Every Stanley Cup Final, and really any championship series, ends up being some sort of referendum on where that league and sport is. Because original ideas generally are treated like an infestation of Asian Longhorned Beetles by 75 percent of every front office, no matter the sport, and whomever wins the championship series becomes a model to emulate, or copy, for teams that either can’t or won’t go through the tedious and long process of developing their own players and system more thoroughly than everyone else.
Which makes this Stanley Cup Final the clearest juxtaposition of any in recent memory. The Lightning are the model franchise in the NHL when it comes to developing their own team, and playing one of the more exciting and attractive brands of hockey in the league thanks to the overflowing speed and skill they’ve brought through their system. The Stars are also pretty homegrown, but after trying to be up-tempo and dynamic for a good portion of last season, they chucked that to become perhaps the most boring, trapping team in the league that saw them nearly kneecap the eventual champ St. Louis in the second round last year and has them at this point this year.
The Stars haven’t really done anything well these playoffs other than get plus-goaltending and catch the Avalanche when they had to put up a “Help Wanted” sign in goal, but that’s been enough. And once again, as they have for most of these playoffs, they were pretty much mauled in Game 1 against the Lightning, just not on the scoreboard. They were nearly doubled up in shots, the Lightning had the much better chances, but Stars goalie Anton Khudobin turned all but one of them away.
The Bolts once again got up on the Stars in the first period last night in Game 2, firing 14 shots to Dallas’s six, but this time getting three of them past Khudobin. From there, the Lightning suddenly couldn’t avoid the scent of the penalty box and rope-a-doped the Stars for the middle 20 minutes, including getting outshot 18-5 in the second period and fighting off four Dallas power plays.
The Stars got within one, but the Lightning protected their lead in the third period in the exact opposite way than the Stars would have, by pressing Dallas into their own end and simply not allowing them to even get into the offensive zone. It was a perfect example of the best defense being a good offense. It wasn’t reliant on a goalie and collapsing in the defensive zone, meaning it requires a certain level of stones that most coaches and GMs have nightmares about.
This Final isn’t a fight for the NHL’s hockey soul or something like that, but these things do have an influence on the direction the league goes. The Stars have knocked off two teams with Barry Allen-like speed through not much more than a goalie and fortune, but if they make it a third, a good portion of the league will take it to mean you don’t have to be as fast as Tampa or Vegas or Colorado to win. It will absolutely make for a worse product.
The Lightning were able to play the Stars’ game for long enough to play their own game again, and the hope is they can do it three more times, for all of us who actually want to have hope of enjoying watch the fucking game going forward.
The Raiders opened their new civic swindle, this one’s called Allegiant Stadium if you’re into that sort of thing, not that anyone is allowed in it quite yet. They also got a win thanks to the New Orleans Saints’ fascination with the color yellow, as they were flagged 10 times. It’s the kind of self-inflicted 2x4 to the forehead that New Orleans usually saves for January. It’s always good to sharpen the skills, though.
The only drama of the final week of the MLB season is how the National League playoff spots will shake out, and based on last night it looks like it’ll be something of a three-legged race after all the participants were huffing Wite-Out. The Marlins, Phillies, Cardinals, Giants, and Brewers all lost, with only the Reds getting a win, and they were playing the Brewers. It’s likely that a good portion of the teams won’t claim a playoff spot so much as be the ones who didn’t think of an excuse to get up from the table before the check came.