James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Kings cruise to Cup Finals

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It’s long been my argument that the NHL is a really easy sport to “sell” to a friend or budding fellow sports fan. Ever since HD TVs became affordable for normal blokes and blokettes, the “can’t see the puck” excuse (which I never really enjoyed) melted away. Sure, the game is more electric when you’re in the building, but shouldn’t that be the case in the first place? I've always believed that hockey can still go toe-to-toe with any sport whether it's televised on in the flesh, but maybe that's just my hockey bias talking.


Either way, I’ve felt that hockey has great things that can sell it to fans. From video games that really capture the essence in a satisfying way to brilliant blogs that squeeze every ounce of humor out of the sport to fantasy hockey’s democratizing impact, there are a dizzying amount of gateways into the sport.


But nothing beats a great game.



Since the lockout ended, exhilarating action wasn’t hard to find. Sure, not every one of each team’s 82 games (plus the playoffs) are thrill rides, but the sport is a perfect fit for our ADD-addled society; there's action all the time. Simply put, there was a long span in which I’d feel confident that you can plunk a newbie in front of a TV set and they’d have a great chance to get hooked.


I’m sad to say that I haven’t gotten that feeling very often in the 2012 playoffs, though.


The low-scoring, “turtling” style – blaming shot blocking is in vogue right now, but to me it’s all about a lack of aggression in the big picture – seemingly is the only way coaches want to try to win.* That’s not just bad news for fantasy owners (when there are less goals to go around, fantasy suffers), it’s tough news for diehard fans who don’t just watch their favorite teams.



While it’s depressing that the 2012 playoffs might be best termed the Summer of Yawn, there are still games that could move anyone with a pulse. Tuesday night’s Game 5 between the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes is the kind of entertainment fest that could convert a reluctant observer to a captivated new fan.


It included six goals (three each) through the first two periods along with plenty of close-calls, aggression, great saves and the kind of energy that the Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings aren’t always known for. (The Coyotes see that kind of energy especially infrequently.) Game 5 included a trip to overtime and plenty of juicy and delicious controversy over penalty calls, particularly Dustin Brown’s controversial knee-to-knee hit on Michal Rozsival.


It finally culminated with a surprise hero as Dustin Penner went from an ill-advised trade target to a playoff success. He’s actually been quite strong overall, but Kings fans will remember him for scoring the OT winner to send them to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1993. (It’s also reasonable to assume that he probably won’t be back in Los Angeles unless his salary demands are more modest than his pancake-filled belly.)



Shifting back to Brown, the Coyotes were so livid about his hit on Rozsival – who needed help off the ice and should provide an interesting injury update – that they expressed their rage during the traditional post-series handshakes. They’re calling for his head (or at least a suspension), yet it would be quite surprising if the NHL curbed a high-scoring team captain for a single game of the Stanley Cup finals.


Still, it’s certainly something to keep an eye on for a guy who went from a fantastic pick in leagues with deeper categories such as hits to a guy who’s just been flat-out fantastic in fantasy.


* - I’ll argue with you if you claim it’s the only way to win. There’s such a glaring lack of teams willing to embrace a more open style that it’s not fair to say that it cannot work. I’ll never buy into the idea that the Washington Capitals were better equipped to win with “Dale Hunter hockey,” for instance.



Moving on to the East, the Kings are likely to get a cushy little break as the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers series rages on. The Devils aren’t just hanging in there in a 2-2 series, either, as they out-classed the Rangers quite clearly in Game 4 and generally seem a bit (or a lot) stronger and faster. They might not win but they've shown that they're in the same weight class as their local rivals.


I'm getting the odd sense that New York only really shows up for the games that really “matter.” It didn’t really seem like the Rangers played like a No. 1 seed against the Ottawa Senators until they went down 3-2 in the series. The Rangers essentially slept through Game 6 against the Washington Capitals before doing what needed to be done in Game 7.


Perhaps that will work out again for the Rangers, but this Devils team is better than their previous opponents. Martin Brodeur isn’t quite what he once was, yet New Jersey dominates the puck during stretches so it often doesn’t matter. The series has the smell of another seven-game slugfest for New York and one cannot help but wonder if the Blueshirts will be on the wrong end of another do-or-die scenario.


Either way, the Kings will likely be a much fresher team in the Stanley Cup finals. Los Angeles played in just 14 games while the Rangers will play no less than 20 and the Devils will play no less than 18. Combine that with an advanced break between round three and four and the East rep will have to hope that “rust” is more harmful than “rest” is helpful.



1. Jimmy Hascup - 414.30 points

2. Jared O - 240.40

3. Corey Abbott - 236.40

4. Michael Finewax - 220.20

5. Marc Lapierre - 190.20

6. My team - 166.60

7. Ryan Dadoun - 140.40

8. Brian Rosenbaum - 136.70

9. Gus Katsaros - 106.70

10. Kevin Brown - 89.10


As you can see, Hascup is so far ahead of the pack that the gold medal is his. The silver medal race is pretty interesting, however, as it's essentially a three-horse race. While the gap between Jared and Corey is tiny, Finewax has a great chance too because he has 12 players "left." Corey has five left while Jared has five, so it could end up being a really close race.


Marc's team is probably out of the "medal round" already, but I still like to call my team the Mason-Dixon Line of hope. Perhaps it's a matter of masochism.



I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see the Coyotes’ injury list. Don’t be surprised if Radim Vrbata had something ailing him … The Coyotes’ chief free agents are Shane Doan and Ray Whitney. It’s unimaginable to see Doan go anywhere else – unless, perhaps, if the team moves. That’s ultimately the biggest off-season question, although if you know this story, you’re aware that it might not be answered … Russia won the 2012 World Hockey Championships on the back of great play by Alexander Semin, Alex Ovechkin and Semyon Varlamov. The Slovakians took the silver and the Czechs won the bronze … Poor Adrian Aucoin. His team finally makes the conference finals but then his 38-year-old body broke down on him. (Click here for the full injury and suspension list.)

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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