Surprising isn't the right word. After all, anyone sadistic enough to heartlessly kill their own precious time in cold blood using the unforgiving stretch run of a lost season as the murder weapon (::shamefully raises hand from the back of Assholes Anonymous::) could tell you that Nico Hischier began oozing the confidence he was forced to build up without the help of Taylor Hall for most of the season. Prime example #1 (of many)...
Instead, we'll go with reassuring, as watching him continue to develop into a dominant presence and a versatile playmaker for a country relying heavily on his production is proof that the increasingly common glimpses of brilliance we saw in New Jersey weren't just hopeful relative to the general hopelessness they occurred amongst.
Whether it be the type of saucy passing that makes you go back for seconds, a stronger desire to shoot combined with a more persistent penchant for scoring, or just his patience and creativity with the puck that is resulting in routine highlights, they are coming more and more frequently for a kid (yes, despite being half dead in comparison to Jack Hughes, he's very much still a kid) whose potential is that of a top-flight two-way center. I would have gladly let the inevitable offensive development of Nico Hischier serve as a surprise to the rest of the league but it sure seems like the Swiss' breakout star is already over being under the radar, as he hasn't been at all shy in doing something, or more accurately, everything about it.
Justin Williams Owes Us All Amends for the Unforgivable Crime of Making Brad Marchand Seem Like He Might Actually Have a Point
First and foremost, let me state that, albeit very mildly, the NHL was complicit in that unrelenting display of undisciplined idiocy. With their continued failure to do so much as stick it in the box for two minutes, the league and its officials basically left it up to those whose legs it kept gnawing at to exterminate the irredeemable rat on the Bruins' roster. Of course, encouraging vigilante justice counterproductively plays right into said rat's trap, because...get this...the same type of shit that Brad Marchand somehow continues to scurry away from scot-free is actually illegal and enforced as such when done to him or his teammates in retaliation.
I promise you that the last thing I am trying to do is justify Justin Williams' mentally unstable transition from consummate captain to unhinged asshole, as repeatedly targeting Torey Krug of all people wasn't even aesthetically satisfying in its abject stupidity. However, the truth of the matter is that what we saw was an indisputable reminder that it's impossible for the players to police themselves in the playoffs without potentially pissing away games when they are of their upmost importance.
Now, that being said, far and away the most guilty party here is the veteran presence who served as the worst possible example to a young team when they needed his leadership the most. As much as I want to point the finger at the referees and scoldingly state "look what you've done" for giving a mile's worth inches to an unsubtle antagonist, Justin Williams deserves to pay the entirety of the security deposit after letting Boston bully their way into his head and under his skin to make an absolute mess of an otherwise experienced hockey mind. There is absolute no excuse for doing what was previously thought impossible by making Brad Marchand look somewhat smart in actively and repeatedly becoming the perfect manifestation of his mockery...
From swallowing a "poop sandwich" during Game 2 (his words) to being left with egg over his damn face during Game 3, Justin Williams has...::chokes back vomit taste::...proved positive the impact of a pest with his inability to feed into anything other than Brad Marchand's bullshit. As much as it pains me to say it, the latter should feel self-satisfied, because he got a high character player to act entirely out of character in focusing on everything other than hockey while his season was slowly being salted away.
I'll wait until his impending offseason for an apology, but - regardless of his team controlling the damage of his repetitive recklessness - Justin Williams owes the entire sport an extensive one after providing the NHL's resident rodent the exact type of power he so shamelessly, dangerously, and incessantly seeks.
Prospective. Not the type you might be liable to gain upon being released from the juvenile detention of a full face shield, but rather the type that you'd be liable to gain from the idea that Jack Hughes was literally too young to use the same equipment as every other one of his teammates at the World Championships as of yesterday. With Kaapo Kakko making a quality case to be selected first overall throughout a tournament during which his main competition for that spot has looked physically overwhelmed at times, that type of perspective is exactly what is needed to keep grounded arguments that have become more imprisoned by the moment than Jack Hughes' face was imprisoned by perpendicular bars.
In judging these prospects, we're talking about actual kids here. Kids whose bodies develop at their own personal rate, with that rate often getting ratcheted up well after they are drafted as teenagers. Point being, while his speed, skill, and skating might, Jack Hughes won't look anything like he does now as little as two years down the line. That doesn't mean it's going to take him anywhere near that long to contribute at the NHL level, nor does it mean that he'll ever be as imposing a presence as the prospect he'll forever be measured against by a bunch of outspoken assholes on either side of a remorseless rivalry. It does, however, mean that what you've only seen glimpses of in three games that were played prior to him having the ability to vote and after him having played a full international tournament elsewhere is hardly what you'll be getting a couple birthdays down the line.
