiculous offense, Devils great defense) that matched up perfectly. They played 7-games, only two were anything but great, and Game 7 was a 3-2 nail-biter that ended with a goal with 2:10 to go in the 3rd period. That was a rare series where the top teams made each other better. We had that last year with the Kings and Blackhawks. We are having that again, in both conferences really, but this Western Conference series has been so special, mixing in greatness but also competing legacies, competing storylines, a dash of experienced winning vs. continuous choking, and we have ourselves a true classic.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cultural Ignorance

Mad Men ended on Sunday. It was about 18 months after Breaking Bad ended. I watched Breaking Bad, every single minute, clinging to my seat as my body filled with tension. I watched Breaking Bad once again just to remember how amazing that ride was. For many people, Mad Men was that show that Breaking Bad was to me, and seeing it end on Sunday Night was that culmination of years of effort watching, thinking and dreaming about that show.

I've never seen Mad Men. Well, that isn't exactly true. I once saw the first 3-4 episodes. I didn't like it. Found it slow, plodding and a little too airy for my taste. Now, this was before I ever watched The Wire (and right after I started watching Breaking Bad), and there is a chance having watched and loved a show that could also accurately be described as slow and plodding, I may enjoy Mad Men before. It was not an enticing experience watching Mad Men. The only reason I thought about continuing because everyone praised that show beyond all others. I still resisted.

I continued to resist as my sister, someone who is generally against those types of shows, watched it and loved it. I continued to resist until today and will continue to do so. It isn't really because I didn't like it the first time: show's shouldn't be defined by their first 3-4 episodes. Now it is because I am quite pleased to be so blisfully unaware of a cultural landmark. There is a certain serene joy in being ignorant about this piece of work that is so omnipresent.

This isn't the first time I've blazed a trail of unawaredness. I have historically been known among my friends as someone who has never watched any of the three Lord of the Rings movies. I've read the Hobbit and not hated it. I have nothing against that genre of movies (or literature), and I readily admit that they are likely very good and likely deserving of the praise heaped upon them. Still, I've never watched them, and I have no intention to watch.

With those movies, it is even more ludicrous given I only have to give three hours of my life three times to finish them - unlike Mad Men, which requires ~50 hours. But that is a miscalculation. It isn't just the time spent watching the movies, it is the time spend debating them, arguing about them, thinking about them. The time I would have to spend reading about them and the characters on Wikipedia to make sure I know what I saw. The time I'll have to invest in watching other things that are by the actors of the movies. Three blocks of three hours can quickly spiral into an unhealthy obsession, one I want to no part of.

To relate this back to sports, I like sports in a very unhealthy way. To better state it, I consume sports in an unhealthy way. It isn't the time spent watching the games, as I usually now have the double screen going and can do other things while watching. It is the time spent reading up on the games, studying the games, listening to podcasts about the games, thinking about last weeks games and next weeks games. The larger problem for me is it is all sports. Football the most, but during the basketball playoffs I'll spend way too much time thinking about NBA, which is generally my 4th sport. This is a problem, and I don't want it extending to other parts of entertainment any more than it needs to.

I know if I watch Mad Men today and I like it, there goes 50 hours in simply watching it (chances are it is NOT the type of show where I can double screen and get anything done), but also hours reading recaps of old episodes, maybe listening to a podcast or 10 about it, and it becomes everything The Wire became to me. This may be the sign of an addictive personality, and it is somewhat, but the first step to overcoming addiction is to admit and accept it. I'll do that and curtail its reach.

Of course there are more whimsical reasons not to engage in this. I do, to some degree, envy people who are oblivious to the NFL, who can live their life not thinking about #DeflateGate, or if Peyton Manning is better than Tom Brady. Those people have what I don't, their sports innocence. I have that with Lord of the Rings, I have that with Mad Men, with The Sopranos, or with Jersey Shore back in the day (that was a big one). I feel the need to hold on to these areas of pop culture where I can revel in the fact that I don't have to spend any time thinking about them.

