Sunday November 23, 2014

Rangers and Blues no laughing matter anymore


Legal bookmakers in Nevada will take bets on just about anything connected with sports. If you want to put down a fiver that says the national anthem singer will finish singing in less than a minute and 30 seconds at a college basketball game in Tulsa next Thursday, somebody on Las Vegas Blvd. would likely quote you odds without a snicker.

But you probably would have got a smirk – or maybe even an outright giggle or a belly laugh – had you wagered money last October that the best two teams going into the National Hockey League playoffs in April would be the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues. 

But that’s what a team’s commitment to defence, and great goaltending, will do.

The Rangers were the better team of those two last year, barely sneaking into the playoffs after finishing eighth. They were quickly dismissed four games to one by Washington in the first round of playoffs. The Blues were worse; they finished a dismal 11th in the Western Conference, missing a playoff spot by 10 points.

Fast forward 11 months: the Blues, under coach Ken Hitchcock, who took over from Davis Payne after 13 games (6-7 record), were a huge surprise and the number one team in the West. The Rangers, riding the hot goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist and the determined coaching of John Tortorella, who won a cup in 2004 with Tampa Bay, have been the class of the East all season.

The perceived powers in the NHL – Stanley Cup finalists Boston and Vancouver, and perennial contenders Detroit and Pittsburgh – have had strong seasons, but the underdog Rangers and Blues have been even more sublime.

New York is likely to finish the season with only three 20-goal scorers (Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards) but are riding Lundqvist and his mid-1.80s goals-against average, eight shutouts and save percentage close to .940 to win after win. Same story with the Blues, who are the only team in NHL history to have two goaltenders post at least six shutouts each in one season. When they award the Vezina Trophy this June, don’t be surprised if it’s shared by the Blues’ Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. 

The playoffs are still about a month away, but suggesting a Rangers-Blues Stanley Cup Final is no longer accompanied by roars of laughter.

• Comedy writer Alan Ray, not surprised that Massachusetts authorities broke up a canary-fighting ring: "Usually, investigators can get one or two of the participants to sing."

• Angels manager Mike Scioscia showed up to spring training 38 pounds lighter – and with a goal to lose another 20. "I was born 10 pounds, 12 ounces," he explained to the L.A. Times, "and I've been trying to lose weight ever since."

• Comedy writer Jim Barach: “Forty-nine-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer is trying to make a Major League comeback. Apparently he has good speed and location with the peanuts. They just need to show him how to make correct change.”

• Barach again: “Former Major League star Lenny Dykstra has been sentenced to three years in prison for car theft. He says it’s still better than being traded to the Cubs.”

• Comedy writer Jerry Perisho: “. . . Dykstra was sentenced to three years in state prison for auto theft. A disappointed Pete Rose said, ‘Damn, I had 150 big ones saying he’d get five to 10.’”

• R.J. Currie of “Rory McIlroy is now the world's number one golfer, has earnings over $5.2 million in 2012 and is dating tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. If that's the luck of the Irish, I want some.”

• Currie again: “Tim Tebow was seen at a restaurant with Taylor Swift, fueling speculation it's the start of a romance. With the accuracy of Tebow's passes, he'll end up dating the waiter.”

• Headlines at “Crosby to visit people doctor after penguin specialists offer no solutions.”

“Desperate Mets to attempt to play winning baseball in scheme to sell tickets.”

• Budd Bailey of the Buffalo (N.Y.) News, after a caged lion at a charity event reportedly urinated on Patriots wideout Chad Ochocinco: “You catch only 15 passes in a season, and everyone is a critic.”

• NBC's Jimmy Fallon, on the electrical blaze at Fenway Park: “Instead of calling 911, Boston fans just heckled the fire until it left.”

• Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, on the new mob museum in Las Vegas: “It's similar to the Baseball Hall of Fame, only with fewer rule-breakers.”

• Norman Chad of the Washington Post on Mike Tyson hosting a one-week live variety show in Las Vegas in April: “Tickets in the 740-seat theatre start at $99.99, with “special VIP packages” available for $499.99 – for that price, you should get a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.”

• Janice Hough of “San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers just enthusiastically endorsed Rick Santorum for President. The NFL is reviewing tapes to see if the Saints or any other team gave him a particularly hard hit to the head.”

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