Welcome to the Bizarro Cup Playoffs

Four division winners have been sent packing for the summer, all four wild card teams are moving on and all-together, five lower seeds are moving on in the Stanly Cup Playoffs.

I’ll lay it out in a different way to display how odd the playoffs are now:

Lightning: Best Team in Hockey: Swept

Capitals: The Defending Stanley Cup Champion: Out in 7

Penguins: Winner of two of the last three Stanley Cups: Swept

Flames: Top Seed in the West: Out in 5

Predators: Central Divison Champ, Cup Finalist in 2017: Out in 6

Golden Knights: 2018 Cup Finalist: Take dumb 5-minute penalty, blow 3-goal lead in game 7, tie to force OT. Lose in OT.

The biggest story of the first round: It is the year of the Wild Card..

Last week, I talked about how weird the Eastern Conference was getting with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh being bounced in four-game sweeps by Columbus and the New York Islanders. I was hoping to see both Carolina and Toronto move on. In the end, I got one of the two (the storm surge continues!).

Not only did the East end up on its head, the West is odd right now.

The Calgary Flames, the best team in the West, was out in five games at the hands of the young Colorado Avalanche. It’s not as awful as the Lightning getting swept by the Blue Jackets, but Game 5 was hard to watch as a Calgary fan. Mike Smith looked helpless in net.

I was expecting the Jets and Blues to present a good series and it could’ve went to either. Through the first five games, neither team could win on home ice. The Blues changed that by getting a hat trick from Jaden Schwartz and held off Winnipeg to win 3-2 and move on.

When it came to the Stars, I did not think much of this group. The Predators won a competitive Central Division and then fell in six games. Nashville is hosting the NFL Draft starting tonight and through the weekend, but they would have preferred a hockey game or two at Bridgestone on top of it.

Just when you were about to say “same old Sharks”, they overcame a 3-1 series deficit and forced Game 7 back in San Jose.

Appearing dead in the water down 3-0 halfway through the third in Game 7, Vegas takes a stupid 5-minute major, resulting in four goals. Amazing! Most teams get a goal in that situation, but four? Then the Golden Knights manage to tie to up in the final minute, forcing overtime. For all success Vegas had in its inaugural season last year, they deserved to lose this game in overtime and San Jose earned the right to move on. I’ll miss the pregame dinner theater at T-Mobile Arena.

Back to the East.

For the first time in my life, I wanted to see Toronto move on. Boston just wins too much as a sports town and needed to be humbled.

The Maple Leafs had a chance to clinch on home ice in Game 6, but thanks to Drake (I guess), they lost and then the Bruins routed them in Boston 5-1 to move on (again). I still can’t believe the Leafs haven’t been in the second round of the playoffs since 2004, the year before the season-long lockout.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: The Capitals blew a 2-0 series lead and lost in Game 7. Thanks to Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, Washington won’t get as much heat for losing in seven games to a young, energetic Hurricanes team (you know, the jerks who have fun?). Both teams took advantage of home ice going into Game 7. The Capitals had a one-goal lead going into the third period, and then old Penguins and current Hurricane Jordan Staal tied it and then Brock McGinn scored in double overtime. So the storybook year continues for Carolina.

Since I did SO well with my picks last round (slams head onto table), here’s what I think might (but probably won’t) happen in Round 2.

EAST

Bruins vs. Blue Jackets: Bruins in 7

Islanders vs. Hurricanes: Islanders in 6

WEST

Blues vs. Stars: Blues in 6

Sharks vs. Avalanche: Sharks in 6

If you need a reason to laugh about the insane first round, check out “We Live Hockey‘s” Elimination Cafe video.

Stanley Cup: The East Just Got Weird (and Could Get Weirder)

I said Lightning in 5.

I said Penguins in 7.

Both got swept.

So that’s what half the Eastern Conference playoff bracket looks like right now.