There are other cases of this cultural blindness to the next big thing, but likely none will be as big as missing out on The Lord of the Rings or Mad Men. Those are two insitutions of 2000s culture and literature in America, and I can walk away knowing that they might as well not have existed to me. It is a heartening brazeness which I approach my ignorance in this matter. It may be driven out of fear of these things consuming my life, but it is a nice fall-back explanation to say that there is joy to be found in not having to care, or not wasting whatever little area of brain is left, to this integral piece of culture.

Friday, May 15, 2015

2015 Stanley Cup Finals: Conference Finals Picks

Eastern Conference

(A2) Tampa Bay Lightning  vs  (M1) New York Rangers

State of the Teams: The Lightning are making it this far for the first time in 4 years. That may seem recent, and in a way it is, but it is also an eon ago for the Lightning. Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman are still there... and that is it. Literally. Two guys remain from a team, a successful team, from four years ago. The Lightning rebuilt their team really quickly, and despite having a slightly worse year this year than last, with a healthy Ben Bishop in the playoffs, they have been able to achieve their destiny. The Lightning are also the highest-scoring team in the NHL. That usually spells doom in the playoffs (the last team to make the Finals with the most goals in the '11 Canucks, before that the '01 Devils), but their offense has played quite well. For the Rangers, they are the first President's Trophy winner to make it this far in a non-lockout season since those '11 Canucks. It took a 2nd straight year overcoming a 1-3 series deficit in the 2nd round to make it. They sleep-walked through the 1st round, but showed amazing fortitude coming back against Washington. The Rangers are on a historic run of playing 14-straight one-goal playoff games, which shows both their strength and also their inability to ever put teams away. They scored goals all season, but for the second straight year their offense has really slowed in the playoffs. Good thing they have the king.

The Matchup: Speed. Both teams have it. Both teams are playing a team that can match that aspect of their game. The Lightning played speedy teams already, but for the Rangers this is a massive step up in terms of the speed they'll face. The Lightning turn their speed into one of the most effective wave attacks I've seen in years, while the Rangers use it to be deadly in the neutral and defensive zone. The Lightning are defnitely playing like the better team, or at least the deeper team. Their top-2 lines have been great, and if Ryan Callahan comes back, that puts Valteri Filpulla on the 3rd line, an amazing sign of center depth. The Rangers have the edge on the blue-line, and probably in goal, though Ben Bishop, for all his shakiness at times, has really good numbers. One edge for the Lightning is they completely outplatyed the Rangers in their 3 regular season meetings, but that doesn't always translate. The Lightning are deeper, younger and healthier, but are they more capable of playing against a team that thrives on winning close games?

The Pick: I'm liking the Lightning, mainly because they have that forward depth that the Rangers haven't really faced. The Lightning also have the speed the Rangers haven't faced. Team speed is the Rangers best strength, aside from Lundqvist, and they might be the slower team top-to-bottom in this series. I don't think it is as simple as that, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a bitch to project anyway.

Lightning in 6

Western Conference Finals

(C3) Chicago Blackhawks  vs  (P1) Anaheim Ducks

The State of the Teams: Just like last year, we have the two true best teams in teh West matched up against each other. Unlike last year, both these two have been dominant in the playoffs so far. The Blackhawks were a trendy pick to be upset by Minnesota, and flew right by them with relative ease. Unlike in the 1st round, where the Hawks seemed a little off when playing on the road, here the Blackhawks somehow played better in Minnesota. For the Ducks, people can criticize the fact that they've played the easiest set of teams, but let's remember they were a really trendy pick to get upset in the 1st round. Let's also remember that while they made history by coming back in the 3rd period three times in the 1st round, they also, against Calgary, won three games by multiple goals, and the one game they lost was when they gave up a late goal to send it into OT. The Ducks brought in Ryan Kesler to let them match up center depth, but the real key for them has been the depth of their blue-line, a flat group of 6 guys that can all play complementary hockey. The Ducks are actually the team with the more stable goalie, though Corey Crawford definitely seems to have put his major issues that surfaced against Nashville behind him. Both teams are very good, and both teams are set up nicely headed into this matchup.