What Jack Hughes can't be taught, but it sure as shit can be trained, so let's just light some candles, have some cake, and let the professional prognosticators do their job of analyzing hundreds of hours of game tape over a multitude of years. Seems like that might be a more rational way to go about things. Especially since the alternative is assuming they are unqualified to do so based on a handful of highlights from someone who wasn't given enough initial credit when he was forced out of both sight and mind by a record-breaking performance that proved exactly how far ahead Jack Hughes is of every other one of his teenage peers whose body isn't absurdly mature beyond its years.
I say the following knowing full well that you'd have made a fair amount of money by now had you bet on Logan Couture to score 25+ goals and somewhere in the vicinity of 50-65 points over the course of every regular season throughout the last decade...
Playoff Couture would skate so many circles around that bitch ass bum that he'd leave him on the IR with some combination of dizziness and vertigo with how often he'd be left looking up at him on both the ice and the score sheet. The term 'clutch gene' gets thrown around quite a bit, but if there's something that is biologically responsible for Logan Couture's damn near annual ability to transition from very good to virtual God once the intensity gets turned up ten-fold then I think it's probably seasonal schizophrenia. A particular strand of DNA might explain a person's rapidly receding hairline or even their penchant for punctuality, but it doesn't explain why a top 3-5 player in the entire NHL lays relatively dormant as nothing more than a top 20-30 player until early April.
I was already in the process of crafting a tweet referring to the Sharks' most predatory Spring time scorer as just that after he notched his 12th goal in 16 games, and before I had even sent it he had already collected his 13th. Considering that type of postseason production has somehow become his norm, it is entirely abnormal for a professional athlete's performance to consistently follow the bloom patterns of most roses. Credit to Logan Couture for feeding on pressure like it's pollen and becoming a bigger, stronger, and faster version of himself that would kick his own highly accomplished ass 'Me, Myself, and Irene'-style if, in an alternate universe, their lines were ever matched when it mattered most. However, I can't help but feel like the analytics community owes us a look into the statistics behind him appearing to have stumbled upon one Mario's magic mushrooms when his team manages to make it to May, even if I presume their rationale will sound just as silly as the science behind a hypothetical clutchness chromosome.
An Irrelevant Boston Radio Personality Hung Up on a Hurricanes' Beat Reporter Because He Couldn't Handle Having Hockey Spoken in a Southern Accent
AwfulAnnouncing- The Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes face off in Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference Final on Thursday. With that in mind, Boston radio station WBZ-FM (98.5 The Sports Hub) had Raleigh News and Observer Hurricanes beat writer Chip Alexander on “Toucher & Rich” to talk hockey Wednesday morning.
After Alexander was on the phone for just over four minutes, host Fred Toucher hung up on him. Toucher explained, “I just can’t listen to a guy with a southern accent talk about hockey.”
(16:20-22:00 in the clip above)
My reaction, in a nutshell...
Now, I could easily say that the mindset of the talk radio host who hung up on a insightful beat reporter who was nice enough to offer some time to temporarily clear the air of verbal vomit simply because he didn't associate the interviewee's accent with the sport being covered is the very same one that has actively castrated the growth and popularity of hockey. I wouldn't be wrong to say that abrupt conclusion to an otherwise copacetic conversation is a stereotypically symptomatic example of the self-importance of the Boston sports' scene.
However, because that's exactly what some predictably disagreeable dick who was shamelessly searching for attention in clinging to the shortage of relevance left in his occupation of choice wants me to say, I won't. The idea that the Mason-Dixon line separates those that can talk hockey from those that can't is so preposterously stupid and outlandishly archaic that I refuse to believe that it was conjured up as anything other than a desperate cry for controversy on a medium that no one under the age of 50 listens to.
In my opinion, Fred Toucher doesn't care about having his hockey talk seasoned with a little Southern twang. After all, his eardrums must be pretty calloused after having spent his dying days listening to locals ignore the entire existence of the letter 'R' with an accent that's about as audibly satisfying as listening to nails get scratched on a chalkboard through blown out speakers. All Fred Toucher cares about is that we've now heard of the name Fred Toucher. So congrats to him, I guess? He certainly didn't gain me as a listener by being a counterproductive cliche who prays on the insecurities of hockey fans in the Northeast that think surviving snowy winters has somehow increased their NHL expertise, but at least he made it easier to avoid accidentally stumbling upon his increasingly unheard words.
