The gamble and the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

Once in a while, I get contacted with hockey-related stuff that reminds me I actually established myself in coverage of the Tampa Bay Lightning while blogging on Boltsmag/Raw Charge. In this instince, the question led me to want to post a reminder for NHL fans out there. No, it’s not a crowing (which would be expected from a fan of a team that just tied the NHL’s record for wins in a season). It’s something I’ve written in past blog posts when the playoffs commence.

Here’s the question and what follows is my response:

I hope you are doing well.  Who would you take if you were forced to place a bet about the upcoming NHL playoffs;  Tampa Bay or the rest of the field?  I thank you again for your time.

— C.R.

The fan in me is locked in, I’m part of the rolling thunder as the Lightning storm commences in the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. So, talking forced gamble (and crappy odds on the bet cuz it looks like a sure thing right now), I take the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Now, let me talk long-time NHL fan with the notion that every fan of all 16 playoff teams needs to start the playoffs with: This is the NHL’s Second Season. Everything starts at zero and hope reigns over every participating club in play. Everybody’s got a chance. Everybody. You can’t go and shouldn’t go into the playoffs with expectations. And for the sake of saying so, you shouldn’t take out expectations from successful or failed playoff contention (I’m speaking directly about the shallow fans who wanted Lightning head coach Jon Cooper fired due to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals failings).

There are three proverbial contenders in the Eastern Conference (well, four, but the NHL media doesn’t credit the Lightning for what’s turned into repeat playoff placement): The Capitals, the Penguins and the Bruins. None of them should be written off or dismissed. You shouldn’t write off or look past Barry Trotz with the New York Islanders either; it’s going to be a matter of the roster rising to another level on Long Island and Trotz has shown he can do that with a club.

I’d call the Western Conference an open-season because of how its wavered with the exception of the Flames, Sharks and the biggest wild card of them all, the St. Louis Blues. St. Louis was last place in the NHL, only 34 points, on January 2nd, 2019. They’ve finished the season with 99 points and have swept the Bolts and taken two of three from the Calgary Flames in play. They finished the season tied in points with the Winnipeg Jets, who they face in the first round of the playoffs. That surge is reminiscent of the Lightning’s 2003-04 second-half surge that ensured playoff play.

But the surge means nothing now unless the standard that’s been set in play continues.

Talking Lightning hockey, there’s an albatross that’s been popping up over and over again that doesn’t necessarily quash them but it’s an enigmatic element because sports team rely on this to regroup and get back into form: The Bolts come out weak after a period of rest. How many losses came directly from time off? How many follow-up games were stumbles (not necessarily losses or wins)? It was a weird in-season factor that needs to stop in the playoffs or it stunts any success. It gives Columbus hope in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and could be a factor if the Lightning wins one round and then get time off as their next opponent’s series draws out in time.

In short: It’s anyone’s ballgame now. Yeah, the Bolts set NHL records(!!!) and fans will take pride and hope into the Stanley Cup Playoffs… But everything starts at zero. This, the playoffs, is a new season of play and everyone has an equal chance until they prove otherwise in play.

In closing, a forced gamble if and when I actually adhere to knowing it’s an open field (the overall truth to the NHL playoffs)? I donate the money to charity instead of betting. I’ll watch how the cards fall as the hand plays out. Come what may… I just hope the Lightning hit the jackpot.