The Matchup: There's no 'speed' key element here. To me, the real key is who wins the battle of 2nd lines. The Ducks have the best pure line in hockey, with Getzlaf and Perry playing at just ridiculous levels, but the Hawks top line has the defensive ability to neutralize them, as Toews and Hossa are to defensive forwards with the Ducks duo is to offense. The 3rd lines are pretty even. The Blackhawks can throw Patrick Sharp out there, but the Cogliano-Palmieir-Thompson line is playing really well and is far faster than a normal 3rd line. The key to me is who wins that 2nd line matchup. The Hawks have more talent there - hello Patrick Kane! - but Brad Richards and Brian Bickell have been really quiet so far. Belesky/Silvferberg/Kesler have not been quiet, not at all. Kesler has been great in the palyoffs, and Belesky woke up against Calgary. That line has the potential to dominate shifts as a group in a way Chicago's doesn't. The Blackhawks have four great defenseman, but losing Michael Roszival hurts as it forces Kimo Timmonen to play far too many minutes for a 40-year old. That could also shift this ever so slightly in the Ducks favor.

The Pick: Last year we saw a truly great Western Conference Final, with the Kings outlasting the Hawks in 7 games. This year could match it, and I think it does. The amount of talent in this series is ridiuclous. The amount of depth is ridiculous. Fredrik Andersen and Corey Crawford are equally good or equally shaky, depending on how you look at it. Both teams have special teams that cancel each other's out (Ducks better PP, Hawks better PK), so I think it really comes down to two small areas the Ducks are better: 2nd line, and defensive depth, and that depth becomes bigger the longer the series goes, and I think it goes a long time.

Ducks in 7

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Suppressing the Urge to Get Excited

The Astros are 20-12. That's on pace for a 101-61 season. (Math!). That would almost assuredly win them the AL West, and send the Astros to the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons. That record isn't built on a fluke. They've scored 140 runs and allowed 120. They have a high FB% and HR%, but their BABIP is extremely low. You can say that guys like Marisnick and Rasmus are due to drop off, but Chris Carter won't hit .150 all year, and George Springer likewise will end up above .200. Dallas Kuechel won't have an ERA of 1.39, but he'll likely be in the 2.00s. Their pythag record is 18-14, so two games better isn't a sign of a fluke. So, am I happy? Sure. Do I think they'll actually make the playoffs? No. Do I care about that? Not at all. Relevance is exciting for an Astros fan, but more than that is the relevance coupled with the fact that even better days are ahead.

I avoided writing about them in their 10-game win streak that took them from 8-7 to 18-7, and then avoided feeling bad about that when they promptly were swept at home by Texas, but following that they split a four-game set with the Angels, and have finished a full fifth of the season. This team is changing my expectations, but I would still be shocked if they end up with more than 85 wins. But more than anything, what I want the Astros to do is realize that they'll end up with 85 wins, and not do anything rash to get that to 90.

My dream season would be to see Springer improve as a 22-year old should, to see Marisnick continue to develop, to see Altuve continue to hit .330+, and to see this team just relatively play well. The 2011-2013 Astros were an embarrassment. True, that was partially by design, but even Jeff Luhnow has gone on record saying he didn't expect them to be that bad. But it is hard to say anything other than Luhnow's plan not working. It did, they are set well right now to be competitive and set even better for the future. It is just making sure they know the difference between now and the future, and now the right time to blend those two.