Probable Rangers' Prospect Kaapo Kakko Scored a Sweet Goal in the World Championships, But Let's Not Bury the (Quite Literal) Lead Here...
That's him? That's the guy campaigning to dethrone Jack Hughes for the distinct honor of being selected first overall by the tri-state area organization that doesn't have a harrowed history of wasting top notch talent? The dude who wasn't even the highlight of his own highlight? HA!
I mean, I guess I can begrudging admit that fighting off the penalty of a solid NHL defenseman to finish on a Stanley Cup Championship-winning goaltender while balancing on one foot is a highly impressive sign of what's to come throughout Kaapo Kakko's promising professional career. However, the no-look touch pass through both legs and traffic that freed him to do so is what really made me re-adjust the glasses I don't wear. The show of strength on the puck in combination with the calmness under pressure was definitely cool and what not, but I personally think it would be flat out disrespectful to Toni Rajala not to focus on his instinctual unseen assist, and his instinctual unseen assist alone, in fully appreciating such a pretty example of playmaking...
After all, while there's no real reason to play 'woulda, coulda, shoulda' in regards to what was an undeniably awesome display of skill, what if Canada had the chance to retrospectively rethink their roster decisions? I believe they, much like myself, might conclude that future franchise goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood wouldn't have gotten beaten to that post, thus making Kaapo Kakko's contributions entirely irrelevant in the alternate universe of which I am currently choosing to live.
In all seriousness, this is going to suck. It's easy to be positive about what the upcoming draft means for the bitter future of the Devils/Rangers rivalry with its two standout studs yet to have donned combatting colors. However, those inevitably biased and bi-annual arguments are going to get really annoying really quick when they both start killing it on opposite sides of the river. I don't mean to sound so spoiled because there are far worse problems to have, but - regardless of how special a player Jack Hughes is - Kaapo Kakko is definitely going to remind Devils' fans of how lucky they are that Nolan Patrick doesn't appear to be especially special. That fact, however, won't stop me from posting things like this as a transparent way to project my frustrations with the Rangers being gifted the golden opportunity to tarnish the silver medal of an almost equally pristine prospect...
It's with the absolute upmost respect that I say the following. Fuck this kid...
Joe Pavelski Forced His Way Back Into the Lineup for Game 7, And Immediately Enforced His Will in Leading the Sharks to the Conference Finals
While success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is often predicated on which teams get healthy at the right time, what happened to the Avalanche last night seems unfair. To split six tightly contested games against one lineup and then have the seventh and deciding game impacted by one of the most subtle secret weapons in the entire NHL? How do you not feel for a team that had enough to worry about in entering a raucous environment for a do-or-die game without having to prepare themselves for their opponent's emotionally uplifting insertion of a savvy veteran whose net front presence is, aside from Connor McDavid, the closest thing that the NHL has to a cheat code.
I mean, deep down was there really any doubt that Joe Pavelski, in returning from the unsightly injury that galvanized his team to put together one of the most mystifying comebacks in postseason history last series, was going to all-too-casually deflect at least one entirely unstoppable puck home during his debut in this series?
I guess it's easy to say in retrospect, but if I were coaching Colorado I might've agreed to start the game down 1-0 so long as San Jose agreed to continue sitting someone who leads by example in playing a brand of hockey that's built to win in the margins. Those margins don't get any more microscopic than they do in Game 7, so coming back from down a goal in a must-win playoff game is an endeavor that is merely equal to preparing for the presence of a well-rested player whose perpetually prepared for anything. Joe Pavelski wasted no time in proving he's not only that but also an inspirational entity, and the talented team he captains is now a much more menacing out because of it.
There is probably only a little more than a handful of people that know exactly how much money Pat Maroon left on the table when he decided against taking a more lucrative deal with the Devils this past summer, and I undoubtedly don't account for any of those fingers. Therefore, it would typically be a fool's errand to try to do the cost-benefit analysis on him returning home on a one year deal that was entirely underwhelming relative to his production over the last few seasons.
Fortunately, the openness with which Pat Maroon values quality time with his kid is anything but typical for a pro athlete, so suffice to say that you can take hockey out of the equation in determining that signing in St. Louis was worth it before he even laced up his skates as a member of his hometown team...
That being said, if - and only if - there was one thing that could make him start recalculating the actual dollar value of that decision it's what played out as soon as he did lace up his skates for said hometown team, as he became far too familiar with the Blues in more ways than one. Be it due to lingering injuries or offensive struggles, there was a time in the not-so-distant past where not only could Pat Maroon not buy a goal, but it would have been damn near financially irresponsible for him to do so as an underpaid crew member on a sinking ship.
