Preparing for the Big Game
With the end of the hockey season just hours away, I’ve been watching with amusement the growing consensus that, no matter which team wins the Stanley Cup tonight, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas will be the Conn Smythe winner. It’s been talked about by Hockey Prospectus, NBC Sports, The Montréal Gazette, Yahoo! Sports, the Toronto Globe and Mail, and SB Nation.
The NHL does things a bit differently from other sports. In baseball, football, and basketball, they give an award for most valuable player in the championship series or game. With only one exception in each of those sports, the MVP award has been given to a player from the winning team. In hockey, however, the award is for most valuable player in the playoffs. That’s what opens the door for the Conn Smythe Trophy to be awarded to a player from the losing team, something that has happened five times.
I’m not sure what I think of that. Certainly, allowing the voters to take into account the entire postseason and not just the finals tends to level the field where choosing an MVP is concerned. In that case, you could say that Roberto Luongo should have as much of a chance as Tim Thomas. Luongo was literally all that stood between the Bruins wins in games one and five. You can’t say the same for Tim Thomas, who had the benefit of lots of scoring by his teammates to back him up, even though he didn’t end up needing it. And when you think about it, unless it’s a total-goals series (the way the NCAA used to do it when I was in college in the 1980s), it really doesn’t matter how well the goalie plays in losses. They’re still losses.
On the other hand, you could make the argument that home ice advantage has been far more valuable for the Canucks in the finals than Luongo’s goaltending, which has collapsed on the road. Who wants to give an award to a goalie who was yanked from two games in the finals because he sucked so badly? This is a guy whose save percentage for the series is an underwhelming 0.896, who has given up an average of one goal for every 17 minutes he’s played. Every 17 minutes. And those numbers include his two shutouts.
So while I ordinarily would maintain that the most valuable player by definition should be someone on the championship team, it doesn’t bother me that Thomas is considered the favorite regardless of tonight’s outcome. Of course, I’d much rather that he win it as a member of the winning team. The Conn Smythe is a really nice trophy, but it isn’t the one Thomas is playing for.
Now onto me, because this is my blog. I’ll be spending the evening at Perfect Game, a sports bar near my office that is so named because the first perfect game in major league history was pitched here in Worcester. Such a potentially momentous occasion should be shared with others, and since my friends are not particularly big hockey fans and are mostly sticks-in-the-mud (“I don’t want to go out, not on a work night”), I was prepared to go alone and talk up whomever I ended up sitting next to at the bar. Then my mother called.
Den Mother’s Mother: Want to come over later to watch the game?
Den Mother: No thanks, I’m going to watch it at Perfect Game.
DMM: With whom?
DM: Whoever’s there. No one else wants to go.
DMM: You’re going to watch it with strangers?
DM: Sure, it’ll be fun. Besides, if we win, it won’t matter that they’re strangers. Remember how much fun game four [of the 2004 World Series, Red Sox vs. Cardinals] was at JJ’s? I want to do that again.
DMM: Oh, OK.
DM: Want to join me?
So now, instead of watching game seven in a sports bar with a bunch of strangers, I’ll be watching it in a sports bar with a bunch of strangers and my 71-year-old mother. Maybe her presence will help make good things happen. She was with me, along with a guy I was dating at the time and a friend who had recently moved here from California, at another area sports bar on the magical night when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. That wasn’t game seven, but it still felt like a must-win situation because we didn’t want to give the Cardinals even the slimmest sliver of hope that they might come back from an 0-3 series deficit like we had done against the Yankees in the ALCS.
When the last out was finally made (“Swing and a ground ball, stabbed by Foulke…he has it…he underhands to first…and the Boston Red Sox are the World Champions!”) it was pandemonium. Men and women alike, young and old, jumped up and down, screaming, high-fiving and hugging and kissing their friends and everyone else’s friends. I kissed some guy I had never seen before and haven’t seen since, but at that moment we were the best of friends because our team had just done what we grew up thinking was nearly impossible.
By contrast, plenty of people remember Boston’s last Stanley Cup. I do, and I’m only in my mid-40s. What makes this moment surreal is that a couple of months ago, nobody thought that our team would still be playing on June 15. So if the Bruins win tonight, I fully expect pandemonium and kisses from strangers.
And if they don’t win… Well, there will be plenty of alcohol on hand.