(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
8. The Rinne Haters!!! (again)
Well gang, this time last week we were all saying, “As long as Rinne doesn’t completely crap his pants in Game 2, the Preds should be fine.” And wouldn’t you know it, he crapped his pants like a hundred times, to the point that incredibly smart, cool people who are so handsome were saying, “Well I think you probably gotta go to Juuse Saros in Game 3.”
But then Rinne did a crazy thing: He allowed two goals on 52 shots (.962) and the series is even and everything is fine again. No more controversy! He’s still only .886 in the Cup Final, but Matt Murray is .902, and went .862 in Nashville. So who’s laughing now?
7. Miserable fanboys
And speaking of the whole “Murray looked bad in Nashville” thing, well, it takes a certain kind of psychopathy to start screaming like the sky is falling because the series is…… tied?
See, I understand, the Penguins have not looked good at any point except for those two stretches of three-ish minutes where they scored the bulk of their goals in the series. And even then, those were, as the soccer-likers say, against the run of play. They’re still getting caved in. And if you don’t think injuries are a big reason why, you haven’t been paying attention.
To that end, the Cup Final is progressing more or less how I expected: Predators absolutely raking, but the series is tied because it’s hard to shut down all that talent.
People in Pittsburgh cannot, however, accept this. They want Murray benched. They want a miracle comeback from Letang. They want Mario to come out of retirement (probably). They want Sullivan fired.
Now it’s a best-of-three instead of best-of-seven. And the Penguins are at home twice. It’s not like this is some sort of Horror From The Mind Of Clive Barker.
The hottest take of all is that Crosby and Malkin’s legacies will be tarnished if they somehow don’t drag this banged-up team kicking and screaming to another Cup against a team that’s been perhaps the deadliest in the league since February.
Man, imagine if Pittsburgh got the results they actually deserved in this series? It’s a sweep. At best it’s 3-1. It would be impossible to talk all those fanboys off all those bridges.
6. Not today with the trade rumors, alright?
A lot of teams have been out of the playoffs for at least a month at this point, and you can see people getting restless. That means we’re dealing with a lot of trade rumors. And I gotta tell ya, folks: Not a fan.
You wanna make a trade, go for it. By all means. But I can’t be bothered to pay attention to whether the Kings might trade a third liner or something. The whole expansion draft is coming up a week or two after the Cup Final ends. We’re gonna have a lot to talk about. Give it a week!!!
5. Freddie Hockey
I feel weirdly bad for Frederick Gaudreau, who has three goals in this Cup Final and had literally never scored in the NHL before that.
My man was just in the ECHL last season and now he’s the big Stanley Cup Hero to date (sorry, Jake Guentzel). But here’s the thing. He has a total of 15 NHL games under his belt. He has 3-1-4 in those 15 games. He’ll probably make the big club next season — or at least get a long look — and that might be when his trouble starts.
He was undrafted. His career high in the QMJHL was only 71 points (believe me, in the Q that’s not exactly a ton). The reason I am nervous for him is that he is building himself a reputation to which he is unlikely to ever live up. We’re talkin’ Dave Bolland status. Ville Leino, maybe. And I feel bad because he is a pure and beautiful boy.
He modestly lit up the AHL the past two years, yes. He had 40 goals and 90 points in 141 games, which is pretty good.
But man, three pretty damn big goals to start your career is a great way to convince everyone you’re the next true genius of the sport. He isn’t.
4. The Round Mound of Watchable Intermission Segments
I said during Game 4 that it’s amazing what a talking head with an actual personality does to make an NHL intermission report engaging and fun. I was wrong to say it. I think Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick have personalities. “Dumb old grump” is a personality, right? (Keith Jones is a flat-out boring guy who’s only wrong 60 percent of the time, which makes him the best analyst NBC has.)
But if you watch basketball games, Charles Barkley is a dumb old grump on the NBA intermission shows, too. But he’s a gregarious dumb old grump, and I think that’s the difference. Say what you want about Sir Charles, but he’s always been a Personality first and foremost.
Try as poor Liam McHugh or Kathryn Tappen might, they cannot wring blood (entertainment) from stones (chronically wrong people). How many times do you watch an NBA halftime segment and it’s just Kenny Smith and Shaq making fun of Charles Barkley for being a fat, grumpy dope? More than you’d ever think, that’s for sure.