Times have quite obviously changed as St Louis, against stupifying odds, stamped their ticket to the Western Conference Finals by narrowly avoiding a Cinderella season-ending, double-overtime defeat that was starting to feel sickeningly depraved and increasingly inevitable with each and every headstand stop made by an overworked Ben Bishop. However, the point is that for as much as the fortunes of the Blues have been flipped flapjack fast, the fortunes of the family man that bet on himself in returning home for about 65 cents on the dollar just may have come a longer way since early January.
Pat Maroon took the risk knowing the only guaranteed reward was more time spent with his son, but it's safe to say that what he's earned from the experience is currently rising at an exponential rate. A late game-winning goal in Game 3. An early go-ahead goal in Game 7. A heroic sudden death series clincher that will make the highlight reel of NHL history. All in front of a long suffering fanbase of a Stanley Cup starved city, who probably could have unbent the Arch with the collective breath they unleashed after hours spent holding it prior to that puck getting poked over the goal line, that is both figuratively and literally family to him. You honestly can't put a price on that, but even if you could it's a price that would make Ray Shero's offseason offer look something you might find in between your couch cushions.
Being that professional sports are a business, and a cutthroat one at that, you're generally not advised to make career choices on behalf of anything other than your bank account. You need not look further for proof of that then the player in question switching agents in the middle of the free agency frenzy. The Big Rig bucked that trend by going with his heart, and - to his credit, confidence and character - now the goddamn thing is probably as full as it will ever after an unforgettable, movie-worthy moment whose emotional budget couldn't possibly be accounted for merely in money.
Richard Panik Backhand Toe-Dragged the Dignity of the Norwegian Goalie to a Hopeless Place With This Silly Snipe in a Shootout
First and foremost, it's unbelievably impressive that Richard Panik got enough power on a shot taken with the toe of the underside of his blade for it to basically be on its way back out of net before the opposing goaltender even dropped to his knees out of instinct. That's just a lethal move to which you have to tip your cap, as it would have been pretty tough to stop even if the person tasked with doing so had any reason whatsoever to believe that getting backhand-toedragged to a place where only dumb could be founded was even a possibility.
That said, what's somehow more impressive than the flawless execution is the size of the shooter's balls immediately prior. As is often the case when the margin for error is insanely small, the chances Richard Panik ended up looking like a complete idiot were absurdly large. Granted, we're talking about a shootout in a relatively meaningless warm-up game so the stakes weren't exactly at their highest, but you'd certainly rather not make yourself look stupid as an NHL player on international ice. Richard Panik risked doing just that with the slightest slip of a stick blade that was fairly unfamiliar with being used in such a fashion, and was nice enough to split the reward of some internet eye candy with all of us.
I Couldn't Care Less Whether or Not Brad Marchand Gives a Decent Interview, But I Do Find it Odd That He Couldn't Take a Joke
Okay, so apparently/allegedly that impressively awkward display of shortness was in response to this...
Now, to be crystal clear, there's absolutely nothing that Brad Marchand could have said that would have intrigued me more than him saying...well...absolutely f'n nothing. Other than filling dead air, I hardly even understand the point of rinkside interviews during which players go out of their way to explore every page of the big book of bland cliches.
For that reason, I am in no way annoyed by a professional pest's spiteful refusal to offer anything more than two to three words in response to questions whose actual answers would just as uninteresting had they been more wordy. That said, I do find it odd that the type of player who goes around snapping opponents' sticks with his skate blade can't take a harmless joke about...snapping oppinents' sticks with his skate blade...
Maybe the warmup prior to a pivotal playoff game wasn't the most appropriate time to deliver some contrived comic relief, but if you're going to proudly be a shameless prick then have some self-awareness in entertaining any potential punchlines that might come as a result of your actions. I really, really, really don't care what Brad Marchand has to say before or after a game, but if he's going to keep making a joke out of himself by doing beyond stupid shit, like blatantly punching people in the back of the head, during the game then he should bring a sense of humor with him to any interviews he might agree to after he fact. After all, the only thing worse than an unforgiving asshole is an unforgiving asshole that can't take a single second to laugh at himself.
