Just Give L.A. the Cup Already…

by Kolby Solinsky

White Cover Magazine

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Well, this thing’s over…

Forget my blustering and my silly and desperate attempt to be dramatic, or hopeful, or however I could spin it. Hilarious, that Alain Vigneault flew across the continent only to have the same problem in New York that he had in Vancouver – a team built of speed and pluck that hits a wall at the wrong time, that seems to have as little control over its own fate as its coach has. I call that a water slide team, or a water slide coach. And funny, too, that the L.A. Kings seriously haven’t changed at all in three years since Darryl Sutter last met Vigneault in the Western Conference quarterfinals, back when the Kings were an eighth seed about to knock off the Presidents’ Trophy winners in the first round. It had been done before – but never in five games, not until then.

In the last two years, only the Chicago Blackhawks have posed any threat whatsoever to L.A., the team that shrugs off 3-0 deficits like Brad Pitt shakes off sucker punches in Snatch. The Kings let Anaheim take them to seven games… what, just for fun? And yes, they had their trouble with Chicago. The Blackhawks beat them last year and L.A. returned serve in 2014.

It was clear, that West final was the Stanley Cup. But we’ve seen favourites burned before, especially when their opponents are clubs as unthreatening as the New York Rangers, a club no doubt inflated in their ego because they romped through those powderpuff Pennsylvania teams and a Montreal Canadiens squad that had the backing of 33 million Canadians.

Boston beat Vancouver, much in that same way – they weren’t supposed to win that series. They weren’t even supposed to score.

Pittsburgh upset Detroit in 2009, back when we foolishly thought there were many more Cups to come for the Penguins. Then again, that was Crosby and Co’s second crack at the Winged Wheel, having been beaten by them in a very lopsided six-game series the year before, in 2008. Sequels don’t count, unless you’re talking about City Slickers 2.

Maybe the Rangers could win one or two games. Make it a series?

That was what you heard most before this Cup Final. Everyone watched L.A. beat Chicago in overtime. Everyone saw how good that series was – the pace, the desperation of both teams… and that’s the most impressive, isn’t it, when players as good as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, and Duncan Keith can rise above their own confidence to throw it all in front of them, to grind it out like the rest of us do every day in between subway rides to work and back home? How about Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford, who might have just thrown down in Game 7 if each of them didn’t think the other could win that fight? The Kings and Blackhawks have a mutual hatred but mutual respect for each other, too. That makes for the best showdowns, from Bird vs Magic to Magneto vs Charles Xavier.

And then you’ve got New York. Their bench boss is still trying the same tricks he tried in Vancouver, and still failing because of inability to see what we see, or see it in time.

I heard Craig Simpson on Hockey Night in Canada last night, talking about the Rangers powerplay, which was about to be 0-4 in the game. Brad Richards and Ryan McDonagh had been manning the point every time, and they were struggling mightily to even get a shot through traffic. (And yes, I know Jonathan Quick was incredible in Game 3, but New York’s gonna need more than a few spaced-out highlight reel Plinko shots to beat a Conn Smythe winner like Quick.)

Simpson said he was surprised that New York kept trying the same thing over and over in failure – with McDonagh and Richards on the point, and some formation of St. Louis, Nash, Zuccarello, Pouliot, and Brassard attempting to cycle down low. Simpson even pulled out that great line, “Isn’t that the definition of insanity?”

But why are you surprised?

Isn’t that what Vigneault did over and over in Vancouver, too? And didn’t it inflate the Canucks’ egos, when they walked into that Cup Final in 2011 with the best powerplay in the NHL that year and that postseason, while the Bruins wearily walked in with a man-advantage percentage just north of eight?

Of course, Boston scored more shorthanded goals in those seven games than Vancouver scored on the powerplay. I don’t know what New York’s average is in this series, but it doesn’t matter… because I know the series is 3-0 for L.A. And I know it’s going to end very soon.

There’s a reason the Canucks had a slow fall from 2011 to 2013, under AV. The team never understood that hockey is like the smartphone business. When they had won a Stanley Cup, the iPhone 4 had just come out. When they bombed out of the first round, swept in four by San Jose, the iPhone 5 was almost discontinued, and I’m pretty sure I had already moved onto a Samsung Galaxy. Sure, the iPhone 4 still worked… but it wasn’t going to get my money and the Canucks weren’t going to win a championship playing ancient hockey.

Look, the Rangers are a good team. They got this far, didn’t they?

But they have to be depressed, knowing they fell for their own rhetoric. It’s fine to say Don’t panic, don’t panic, but what if you really aren’t panicking? Panic is useful, sometimes. Sure, don’t lose your cool after you lose that first game in overtime, but don’t just repeat the blunder in Game 2, either. New York did exactly that, and then they waltzed into Game 3 thinking, “Yeah, well we were right thereon Saturday. We should have won. All we have to do is win tonight, and we’re back in this thing.” But L.A. knew what they were thinking, because L.A. thought the same thing only a few weeks ago.

And it’s sad for Rangers fans, because they have something in common with Devils fans… they’re both losers, almost identically, when they play the Kings in the season finale.

In 2012, the Devils dropped their first two games to Los Angeles, both in overtime. (This year, the Rangers have done the same.)

In Game 3, Jersey lost 4-0. (In Game 3 this year, New York lost 3-0.)

Of course, the Devils rebounded to stave off elimination for two games. But again, L.A. has a history of humouring its opponents. They let other teams get ahead and they let them off the mat like Muhammad Ali when he held up Ernie Terrell for 15 rounds after Terrell continually called the greatest-ever by his birth name, ‘Clay’, and not his chosen Islam name, ‘Ali’.

Ali told reporters, “I wanted to torture him” and “a clean knockout is too good for him.” Throughout the fight, which the quicker, stronger, and more motivated Ali dominated from the first to the final bell, Ali barked “Uncle Tom” at Terrell and repeatedly yelled, “What’s my name? What’s my name?”

It was cruel, but it was a competition.

But if anything, the fact that the scoresheet shows 15 rounds is a bonus for Terrell, who probably shouldn’t have lasted one. The Devils have that luxury, too, having been beaten in the most lopsided six-game series I’ve ever watched.

New York really can’t win.

Honestly, should they even try?