As I was noodling through ideas for a semi-regular column I would write about general hockey issues, news and notes, I discarded potential titles for such a piece that had anything to do with, well, anything. Let’s face it – anything is overrated. Sometimes it takes the opposite of what you expect – i.e. nothing – to succeed.
As an example, take one of my favorite all-time NHL’ers: Nelson Emerson. Drafted in the third round of the 1985 entry draft by the St. Louis Blues, he’s a guy that lasted for 11 1/2 seasons in the NHL. He played for seven organizations in during that span, a sort of pre-Mike Sillinger Mike Sillinger (12 in 16 seasons). So what did Emerson have that kept him in the NHL for so long?
Size? Nope, he was 5’11”, 180 pounds. Strength? Negative. Grit? Nothing remarkable. Skill? Hey, I liked Emerson, but when you shoot 4.6% in 66 games for the Hurricanes in 1996-97, 4.3% for the 1998-99 Blackhawks, and under 8% for both the Thrashers and the Kings to end your career, maybe you ought to aim for the Budweiser banner in the corner and hope for the big slice. And yet Emerson endured for 771 games, managing to score 20+ goals five times, including 33 for the 1993-94 Winnipeg Jets. He also played on five playoff teams, including the Allison/Deadmarsh/Palffy era Los Angeles Kings teams. Naturally, he shot 7.1% in 40 career playoff games. On balance, he almost made this guy look pretty:
So back to the column premise, with one more quick example. Remember George Costanza? A perennial loser, he became instantly successful by doing this:
Thus, instead of something banal like Ice Chips or Slap Shots (both of which I flinched at and quickly discarded), I decided to choose one of the English language’s longest words: floccinaucinihilipilifications. Here’s the Dictionary.com definition:
The estimation of something as valueless (encountered mainly as an example of one of the longest words in the English language).
Now that we’ve gotten the title of the piece out of the way, let’s quickly dissect the first round of the 2011 NHL playoffs, with the 360-degree benefit of the rear-view mirror.
Philadelphia Flyers (2) vs. Buffalo Sabres (7): This series had a little bit of everything. After dropping the opening game 1-0, the favored Flyers took the lead with 5-4 and 4-2 triumphs, only to lose the advantage and stand on the brink of elimination with 1-0 and 4-3 (OT) losses. However, the bellicose Philadelphia fans threatened excommunication if the team did not get past the lightly-regarded Sabres, and Daniel Briere and James van Riemsdyk delivered, winning game seven 5-2 and sending the Flyers into the second round against the Boston Bruins – who subsequently smoked them 7-3 in game one. Get ready for further excommunication threats from that scary dude on the right.
Boston Bruins (3) vs. Montreal Canadiens (6): Even before Zdeno Chara’s derailed freight train mow-down of Max Pacioretty, these teams really just didn’t like one another. Man, wouldn’t les Habs have like nothing better than to humble Chara and company in this series? Alas, it was not to be, although Montreal put their foot on the neck of The Slovakian Skyscraper with quick 2-0 and 3-1 victories. On the road, no less. Quickly, the “Believe in Boston” signs came out in force, and shortly thereafter, so did Nathan Horton, who scored three goals in the final five games. Tim Thomas looked a lot more like Tim Thomas than Tim Thomas looked earlier (say what?), and in seven games, the Bruins prevailed.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (5): This really should have been an utter mismatch: sweaty, burly, soot-stained steel workers affixed with pipe wrenches and sledge hammers versus blue-haired retirees armed with walkers and Denny’s buy-one-get-one-free coupons. After losing three of the first four games by 0-3, 5-1, 2-3 and 2-3 (2 OT) scores, the vaunted Lightning offense suddenly became supercharged, scoring twelve combined goals in the next two games to tie the series. Game seven became an instant classic, and given the venue, pedigree and tight checking flow of the game, a relative shocker: Tampa Bay prevailed, 1-0 on the strength of a Sean Bergenheim second period goal. Bergenheim was the unlikely series hero with three tallies, as the Lightning completed a monstrous comeback to defeat one of the pure marketing faces of the NHL. Granny went to bed happy that night. At 7:30, of course.
Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (8): Neither team envied either team in this series. Here was Vancouver, romping through the schedule on the way to the President’s Trophy, squaring off against Toews, Kane, Sharp and company, the proud owners of the Holy Grail of hockey – the Stanley Cup. While the league continues to deny persistent rumors that the Cup was once … ahem … urinated into by Claude Lemieux (hey, you never know), the fact remains that the Blackhawks were not going to give up the hardware lightly. And they most certainly did not, pushing Vancouver to seven grueling games by winning games four, five, and six by the scores of 7-2, 5-0, and 4-3 (OT). Game seven became yet another instant classic, with Chicago falling in overtime, 2-1. I’d post a picture of the Sedins hugging in victory, but let’s be honest – how many of you really want to see that?
Anaheim Ducks (4) vs. Nashville Predators (5): Quack! The Ducks were slightly favored going in, but lost rather convincingly in six games to the banjo-strummers from the South. It seems that moonshine and tobacco make for an energy-inducing combination – who knew? In any event, despite 90-year old Teemu Selanne’s six goals in the series and Corey Perry defying the boy-band name he was born with to tally four markers, the Predators served Duck for dinner, outscoring Anaheim 22-20 in a surprisingly wide open series. Mike Fisher and Joel Ward may have names that sound more like NHL linebackers, but they found the net in this series a combined five times to provide surprising offense for the Confederate army.