After One Nearly Beheaded the Other, Charlie McAvoy and Josh Anderson Made the Type of Amends That Hockey Fans Could Learn a Thing or Two From
While I find it awesome that the end of a hard fought series saw a level of forgiveness presumably found between two players involved in the type of hit that, in a much more ignorant era, would have signified the true start of a series, I'm not going to go the "you just gotta love this sport" route on this. Due to the inferiority complex of many hockey loyalists, that all-too-familiar path always comes off as more of a desperate plea for universal approval than a genuine appreciation of the coolest moments during a time of year that's hardly dealing from a deficit in providing them.
Instead, I think that show of mutual respect between professional athletes who let bygones be bygones immediately after being embroiled in a two-week long clash of body and competitive spirit, emphasized by a dangerous and dirty collision, serves a better purpose. It makes for the perfect opportunity to remind those same fans to start showing some genuine appreciation, as opposed to dwelling on every single dumb call. If Josh Anderson can shake his head clear of cobwebs and do so then surely you can just shut up and enjoy the volatility, unpredictability, and - yes - even the oft-questionable officiating of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of course, that wouldn't be the takeaway from a handshake that wouldn't even have taken place if Charlie McAvoy caused Josh Anderson to be stretchered off with a foggy memory and a sensitivity to light. However, the fact that he easily could have been and still understood that not only does shit sometimes happen but that it is also sometimes difficult to quickly clean up gives us no excuse not to do the same.
This isn't meant to let off the hook perpetually porous whistle blowing that has somehow found new and idiotic ways to draw attention away from the actual talent, but the way it has predominantly been discussed has this postseason feeling like less of a showcase of the absolute best that the NHL has to offer and more of a nightly indictment of its rulebook. That's a massive disservice to the players who, as evidenced above, don't let the unfortunate circumstances of sport linger nearly as long as those bitching their way around cyclical arguments that don't take into account that the beauty of a seven game series is that all the constant controversy comes pretty damn close to shaking itself out in way that allows everyone to call it even in the end.
Dougie Hamilton Didn't Even Have to "Return the Favor" to Embarrass Brock Nelson and the New York Islanders, But it Was Delightful to Watch Him Do so Anyway
There's one thing, and one thing alone, that's stopping me from referring to Dougie Hamilton's retaliatory pat on the head of Brock Nelson as a perfectly petty troll job and that one thing is redundancy. You see, since the very second the Islanders' forward overconfidently celebrated a game-tying goal that he didn't even score during a pivotal game in which only his own team was in desperate need of a win, all the Carolina Hurricanes did was return the favor fifty-fold in putting the finishing touches on the sweep.
Metaphorically speaking, if that initial invasion of personal space was an emasculation of Curtis McElhinney then what immediately followed for the next four periods and change was a non-competitive infantilization of the entirety of the New York Islanders. What was a close series up until that exact moment quickly became one team slowly putting their competition down for an offseason long nap. Never mind a consoling head pat, because the Hurricanes might as well have put a dab whiskey under their offensively impotent opponent's tongue, gave them an extensive back rub, tucked them into their team-licensed bedspread (a la 'Pajama Boy'), and sang them a lullaby with how systematically they put them down for the count throughout the remainder of the shortest of series. If we're talking spiteful symbolism in its most fitting form then what Dougie Hamilton should have placed gently on the head of Brock Nelson in the handshake line was a goodnight kiss, because the Islanders had been successfully put to sleep far prior than the conclusion of Game 4.
Of course, that would have been super awkward way to incite a very literal line brawl, so I'm glad he instead went with the head pat in condescendingly returning the salt to the gaping wound from which it originally came.
Devils' Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald Waxed Poetic About Jesper Boqvist in Comparing His Speed to That of Taylor Hall
TheAthletic- “I just watched Boqvist play against the Fins (last week),” Fitzgerald said. “I went over to watch the (Kaapo) Kakko kid and both Jespers (Bratt and Boqvist) played. It was a good game to watch. (Boqvist) has made tremendous strides from where he was a year ago. Just his speed is incredible. In-flight speed, I don’t know if we have anyone in our organization faster, and that includes (Taylor Hall). He effortlessly moves around the ice. He’s made some great strides.
“He became a top player in that league as a young player. It says a lot about his ability and a lot about how, maybe, lucky we are by getting him in the second round.”
Well, alright then. I guess the tempering of expectations is not part of this summer's plan.
Personally, I think I would have to see it to believe it, but even being the most heavy-footed student in the same class of speed as Taylor Hall speaks volumes of the potential of a player whose hands are certainly capable of massaging out some of the kinks atop the Devils' lineup...
