Tag Archives: #Stanleycup

THE TALE OF TWO POSTSEASONS

The late, great Jim McKay used to proclaim in the opening of ABC’s Wide World of Sports “the drama of athletic competition.”  This is truly what we are witnessing in both the Stanley Cup and NBA playoffs this year.  Both tournaments are offering the dramatics this year, but that’s where the similarities end.

To be honest, I haven’t watched any of the NBA playoff games this year.  I have been keeping myself informed through my ESPN app and news reports.  That being said, I am fully aware that both the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have yet to lose a single game. Therein lies the drama.  Who will flinch first?  To me, as well as most basketball fans, it’s a far gone conclusion that last year’s finalists are on a crash course to this year’s NBA Finals.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have been much more intriguing.  The only four game sweep came early on, when the Anaheim Ducks dispatched the Calgary Flames in Round 1.  The Pittsburgh Penguins win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and the St. Louis Blues victory over the Minnesota Wild are the only two match-ups to end in five games.  Both five game series were in the first round.  A Stanley Cup record 18 first round games went into sudden death overtime, including four in one night.

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Lebron James, Stephan Curry, and Kevin Durant (pictured in an Oklahoma City Thunder jersey, he is now with the Golden State Warriors) have led the Cavaliers and Warriors to undefeated playoff seasons.

 

Back to the NBA story.  I mentioned earlier in this article that I have yet to watch a single NBA playoff game this year.  In contrast, I watched nearly the entire NCAA Tournament back in March, so it’s not that I’m not interested in basketball.  The NBA has become so predictable that it has, in my opinion, become unwatchable.  No game this year made that more evident than the Cleveland’s 130-86 drubbing of the Boston Celtics on Friday night in Boston.  This game was over in the first quarter!  Given the fact that Boston’s top star Isaiah Thomas is sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs takes all the drama out of this series.

The Western Conference match-up between Golden State and the San Antonio Spurs looked at least palatable on paper .  Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has a history of having his team ready for big games.  However, given the injury bug that has hit San Antonio (Kawhi Leonard is out with an ankle injury), it appears that the Warriors might close things out on Monday night.

The NBA has been dramatic, yet unwatchable.  Hopefully we will see a series for the ages in the far gone concluded NBA Finals between the Cavs and Warriors.

The NHL has a much different situation going on.  Yes, the games have been dramatic, yes the series’ have gone deep, but there is one more dimension to add to the Stanley Cup drama of 2017.  Unlike the NBA’s two marquee franchises being on a crash course to a championship clash, two of the NHL’s smallest markets are in a Stanley Cup frenzy.

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The Nashville Predators have been the surprise of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

While the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals (and superstar Alexander Ovechkin), and marquee franchises from Montreal, Chicago, and the New York Rangers watch from the sidelines, the Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators are making headlines.

With last night’s come from behind victory in Anaheim, the Predators find themselves within one win of the Stanley Cup Finals.  That can happen in the Music City on Monday night.

The one marquee franchise remaining in the Stanley Cup picture is the Pittsburgh Penguins.  They host the Senators this afternoon in Steeltown, the Eastern Conference Finals is tied at 2-2.

So much drama, so much intrigue.  It’s been a spring for the ages for two very different reasons.  Stay tuned!

 

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WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO PROFESSIONAL SPORTS?

On Friday night, during Game 5 of the opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals there was a scary moment.  Late in the first period a hard submarine check by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri left Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin motionless on the ice for a brief moment.  Ovechkin would be helped off the ice and would return to the game at the start of the second period.

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Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin being helped off the ice following a hit by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri.

 

Kadri was given a two-minute minor penalty for what was deemed “tripping” as a result of the play.  As the call was made, I thought to myself, what was illegal about it? Ovechkin had recent possession  of the puck, and Kadri hit him low and hard.  It was textbook, hard nosed hockey in my old school mind.  It was unfortunate, and scary, that one of hockey’s brightest stars laid motionless on the Verizon Center ice as a result, but it is part of a very physical sport.  The panel of experts on NBCSN tended to agree with me during their intermission show following the first period.  Everyone in the hockey world was relieved and happy to see Ovechkin return to the ice and continue to play.  He’s fine and ready to go in tonight’s Game 6.

This incident made me think of where sports has gone in general.  I grew up in an era where hockey and football were hard-hitting, bone jarring sports.  I grew up in an era where starting pitchers in baseball finished what they started, the bullpen only got involved if the starter was having trouble, or was lifted for a pinch-hitter.  The one on one play at home plate between runner and catcher was also part of the game.  I also come from an era where professional basketball players weren’t rested because of the “grueling” 82 game schedule.

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The new baseball in between innings clock.

 

Baseball was always the game that surpassed time.  When did a day at the ballpark where you can have a hot dog, sip on a beverage, and pass the time with your friends and family turn into a race against time?  Last year MLB in its infinite wisdom, rolled out the “in between innings timer.”  I cringe every time I see this ridiculous clock pop out of the scoreboard.

