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What We Learned: Want fun hockey? Play favorites in Stanley Cup Playoffs

Ryan Lambert
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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

The thing that's great about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that any team can knock off any other one, regardless of seeding or apparent quality. A seven-game series is short, obviously, but it seems as though the NHL produces more postseason upsets on a regular basis than baseball, basketball or football.

But this year, I don't care about any of that. I want the favorites to lay waste to the competition with displays of power both horrible and impressive, so that they can meet for what could be the most entertaining Cup Final in years. The Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins are the runaway best teams in the League this year and with good reason: They're deep everywhere and very, very good at everything. Playing each other for the best trophy in sports would produce by far the most attractive hockey in these playoffs.

Just think about it: Both teams' first two lines might be the best top-six groups in the sport, with the Penguins having bolstered theirs at the deadline, and the Blackhawks having entered the season with theirs. They're just so deep up front. Pittsburgh has 11 players with 20 or more points this season; Chicago nine. Their D corps are likewise both very deep, though you'd probably prefer to have Joel Quenneville's guys than Dan Bylsma's.

In net, Corey Crawford's numbers obviously stand out this season, but it wasn't so long ago that his save percentage was below league average, and that leads one to suspect he's more or less at Marc-Andre Fleury's level overall, which is to say slightly above average.

I understand that it's not fun to root for the clear No. 1 seeds who were the only teams to break 70 points in the standings, but they're the heavy favorites for a reason. Pummeling eight- and five-seeds and four-seeds isn't the most exciting path to the Final, and all the romanticizing of the underdog story from the Kings last season shows exactly why. But when you don't have a rooting interest, fans should want to see the most interesting hockey possible, and Blackhawks/Penguins is most certainly that. I'm willing to sit through a mediocre, unsurprising first three rounds if the Final is a classic.

A fully operational Penguins team taking on the Presidents' Trophy-winning Blackhawks are all anyone should ever want or need out of these playoffs, because it would be absolutely gorgeous.

It might even be smart to petition the league to force both teams to shorten their benches to two lines and pairings each, because once we start getting an eyeful of Evgeni Malkin with James Neal and Jarome Iginla on his flanks going head-to-head with Patrick Kane, Dave Bolland and Patrick Sharp for 20-plus minutes a night, we're never going to want to stop. That is, until Sidney Crosby climbs over the boards with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis to take on Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Brandon Saad.

The very idea of such a series as this is, of course, made all the more interesting by the fact that, as with baseball before interleague play, these teams haven't faced each other this season, have no common opponents, and last played Dec. 20, 2011. A whole lot has happened since then.

At first glance, you'd think that Chicago is the clear favorite because it finished the season with more points than Pittsburgh and also played in a far tougher conference, but the Pens have won eight of 11 since acquiring Jarome Iginla, and it's important to remember that James Neal and Evgeni Malkin have only recently come aboard again after both missing somewhat significant amounts of time. The Blackhawks have been relatively healthy all year, with only Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp really having missed even somewhat significant time.

Of course, it almost never happens that the top seed in each conference actually makes it to the Cup Final. The last time it did so was when Colorado and New Jersey played each other seven times in 2000-01. And by the way, that series was phenomenal. So let's hope that it happens again this time around, because another run of the mill two-versus-five (or whatever) scenario just doesn't sound as nice.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Here's a stat for you: After trailing at any point in the game, the Ducks have won 12 times and gotten overtime losses two more. That's 26 of their 66 points this season, which is rather impressive.

Boston Bruins: The Bruins are pretending like losing four of six headed into last night's game with Ottawa wasn't that big of a deal. How cute.

Buffalo Sabres: Can you imagine how ballsy you have to be to raise season ticket prices when you finish 23rd in the league and have already started trading every half-decent player on your team? At least Ryan Miller is gone in the summer. Maybe Thomas Vanek too. Blaming it on the lockout and new CBA is just disgusting, particularly since, you know, the cap is going down. Say, aren't they getting more of every dollar, too? Hmm that's so weird, because I thought the Sabres weren't a money-making venture for Terry Pegula.

Calgary Flames: Yeah, you never want it listed in a headline that your decision to change philosophies about the state of the team was the "season highlight," I don't think.

Carolina Hurricanes: It's really odd how little recognition Jiri Tlusty has received despite outpacing his career high in goals by six this season. He scored 23 in 48, as many goals as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews this season. More than Rick Nash. More than Phil Kessel. (And okay, sure, he shot 19.7 percent.)

Chicago Blackhawks: "Hawks began readying for Wild minutes after Minnesota clinched." Their plan for victory apparently includes critical moves like "Show up," and "Remember to wear skates." That's coaching.

Colorado Avalanche: Real nice shot from this Ryan O'Reilly kid. I think he's gonna do alright in this league.

Columbus Blue Jackets: At least two Blue Jackets will get to play in the postseason, as Ryan Johansen and Dalton Prout will be sent to Springfield for the Calder Cup playoffs.

Dallas Stars: Owner Tom Gaglardi says the team underachieved this year, which doesn't seem accurate to me. Now Joe Nieuwendyk is on the hook for it. You have to wonder exactly which bad trade with the Penguins it was that did him in.

Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: If I'm Anaheim, I want no part of these Red Wings in the first round. They've shut out three teams in the last seven games and taken 11 points from them. They're playing just phenomenal hockey right now.

Edmonton Oilers: Taylor Hall went into Saturday night allegedly needing one point to earn himself a $2 million bonus. He got it on this Justin Schultz goal, and you can tell because look how friggin' excited everyone is. He finished ninth in the league in scoring with 50 points in 45 games. Not bad at all.


Florida Panthers: Of course the last game ever for the Southeast Division was a 5-3 disaster and of course Florida won it for no reason at all. The New York Times found that the winner of the Southeast has, historically, the worst winning percentage of any division winners in any major sport under their current formats. Good riddance.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings won their final game but I'm not entirely sure finishing fifth and playing St. Louis is preferable to finishing sixth and playing Vancouver. Although I guess it should be noted the Kings went 3-0 against the Blues this year, scoring 14 goals and allowing just seven.

Minnesota Wild: This headline puts it about as bluntly as it deserves to be put: "Big-spending Wild barely squeak into post-season." They had to win and they won but boy should they not be hanging their hats on this.

Montreal Canadiens: Andrei Markov's has to be one of the least-talked-about 10-goal seasons from a defenseman in a while, right? He broke double digits and added an assist on Saturday. He's one of four defensemen to break that barrier this season.

Nashville Predators: Not that this is going to come as any great surprise, but the Preds aren't gonna can Barry Trotz or trade Shea Weber.

New Jersey Devils: Have we seen the last of both Patrik Elias and David Clarkson in New Jersey? Were I a betting man, I'd say no and yes, respectively.

New York Islanders: I just want to congratulate Keith Aucoin for scoring the goal that best summarizes the Sabres season this year. So much of this is hilarious.

New York Rangers: If you're an opponent, the Rangers are playing some scary-ass hockey these days. Seven wins in the last nine games, scoring a boatload of goals. Tough to envy the Caps' draw in the first round here.

Ottawa Senators: In the first two games after his return to the lineup, Erik Karlsson played almost 55 minutes and put 15 shots on net. I mean, come on.

Philadelphia Flyers: Here's a fairly passionate defense of Peter Laviolette's work this season, though it is disappointingly riddled with far fewer trashwords than the Flyers' potty-mouthed GM's. Let's try to keep it clean out there Homer.

Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 262 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days. And as for Radim Vrbata's season-ending hat trick, well, this goal to finish 'er off might be the slowest-developing and weirdest shortie of the year.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Now, granted, this came against the Hurricanes, but James Neal's return to the lineup for the first time in three weeks or so was a good one. He had a hat trick and an assist, and got himself up over 20 goals in 40 games.

San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton didn't come right out and say they didn't play as hard as they could have in their season-closing loss to Los Angeles but umm: "You want to win every game we play, but you don't want to get hurt. We tried our best. They were better than us."

St. Louis Blues: Here's a great look at what makes Kevin Shattenkirk perhaps the best No. 2 defenseman in the league. Spoiler alert: He works super-hard.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Gotta love what Marty St. Louis did this year. Scoring 60 points in 48 games is great for anyone, obviously. But when you're also like 5-foot-1 and 52 years old, that's just awesome. What a player.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Lots of questions for the Leafs headed into the playoffs but would you believe they say they're not gonna dwell on that ugly 4-1 loss to Montreal? You gotta move on, as I understand it.

Vancouver Canucks: Punk move by Alain Vigneault and Henrik Sedin to rest the forward but also play him just 22 seconds to preserve his 629-game ironman streak. Either play him the usual amount or not at all. This is some seriously weak stuff.

Washington Capitals: Shout out to Mike Green for becoming a man possessed since he returned from injury in mid-March. He's got 10 goals and nine assists in his last 18 games, including 2-1-3 in Saturday's season finale against Boston. Scoot on, Mike.

Winnipeg Jets: I feel like this woefully misguided criticism almost has to be a parody of the kind of stuff Winnipeg writers say about Evander Kane. That's how bad and embarrassing it is. Fortunately, a Ctrl+F for "brash" yields nothing. But hey here's a question: How you gonna hang the Jets giving up 141 goals in 48 games on Big Buff when a certain someone in net escapes all criticism? There's gotta be a really great reason for that. I wonder what it is. Like, here's another one from the Free Press about 10 things the Jets "must address to become a contender" and there's not one word about Pavelec. Don't you think maybe the goalie with the .906 save percentage is perhaps somewhat culpable in this? Maybe? There has to be something in the water up in Winnipeg that makes people this oblivious.

Play of the Weekend

Huh. Yeah, I mean I guess this was a good save or whatever. Sure.

Gold Star Award

Yak for Calder.

Minus of the Weekend

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Canada bad. Outshot 35-12, win 3-2 thanks to what I can only assume was the crookedest of IIHF officiating.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

Not too often you see a Phoenix/Carolina trade proposal, but user "jayhamm" brings the heat on this one.

To Phoenix:
Jeff Skinner

To Carolina:
B. Gormley and 2013 1st

Signoff
Computers don't make errors. What they do, they do on purpose.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don’t you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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