After solidifying himself as the consensus best offensive prospect in the system by proving productive beyond his years in Sweden, Jesper Boqvist was already getting his fair share of hype amongst the fanbase. Tom Fitzgerald, however, basically just fed that offseason optimism some ecstasy by mentioning his feet in the same fleet as the superstar that wheeled his way to an MVP award while carrying the whole damn franchise on his back.
Of course, being fast is becoming more and more of a requirement to succeed in a league that both figuratively and literally caught up with the Devils this past season. That said, Taylor Hall-type quickness will never not be a huge asset when attached to players with high-end puck skills. Jack Hughes has both, and - unless Tom Fitzgerald is blowing the type of smoke that makes you a...ahem...hit at parties - so does Jesper Boqvist. If training camp shakes out as many expect it to then we might get a glimpse into how bright New Jersey's future is as soon as this upcoming year, but it's starting to feel like we might have to retrain our eyes to keep up before we do.
No Man Has Ever Been in a More Helplessly Claustrophobic Social Situation Than Anton Khudobin Sitting Between the Benches With Pierre McGuire
Take a good look at Anton Khudobin during this clip. I mean, take a good, hard look at Anton Khudobin during this clip. Now commit his endless stare and forced chuckle to memory and replay them, either in your mind or on your phone, in order to suppress your own anxiety and annoyance the next time an extroverted Uber driver ignores the headphones he/she can clearly see in the rearview mirror and decides to spark up some small talk and take the scenic route.
You know that helpless feeling when a friend's untimely bathroom visit leaves you stranded in talking to a relative stranger. Well, imagine if that bathroom visit came after dinner at a lowly rated and highly suspicious Indian restaurant and that relative stranger had the social graces of someone who was home-schooled by PeeWee Herman, because that's what Anton Khudobin just lived through in sharing an enclosed space with Pierre McGuire for an extended period of time.
By all accounts, the Stars' backup goaltender provides the comic relief in the locker room...
Unfortunately, there is nothing funny nor alleviating about being left to potentially interact with the NHL's most awkwardly artless analyst at a moment's notice. For that reason, Anton Khudobin deserves even more credit for doing nothing more than just sitting there than we typically give backup goalies throughout a league in which being the starter makes you a primary scapegoat.
The Hurricanes Aren't Always There When You Call, But - Especially in Comparison to the Islanders - They're Always on Time
I don't know that it's fair to say that the main difference in a hard fought second round series is one team being far more likely than the other to make you say "whoa", as it kind of feels like that analysis is a little too overly simplistic. However, considering we've now seen three relatively evenly played games featuring great goaltending at both ends of the ice, the only reason I can think for the same team coming out on top in all of them is said team's flair for the dramatic.
Of course, that flair is comparatively amplified by their opponent displaying an inability to score that compares favorably to that funny and flirtatious college friend whose sexual frustrations were caused by drinking his way out of fornicating at the worst possible time. I mean, the most memorable finish an Islanders' skater has been responsible for this series was this cheeky celebration of a goal that wasn't even his own...
Still, credit has to go to Carolina for making timely additions to the old highlight reel when the games are at their most high-stakes.
Perhaps I'm being a prisoner of moment. The touch pass that allowed for Justin Faulk to come out of the box and make a redemptive, Randy Moss-esque play on the puck and touch down in the goal column for the first time in his postseason career was incredible. Yet, it was only to be outdone by the visual stimulation of Sebastian Aho casually corralling a waist-high clear with the type of hand-eye coordination that would bring a tear to Mr Miyagi's eye in setting up the game-winner. Those high-level plays that are far from fundamental are burned into my brain in a way that leaves the big picture slightly blurry.
That being said, you need not look further back than a 48 second span at the beginning of the third period in Game 2 to see fortunes flip on a dime due to momentous goals that were worth exponentially more than that by dozen...
The Islanders, quite literally, can't score to save their playoff lives, despite now having faced two goalies whose postseason resumes leave a lot to be desired. Maybe that's really the story to a series that isn't as lopsided as the ticker might tell you. However, I'd much the prevailing plot be the Hurricanes happening upon the type of clutch, game-breaking moments that get you out of your seat and remind you of the eye-popping skill necessary to succeed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2019. That's a much more appetizing angle for the audience, if you ask me.