To continue to speed up the pace of a ballgame they added a new rule this year, the automatic walk!  Automatic walk??? For over a hundred years, four balls equaled a walk, intentional or not.  Anything from a wild pitch or the batter actually making contact with the purposely thrown ball can still happen.  Many of us who were around in the early 1970’s can even remember the Oakland A’s faking an intentional walk during the 1972 World Series.  The fakeout resulted in a strikeout of Reds star Johnny Bench.

If you want to speed things up in baseball, tone down the pitching changes!  Starting pitchers are on such strict pitch counts these days that they are being pulled regardless of how they are performing.  Meanwhile Tommy John surgeries have skyrocketed.  For generations baseball was played without counting pitches.  For generations from Walter Johnson to Nolan Ryan starting pitchers were on the mound until either they were in trouble or were removed because the team was behind and pinch hit for him in order to generate some offense.

Most of us hard-core football fans have seen the sport decline too.  Over the years the quarterback has been a little over protected.  Last I checked, wasn’t it the offensive line’s job to protect the quarterback?  The modification of the intentional grounding rule has also softened things in this writer’s opinion.  Why does it matter if a quarterback is in the pocket or not if he throws the ball to nobody to avoid a sack?

Finally let’s look at basketball.  Multiple times this year the Cleveland Cavaliers rested Lebron James and fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.  Excuse my ignorance, but when did an 82 game NBA season become so grueling that players needed to be rested?  In baseball I can understand resting players, whether or not they are stars.  You are playing day in and day out, sometimes twice a day.  Your team plays at 1:00 after ending a game at 11:00 the night before.  In basketball you play an occasional back to back in successive nights.  I have never seen this before.  I seriously don’t get it.

Maybe I’m too old school.

 

IN THE AIR THERE’S A FEELING OF PLAYOFFS

Ahh! The fresh air of spring!  The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, baseball has gone into day in and day out mode!  This can only mean one (or actually two) things…..Arena sports playoff season is almost upon us!  With the regular season in both the NHL and NBA coming to a close this week there is so much to be settled.

The National Hockey League will close its regular season today.  The National Basketball Association closes for regular business on Wednesday.  The Stanley Cup Playoff schedule will be announced late tonight, same for the NBA when all is done on Wednesday.

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Toronto Maple Leafs clinch the final playoff spot in the NHL Eastern Conference last night.

 

Last night, as my wife Robin and I cheered on our Florida Panthers in their home finale, there was so much scoreboard (or should I say smart-phone watching) going on.  Coming in to last night there was one final spot to be decided in the Eastern Conference.  The Toronto Maple Leafs needed a win to secure the final spot, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning were right behind them.  Oh and by the way there was a basketball game going on down the road in Miami with playoff implications that we were keeping an eye on.  More on that later.

As we were leaving the BB&T Center I got a text from a friend of mine saying simply “Leafs in.”  When we left the building following the Panthers 3-0 victory over Buffalo the game between the Leafs and Penguins was in a 2-2 tie.  The Islanders had already beaten the New Jersey Devils and the Lightning were off.

Although the field is set in the NHL’s Western Conference the first round pairings are still up in the air.  The top seed already belongs to the Chicago Blackhawks.   The Hawks will be taking on the number 2 Wild Card winning Nashville Predators in the first round. Nashville finished their season last night with a 2-1 loss in Winnipeg, while the Calgary Flames (#1 Wild Card) lost their season finale in San Jose by the score of 4-1.  Calgary and Nashville finish the season tied at 94 points, Calgary won the Wild Card battle by a tiebreaker.

The last piece of business in the NHL is the top spot in the Pacific Division.  Coming into play today, the Anaheim Ducks have a two point lead over the second place Edmonton Oilers.  Edmonton holds the tiebreaker between the teams.  Both teams finish at home tonight.  Anaheim will host its Southern California rivals, the Los Angeles Kings in their season, and home finale.  The Oilers will finish against the Vancouver Canucks (also on home ice).  The Kings will be gunning for the Ducks and would love to play spoilers in a very heated crosstown rivalry.

Not to be outdone by the NHL, there is so much going on in the NBA as their season heads for a close.

The defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers currently hold a half game lead over the Boston Celtics for top seed in the Eastern Conference.  The Cavs have three games remaining, the Celtics have two left.  The last two playoff spots in the East are still up for grabs.  As of this morning the Indiana Pacers have a one game lead over the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat.  Chicago and Miami have identical records, the Bulls hold the tiebreaker.

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The Celtics are giving Lebron and Company a run for their money.

 

The last playoff spot in the Western Conference is still up for grabs.  The Portland Trail Blazers are currently in the driver’s seat, with a game and a half lead over the Denver Nuggets.  Portland has two games left, Denver has three remaining.

This week should be interesting in both sports.  The Stanley Cup playoffs will open, the NBA regular season comes to a close, and then the real fun starts!

THE ONCE MIGHTY WHO HAVE FALLEN

As this year’s National Football League playoff picture came into view, I couldn’t help but notice that a few old friends, if you will, were in the lineup.  I’m talking about teams that were once dominant and routinely in the post-season that disappeared from the radar for a long time.

