As the second round came to a close I looked upon the remnants of the NHL and beheld the Four Horsemen who delivered judgment upon the match-ups. Famine, Pestilence, War, and Death each sent a team into the next life, which appears mostly to be either Worlds, or a golf course in British Columbia.
The lowly Islanders feasted on the Pittsburgh Penguins in four deliriously decisive games in the first round. Unfortunately for the Isles, feast precedes famine. The Disney Channel Original Movie known as the Carolina Hurricanes swept the Islanders to secure a place in the Eastern Conference final. The Isles’ tight defense worked a treat against a scattered offensive team, but their miserly style of play met a southern, speedier reflection in the similarly defensive-minded Carolina Hurricanes, only the Canes could score one, even two whole goals in a single game. Who is that other dog?
The Isles and the Canes fenced each other into the neutral zone and whoever could sneak a loaf of bread over the blue line would prove the team to survive. Alas, all the crops in Brooklyn failed in the second round, and none of their shot attempts produced enough wheat for even a small bagel. Coach Barry Trotz transformed the Islanders from spurned nobodies into contenders, but in the end they were unleavened bread. The Islanders died of famine, but if they were to get some yeast over the summer and sign a goal-scorer or two, next year’s crop could be more promising. Yes, this is an Artemi Panarin joke.
The Blue Jackets, a ragtag brotherhood of trade deadline acquisitions and expiring contracts, stunned all of Canada and regional pockets of the northern hemisphere when they swept Goliath in the first round and drank deep the blood of Steven Stamkos from Tampa’s Presidents’ Trophy. After slaughtering the 128-point Lightning in four games, one would imagine the rest and relaxation would have fortified them for the second round. Alas, the Jackets stopped drinking all that Emergen-C and their diminished immunity left them vulnerable to a locust swarm of Bostonians. This was a bloody and disgusting series, and everybody involved got covered in bodily fluids. Brad Marchand scampered onto the ice infested with Black Death fleas to break sticks and punch heads. Charlie McAvoy rolled in like the flu: you think he’s just a fever and then he’s the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Too bad the refs prescribed a two-minute minor, and Columbus’s power play was still too weak to produce.
The Blue Jackets just didn’t have strong enough antibodies to withstand the Bruins, and training camp is gonna look like Europe in the Middle Ages after most of those unrestricted free agents flee for sunnier climes. Artemi Panarin gave his exit interview practically swathed in a plague mask. Are you going to stay in Columbus, Artemi? “Nobody knows,” Panarin lied, checking his flight confirmation number on his phone. Godspeed, Columbus. The plague did lead to better labor conditions in Western Europe.
The Stars fell to the St. Louis Blues after seven games of a series best described as “yee-haw.” Stars Captain Jamie Benn memorably described the chaos of Game 4 as “a bunch of grown men out there acting like donkeys.” From Esa Lindell’s staged-fight fall to rookie goalie Jordan Binnington instigating some goalie-on-goalie crime, these two teams battered each other across the Western Conference. The Dallas Stars fought bravely, at least until Game 7 when their skaters lay prostrate on the ice while goalie Ben Bishop ascended into one of those sweeping historical war movie scenes in which he alone remains standing upon a moor, blocker spattered with blood, surrounded by the fallen bodies of Colton Parayko and assorted other Blues. The Stars endured a truly stupid shot disparity until double overtime, when they were finally felled by the rusty broadsword of Patrick Maroon, hockey dinosaur and hometown boy. The prodigal son scores on the son who still lives in Texas. You can’t beat that kind of Sword in the Stone narrative. Goodnight, Dallas. If we grade on a curve and forget about Game 7, you certainly proved that you weren’t horseshit this year.
An elimination game forces a team to confront its own mortality: One mistake and your playoff hopes will be cremated and sold in a jauntily colored decorative urn in a Shop.NHL.com clearance sale. A Game 7 is a dance with Death, and the veteran San Jose Sharks have been doing the Macarena with the Reaper for years. From their annual postseason disappointment to veteran Joe Thornton’s grey grizzled beard, the Sharks know how it feels to have Death follow them to Whole Foods whispering have you ever thought that your window might be closed forever?
The Colorado Avalanche are young. Half of them were eating playdough the year Joe Thornton was drafted, and two were not even zygotes. The Avs know the sinking despair of failure and the sweet ecstasy of success, but they have never stared into a dressing-room mirror and seen the gaunt face of retirement looking back. Erik Johnson is a veteran here and he’s out flossing at Halloween parties. After a hard-fought series, the Sharks withstood the Avs’ frenetic third-period onslaught like an old dog fending off a teething puppy. The Sharks did not fear Death. Brent Burns scooted over to make room on the bench for Death to chill out during breaks in play. The Avs gripped their sticks just a little too tight. Farewell, Colorado. With each year Death’s gnarled finger inches a little closer to the golden tresses of Gabriel Landeskog and friends, but they have the fourth overall pick in the draft this year. They’ll be fine.