NHL Playoffs: A veritable alphabet soup

Photo courtesy of NHLI via Getty Images

Here we go.

It’s the A, B, Z’s (American pronunciation for rhyming purposes please) of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with a few Ottawa references thrown in. (This IS an Ottawa-based magazine after all, right?).

So, strap on your ‘well, what a poetic thought’ hat and delve in.

I’m sure there’s a Pulitzer waiting at the end of this rainbow.

A: Is for ‘air temperature.’ How the ice-makers are getting through this final with somewhat stable sheets of ice (well, at least they’re not slush-puddles) is nothing short of miraculous. Temperatures for Games 1 and 2 in Las Vegas were tipping 100 F. Washington isn’t as toasty, but tack on a 90 per cent humidity level and, ouch. Through it all, the ice has held up fairly well. Clearly they’ve moved on/advanced from Buffalo, circa 1975.

B: Is for ‘‘bout time.’ ‘Bout time The Great 8 played in a game that truly mattered. After 13 seasons featuring first ballot hall of fame credentials, Alex Ovechkin is playing for all the marbles. Finally.

C: Is for ‘catch-up.’ Teams watching from the sidelines, especially those who didn’t make it to the post-season, must be wondering how they can possibly get to the same quickness and speed level as the Knights, Caps, Lightning and Jets posthaste. As presented in this space last week, hockey is faster than Bubbles spotting a re-up on the package (reference: The Wire. Keep up. It’s thematic, people).

D: Is for ‘Demolition.’ Why they’re not in the WWE hall of fame is a puzzler. D is also for demolition, as in Tom Wilson, who’s destined for a WWE career as a classic heel if this hockey thing doesn’t work out.

E: Is for ‘excellence’ and ‘Evgeny.’ Yep, Mr. Kuznetsov is that damn good. Drafted 26th overall by the Caps in 2010, Kuznetsov blossomed with an 83-point regular season and superb playoff. How big a steal was he? Guys like Derek Forbort, Dylan McIlrath and Joey Hishon were picked well ahead of the Capitals’ star. Who? Exactly.

F: Is for ‘fourth.’ As in, if you’re picking fourth later this month at the NHL draft in Dallas, who you going with? Many Ottawa fanatics like the idea of Brady Tkachuk, if he’s still available. Regardless, it’s hot water time (again) for the Senators if they don’t grab a plum off the tree here.

G: Is for ‘going-going-gone.’ Man, were we ever crushed when Winnipeg was ousted a couple of weeks ago. Man, we loved watching those guys. Man, that sucked. Man, we felt wronged. Man, feel free to explore your feelings, it’s liberating. Breathe.

H: Is for ‘Holy Mackinaw!!!.’ Toronto Maple Leaf PxP guy Joe Bowen will be honoured later this year as the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award winner for outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster. That while NY Post scripter Larry Brooks gets the Elmer Ferguson Award for excellence in hockey journalism. Brooksie should get the award based alone on his exchanges with coach John Tortorella. Nary a dull moment with these two.

I: Is for ‘inescapable.’ A good description of the Vegas’ full-court press. ‘Smothering’ works too.

J: Is for ‘juiced,’ as in the rivalry between TSN hockey folk and Sportsnet/CBC. Both sides have their great, good and poor analysts, colour commentators and play-by-play types. For our money, put TSN’s Ray Ferraro and Sportsnet/CBC’s Elliotte Friedman at the top of the charts, in a very, very good way.

K: Is for ‘Karlsson.’ Just ‘cause we haven’t mentioned him yet in this weekly column and that’s just not right. (Have we mentioned this IS an Ottawa publication as of yet?). Oh, and it’s Erik, not William in this particular conversation.

L: Is for ‘like.’ Good signing by Ottawa getting 3rd– (or) 4th-line winger Magnus Paajarvi back on board with a one-year contract worth $900,000. MP has good wheels and thinks the game well. Yes, we know this isn’t John Tavares, but all the little bits help. Ottawa needs all the help it can get. Little bits included.

