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Monthly Archives: May 2013

The NHL Playoff Primer: Western Conference Finals

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Kings goalie Jonathan Quick doesn't care if cameras are always looking over his shoulder (Reuters).

Kings goalie Jonathan Quick doesn’t care if cameras are always looking over his shoulder (Reuters).

The seemingly random aspects of hockey – the ability for a goaltender to play out of his mind, a team going all out to shut down an opposing star, the chance that a favorite might have some injuries taking their toll – make the NHL playoffs a guessing game to even the most highly trained mind (leaving someone like me absolutely no chance). How tough is it? There were eight teams seeded sixth or lower to make the conference finals in the seven playoffs after the 2005 lockout.

Perhaps it’s a bit ironic, then, that in this shortest of short seasons, where a team could easily prove to have David Blained its way through 48 games without being exposed as a fraud, that the four best teams are in the conference finals. Chicago and Pittsburgh were clearly the top two in the regular season. Boston finished fourth in the East – not second, ahead of Montreal – due partially to a jam-packed late-season schedule that was altered after the Marathon bombings. And Los Angeles, after popping two Stanley Cup hangover ibuprofens and chugging some Gatorade, was the West’s second-best team over the final two months.

It’s a dream final four in nearly every way possible for the league. You may have heard that the last four Stanley Cup champs are the four teams remaining. Every potential matchup, save for maybe Boston-Los Angeles, is extraordinarily enticing. Penguins-Blackhawks? Two best teams, high-scoring, star power. Bruins-Blackhawks? Original Six glory; fast-skating, skilled Chicago against bruising Boston. Pens-Kings? Crosby and Malkin against a tenacious defense and the seemingly impenetrable Jonathan Quick.

And at least if we’re left with Boston-LA, Gary Bettman can pretend he’s promoting Celtics-Lakers to the unsuspecting novice sports fan. “Garnett! Kobe! It’s the Stanley Cup finals on NBC Sports Network!”

Sadly, Bettman’s head is so far up his own ass he might actually believe it.

Would you let this man run your multimillion dollar enterprise? Or be within 500 feet of your children? (Getty Images)

Would you let this man run your multimillion dollar enterprise? Or be within 500 feet of your children? (Getty Images)

We’ll tackle what should be an excellent series between the Kings and Blackhawks in a moment, but first let’s sneak in just one more reminder of how this league succeeds in spite of itself. You may have noticed the LA-Chicago series is starting hours prior to Boston-Pittsburgh despite the latter two teams having had a combined THIRTEEN days off since last playing. You also may have noticed that there was no, and I mean NO, logical reason that Bruins-Pens could not have started Thursday, a day after a thrilling Game 7 between the Blackhawks and Red Wings and two after the winner-take-all-finale between the Sharks and Kings. That way, Game 2 in the Steel City still could have been played on Saturday, satisfying NBC and the league’s Canadian broadcast partners’ bloodlust for Hockey Night in Canada (in Pittsburgh).

What you may not have noticed is that, looking ahead, should both conference finals go the distance, those Game 7s would be played ON THE SAME NIGHT. This is a problem that’s somewhat unavoidable in the first round, with eight series being scheduled that all must conclude on or around the same date. It’s something I could even see being tough to tackle in Round 2, though it happened to work out in this case with Game 7s on back-to-back nights.

But in the conference finals? That’s nothing but shameful. The absolute APEX of this sport is a Game 7. Nothing in ANY sport compares to the intensity and edge-of-your-seat uncertainty of a Game 7 in the NHL. Yet here we are, faced with the possibility that these four teams, the last four to grab that 35-pound silver chalice from Bettman’s weaselly clutches, will be playing do-or-die games on the same night to decide who gets a chance to get back to hockey’s grandest stage. One time zone apart.

No word yet on whether Gary is planning to hold two games in the Stanley Cup finals in one evening.

Jonathan Toews is struggling to score, but can always fall back on being Hugh Jackman's body double in the Wolverine series (Comcast SportsNet).

Jonathan Toews is struggling to score, but can always fall back on being Hugh Jackman’s body double in the Wolverine series (Comcast SportsNet).

1. Chicago vs. 5. Los Angeles

The Blackhawks will win if: Like madness, gravity and The Joker, all it took was … a little push. Chicago got what amounted to a massive shove from Detroit in the second round, but I’m fairly convinced that might have been the best thing to happen to the Blackhawks. This is a team that did essentially nothing wrong for three months, seemed to be at half-speed in its first-round series against overmatched Minnesota and then found itself on the brink of elimination against its most bitter rival faster than Patrick Kane can shotgun an Old Style. As a Chicago resident, trust me when I say this city was resigned to an early exit when the Blackhawks went down 3-1 after managing to get only one puck past Detroit’s Jimmy Howard in Games 2 through 4.

But like a group that went half a season without a regulation loss, Joel Quenneville’s boys persevered. They got away with not playing their best against Detroit, and while that won’t be the case against the Kings, we’ve yet to see the next level that this Blackhawks team has somewhere underneath those Indian head sweaters. Unless he’s hurt, Jonathan Toews is not going to again play like he did against the Red Wings, where he has as many penalties in a six-minute stretch of Game 4 as he had points in the series. Patrick Kane, who scored roughly every six times he put a shot on net during the regular season, is bound to see his luck turn after scoring only twice on the 43 shots he’s attempted in the postseason. You win in the playoffs by getting big production from your stars. Chicago’s two biggest guns haven’t played at nearly the level they’re capable of, and it still finds itself in the conference finals.

