The Florida Panthers begin the playoff run against the Capitals


Catch sight of!  Your playoff hockey team.

Catch sight of! Your playoff hockey team.
picture: Getty Images

I know there are many obstacles. First of all, hockey is probably the most provincial sport we have and once all the teams are out these fans tend to give a damn what happens next. We’ve spent so much time trying to find reasons to hate everyone else that it’s impossible to shift gears. We just want everyone to lose. Galle is an important part of hockey fandom.

Second, hockey fans have had a hard time jumping on the bandwagon of any of the southern teams, as some still feel they don’t belong there, even as Nashville and Tampa have become some of hockey’s strongest markets. The Panthers aren’t like that, and there are some longer-serving hockey fans (the ones you don’t see anywhere else except in the arena wearing the jersey of an idiot who retired 20 years ago) who like to see them go would have just enough belly to need relocation (although they would be just as likely to end up in Houston as in Quebec or some other supposedly more deserving city).

But here’s the thing. Hockey might also be the biggest copycat sport. Even more than football. When a team lifts the trophy, every team that didn’t do it right away is trying to figure out how to emulate the winners to get there next time, even if they totally misjudged what that team was made master.

The Hawks and Wings convinced everyone early in the last decade that they didn’t really need a superstar goaltender to win (although the Hawks depended heavily on it for their next two triumphs). Then the Kings convinced everyone, although Jonathan Quick had only been downright average since 2012. The Penguins made everyone think you need four centers. The Blues made everyone think you had to be big and mean, even though they’d now become more of a skill team (reputation in the NHL is almost impossible to destroy). The Lightning has been telling everyone for the past two years that they need to score past their top two lines, and speed too, which is why Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow are very rich now.

So here we are at the Panthers, the highest-scoring team the NHL has seen in 29 years. Are they a good defensive team? No, not particularly. But that didn’t stop them from winning the Presidents’ Trophy from a division that also had four other playoff teams. They’re 12th in goals conceded per game, which isn’t bad. They’re 13th in expected goals conceded per game, again not bad but barely suspended.

As the NHL playoffs began yesterday, and especially right as the Cats lost their first playoff game, the airwaves and websites will be filled with grumpy hockey writers opening their book of clichés to tell us all that one team can’t score his way to a parade. It’s the easy way out, and it’s the easiest way to sound wise and be right. After all, the Panthers are just one of 16 teams that can win, and if you boil it down to those teams that have a real shot at lifting the cup, it’s about one in six or seven. Chances are they won’t win.

But we need a team that just leads Showtimes to glory. We need a team that says if you score five, they score six. And the Panthers very well need to, given goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky’s playoff history (it’s not good). And yes, they could face the Lightning in the next round, who can certainly score with them and have a proven and excellent playoff goalie.

But it would be better for the league if every team started combing through their rosters and trying to figure out a way they could score four or more goals a game. It would lead to a better product. And let’s face it, it would definitely shake the cages of the hockey world team it takes to get a South Florida team going. The cries of “Understood!” and “Not a real hockey town!” would be nutritious.

The Panthers don’t have to win everything anyway. The Avalanche, with its blue go-go line, would accomplish the same thing. So could Calgary unless they’re coached by Darryl Sutter and the hockey press is still certain he’s playing a hard, slow game, which he hasn’t done in a long time. Avs-Panthers, would be a must watch on TV.

So get over it. root for the panthers. It’s the way to a better day.

Giannis is here

There are some plays, if they are really meant to convey something more than what is being accomplished there on the ground or field or ice, they do just that. They make a bigger statement and can act as a sign of sheer confidence and boastfulness that a opponent cannot break. We talked about Karim Benzema’s Panenka penalty against City last week. That kind of cheekiness isn’t just about goals, it’s about showing City that, despite leading and dominating Madrid for the most part last Tuesday, they have an inner strength that can’t be broken.

Giannis was on this tip yesterday afternoon:

Giannis was already doing what he wanted at Milwaukee’s 101-89 win in Game 1 about the Celtics. He did what he wanted, to the tune of a triple-double. But this step? That rubs someone’s nose in there. This is a clear display of what might still be the best player in the league, making it clear that he will go anywhere and do anything in this series and the Cs had better get used to it. It’s pejorative, it’s arrogant, and it’s the pinnacle of the game. If the Bucks win that streak quickly, say no more than five games, we’ll all look back and know that was the moment Boston realized there was something indescribable about Milwaukee right now.

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