As a Penguins fan, the whole series was like getting hit in the back of the head by a 2×4. I wasn’t expecting a 4-game sweep by the Islanders. In the end, they played better and wanted it more. The Penguins couldn’t get anything going the last three games of the series offensively and Kris Letang led the Penguins in playing mediocre defense. That’s right. The only defenseman on the team that has been a part of this group that has won three Stanley Cups had the worst performance.

But the bigger story is the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team that grabbed the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, swept the Tampa Bay Lightning, who posted the best regular season record with 62 wins, tying them with the 1995-96 Red Wings with most in NHL history.

The Blue Jackets got crush in the first 20 minutes of Game 1, going down 3-0 and left me tweeting this…

Then the Blue Jackets came back and won 4-3. Then won Game 2. Then Game 3, and then Game 4, as the Lightning imploded right in front of the hockey world.

The tweet was so bad, I trolled myself…

That 1995-96 Red Wings team didn’t win the Stanley Cup, but at least got to the Western Conference Finals. The Lightning look dumb-founded, including Jon Cooper, who only showed emotion in Tuesday’s elimination game when a Columbus goal was waved off due to offsides.

The Blue Jackets played like the team many expected after the trade deadline. I guess if you’re Matt Duchene, you save your best for the playoffs

For years I have said it: The Presidents’ Trophy is a stupid award and distracts the team that wins in from the real price.

We know Round 2 in the East will be Islanders vs. Capitals/Hurricanes and Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs/Bruins. With Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh both out, and if Carolina can find a way to beat the Capitals and the Leafs beat Boston, the East is more interesting.

The Islanders haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1983, the Hurricanes since 2006 and obviously, the Maple Leafs since 1967.

For the Blue Jackets, it’s the first time they’ve made it out of the first round. This is new territory for them. People in central Ohio woke up Wednesday morning and had to make sure this past week wasn’t a dream.

So, if you want chaos, cheer for Carolina and Toronto.

Things I Know Very Little (But Pretend to Know) About: Taxes

Tax Day came and went this week, and once again, I put my trust into someone else to do them.

Sure, I shelled out almost $200 to get them done, but math was not my specialty and I’d rather be right than be penalized.

The way we pay taxes in this country is weird.

The government already knows what you owe, but they leave it up to you to figure it out. If you’re well off that number, congratulations, you might to prison. What kind of sick, troll job is that?

Also, all the write-offs went away (Thanks, Trump). I just moved and none of those can be written off. I wasn’t the only one angry about this. Doing taxes was worse this year than last.

I learned how to read a W-2 and fill out a 1040 in a class I took as a senior in high school. Some details stuck. Others did not. Taxation 101 needs to be a freshman course in college.

I had two W-2 forms from different states, which makes it even more fun. I owed Oklahoma $26, which I consider a tax for leaving. I owed Cincinnati. My rent could be a higher, so I guess giving them $32 wasn’t breaking the bank.

We really need to rethink how taxes are done in this country. It’s crazy we’re thrown back into math class and have to come up with the same number the teacher, in this case, the IRS, has. And bring back the damn write-offs!

At least I didn’t do what Homer did.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Best Playoff

It’s spring. Flowers are blooming, the temperature is rising and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are about to begin.

First off, step off with your “hockey is a niche sport” and “nobody likes hockey”. Go watch Steph Curry and the Warriors win another NBA title. The Patriots have a monopoly on the Super Bowl and we’ll see whether the Yankees or Red Sox didn’t blow a lot of money for nothing when the MLB Postseason rolls around.

If you’re like me and have a horse in the race (mine is in it for the 13th-straight season), it adds to the excitement. If you’re a casual fan, this is the time to hop on the wagon.

The NHL regular season begins in early October and end after the first week of April. If you make the playoffs, you need to win 16 games over two months to be crowned champion.

The intensity level and speed go up ten notches during the playoffs. 16 teams all want the same trophy. Guys have played with fractured and broken bones and illness to get their names on the Stanley Cup.

Another great part of playoff hockey is sudden-death overtime.

