Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Stanley Cup Playoffs and the best two words in sports

Game seven.  Regardless of the sport it’ll keep anyone on the edge of their seat.  Tonight the NHL provides us with three.  Say what you want about how many teams make the playoffs or how long the regular season trudges along, the bottom line is, when the Stanley Cup Playoffs roll around it’s worth every minute of the wait and nights like tonight are why.

Leading up to tonight’s three games, 13 of the 45 games so far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs have gone to overtime and there are plenty of games that have been decided by one goal that ended in regulation.  This is no surprise though.  The Stanley Cup Playoffs provide this kind of excitement annually.  From mid-April until early-June there’s a consistent edginess that resonates throughout the stomachs of hockey fans as the playoffs unfold.  So it seems only fitting that we would conclude the first round tonight with three game sevens.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s weird that the Flyers and Rangers have yet to have an overtime game in their series heading into tonight’s game.  Nonetheless, a historic rivalry has been renewed with the two teams having met in the playoffs for the first time since 1997 and it all comes down to one game tonight at the world’s most famous arena for a chance to move on and play another division rival as Pittsburgh awaits.  The Rangers have never lost a game seven at home while the Flyers have won their last three road game sevens.  Sign me up.

The next game between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche has its fair share of intrigue as well.  In a hockey-crazed state like Minnesota, a Wild win would sure do a lot for the state considering since the North Stars moved Minnesota has not had that much in the way of NHL prominence to cheer about.  Then there’s Colorado, perhaps one of the most exciting teams in the NHL.  With young, fast, explosive, playmaking forwards like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan Mackinnon the Avalanche had the third most points in the NHL this year and are here to stay in part because of the aforementioned forwards but also because of their coach.  Patrick Roy has done a phenomenal job turning the team into a Stanley Cup contender after being in the basement of the NHL the last few years.  With Roy going from between the pipes to behind the bench and developing the young talent in Colorado it’s certainly a great story to keep an eye on in years to come.

Lastly is another rivalry series as the Los Angeles Kings try to come all the way back from an 0-3 deficit against the San Jose Sharks.  These two have developed quite a nice west coast hockey divisional rivalry having went seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals last year and now will go the distance again.  Of course Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have teamed up in LA since leaving Philadelphia in the summer of 2011 and will try to rally again from an 0-3 deficit again after having done so in 2010 with the Flyers against the Boston Bruins.  San Jose has had its fair share of struggles in the playoffs in the last decade while the Kings look to be nurturing quite the playoff pedigree having won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and going to the Western Conference Finals last year.  Can San Jose exercise the demons or will Los Angeles put themselves into the record books with the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders, and 2010 Flyers as the only NHL franchises to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games?  I’d say it’s worth watching.

This is what the Stanley Cup Playoffs are.  Riveting action from the first night until the cup is hoisted and everything else in between is so much fun.  Tonight’s just another one of those nights during the two-month span.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday at Augusta National

There’s no doubt The Masters lost a bit of its luster when the news broke that Tiger Woods won’t be playing in the event.  But the final round at The Masters has always provided us with some edge of our seat moments and there’s no reason to think otherwise this time around.  Consider the fact that Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major in almost six years and a green jacket in nine years.  So there should be plenty of drama to unfold today even without golf’s biggest name.

                                                                            Associated Press
Adam Scott celebrated his first major championship at last
year's Masters, winning in a playoff over Angel Cabrera.
The truth is, there’s just nothing like Sunday at The Masters.  Last year we saw Adam Scott exercise the demons and win his first major defeating a previous Masters champion Angel Cabrera in a thrilling playoff.  Scott had been through a lot of tough Sundays where he fell just short at majors but was on the other side of a close finish at a major at Augusta last year.  Two years ago we saw another man win his first major in a playoff at The Masters as Bubba Watson defeated Louis Oosthuizen and 2011 we saw yet another first-time major champion break through on Sunday as Charl Scwartzel won the green jacket.

 So maybe this sets up for a storybook ending for the 20-year old Jordan Speith to keep the streak alive of first-time major champions at The Masters.   Or maybe the seasoned veteran from Spain, Miguel Angel-Jimenez has a nice final round and he gets his first major.  Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood, and Rickie Fowler are three more names at the top of the leader board who both have yet to win majors but could be primed for a breakthrough on Sunday.
Bubba Watson will forever be remembered for
this shot at the 2012 Masters, his first major.

But it’s not so much that recently there have been first time major champions that get over the hump on at The Masters as much as it is the way in which it’s done.  Playoffs the last two years, the memorable shot by Bubba Watson in 2012 out of the woods to set himself up for the win, and if you go all the way back to 2005, Tiger’s last green jacket as I mentioned, who could forget his chip on the 16th hole in the final round.

What I love so much about Sunday at Augusta is that it’s not so much if there will be drama, how will the drama unfold is the question because a nail-biting finish is almost inevitable.  Maybe someone I didn’t even mention yet will make a charge up the leader board earlier in the day and be in with a 65 and watch the rest from Butler Cabin as his fate is determined. 

                                                                                  Getty Images
Tiger Woods celebrates his chip in on the 16th hole during the final
round of the 2005 Masters, the last time Tiger won at Augusta.
All I can say is that I look forward to taking in one of the more exciting days in sports.  There’s a great sense of finality to the entire tournament when it’s all over.  The man who can withstand the nervous tensions stands alone at the end of the tournament has his moment to bask in the sport’s limelight.  The previous Masters winner comes out to hand over the green jacket, and cameras are flashing the rest of the night to capture the moment.  So today figures to be another chapter in Masters history, just like every other Sunday at Augusta National.