Editor, White Cover Magazine
You asked for it, right?
When Brent Seabrook wrist shot Plinko’d in behind Jimmy Howard on Wednesday night, the NHL was given its first All-American, all champion final four since 1945, and that was when there were only six teams in the league.
It’s Survivor: All-Stars. It’s Celebrity Apprentice. It’s like when Katniss and Haymitch were invited back to The Hunger Games. It’s The Wire sleeping with The Sopranos while Arrested Development and Seinfeld watch.
It’s a dream scenario with enough star power to knock out the lights in the final scene of The Natural – an ensemble cast like the ones in Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve, only imagine the movie’s as good as Love Actually.
The Penguins, the Bruins, the Kings, and the Blackhawks aren’t just the last four Stanley Cup winners – they’re the greatest four symbols of the NHL in its most modern age.
When the Penguins beat the Red Wings in 2009, there was a lot of overdone hoopla about the young guard turning over the old, which is semi-insane because the Wings were the last team to be knocked out in 2013 and they just won the Stanley Cup five years ago, which makes them a pretty darn fitting final victim this season.
When Chicago won the Cup the next year, in 2010, there was the sense that it was just one of many to come – much like Pittsburgh’s victory the year before.
When Boston won in 2011, the conversation changed to the same dialogue it does every time Boston wins a championship – the game is now about speed and meanness, and you’ve got to be a little mean and a little dirty to win a championship. Yadda yadda, but I guess it’s kinda true.
Immediately, every franchise in the NHL retooled its roster to add more size and more nastiness to its depth chart, and then the Los Angeles Kings – the lowest-scoring team in the National Hockey League – somehow got hot at the right time to become the first eighth seed to ever win the Stanley Cup.
The Penguins and the Blackhawks were predictable champions. When they won, they seemed like nothing less than the kind of team you’d look at and say, “Well, this was their year.”
They were like the Avalanche in 2001 or the Red Wings in 1997, maybe even the Oilers in 1984 or the Rangers in 1994 (and it’s not lost on me that Vancouver lost to three of these examples, including Chicago).
You just had to consign yourself to the fact that Pittsburgh and Chicago were two very good teams that deserved their championships eventually, so why not let it be now?
The Bruins and the Kings were not predictable, although anyone who counted them out couldn’t watch their runs without thinking, “How in the Hell did I not see this coming?”
When Boston and L.A. got hot, it was the kind of heat that seemed far too obvious to ignore. The Devils have won three Stanley Cups that way. Carolina and Tampa pulled the same trick in the two years sandwiching the 2005 Lockout, too.
There really is no rhyme or rhythm to this whole thing, and that’s why this Final Four is so damn perfect.
It’s like every corner of the hockey universe decided to come together at once and fight for good and all who holds sway over everyone else. The winner will take the throne… until next June, of course.
Kopitar, Quick and Co. could become the first repeat champions since Detroit in 1998. Sidney Crosby and Malkin could swipe a first Cup for Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, and Tomas Vokoun. The Blackhawks could pop a sweet cherry on top of one of the greatest regular seasons since the Original Six were obliterated in 1967. And, the Bruins could just take this whole thing over like Somalians boarding a freight ship, which is what the Bruins always do.
Every year, we worry the winner won’t have a storyline. We worry hockey will suffer because the Stanley Cup parade will have to be held in a Wal-Mart parking lot in the New Jersey everglades or that we’ll have to pretend to care that Detroit may have once deserved the name ‘Hockeytown’.
We worry that some hockey equivalent of the Green Bay Packers or the New York Yankees will destroy the parity we always want, and that’s because we never know what we want.
Do we want the underdog? It would be cute and sweet and kind of a neat thing to raise the sport’s profile in some snowbird-filled suburban community in Arizona, Florida, or North Carolina.
Or, do we want the favourite? I mean, the Stanley Cup belongs in a place that will love it, cherish it, or even just know what it is.
But, think about the luxury that 2013 has afforded us.
We finally have proof that the National Hockey League has reached its greatest-ever level of competition. It wouldn’t have been absurd to see the Colorado Avalanche – who finished last of all 30 teams in the 2013 regular season – make the playoffs or even win a series. They were, in fact, the first team to beat the Blackhawks in regulation this seasons, and they’re young and talented enough to make a seriously strong push for a starring role in 2014.
Every year for the past four years, each champion has either improved or stayed above the heap, and they’re joined by a supporting cast of teams that could have easily knocked any of them off in the first two rounds: San Jose, Detroit, Toronto, the New York Islanders, and St. Louis.
We have a California team in the middle of its peak in popularity. We have a Pennsylvania sporting hotbed that’s switched by Mario and Jagr to Sidney and Malkin. We have the Madhouse on Madison and the greatest uniforms in the history of North American sport. And, we have the bad old Bruins and the ghosts of Bobby Orr’s knees.
No matter the victor, it’s going to matter.
That ain’t a bad way to end a lockout, neither.