We remember the times Tappen or, like, Bob McKenzie make fun of Mike Milbury for being a horrible GM, because it’s both funny and true. They are basically winking to the audience: “This man is not qualified to give you even vague platitudes about what teams should or shouldn’t be doing.” And yet they persist on television, turning every segment they touch into grim, skippable affairs that are also occasionally tinged with Cold War-era xenophobia.
There’s a lesson in this. Neither NBC nor the NHL will learn it.
Let’s note here that Carrie Underwood did the segment on the first intermission, and it was also just fine and nice. But the fact that Eddie Olczyk kept calling her “Mrs. Mike Fisher” is some pathetic stuff. Mike Fisher is, what, the 80th-best center in hockey? He’s been in the league since 1999 and still doesn’t have anything close to 300 goals. Meanwhile, Carrie Underwood has 65 million records worldwide since 2007. Mike Fisher’s career high in points is only 53. He’s Mr. Carrie Underwood, and to pretend otherwise is to grossly overrate him in any way, shape, or form.
ON THE OTHER HAND: All this shows you what a sad organization the NHL is. Are you, like, a Q-list celebrity? You will be invited to present at the NHL Awards, guaranteed. The annoying neighbor kid from Small Wonder will be presenting the Vezina this year. And if you’re actually famous, like Charles Barkley is, you will be given a platform to say literally whatever you want about hockey. Barkley could have gone up there and said Sidney Crosby is a vampire (a popular theory that is impossible to disprove) and everyone would have chuckled straight through it.
And how did Barkley get to Game 4? How did he end up on a panel with Wayne Gretzky? Because he said on a national basketball broadcast — something lots of people actually watch — that hockey is good. Man, this is a thirsty-ass league when it comes to literally any amount of attention.
Can you imagine if Tom Cruise or someone like that were a hockey fan? They’d just give him the goddamn Jets.
3. Sticking with it
Hey whaddaya know: If you continually out-attempt, outshoot, and out-chance your opponent — and you also get the benefit of last change and a few bounces to finally go your way — you’re gonna pick up some easy Ws.
And because the Preds haven’t really deviated from their approach, they’ve also made all four of these games pretty fun.
I’m a big fan of this Final. Up-and-down hockey. The league could use more of this.
Folks, I don’t know if it’s ever gonna work as a hockey market. Not like Winnipeg, where they struggle to sell out a 15,000-seat arena now that the novelty’s worn off and the team still sucks. These Nashville people are all going to go away in like seven or eight years when this team stops being competitive!
I’m from Canada, by the way.
1. The Justin Bieber sports take
Not specifically hockey-related but apparently people were all over Justin Bieber for wearing a hockey jersey that was not his “home team” Toronto Maple Leafs. So Bieber went on this mini-rant on Twitter about it. And it is the purest and rightest sports take I have ever experienced:
I support all sports I'll put ANY jersey from ANY pro team if I'm whack for wearing jerseys they give me out of love then I'm Whack
— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) June 5, 2017
Leafs above all but other than that u give me ANY JERSEY THAT LOOKS COOL ILL THROW IT ON
— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) June 5, 2017
I also don't know enough about sports to Really have valid opinion but I do enjoy sports!! And enjoy any high level sports game. Any team
— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) June 5, 2017
Hell yeah, dude. Hell yeah. Doesn’t matter to me who it is doing the cool stuff in sports, as long as the stuff is cool.
We can all learn a lesson from this. If you don’t like Sidney Crosby because you’re a fan of another team in the same division, you have to ask yourself how being a Flyers/Rangers/Islanders/Devils fan has broken your brain. Because it definitely has.
This goes for any sport. You don’t have to like the fact that the Warriors are running the Cavs out of the Finals, but damn do you gotta respect how ruthlessly they’re operating here. I don’t like the Patriots for their politics, but let’s not act like Tom Brady isn’t the best to ever put a helmet on.
Basically in sports I just want to see elite athletes do amazing stuff I have never seen before. That’s the real thing worth rooting for.
Thank you, Justin Bieber, for saying what needed to be said. Purpose was a perfectly good album. Thanks everyone. Have a nice week.
As a means of highlighting just how humorless the NHL is, generally speaking, we literally turned what was a very, very obvious joke from P.K. Subban into a three-day controversy. This league, man. Dumbest in the world.)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)
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