Ty Smith is Your WHL 'Defenseman of The Year', And Your Most Recent Reason to Be Excited About the Future of the New Jersey Devils
Ironically, you'd have to be living in a world with the WiFi of a Subway car to lack familiarity with the Ty Smith hype train. His domination at the Junior level, that makes it all but a forgotten conclusion that he'll soon be making a leap to NHL level, is far from a new phenomenon. It's just the accolade that has most recently, albeit unsurprisingly, came along with it that has him both literally and figuratively at center stage of the Devils' immediate future. With Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and - to a larger extent - Jack Hughes having already taken their turn in the spotlight early in the offseason, it was about time Ty Smith got awarded the type of accomplishment that can temporarily make last year's 17th overall pick (::slowly rubs hands together so as to spitefully celebrate such a heist::) the apple of Devils' fans collective eye.
And look, the preposterous point total is enough to tighten your pants if you just spent this past season watching a Devils' blue line that was constantly in the red, but my favorite aspect of Ty Smith winning 'Defenseman of the Year' is that it's a semantically accurate achievement. The production is all well and good, but what makes the kid a stud is having an impact on both ends of the ice that can't solely be measured in stats. The proof of that can be heard in the excitement of Tom Fitzgerald's voice...
While fans get giddy over goals and assists, Assistant General Manager's go gaga over game managers whose physical and mental understanding of what's happening on the ice makes everything unquantifiably easier on their teammates. It speaks to what's been a dark, dark period for a franchise that once prided itself on being impenetrable defensively, but Ty Smith at least has the early potential to be a new age version of one the likes of which the New Jersey Devils haven't called their own since they were hoisting Stanley Cups. If you don't think that's yet another reason to be excited about the organization's future then just ogle at his PPG and clap while he takes his proverbial lap as the Devils' standout prospect of the day.
Just Because Brad Marchand's Sucker Punch Wasn't Particularly Suspendible Doesn't Mean He Himself Wasn't
Let me start by saying that I'm neither surprised nor offended that Brad Marchand isn't being suspended for the sucker punch he delivered to the back of the otherwise unaware head of Scott Harrington. It was scummy. It was dirty. It was calculated (albeit by the mind of a moron). It was to a vulnerable part of the body that the NHL insists they are being more cautious in protecting. What it wasn't was overly violent in a way that makes me view letting him off the hook to be as inexcusable an act as the insanely unnecessary incident itself.
That being said, considering the source of controversy, should that last part even have to be true for supplementary discipline to be on the table anymore? Brad Marchand wearing the fucking crown as 'Most Repetitive Offender' means the scale on which we judge his stupidity is weighted heavily relative to the one on which we judge the inherent uptick in physicality during the postseason. Him being suspended NINE times, and narrowly avoiding a handful of other suspensions due presumably to the league being too sick of seeing his unsightly snout to fully review the tape, means precedent doesn't need to be followed in disciplining a relatively run-of-the-mill rabbit punch.
Admittedly, a relatively run-of-the-mill rabbit punch was all it was and no one should even feel the need to exaggerate that reality in making it sound worse than that. I say that because the name of the gutless prick who snuck behind an unknowing opponent like he was about to perform an ISIS-style execution being as tarnished as the horseshoe he has up his ass already makes it worse than that. The ice Brad Marchand skates on has long been understood, by everyone other than him apparently, to be about 100x thinner than that of the average NHL player. Therefore, I personally think he did enough to crack it based solely on the sheer stupidity of a guy whose most recent act of unrelenting idiocy was the equivalent of marching across the deepest of frozen pond once the thermometer hits 45 degrees fahrenheit.
Let's put it this way, if the NHL's Department of Player Safety is the equivalent of a high school principal then Brad Marchand is the rebellious detention dweller who "accidentally" knocks the coffee out of hand while walking down the hall once a week. At this point, he should just be heavy-handedly punished based on the negative amount of benefit of the doubt that he's due. The hammer shouldn't be brought down in the name of Player Safety. It should be brought down in the name of player intelligence, as Brad Marchand is clearly not anywhere near smart enough to stay out of the type of trouble that puts the health of others at risk. If the best defense against him being suspended is that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a hard fought grind that's meant only for the toughest of the tough then, ironically, he should be suspended for being a weak-willed coward in scurrying away from any retaliatory danger like the rodent he is.
We're at a point where Brad Marchand is actively and intentionally going laughably out of his way to let everyone affiliated with the league that employs him know that he somehow still hasn't learned his lesson. Therefore, said league shouldn't even need a good, by-the-book reason to sentence him to a luxury suite, and it took me all of five minutes to think of plenty of mediocre reasons why he fled far enough from the framework of a physical sport to cost himself the privilege of playing in the next postseason game.
Again, I can certainly understand those reasons not being good enough for Bruins' fans and/or the NHL's Department of Player Safety, but how about this one?