Oh my God, it’s the best! And when the games go into double, triple and quadruple overtime, you are watching a test of strength and will play out on ice. Also, those playoff tickets are expensive, which means you get two games for the price of one if it goes three overtimes.

My team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, have won it five times in my life and I was old enough to remember three of them. The 2009 title was my first and will always be my favorite. 2016 and 2017 we’re amazing, too. I was on the city’s south side in ’16 and watched it from my apartment in Oklahoma in ’17.

Whether your team has won it before or has never reached the top, everyone this Wednesday has the same chance to win the Stanley Cup.

PREDICTIONS

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets: Lightning in 5

The Lightning won 62 games this season, tying the 1995-96 Red Wings for most wins in a season, so they’ll be the biggest Cup favorite. The Blue Jackets, who were big buyers at the trade deadline, had to be relieved to get in, but are stuck with a tough matchup.

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs: Boston in 7

Aw, the series that makes hockey fans scream about the current playoff format. The old format makes much more sense, if the league didn’t reduce the number of divisions from three to two. Any way, this will be one of the best first round matchups. Boston is still a contender and Auston Matthews, Jonathan Tavares and the Leafs want to take that next step forward.

Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes: Washington in 6

In the last few weeks of the year, the Caps crept up on the Islanders and took the division. The Hurricanes are the dark horse in this tournament. The young squad won’t have “Storm Surge” celebrations after wins at home during the playoffs, but many will be pulling for the “Bunch of Jerks”. Unfortunately, Washington is more experienced and erased its reputation as “chokers” with last year’s Cup win.

New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: Penguins in 7

-I will write this with as little bias as possible.

The Islanders looked like a lost team when Jonathan Tavares signed with Toronto over the summer. But the hiring of Barry Trotz (after the Capitals wouldn’t give him more money) helped turn the team around. This team doesn’t have a superstar. Everyone just appears to pull their weight. They’ll play this round at the old Coliseum, which will be a big advantage, but will move back to Brooklyn if they advance. For the Penguins, it’s business as usual. If Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, Letang and Murray play the way they’re expected to, this team could again be in the mix.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche: Flames in 6

The Flames surprised many as the best in the conference after failing to make the playoffs last season. The Avalanche are back in for the second-straight year, despite a weaker record compared to wild card chase in the east.

Vegas Golden Knights vs. San Jose Sharks: Golden Knights in 7

-Vegas fans have never known life without playoff hockey. The Sharks, who could be described as the new Capitals, will look for payback after being eliminated by the Golden Knights on their way to the Final in their inaugural season.

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars: Predators in 5

-Like the Avalanche, the Stars might be just an above-average team that got the first wild card. The Predators, who fell to wins shy of their first Stanley Cup two years ago, will look to get the taste of a second-round exit out of their mouth this year.

Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues: Jets in 7

The Blues resurgence in the second half of the season was stupendous. They went from out of the playoff picture to nearly winning the Central. The Jets finally won a playoff game for the first time last year and turned that into two series wins before losing to Vegas in the conference finals. Winnipeg, the Green Bay of the NHL, is a team to watch out for.




30 Thoughts Before 30: #25: “I Like Naps Now”

I used to hate taking naps as a little kid. I didn’t like the idea of sleeping for an hour in the afternoon. It was one of the few contested moments of childhood between my mom and I. As I got older, I realized the nap was to give her a break from me and my sisters. Seems fair in hindsight.

Now I’m 29 and when they happen, they’re the best!

The adult nap comes in many different varieties.

One is the “falling asleep while watching TV in the afternoon” nap. Another one I’ve taken several times in my 20s is the one you take after a long night out. The third lately has been the “worked early or late” nap. I’ve been up at 330 a.m. for work and have come home from work at 6 a.m.

That first one is the best just because there’s no reason behind it. You just sat on the couch and dozed off.

Waking up from a nap happens in different ways.

You can wake up feeling instantly refreshed, or you’re groggy, questioning the time of day and having the initial feeling of a hangover. That “splash cold water on your face” thing helps.

