The Stanley Cup Playoffs are now into the conference finals and after a first round in which all four wild cards won which means all four division champions lost, whatever final four we got was fine with me.
But I do have one, tiny request: Please! No Boston!
I know it’s been eight years since they last won the title and last appeared in 2015, but is anyone else tired of Boston winnings sports titles yet? The Patriots might be to blame for most of my animosity directed at Beantown, but for a city that was title-less for a while entering the 2000s, everyone felt bad for the Red Sox for not winning a World Series since 1918, but after winning in 2004, that wore off. They’ve won three more since, so I’m over feeling bad for them. The Celtics in 2008 won for the first time in 21 years and we saw Kevin Garnett’s “Anything is possible” scream live on television. Then the Bruins, who had not won since 1972, won in 2011 and then downtown Vancouver burned.
Remember how people would say “Those poor kids in Boston. They’ve never seen a championship parade.”
If you were born in 2001, you’ve seen 12 of them now. And for the kids born in 2010, their childhoods will be ruined if they don’t get a third parade in seven months. The Celtics got bounced by the Bucks, so don’t let the kiddies down, Bruins!
I’m a day late writing this before the Conference Finals started (leave it to the NHL to start it on Thursday and leave Friday open), but here are some general thoughts on both matchups.
Pretend Game 1 of this series didn’t happen yet…
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Boston (2nd in Atlantic) vs. Carolina (1st Wild Card)
How Did They Get Here?
Round 1: Beat Toronto in 7 Games
Round 2: Beat Columbus in 6 Games
As much as I don’t want to see Boston move on, they are the best team left in the tournament. Brad Marchand’s a best, but he’s a productive one, leading the team with 15 points as of May 10. David Pastrnak and David Krejci are not too far behind and with Burgeron, Chara and Rask, this team is built to make a run.
In Round 2, the Blue Jackets did not make it easy, but after going down 2-1, Boston won the next three.
Also, why was Mike Milbury in the booth for that series? The Brighton, Massachusetts native, former Bruin player and coach gave his evaluation of a high hit Charlie McAvoy but on Josh Anderson, and only got two minutes. It appears he’s trying to make an excuse for McAvoy going in high at the start of the video and then goes to the “that’s called differently in the playoffs” argument.
Boston is physical and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they can be boderline dirty. That’s what Milbury likes. After all, this is the same guy that as a player, went into the stands and beat a man with his own shoe. Somehow, the goon that whined about Ulf Samuelsson’s play against Cam Neely in the 1991 Wales Conference Final (oh, the irony!) and ruined the Islanders as head coach and general manager, is with NBC’s lead announcer Doc Emrick? If the network wants to mix-and-match its commentators with other announcers, cool. But your A-Team is Emrick, Ed Olczyk and while some will hate this, Pierre McGuire. Stick with it.
How Did They Get Here?
Round 1: Beat Washington in 7 Games
Round 2: Swept the New York Islanders
The “Bunch of Jerks” are contenders, whether Canada’s Mike Milbury, Don Cherry, likes it or not.
What was more shocking about their sweep was that the Islanders, who did away with the Pittsburgh Penguins in a four-game sweep in first round, folded like cheap outdoor furniture on a Roslyn porch after losing Game 1 in overtime.
Was it the fact they were playing in the basketball arena pretending to be a hockey arena that is the Barclays Center and not the Coliseum, although smaller and less obstructed views, is more beloved by fans that don’t live in Williamsburg and follow the team ironically? We may never know.
For Carolina, nobody outside Raleigh knew these guys. If you’re an avid follower of the game, you knew Jordan Staal was on the team. You may have said Cam Ward, but we’ll give you a pass.
The Hurricanes have nothing to lose in these playoffs. They weren’t even expected to make it when the season started. They got down early in Game 2, lost their starting goalie and found a way to win. In Game 4, the Islanders scored first on a power play, but then steamrolled them the rest of the way. The Hurricanes got the offensive production, but part of that was thanks to the defense, which Pittsburgh forgot to play against New York.
Game 1 has already happened (thanks again, NHL), but the Hurricanes’ resilience keeps them in this series, but the Bruins win in 7 games. Might get some help from the pedestrian officiating we’ve seen this spring, but Boston probably goes on to the Final.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
San Jose (2nd in Pacific) vs. St. Louis (3rd in Central)
SAN JOSE SHARKS
How Did They Get Here?
Round 1: Beat Vegas in 7 Games
Round 2: Beat Colorado in 7 Games
Some have been waiting since April to say “same old Sharks”, but they just won’t go down.
In the first round, down 3-1 to Vegas, they overcame the deficit to win Game 7 in overtime after a crazy series of events in the third period. Then, the young, pesky Avalanche wouldn’t go down without a fight. Optimists will tell you that you can lose three games in a series and still win. The Sharks have been using up all their lives so far.
Logan Couture, Tomas Hurtl and no surprise, Brent Burns, are leading the charge. Getting Joe Pavelski back for Game 7 against the Avalanche was big, too. Martin Jones went to the Final with the Sharks in 2016, so they have that veteran goalie. Going all seven games in their first two series, can San Jose withstand another tough series that goes the distance?
ST. LOUIS BLUES
How Did They Get Here?
Round 1: Beat Nashville in 6 Games
Round 2: Beat Dallas in 7 Games
“Gloria! Gloria!” What a weird victory song. But when you’ve had a season like the Blues have had, weird is embraced.
Even with the Blues second-half resurgence, it appears more people were rooting for the Dallas Stars, the second wild card. Hats off to Dallas for their performance in the playoffs and losing Game 7 in double overtime on what some would call a “fluky” goal is a tough way to see your season end.
Most of the teams left share one trait: they’re grinders. It’s one of the reasons why the Blues got through division champion Nashville and overcame the Stars, who had a chance to close the series at home in Game 6 this past Sunday. Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo have led the charge, but how cool was it to see the hometown guy, Pat Maroon, get the double-OT winner? Getting to the NHL is hard enough. To play on the team you grew up watching and score the biggest goal of the season so far in front of its fan is rare. It’s his third goal of these playoffs, but it’s the one he’ll remember if they lift the Cup in June.
EXTRA NOTE: Give Blues organist Jeremy Boyer credit for learning that cheesy victory song. Whatever helps you win. Remember the Anaheim (or is it Los Angeles) rally monkey?
Unlike the East, both the Sharks and Blues have both gone deep in their first two playoff series. The Sharks have already played 14 games, the Blues 13.
St. Louis’ “grind it out” mentality will be needed to move on. The Sharks play another seven-game series, but going out on a limb, they don’t move on.
The Western Conference Final features teams that have never won the Stanley Cup. The Sharks have been to the Final once (2016) while the Blues were the most successful of the 1967 expansion teams, going to the Final in their first three years of existence. Mind you, it was under the old East-West division in which the Original Six were in the East and the new teams were in the West.
Glad to see Patrick Sharp back at the NBC Sports desk. He brings a younger player’s perspective to the pregame, intermission and postgame reports. Kendall Coyne Schofield has been a nice addition to the booth and getting Mike Tirico involved? Yes, please!
I don’t know what goes into scheduling these games, but why would the NHL leave Friday night open? The Bruins and Hurricanes are off until Sunday for Game 2 and I get the Blue have to fly to San Jose, but why not play Game 1 of the East Final Friday instead of Thursday?
I’m not really watching the NBA Playoffs. I think I should because it’s a guarantee that Cleveland won’t be in the NBA Finals and maybe someone finally knocks off Golden State. And if I’m wrong, congrats Golden State on your eventual championship.