In the 2012 drat, the Astros took Carlos Correa with the first pick. At the time he was 17. He's still just 20. It was seen as the Astros passing on the consensus best player for a guy that had a top-5 grade, but could be paid less than the top guy on the board, Byron Buxton. This was not a sign of cheapness, but a calculated way for the Astros to then pay someone at the end of the 1st round more than his slot and get a better play. Weird thing, though, it turns out Carlos Correa is awesome.

As an 18 year old in Single A he hit .320, showed good patience (OBP over .400), and great fielding. Last year, as a 19-year old, in high-A, he hit .325, still showing good patience, and was on his way to an unbelievable year before breaking his leg on a slide. Now this year, as a 20-year old in Double A, he's batting .385, with an OPS of 1.185. These are not human numbers. He was promoted to AAA today, and there is a chance he's in the major's this year. That's faster than anticipated, but if it does happen, I don't want it to be because the team wants to squeeze out a few games.

The Astros achieved their goal of being relevant in 2015. They are not a laughingstock, they are a real team that should end up somewhere around .500. That is a huge step up and shows they are right on track. They still have the trump card of Correa, and a few other good cards in Top-100 prospects Mark Appel, Lance McCullers Jr., Vincent Velasquez, and Colin Moran, all in Double A. The Astros are loaded, they have the money that will come by playing in the #4 media market to eventually pay the good guys. Things are headed in the right direction, what they can't do now is make that panic trade, or more accurately make that greedy trade to try to steal a playoff spot this year. One playoff game that will surely end in a loss is not worth giving up any one of those guys. Getting to 88 games is really no better than 84. Jeff Luhnow preached the long game, that this was a long process. Sports Illustrated called them the 2017 World Series Champs. Just because 2015 is going better than expected does not mean they should change it up now. That time will come, for now it really is enjoying being relevant, with the knowledge that soon we won't have to worry about that for a long, long time. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Acceptable Loss 2.0

I wrote two years ago that the Spurs loss in the 2013Finals, and in reality it was a choke in Game 6, was a rare ‘criticallyacclaimed’ loss, one that would actually bump up the legacies of the loser. These are quite rare – I believe my own Devils had this type of loss in their run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012, a last hurrah for the great Marty Brodeur. The Spurs loss was the same, coming years after their last trip to the Finals, playing the best of the four Heat teams (by regular season calculations), and playing them so well, including blowout wins in Game 3 and Game 5, only to lose because superior talent won out. Somehow, someway, despite winning the title the next year, entering the playoffs as a favorite in their 1st round matchup, and losing in the 1st round as a defending Champion, the Spurs might have had that type of loss again.

In reality, everyone knew coming in this was a Conference-Finals worthy series in the 1st round. The Spurs and Clippers had the 3rd and 2nd best point differentials in the NBA. They should not have met in the 1st round, something the Spurs could have avoided by beating the Pelicans in Game 82. Yet it happened, and we all were given the classic series we deserved. Outside of a Game 1 semi-blowout and a Game 3 real-blowout, we were given one good game (Game 4), one great game (Game 6), and three incredible games (Game 2, Game 5 and Game 7). All of the last three games played in Los Angeles were perfect examples of how great basketball can be. There was strategy, there was coaching genius and coaching blunder, there was clutch shot after clutch shot, and a little bit of controversy (Jordan’s in-the-cylinder tip ruining Game 5 for the Clippers, and the weird buzzer going off ruining Game 7 for the Spurs). In the end, given the Spurs injuries to Parker/Splitter, the better team likely won – but like the Heat in 2013, or the Thunder in 2012, it took a talented team playing at their very, very best to beat the Spurs – in Year 18 of the Duncan-Popovich relationship.

I really hope Popivich and Duncan do not retire. I am pretty sure Pop is coming back for another year – coaches don’t really have an expiration date, especially in basketball where staffs are as large as in the NFL, but not as pressurized. For Duncan, I don’t know. He’s still playing well, about as well as he was in 2010. He’s actually been healthier the last three seasons than the three before it. He just finished a series where he had games of 28-11, 22-14, 21-11, and 27-11. This is a guy who turned 39 in the series, and not only played more minutes than normal, but held value across those minutes. Tim Duncan can’t retire, he just can’t when he’s playing this good, evidently still loving basketball, and still has that #6 in his head.