As a football fan it felt so good to see the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, and even the Dallas Cowboys back in the playoffs.  Along with the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, and Washington Redskins these  franchises were the constants in my childhood and teen years of the 1970’s.  The Steelers have been visible over the years, so the fact that they’re in the post-season is almost business as usual.

This got me to thinking.  Looking at the four major sports, what once dominant franchises of my youth have fallen into the abyss of irrelevancy?

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The first one that comes to mind is the one that is closest to my heart.  Growing up on the southeastern reaches of Queens (on the Nassau County border) I was a fan of the New York Islanders from franchise’s inception up until recently.  The early stages of Islanders history was also the building blocks of a historic dynasty.  The Isles would make fourteen straight playoff appearances (from 1975-1988), win four straight Stanley Cups including 5 straight trips to the Finals from 1980-1984.  Their streak of 19 consecutive playoff series wins still remains a record in any sport.

After losing to the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 1988 playoffs the downward spiral began.  With the exception of a surprise trip to the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals (after they knocked off the reigning champion Penguins) this franchise has become one of the least relevant teams in all of sports.  They have made somewhat of a comeback recently, making the post-season three of the past four years.  They won their first Stanley Cup series since 1993 last year by defeating my Florida Panthers in the first round.  They would lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the next round.   They currently are in last place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division and fired their longtime coach, Jack Capuano this week.

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In the late 1960’s and into the mid 1970’s baseball’s best included  the Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.  The Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves were also pretty relevant during that era as well.

Much has been documented about the Pirates’ twenty consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012, however the Buccos have righted the ship since then.  They’ve been in the post-season three of the past four years.  The Athletics and Orioles have also managed to stay in the forefront over the years.

The  Cincinnati Reds were one of the most dominant teams in Major League Baseball in the first half of the seventies.  The “Big Red Machine”  included the likes of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez and Pete Rose.  The Reds won four National League pennants in the span of seven years.  Cincinnati won the NL Western Division title in five of those seven years.  The Reds won two consecutive World Series’ in 1975 (over the Red Sox) and 1976 (over the Yankees).  The Reds  would once again be World Champions in 1990 by sweeping the heavily favored Oakland Athletics in four straight games.

Since 1990 the Reds have been a floundering franchise that has had more losing seasons than winning ones.  They have been in the post-season three times since 2010 but haven’t made it out of the Division Series.  Currently this franchise is once again in rebuilding mode with hopes of another winning season years away.  Who knows when the Big Red Machine will be operating again.

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Prior to the 1976-77 season, the National Basketball Association and American Basketball Association merged.  The surviving NBA absorbed four ABA franchises (Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, and New York Nets).  While the Spurs have by far enjoyed the most NBA success, the other three franchises have never won an NBA title.  That being said, the Pacers have enjoyed moderate success in the NBA over the years.

The Nuggets were never really a dominant force in the old ABA and haven’t been a complete success story in the NBA either.  Denver however did play in the final ABA Championship Series (losing to the Nets in six games) and have had some winning seasons in the NBA.

The Nets made the ABA playoffs seven of the eight years the league was in existence.  They lost the 1972 Championship Series to the Pacers in six games.   New York won two of the three final American Basketball Association championships.

The NBA has not been kind to this franchise.  After spending only one year on Long Island, where they found so much success, owner Roy Bowe, citing poor attendance at the Nassau Coliseum, moved the team to New Jersey.  The state of New Jersey welcomed them with a brand new building built adjacent to Giants Stadium.  They had a very so-so existence in the years that followed.

They have spent most of their NBA existence in the shadow of the New York Knicks.  The Knicks have been one of the most popular franchises in the New York metropolitan area virtually since the beginning of the NBA. There really hasn’t been room for a second franchise.

The Nets won two consecutive Eastern Conference championships in 2002 and 2003.  They lost both NBA Finals (to the Spurs and Lakers).

After 35 years in New Jersey, the Nets moved back to New York in 2012, this time to Brooklyn .  With a new identity and a sparkling new arena the Nets franchise was poised to take on the Knicks and be relevent again.  That never really materialized, as of this writing the Nets hold the NBA’s worst record at 9-34.

In welcoming back the Raiders and Dolphins to the NFL playoff stage, I can’t help but think of any football team that compares to the plight of the  Islanders, Reds, and Nets.  The Minnesota Vikings were dominant in the 1970’s, making four Super Bowl appearances between 1969 and 1976, they lost all four.  However the Vikings haven’t disappeared from the post-season stage since then.  The Browns, Lions, Eagles, and Cardinals haven’t seen a championship in years, (the Cardinals now own the longest drought in American sports) but none of these franchises have really ever been dominant.

Currently the most dominant franchise in the four major sports has to be the New England Patriots.  When Tom Brady and Bill Belichick part ways with the Patriots will the franchise go the way of the Islanders?  Will this dominant franchise also fall off the table for years to come?  Only time will tell, sports really does run in cycles, nobody stays on top forever.