But there are still times when I know I should take one and just can’t. If I try to schedule it, it’s hard for me to fall asleep. Maybe that goes back to being ordered to take a nap as a kid.

As someone who works in news radio and the normal “9 to 5” is foreign, the nap comes in handy. I had one of those “unintended” ones recently, and it felt really good. Especially since I had the overnight shift later on.

I look forward to the day when I tell my 4 year-old to take a nap and he or she protest it. Thus, the cycle continues.

What Song Can You Listen to On Repeat All Day?

Sometimes a song just gets stuck in your head and you’re humming it all day long to yourself.

After seeing Bohemian Rhapsody in November, I couldn’t get that song out of my head and played it on repeat. Then “Radio Ga Ga” and then “Don’t Stop Me Now”. I’m pretty sure Brian May and others achieved their goal with the film.

When I was a kid, my dad had Simon and Garfunkel’s concert in Central Park on CD and with weekends traveling to different hockey rinks in western Pennsylvania, their work became an ear worm that still exists in my brain to this day.

One song I enjoy is “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”. It’s the kind of song you enjoy on a Sunday afternoon walking down the street, sitting on the couch at home, or in your car. Since The Royal Tenenbaums, all I can think about is the montage of Gene Hackman’s day out with Ben Stiller’s twin sons, which is accompanied by the song.

Paul Simon has written some of the best lyrical songs in the history of American folk, pop and rock music. This might be his best.

What song can you not get out of your head?

30 Thoughts Before 30: #26: “Avocados Are Good”

They got me!

The avocados got me!

I never thought I’d say it, but I like avocados.

In the past, I’ve got them on sandwiches and other entrees at restaurants and I like guacamole , but it’s been more recently that I’ve walked into a grocery store, walked into the produce section, bagged a few and paid for them.

And you know what? They’re delicious and since they’re healthy (unless they go the way of eggs), that makes them even better.

I’ve learned a few things about avocados.

One, they’re like any other fruit. If you don’t eat them in a certain time, they’ll go bad. You can buy them on a Monday and they might be brown on the inside by Friday. Still not as bad as bananas, but you only get them fresh for a short time.

Two, why do they cost more at a Fresh Market or Whole Foods than Kroger? I can get 4 large ones for $5 at Kroger, but Fresh Market wants 2 for $4? This isn’t anything new, I know, but as a guy with a members card at Kroger, I can get them for $1.25 a piece and get money back for gas. I don’t make Whole Foods money, so maybe I got a preference. When do make that kind of money, you’ll be the last to know.

Third, I know this makes me look like a stereotypical millennial for liking avocados. I don’t care. I’ve learned it’s easier just to go with than try to resist. But I will say this, I’ve never had avocado toast and I have no plan to eat that in the future.



Being a Pessimistic Pirates Fan in a Pessimistic Sports Town

Being from Pittsburgh, I really have no excuse to complain about my sports teams.

The Penguins have won three Stanley Cup since 2009 and five in my lifetime. I’ve seen the Steelers win two Super Bowl and go to four. But if I have one gripe with pro sports in the Steel City, it would be the Pirates.

They’ve gone without a World Series appearance and title since 1979, made the National League wild card game three-straight years from 2013 to 2015 and then just fell off as the rest of their division got better.

You’ve heard the normal complaints from Pirates fans: 21-straight losing seasons, an owner that worries more about profits than product on the field and no sign the team will ever win in my lifetime.

That frustration seems minimal when you find yourself living in Cincinnati.

Here’s a rundown:

-The Bengals have been to the Super Bowl twice (and have never won it) and have not won a playoff game since 1990.

-Owner Mike Brown is hated, especially over the stadium deal.

-The Reds last won a World Series in 1990.

-FC Cincinnati just became a Major League Soccer club and while popular and doing well four games in, a faction of the city is already pessimistic about them ever winning the MLS Cup.

