It’s been a weird year in the National Hockey League to the extent that one of the least talked-about teams is the one which should be regarded as the favourite to win the Stanley Cup this spring.
We’ve heard plenty about the Pittsburgh Penguins and their stellar play without Sidney Crosby. We’ve heard lots about the defending champion Boston Bruins and their designs on two in a row. We’ve heard more than we need to about Vancouver Canucks and their rebound season after Stanley Cup heartbreak last spring and we’ve heard plenty about the underdog St. Louis Blues and their extraordinary play under undisputed coach of the year, Ken Hitchcock.
And the New York Rangers? Oh, have they got a chance?
Uh, more than a chance. They’re the best under-the-radar team in years, but over four seven-game series, goalie Henrik Lundqvist is going to be a tough man to beat. For the first time since 1994, the Rangers – who broke a 54-year drought by beating Vancouver that year – will do it again, giving the Canucks back-to-back seasons of June heartbreak. Hopefully the B.C. rioters will go on vacation for the month of June and let the Canucks lose in peace and quiet.
Fresh from the Las Penton Casino are the approximate odds of 11 contenders for the Cup.
NY Rangers (4-1) – Lundqvist, Gaborik and a smothering defence a potent combination.
Vancouver Canucks (9-2) – President’s Cup winners are playoff hardened after last year.
Pittsburgh Penguins (5-1) – Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are back in full bloom.
Detroit Red Wings (7-1) – Never count out the experience from the Motor City.
Boston Bruins (10-1) – Goaltending question mark leaves them on outside.
St. Louis Blues (12-1) – Expended too much energy trying for President’s Cup.
Nashville Predators (15-1) – Elite goaltending (Pekka Rinne) and late addition of triggerman Alexander Radulov make Preds an intriguing Cup threat.
Philadelphia Flyers (18-1) – Third overall in the East, but difficult road to the Cup with so-so goaltending.
Phoenix Coyotes (20-1) – Hot down the stretch.
Ottawa Senators (22-1) – Will the super year continue for coach MacLean, sniper Spezza and surprising Karlsson?
Los Angeles Kings (35-1) – Las Penton Casino’s pre-season pick have the offence and the goaltending to scare a lot of teams.
Not this year – San Jose (perennial playoff flop), New Jersey (102-point year, but the East is too tough), Washington (lousy year will continue), Florida (barely qualified) and Chicago (Toews’ health a concern).
• Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, relating a story proving Randy Moss comes by his bad reputation honestly: “Raiders coaches spotted a weakness in the opposing defence and sent in a pass play calling for Moss to cut across the Coliseum's baseball infield. Moss broke off his route. Confronted on the sideline, Moss explained, “Randy don't run on dirt.”
• Comedy writer Jim Barach: “A Texas prisoner yelled ‘Go Cowboys!’ right before he was executed. Which is exactly the same thing that would have happened if he yelled that in Oakland during a Raiders and Cowboys game.”
• Len Berman of ThatsSports.com, noting that the first long-distance phone call from Boston to New York was made on March 27, 1884: "The caller, I think, yelled, 'Yankees suck.'”
• Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, after Sen. Dick Durbin called for an investigation of NFL bounties: "This may be a new low for the NFL: A politician from Illinois says you're dirty."
• Steve Schrader of the Detroit Free Press, on the Texas Rangers' $26 hot dog topped with chili, sauteed onions and shredded cheese: "Hey, these days, do you know a cheaper way to get gas?”
• R.J. Currie of sportsdeke.com: “A survey says Canadians rank number five among the happiest people in the world. Number one if you exclude Maple Leafs fans.”
• Currie again: “The Government of Canada is phasing out the penny. This will end great Canadian traditions like penny jars, penny-ante poker and CFL signing bonuses.”
• Comedy writer Alan Ray, on the Knicks' interest in Kentucky coach John Calipari: “In the pros, he wouldn't have to worry with player academics or NCAA rules and regulations. In other words, a lateral move.”
• Headline at SportsPickle.com: “Robert Griffin III trying to enjoy his final weeks of happiness before becoming a Redskin.”
• Greg Cote of the Miami Herald, not impressed with the Mariners and A's opening the MLB season in Tokyo: “What's next? Japan opening its sumo-wrestling season in Des Moines, Iowa?”
• The WHL's Edmonton-Kootenay playoff series had a family twist — the Oil Kings' Griffin Reinhart pitted against his brothers, Max and Sam. Tweeted Griffin: “Best comment on the ice goes to my little bro Sam saying when we were in a scrum: ‘If you touch me I'm telling mom.' "
• Janice Hough of leftcoastsportsbabe.com, on the NFL’s ‘Bountygate’: “Reaction around the NFL to the Saints’ locker room audio: One – “That’s despicable.” Two – “Quick, burn OUR tapes.”
• Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel “If Fred Couples had won the Masters, he’s so old they would have given him a plaid jacket.”
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