The Spurs have been doing this so long that they’ve actually truthfully entered a Patriots/Barcelona/Yankees like status where despite their amazing success and number of titles and playoff consistency, they’ve racked up a bunch of heartbreaking moments. For the Pats, it is things like losing two close Super Bowls, or blowing three home playoff games in 4 years. For the Yankees, it is blowing the ’01 World Series, or losing up 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS, or the embarrassing playoff losses to Florida (’03) and Detroit (’12). For Barcelona, sure they’ve won La Liga eleventy-times, and won two Champions Leagues, but they’ve also blown Champions League’s ties to Chelsea in 2012, or been embarrassed by Bayern in 2013 (losing 7-0 on aggregate). It’s really that if you get to the show enough times, you will eventually have stage-fright and lose yourself.

For the Spurs, this loss goes right up there with losing the 0.4 second game in 2004, stopping them from taking a 3-2 lead in the series (they would lose Game 6 in LA), or even the loss in 2006, when Ginobili fouled Novitzki on a lay-up up 3 to send Game 7 into OT. Reverse those two things, and there is a chance the Spurs win five straight titles from 03-07. This isn’t blowing Game 6 to the Heat – nothing will top that for the Spurs, but this is another epic game where they lost. Chances are the Spurs weren’t beating the Warriors anyway – that team is on an epic roll right now, but it would have been fun to see them try.

The other immediate takeaway from Game 7 was just how incredibly well played a game that was. The two other classic games had some factors that hurt them, like the hack-a-jordan slowing Game 2 down in the 4th quarter, and the same and a few other officiating concerns impacting Game 5. The final game had none of these. I believe the largest lead of the game came with the Spurs up 19-11. The Clippers scored the next 9 points, and then it was back and forth the entire time. I read a tweet that the record for lead changes in a Game 7 was 11 – and in that game there were 31. I’m not sure if that’s true, the 11 seems awfully low, but the 31 is about right. That was about as good as basketball can be played. A true titanic 7-game series, the best series I’ve seen combining great quality of play and great drama – at least since those same 2013 Finals.

I don’t think the Spurs are done, but I think that their ability to gain from these sorts of losses is one of their defining legacies. Win or lose, the Spurs made the NBA enjoyable in the last 5 years following their Great Awakening heading into the 2010-11 season. They become an offensive juggernaut that year, and ever since it’s been an absolute joy to watch them play. There are reports that if Manu retires they’ll try to finagle some cap room to go after a LaMarcus Aldridge, or even a Marc Gasol (who probably fits better), and that along with Kawhi will keep this team competitive, but there was something so amazing about them never depending on outside free agents to be one of the top-4 options.

I have no idea if that was the last game of the Spurs dynasty, but if it did it went out the way it should, with a team who’s been emboldened and driven to replicate what the Spurs themselves have done, beating them at their own game. It was Chris Paul who hit the amazing shot, and the Spurs who got flustered when the buzzer went off wrongly and then threw a low-percentage lob play. It was the Spurs who couldn’t close game 7, and the Spurs who lost Game 6 at home up 3-2, something they had never done. The Clippers deserved that series, but the Spurs deserved to be so good to lose by 2 in a 7-game series against another great team.

From 1999 to today, 17 NBA seasons will have been played – and in those 17 years, no team has won like the Spurs. But as importantly, no team has lost like the Spurs. No team has been able to change our view of basketball and our view of them in losing like the Spurs have. I’ve gone over the major losses that will stand the test of time (’04, ’06, ’13, ’15), but the Spurs also were on the other side when we finally saw Phoenix and Steve Nash exorcise the demons in 2010, or when we saw the apex of the Durant-Westbrook Thunder, when the Thunder won 4 straight in the 2012 Western Conference Finals. Just remember, the Spurs showed how good they were in those 4-straight losses, as those four games by the Thunder may have been the scariest four games a team has ever played. It looked like they would never lose again.

