Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An Extremely Necessary Distraction

Some of you are probably wondering why it's been a while since I've mentioned hockey. A whole week in fact. Well, I've mentioned it in my past few posts, albeit only in passing, and I could tell you about how thrilling nearly every series is so far or how nearly a third of the games have gone to sudden death overtime, but, you see, there is one series that isn't very close.

And it happens to be my series.

You see, seven of eight series are either tied or at 2-1 split so far, but the one series that isn't is between my beloved New Jersey Devils and the hated Philadelphia Flyers. After two rough games in Philadelphia marred by some iffy officiating, frustrating opposition goaltending and a bizarre decision to not play offense, you know, at all, the Devils suddenly find themselves coming home for Game 5 in a 3-1 deficit and on the brink of elimination.

What makes it so frustrating? Well for one, Martin Brodeur is quietly having one of his better postseasons in recent years. New Jersey's Game 3 overtime loss featured one of the best performances Brodeur has put on in his entire career, while Game 4 featured several spectacular saves, including one that could be on highlight reels for years to come. The other frustration is that Philadelphia has, in net, the immortally forgettable Brian Boucher, a man who has spent the past decade being a journeyman who, aside from one outrageously remarkable shutout streak while with Phoenix, has been thoroughly mediocre for most of his career.

And here he is making remarkable stop after remarkable stop. Of course, he hasn't had to make too many considering the Devils' offense hasn't felt like generating many chances. Perhaps what makes this all most bothersome is that I knew before the postseason began that of the Devils' first-round options, the Flyers were the one I was least interested in playing. And here we are.

Essentially, it feels like my clearly inferior nemesis is beating the shit out of me with the help of his prepubescent brother.

Then again, there are probably more embarrassing ways to lose in the postseason.

Fortunately, Tuesday night provided a distraction from the pain of this year's first round in the form of one of the many days football fans across the country wait months for. No, I'm not talking about that "Super Bowl" nonsense. I'm talking about a day when everyone still has hope for the coming season. I talk, of course, about the release of the 2010 NFL Schedule.

Now, for some of you, this merely gives you the excitement of knowing when your team is playing whom, but for me, the intrigue lies also in potential road games I will try to hit this year. In the case of 2010, likely targets are the Giants visit to Indianapolis on September 19, their visit to Houston on October 10 and their trip down the turnpike to Philadelphia on November 21. There is also some potential for a return trip to Lambeau on December 26, as well as a trip to Chicago that same day to see the Jets visit the Bears. Unfortunately, my hopes that Minnesota would be home during my potential visit to Minneapolis in October weren't fulfilled. The Vikings will be on the bye that weekend.

For those of you wondering how your team's slate looks, has a very cool breakdown of each schedule, replete with expected difficulty and total miles traveled, as well as a virtual map laying it all out. While I've had my misgivings about the Giants' schedule this year -- December is a brutal stretch with three division games surrounding trips to Green Bay and Minnesota, and it's the seventh toughest schedule in the League -- as Matt Mosley points out in his superb NFC East blog on, New York has back-to-back road games only once, the bye week doesn't come until Week 8 and the bye also comes before the Giants make that brutal cross-country trip to Seattle, which will provide some timely rest. That trip also happens to be the only one that will take them further west than Dallas.

Of course, it's too soon to really know how these schedules are going to break out. The NFL is as unpredictable as it comes when taking into account who will and won't be in the mix come November. And with the Giants not playing within the division until Week 7, there's plenty of time for them to build a cushion while the Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins bludgeon each other senseless.

Well, maybe not senseless, but once or twice anyway.

Of course, the NFL Schedule only lasts as a distraction for so long, and the NFL Draft, which starts on Thursday night -- the first time that's ever happened -- won't have quite as much staying power either. If the Devils don't turn it around soon, my only diversion will likely be the Mets, but, surprise surprise, the Mets have actually won two straight. (And three of their last four!) I know, small solace, really, but with a team that is expected to be among the dregs of the Majors, I'm taking what I can get for now, particularly since I think, when healthy, the Mets will actually be a fairly competitive team.

Don't worry, there's plenty of time for them to prove me wrong.

This gets more exciting when I point out that tonight I will be going to my first Mets game of the year, which is important for two reasons. A) I'll get to see the immortal Ike Davis for the first time. Davis shined in his debut on Monday, though his second outing was somewhat forgettable, but he is still considered the first baseman of the future, so I'm excited for my peak at what's to come. B) I'll finally get my first look at the completely revamped Citi Field, most notably its new Mets Hall of Fame and Museum.

If any of you are at the game, don't be afraid to say hi, and if the Mets can keep the winning ways up, maybe it'll actually provide a distraction from the fact that my Devils will be teetering on the edge of their season the next night. Of course, a 3-1 rally isn't impossible to come back from, as these two teams should know. And if you're looking for some sort of parallel between 2000 and 2010, look at who was in net both times. Martin Brodeur has been the Devils' mainstay for nearly two decades, but Philadelphia's crease has been a revolving door of names like Roman Cechmanek, Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki. Bizarrely, however, the Flyer between the pipes for that collapse ten years ago?

Brian Boucher.

He may have been around the League and back since, but here's hoping history repeats itself.

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