M: Is for ‘Marlo’ and ‘miss.’ As in, I miss The Wire. The HBO show is based in Baltimore (aka, Charm City) which is near Washington, DC, which is where the Capitals play. This is called connecting the dots. It’s also called, a reach. Feel me?

N: Is for ‘no-more.’ As in, we won’t mention The Wire no-more. N is also for new money, and lots of it. Washington stud defenceman John Carlson is likely headed for unrestricted free agency and has played his way to an enormous pay-day. He led the league in defence scoring this past season (68 points), is just 28 and is playing even better hockey in the playoffs. Like every other free agent in the history of hockey, he will be signed by Toronto.

O: Is for ‘OMG!’ I mean, the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t sweated a playoff drop in nearly a full month and there sit Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby . . . still in the Top-5 in scoring. O is also for ‘Oh for a fantasy draft do-over.’ O well. (Pulitzer stuff folks).

P: Is for ‘penalty.’ Listen up here: cross-checking no longer qualifies as a penalty. The league, and by extension, the referees consider a stick-blow to the head as artistic, elegant and wondrous as a work of pointillism by Georges Seurat (my next column will deal with Post-Impressionism).

Q: Is for ‘quoi?!’ As in, what in the name of Pablo Picasso was that P definition all about?

R: Is for ‘Ryan Reaves’ who punched, perspired and plugged his way through four AHL seasons and another eight in spot NHL duty to finally land a significant role in these playoffs. There is room for tough guys who can skate. Reaves’ interviews with fellow Winnipegger Scott Oake on HNIC make for great reality TV.

S: Is for ‘s’up?’ As in, what’s up with the cameras continuously flashing shots of Washington owner Ted Leonsis after Caps’ chances and goals? Who’s he think he is, Jerry Jones?

T: Is for the most polarizing figure in this year’s post-season: ‘Tom’ Wilson. He’s a modern-age Claude Lemieux or Dale Hunter. As the hockey thought goes – hate him if you’re the opposition, love him if he’s wearing your sweater.

U: Is for ‘universal.’ We’re universal in our belief the best Twitter follow for Senator info and intelligent perspective (. . . if Twitter is actually considered a pool of intelligence of course) is @6thSens.

V: Is for ‘vroom,’ as in we PVR’d the first period of Saturday’s Game 3 and lucked out. Got to zip past Pat Sajak’s introduction of the starting lineup. Good call (the PVR-ing, not Sajak). It was a solid miss. Vroom.

W: Is for ‘WTF.’ That, as in what the fandango happened to suddenly turn Devante Smith-Pelley into a very serviceable hockey player? You can just feel the joy emanating from Montreal from elated Habs fans. Or not.

X: Is for ‘xiphoid.’ The xiphoid process functions as a vital attachment point for several major muscles. It acts as one of several origins for the diaphragm muscle that forms the floor of the ribcage and performs the vital process of respiration. This – of course – has absolutely nothing to do with the NHL playoffs, but it’s one helluva Scrabble word.

Y: Is for ‘yup,’ this has morphed into one of the more captivating and unexpected playoffs in recent memory. Expansion Vegas blows through LA, San Jose and Winnipeg without much push back and into the final; Washington knocks out kryptonic Crosby and the Pens; the Leafs seemingly unflappable Auston Matthews looks, um, flappable; Tampa loads up on D but sees a generally reliable attack mode sputter; the Jets break our hearts; everyone’s lovey-dovey for the cup – Nashville – gets plundered in a Game 7 showdown with said Jets . . . and on.

Z: Is for Zdeno Chara. God love ya’ man. I hope you play as long as that frame allows. Met the big guy more than a few times and can tell you, you won’t find a more genuine, kinder athlete off the ice. On the ice? Different story. Still the toughest lad in hockey. I recall chatting with my old Wexford Raider buddy Stan Butler (now head coach/GM up in North Bay) a few years ago about Z. Stan had him back in 1996-97 with WHL Prince George when Chara was a 19-year-old (relatively) unknown big stack of wood. Guys would challenge the untested Slovakian thinking he’d be easy pickings. As Stan put it, the challenges persisted for about a month, then stopped abruptly. Chara not only didn’t lose a single fight, he dominated.