Signs Aren't Pointing in the Wrong Direction, As Taylor Hall Had a Courtside Seat Between The Sixers/Devils Owners to Game 2 in Toronto
It's a good sign. Nothing more and, assuming they didn't let Josh Harris' insanely awkward ass try to take command of the conversation, nothing less. Of course, in judging by the facial expression above, Taylor Hall's courtside experience wasn't the most socially seamless endeavor of his life. Probably had the laser focus of Kawhi Leonard in taking in the efforts of Jimmy Butler & Co, if only to avoid having to pull an entire mouthful of teeth in trying to relate to billionaires. Still, even the fact that this was arranged between the Devils' money men and the Devils' money man fairly far ahead of any potential payday is enough to bring the heart to a resting rate.
We're talking about a franchise that, as of late, doesn't have the greatest track of properly financing and/or keeping their most familiar faces. Therefore, their fanbase will gladly take every ounce of optimism that is to be provided by the inherently idiotic and unforgiving act of reading far too much into things seen on social media. I both think and hope that there are still a lot of hockey-centric discussions to be had between Taylor Hall and two people who I trust exponentially more to conduct them in John Hynes and Ray Shero. However, the currently underpaid talent being open to being in the open with two guys with which he probably shares exactly two common interests, with those being dollar signs and the New Jersey Devils, is a helluva start to a impending anxiety attack of an offseason.
"What could possibly go wrong from here?", he naively muttered while pounding on wood with the tenacity of Blake Coleman until his knuckles began to bleed.
UPDATE: Hynes alert!
Stars' Esa Lindell Got Shot Four Separate Times, And Lived to See His Flagrant Flopping Directly Cost His Team Game 3
As I watched, and then re-watched, and then re-re-watched in amazement as an unprofessionally professional athlete in Esa Lindell performed all three acts of his shameless one man show entitled 'Bambi On Ice' in the middle of a tightly contested Stanley Cup playoff game, I couldn't help but wonder what type of supplemental discipline he'd face. A postseason suspension seemed a bit too stiff for temporarily compromising the integrity of the sport, but the write-off of a mere fine felt like too much of a slap on the wrist for the embarrassment of eternally tarnishing his entire family's name. As you can imagine, I was at quite the loss for a punishment fitting of the crime of...well...the fraudulent reporting of multiple felonies.
Then something that went against the 'WTF' nature of a postseason whose annual unpredictability appears to have been shot up with steroids this Spring happened...
Esa Lindell let a relatively light Pat Maroon shove launch him into a full-on breast stroke only for him to pop his head back up for a breath just in time to see a tale of justice get poetically penned at his expense.
Now, I'm more than fine with nothing more than a fine, because the number on that check will pale in comparison to the amount of respect he cost himself in the locker room by flopping around like he was just pulled fresh out of Alaskan ice while his defensive assignment made sure he also paid the price of a pivotal Game 3. Credit the Big Rig for dominating a net-front battle in familiar fashion, but his combatant, for the fourth time in a single game, put up the fight of James Harden mid-jump shot in looking like a widow fainting at the funeral. But hey, little did he know that in doing so he'd be gifting us the happiest of storybook endings to what was the saddest of attempts to draw a 25-to-life sentence during a playoff hockey game.
Trust me, the irony of having to celebrate the accomplishments of New Jersey Devils' players, or those who are very likely to be soon, while they are performing for teams other than the New Jersey Devils despite the playoffs still being in full swing is not lost on me. Still, as far as early offseasons go, you can't ask for much better than lucking into the opportunity to select someone who broke a record last held by the best pure scorer in NHL history while the two most dynamic young players already on your roster were making an instant impact internationally.
During an otherwise depressing time of year in which a disappointed fanbase desperately needed reassurance of a brighter future, it's a wonder that every social media savvy Devils' fan hasn't had to make an optometrist appointment after being left temporarily blinded by the amount of highlights they've had flashed in front of their face over the last week. Whether it be Jack Hughes absolutely infantilizing his peers with his effortlessly amazing play, or Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt picking up right where they left in looking more dangerous and more dangerous by the day, what should be a massive summer for the upward trajectory of the franchise has already been granted an extremely promising precursor.
There's still an entire tournament to be played by all three (assuming reports of Hughes' high level of interest accurate). However, what will more than likely serve as half of the Devils' top-six hasn't appeared to waste a damn shift in continuing to realize their potential at every opportunity. Who knows? Maybe Mackenzie Blackwood (who will also be getting some shine in Slovakia) IS on to something...and if not I'll gladly accept the delightful distractions during the aftermath of a doom-and-gloom season...