Times correspondent Jack Shea shares his thoughts on sports on-Island and further afield in this weekly look outside the white lines. This week he reports on the Bruins claim to the Stanley Cup.
They play 82 games to determine the best team in the NHL. Then they play up to 28 more to confirm it. Often doesn’t work out that way because the puck is maddenly unpredictable.|.
The numbers are clear. The Bruins will win the Stanley Cup this year.
The numbers say that the Western Division has four teams that can take it, the East has only two, the B’s and Pittsburgh. San Jose and Anaheim are contenders in the West but Chicago and St. Louis are the iron. At the conclusion of the regular season. The best news is that most of the better teams are in the West and only one of them will survive to play for the Stanley Cup.
Metrics work best for insurance companies. Reality is predictable. Metrics don’t work so well as an aid to figuring out sports results in advance. If they did, the 2004 Red Sox would have been playing golf, not the World Series, and Mercer would not have beaten Duke in the 2014 Big Dance.
Boston hockey fans suffer from an unhealthy fear of the Montreal Canadiens that is not based on reality – they give up as many as they score. Our fear is based on generations of heartbreak inflicted by Les Habitants on the Hub.
But numbers are good indicators and they do offer the “binkie effect” to nervous fans like me.
The B’s have finished the regular season as the “best” team in the NHL. They gave up the fewest goals in their 82-game season history and will have scored more than all but the Blackhawks. Vegas has decided it likes St. Louis (5-1) slightly better than the B’s (11-2), with Chicago, Pittsburgh, Anaheim and San Jose close behind. Metrics.
I don’t bet on sports. If I did, I’d leave the NHL alone. Hockey variables are the metrician’s nightmare. Hot goaltending, injuries, strength of character and the bounce of the puck are all real, though unmeasurable.
The bounce of the puck is huge. Bad bounces, and lucky ones, happen in other sports rarely enough to be noteworthy. The luck of the bounce happens countless times in every hockey game. For a painful example, watch NHL on Youtube of the play in the corner four or five seconds before the Blackhawks’ Cup winner against the Bruins last year.
Here is why the B’s cop the Cup this year:
– Jarome Iginla is the wicked crafty elder statesman/scorer the B’s hoped Jaromir Jagr would be last year. (BTW: Jagr will likely get 25 goals this year at age 41 for the Jersey Devils, a really lousy offensive team. Go figure.)
– The Bruins have three honest-to-god lines this year. You cruise against forwards 4 through 9 at your own peril.
– Patrice Bergeron is healthy. Bergeron is the best defensive forward in the league and it all started to go south in the finals against the Blackhawks last year when the beating he was taking created rib, shoulder, etc. injuries that limited him in games 5 and 6.
I gotta say this: key players are targeted in the NHL more than in any other pro sport these days. It used to be even worse. Ever wonder why Bobby Orr was essentially done at age 26? Defenders constantly put the lumber to his knees and destroyed them. Orr fought his own fights but cheap tactics like these are why enforcers live on in the NHL. Well, that and too many fans love hockey fights.
And the Number One reasons the B’s will win: They get consistently good to great goaltending, every night, from Tuuka Rask and Chad Johnon, the backup who has not lost a game in regulation time this season..
So I feel good, though I gotta admit I was freaking when the Canadiens took the B’s down recently. But they bounced back and haloed the Blackhawks a few days later.
I’m cool now. Bring it on.