-This past week in the NCAA Tournament, the Cincinnati men’s basketball team got out to an early lead on Iowa, but wound up losing. #MarchSadness

So maybe my problems aren’t as bad. Some might say I’m spoiled.

Getting to know co-workers and other Cincinnati natives over the last five months, it’s easy to understand the frustration. Sometimes I get the sense Cincinnati sports fans just wait for impending doom.

But there is one thing they’re constantly optimistic about: Red baseball and Opening Day.

It’s pretty much a holiday for this baseball town. 99 percent of kids absent March 28 in the tri-state will be out due to it.

Thursday marks the 100th Opening Day parade where Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is the grand marshal and it’s the 150th season of the Reds being the first professional baseball club.

There is a reason for optimism in Cincinnati when it comes to baseball season.

Unlike my Pirates, the Reds actually went out and tried to improve a team that finished dead-last in the National League Central in 2018.

On Opening Day in Cincinnati, the Pirates will be the opponent and I plan on rooting them on, even though I’m certain they’ll finish last in what has become a more competitive division.

I’m looking forward to seeing the fanfare around the start of baseball season in the Queen City.

But here’s hoping the Penguins get at least third in their division and make a respectful playoff run this spring before I have to watch Melky Cabrera and Francisco Liriano play past their prime this summer.

30 Thoughts Before 30: #27: “I Might Try Poetry”

I started this blog to explore the different facets of my writing abilities: Some are good and others can use some work.

One genre I have heard that is creative and therapeutic for some is poetry.

Life is pretty complex, especially for someone like me who is at an age where there are endings and new beginnings.

So, I took a crack at writing a poem. It’s not perfect.

“A Certain Age”

What is a man when he reaches an age?

Another year in the passage of time;

The turning of yet, another full page?


A complex chapter of uncertain change.

Premise, climax, the ending in limbo;

The uncertainty leaves one in a cage.


The gains and losses, with both joy and pain,

can remind us of the sobering truth,

events of ones life can be out of range.


The constant foil: life, death and the rage,

leaves we, the authors, constantly changing,

the theme, the characters, and their refrain.


Our next chapter could bring more of the same,

or the unexpected twist that comes forth,

to leave him the man on the cliff that hangs.


So what makes a man of this certain age?

Could it be he who controls the story,

that is left in time, with the same blank page?



Bracket Update: First Round

If I were to summarize my bracket in the first round.

Day 1: Good

Day 2: (rubs front of forehead in frustration)

FIRST ROUND: DAY 1 (12-4)

WHAT I GOT RIGHT: DAY 1

The Obvious: Michigan State, LSU, Gonzaga, Florida State, Villanova, Purdue, Auburn, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan.

The Upsets: Murray State, Florida (Maybe an upset)

WHAT I GOT WRONG: DAY 1

Syracuse (lost to Baylor), Louisville (Lost to Minnesota), Seton Hall (lost to Wofford).

The Upset That Almost Happened: Belmont

DAY 1 THOUGHTS

I was really confident in my Murray State pick and I’m glad it paid off. Belmont lost the lead to Maryland and then were sloppy with the shot clock off and a chance to win.

I didn’t think much of Syracuse this year, but they always find a way to get into the second round. Too bad I believed they could this year.

Louisville and Seton Hall…well, maybe it’s because Pitt and Notre Dame used to be in the Big East that I scribbled their names into round two. When going with your guts goes wrong.

FIRST ROUND: DAY 2 (10-6)

WHAT I GOT RIGHT

Obvious: Virginia (scary for a little), Tennessee, Texas Tech, North Carolina, Buffalo, Oklahoma. UCF, Virginia Tech, Houston, Duke.

WHAT I GOT WRONG

Ugh: Wisconsin (lost to Oregon), Kansas State (Lost to UC-Irvine), Cincinnati (lost to Iowa), Mississippi State (Lost to Liberty), Utah State (Lost to Washington), Iowa State (Lost to Ohio State)

EARLY DAY 2 THOUGHTS

I for one welcome our 12-seed overlords.