I know there’s a lot of obstacles. First off, hockey is probably the most provincial sport we have, and once everyone’s team is out, those fans tend to not give a fuck about whatever happens next. We’ve spent so much time coming up with reasons to hate everyone else it’s impossible to change gears. We just want everyone to lose. Bile is a major part of hockey fandom.
Second, hockey fans have had a hard time jumping on the bandwagon of any of the southern teams, as some still feel they don’t belong in those places, even if Nashville and Tampa have turned into some of the strongest hockey markets around. The Panthers aren’t as such, and there’s a fair few longer serving hockey fans (the ones you don’t see anywhere else except at the arena wearing the jersey of a goon who retired 20 years ago) that would like to see them go just belly up enough to have to be moved (even though they’d just as likely end up in Houston as they would Quebec or another supposedly more deserving city).
But here’s the thing. Hockey might be the biggest copycat sport, as well. Even more so than football. When a team hoists the Cup, every team that didn’t immediately is trying to figure out how they can emulate the winners to get there the next time, even if they’ve totally miscalculated what exactly made said team champions.
The Hawks and Wings at the beginning of last decade convinced everyone they didn’t really need a superstar goalie to win (even though the Hawks very much did in their next two triumphs). Then the Kings convinced everyone they did, even though Jonathan Quick has been nothing except decidedly average ever since 2012. The Penguins made everyone think you needed four centers. The Blues made everyone think you had to be large and mean, even though they had pivoted to being more of a skill team by then (reputations in the NHL are nearly impossible to kill). The Lightning the past two years told everyone they need scoring beyond their top two lines, and speed as well, which is why Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow are very rich now.
So here we are with the Panthers, the highest-scoring team the NHL has seen in 29 years. Are they a good defensive team? No, not particularly. But that didn’t stop them from winning the Presidents’ Trophy out of a division that had four other playoff teams as well. They’re 12th in goals-against per game, which isn’t bad. They’re 13th in expected-goals against per game, again not bad, but hardly lockdown.
As the NHL Playoffs got underway yesterday, and especially right about the time the Cats lose their first playoff game, the airwaves and sites will be filled with crusty hockey writers opening up their book of cliches to tell us all that a team can’t score its way to a parade. It’s the easy way out, and it’s the easiest way to sound sage and be right. After all, the Panthers are just one of 16 teams that can win, and paring it down to teams with a real chance of winning the Cup are about one in six or seven. Odds are, they won’t win.
But we need a team that just “Showtimes” its way to glory. We need a team that says it’ll score six if you score five. And the Panthers very well might have to to do that, given goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s playoff history (it’s not good). And yeah, they may run into the Lightning in the next round, who can certainly score with them and have a proven and superb playoff goalie.
But it would be better for the league if every team starts combing through its rosters, trying to navigate a route on how they can score four goals per game or more. It would make for a better product. And let’s face it, it would definitely rattle the cages of the side of the hockey world that needs rattling to have a team from South Florida make a run. The cries of “Undeserving!” and “Not Proper Hockey Town!” would be nourishing.
The Panthers don’t have to win it all, anyway. The Avalanche with their go-go blue line would accomplish the same. Calgary could, too, except they’re coached by Darryl Sutter and the hockey press is still sure that he plays a heavy, slow game, which he hasn’t in a long time. Avs-Panthers, would be must-see TV.
So get over it. Root for the Panthers. It’s the road to a better day.
There are some plays, whether they’re really meant to convey something more than what’s accomplished there on the floor or field or ice, do exactly that. They make a larger statement, and can act as a marker of sheer confidence and swagger that an opponent can’t hope to dent. We talked about Karim Benzema’s Panenka penalty against City last week. That kind of brashness isn’t just about scoring, but about exhibiting to City that even though they were ahead, and even though they had mostly domed Madrid last Tuesday, there’s an inner fortitude that can’t be cracked.
Giannis was on that tip yesterday afternoon:
Giannis was already doing whatever he wanted in Milwaukee’s 101-89 Game 1 win over the Celtics. Did whatever he wanted to the tune of a triple-double. But this move? This is rubbing someone’s nose in it. This is a clear display of maybe still the league’s best player making it clear that in this series, he’ll go wherever and do whatever and the Cs had better get used to it. It’s derogatory, it’s arrogant, and it’s the height of the game. If the Bucks win this series quickly, say no more than five games, we’ll all look back at this and know this was the moment Boston realized there is something ineffable about Milwaukee right now.