All your brackets are dead. Every prediction model is forfeit. Does the regular season have any meaning whatsoever? (Does life?) Does chance play too great a role in this slippery sport? Does the best team ever win the Stanley Cup?
No, you fools! The NHL playoffs are not about skill, or luck. They are about character. Heart. Grit. White men furrowing their brows at the camera and mumbling about intangibles. Every franchise that has been bounced deserved their fate, each for a deadly sin that festered within each eliminated team’s traitorous heart.
The Tampa Bay Lightning were guilty of the deadly sin of pride.
Will this franchise never learn? Last year the Lightning celebrated each postseason win by festooning a puck upon a poster-board replica of the Stanley Cup. This kind of custom-ordered hubris got them bounced in the conference final, and clearly they did not learn their lesson this season. After a resounding Presidents’ Trophy–winning regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were all-but crowned as they sailed into the first round with their victory speeches already written. A Cage the Elephant concert preceded the watch party for Game 1 in Tampa, during which the band played alongside the Stanley Cup itself. “This should be full of champagne,” declared the singer, mere hours before the Lightning were stymied by the tiny-dog ire of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The much-lauded Goliath of the NHL got swept in four tepidly fought games. When faced with the rampaging forecheck of half a dozen yappy terriers, Tampa Bay dropped all semblance of structure altogether. What, you thought you were too good to adjust your five-on-five? Pride makes a team cocky, but brittle. The hot air wheezed out of the Tampa Bay Lightning until all they had was a half-deflated victory balloon and a few lukewarm gifted child memes. God owes you nothing, Steven Stamkos.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were guilty of the deadly sin of gluttony.
This is not a Phil Kessel joke. The problem resides in the soul of the franchise itself. The Pittsburgh Penguins in their current incarnation have consumed three Stanley Cups and still they desire further hardware crammed into their rapacious maws. Celebration lasts a flickering moment only to be swallowed by the tantalizing horizon of future success. Sidney Crosby had half a Corona to celebrate in 2017 and then went to the gym the next morning, his thirst for victory unquenched. You’ve won everything there is to win, Sidney! “Not the Calder,” Sidney Crosby grunted, lifting his kettlebells of penance and longing, “I can never win the Calder.” Penguins GM Jim Rutherford once wheeled the kind of deals that made the entire Eastern Conference call for a witch hunt. Hungry for more, he signed Jack Johnson. Traded for Erik Gudbranson. This is the hockey equivalent of loading up on Hostess products from the 7-Eleven at four in the afternoon on a Thursday. Are you trading because you really need to make a trade? Or are you trading to fill a void in your heart?
The Calgary Flames were guilty of the deadly sin of envy.
What more could you want, Calgary? You were the first seed in the West, in possession of scads of young hot talent, a solid friendship core. You had Johnny Gaudreau feeding the other Flames purple Gatorade like a mama bird made of Cheeto dust and teenage dreams. Then the Avalanche rolled up with their hot top line and the entire team collapsed. We all thought it would be your goalie, but no, it was the skaters watching Mikko Rantanen’s hair glint in the arena lights while they forgot how to move the puck. Listen, guys, I get it. Gabriel Landeskog has a jawline like a limited-edition fair-trade Ken doll, but when your captain admits that they “made that team look and feel good all night,” you know you spent too long doing Landeskog’s homework for him. He’s getting an A on that paper, and Mark Giordano is failing AP English. You guys have got to stop making Nathan MacKinnon mixtapes. I know you love him. I know Mike Smith called him “a beast” and just wants to feel Nathan’s bicep one time before he dies, but Calgary, it’s time to learn to value what you have.
The Winnipeg Jets were guilty of the deadly sin of acedia.
A historical deep cut, acedia indicates apathy and spiritual torpor. The Winnipeg Jets used to be a sprightly team full of talent, hope and conference final finishes, but they hit puberty this year and started getting into Evanescence. Rumors of a locker room rift haunt the Jets, and teen druid Patrik Laine scored a billion goals in a month and then locked himself in his room to play Fortnite and refuse to come out for dinner the rest of the season. Alas, the Jets did not capitalize on joy nor scoring chances throughout their first round matchup against the St Louis Blues. The Jets were mired in a sludge of their own negativity. It swallowed home-ice advantage and scoring leads alike. Their Game 6 effort was a plaintive Radiohead cover at a house party. Nobody wants an acoustic guitar at a rager, Blake Wheeler.
The Nashville Predators were guilty of the deadly sin of sloth.
The Predators casually slumped through the season like a college senior with two credits left before graduation. Not two years ago they were in the Stanley Cup final, and this year they napped through every power-play lecture only to show up to the final with a broken number two pencil and a smile. Second-line center Kyle Turris is on academic probation and trade deadline acquisition Wayne Simmonds keeps calling the Flyers from the downstairs bathroom. All year the Preds were late to class, rarely scoring in the first period, and while they figured they could style it out by finals, that late surge of energy never quite materialized. The vigorous Dallas Stars got the scoring advantage, and took the series, and now Nashville has to retake the class next semester.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were guilty of the deadly sin of greed.
The Maple Leafs cradled the hopes of thousands of desperate Canadians in Mitch Marner’s weird little raccoon hands, and then dropped them in the gutter. So greedy for future glory they forgot they needed to win a series first, the Leafs let the series slip through their fingers in Game 7 to the Boston Bruins, 5-1. Coach Mike Babcock hoarded the minutes of his young forwards for a future that would never come and now star center Auston Matthews has fresh legs to golf on all summer. At least he’ll look good in track pants. The Leafs want to keep every one of their expensive young men, from pricey holdout William Nylander to soon-to-be pricey holdout Mitch Marner, but the salary cap is about to come knocking at their door.
The Vegas Golden Knights were guilty of the deadly sin of wrath.
Spite is a valuable asset in hockey and in life; but when spite mutates into wrath it renders a team vulnerable to the love-fueled vengeance of the San Jose Sharks. The Vegas Golden Knights are fresh off of their first-season ride right to the Stanley Cup final, and they are furious that this go-round isn’t as easy as last year. From coach George Gallant calling the Sharks’ coach a clown to Ryan Reaves taking senility shots at Joe Thornton, the Knights’ only hope was to root their rage in a foundation of brotherhood and romance to survive the Sharks’ Game 7 onslaught, and they did not. Consumed by their ire about the controversial five-minute major against Cody Eakin, the Knights were so busy having imaginary arguments with the referee in their heads that they missed scrappy little nobody Barclay Goodrow as he careened toward a Sharks victory in OT. Vegas, you now possess that most important holy relic of the postseason: an unjust penalty call that cruelly deprived you of a real run. This talisman will carry you through many dark nights. Treasure it.
The Washington Capitals were guilty of the deadly sin of lust.
The Capitals have drunk deep from the cup of life since their Stanley Cup win last June. Their goblets overflowed with beer and brotherly love, and the Caps believed that this would carry them through their first-round matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes, sailing above a sea of key injuries and weak zone entries to a back-to-back beyond. Alas, their lust for life and one another did not protect them from a series loss in double overtime of Game 7. Love is important, but it can’t shoot the puck for you.