Somehow, someway, three years later, the Spurs have made two more Finals, and won one, and the Thunder haven’t gotten back. The NBA’s strange like that. Nothing last forever, even the Spurs run. But enjoy it while you can. Enjoy Tim Duncan turning back time – his patented bank shot going from a sign of how boring he is to a sign of how brilliant he is. Enjoy Greg Popovich being an irascible genius. Enjoy it all, because when it is gone, we’ll maybe see another team that stokes to fire of basketball brilliance in the way they win, but we’ll never see a team get so much credit and create so much enjoyment in the way they lose.

NHL 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs 2nd Round Picks

The NHL Playoffs never disappoints. The worst playoffs in recent memory was probably in 2012, when the Western Conference was an absolute disaster of upsets and blowout series (only three of 7 series went more than 5 games) - but that still had the whole suspension madness in the 1st round, and of course a surprise run to the SCF by my Devils.

Even this year, only two series went 7 games, but every single series had something to love:

NYR vs PIT - Watching the Penguins choke again!
WAS vs NYI - Closing out Nassau Coliseum, and a very well played and close game 7
TBL vs DET - Seeing a team grow up before our eyes in Detroit, and another really good game 7
MTL vs OTT - The end of the hamburgler, and a mni-comeback before a really tense game 6

STL vs MIN - OK, this series was pretty much a waste
NSH vs CHI - A good rivalry with two OT games and three great games
ANA vs WIN - It was a sweep, but had that incredibly dramatic, energized Game 3 in Winnipeg
VAN vs CGY - Probably the best played series, with incredible intensity and energy from the crowds

Anyway, let's get to Round 2, which really sets up nicely this year

Eastern Conference

(M1) New York Rangers  vs  (M2) Washington Capitals

This is a different Capitals team. The Capitals have tried to embrace defense before. In 2010-11, with Dale Hunter as coach, they tried to play more two-way hockey. They got the #1 seed in the east, but then bowed out in Round 2 to Tampa Bay in a sweep. This is different, they are embracing defense not by having their top offensive players do it, but by getting in guys who can play that way (Glencross, Niskanen, Orpik). The Capitals have something going on, they just dominated that game 7. The Rangers are a better, deeper team than the Islanders. They can roll lines better than any team in the East. There has to be some concern that all their wins were by 1 goal against a bad, struggling Pittsburgh team, but that really shows that they can hold their composure in close games. These two teams have quite a history, meeting in the playoffs in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013 and now this year. The Rangers won the last two, but the Caps won the first two. All but one of those went seven games - so I think history repeats and this one goes 7 as well. I'll take the Rangers because of home ice, but part of me wants to see both these teams advance. I like seeing HOF-level players win a title at least once, and both these teams have those guys (Lundqvist and Ovie). One will continue his chance, and I think it will be the handsome Swedish goalie.

Rangers in 7

(A1) Montreal Canadiens  vs  (A2) Tampa Bay Lightning

These two teams met last year. That time the Lightning were higher ranked, but were swept. They were missing Ben Bishop - the guy who played awesome in Game 7 against Detroit. Montreal also had a lot more offensive firepower and depth last year. This year the Canadiens are more defense and goaltending - a pure opposite than the high-flying, fast Lightning. The Lightning, though, have a few holes. Steven Stamkos is either not healthy or has the yips. Their team got shut-out twice by Mrazek, and Carey Price is an upgrade. However, I do think the other side is what will win this matchup for TB. Ben Bishop is playing really well, and the Lightning defense and goal-tending, as a whole, is a lot better than people thing/.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.