That’s a credit, of course, to the Blackhawks’ depth at forward. They don’t have another stud center beyond Toews, but Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Michal Handzus, Brandon Saad and the rather effective Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw are all good enough that Quenneville can have no qualms about tinkering with his forward lines until he finds some combinations that click. Which he has.

Bryan Bickell, Blackhawks tough guy and dental hygienist's dream.

Bryan Bickell, Blackhawks tough guy and dental hygienist’s dream.

The Blackhawks’ power play was not good during the regular season and was especially disastrous over the last month, but they scored three massive man-advantage goals in Games 5 and 6 against Detroit to help turn the tide. And while all you’ll hear heading into this series is about how impenetrable Quick is, he gave up four power-play goals over the last five games against San Jose. With that being said…

Los Angeles will win if: Quick, can you name the only goaltender in postseason history to go 33 games without allowing more than three goals? The answer is in the asking, though no matter how brilliantly the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner plays, it’s hard to imagine Chicago not sneaking four pucks past him at some juncture in this series.

That’s not the point, though. Quick can have a bad game and Los Angeles can still win the series, but in order for Chicago to advance he can’t have two or three great games. Which is something he’s done in basically six straight playoff series. For LA to get through this series, however, he’ll have to steal a game at the United Center. Frankly, that’s going to be a tall order.

Since April 1, the Kings have played 12 games away from Staples Center, winning once. Their goal totals in those games: 1, 3, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 1, 1, 1. That’s a whopping 17 goals, one for approximately every 21 shots Los Angeles puts on net. That’s obviously a problem on the surface, but here’s the bigger issue. No team in these playoffs attempts fewer shots than the Kings. They take a crack at the net 24.8 times per game, five fewer than they averaged during the regular season. While that’s a relatively small sample size that came against two tight-checking, space-eating teams in St. Louis and San Jose, it’s also a massive concern for a team that already has enough trouble scoring.

Los Angeles’ scoring issues aren’t due to a lack of talent, as Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Mike Richards are more than capable of lighting the lamp rather often, but if you want an X-factor for the Kings in this series it might be Jarret Stoll. Stoll suffered a concussion on a hit from Raffi Torres – a name already infamous to Blackhawks fans – in Game 1 against San Jose, but seems to be progressing and could play in Saturday’s opener. Stoll only had seven goals and 11 assists in the regular season and one assist in his seven playoff games, but he’s an outstanding penalty killer who’s good on faceoffs. For a team that likes to get a lead and choke the life out of its opponent, having Stoll out there would be a very good thing.

If Stoll would rather hang out with girlfriend Erin Andrews in the press box than chase Kane and Toews and risk life and limb diving in front of vulcanized rubber flying at him at 90 mph, though, can you blame him?

Outkicking his coverage doesn't really apply, so can we say Jarret Stoll iced the puck? (Fox Sports).

Outkicking his coverage isn’t really the right phrase, but can we say Jarret Stoll iced the puck? (Fox Sports).

It’s very possible this series could be decided by which goaltender is the most dominant, and Quick’s .948 save percentage and dynamite glove hand would certainly seem to give him the edge of Corey Crawford, who has a questionable glove and has allowed a few iffy goals in the past month. But I think it’s just as likely, if not more so, that the Kings’ road woes really catch up to them and Chicago’s offensive depth is just a little too much for a talented group of LA defenders and Quick to contain. The Kings are the most physical team the Blackhawks have seen by far, but if they don’t let LA goad them into taking foolish penalties, they should be OK.

If the Kings are going to win this series, it’s probably going to be in six games. After much back-and-forth, I’ll give them Game 6 – but only because they were down 3-2 to begin with.

The pick: Blackhawks in 7

Fun fact: Dating back to last season’s playoffs, the Kings are 39-5-2 when they score first.


Coming tomorrow: After vacationing on the Maldive Islands together during their week off in the NHL’s first-ever Big Brother-style reality show, the Bruins and Penguins find out this house isn’t big enough for both of them! Hilarity ensues, and an NHL playoff series begins – much to the dismay of Zdeno Chara and Sidney Crosby, who were about to begin filming the most unlikely buddy cop movie yet.


Queue Review: Sherlock (BBC)

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Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (BBC).

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (BBC).

While everyone else was stuffing themselves full of new episodes of Arrested Development over the long Memorial Day weekend – and based on the two I’ve seen so far, why? – I decided to plow through another series that’s one of Netflix’s best offerings.

No, not Hemlock Grove. Even my wife, as much a connoisseur of trashy TV as Paula Deen is of butter, had to cut that off after four episodes.

British television has produced a number of high-quality dramas that can at least stand in the ring with The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and The Following. (Just making sure you’re paying attention. RIP Kevin Bacon’s career).  You might be most familiar with Downton Abbey, which is required viewing for every woman between 18 and 108. Maybe you’re more into sci-fi than period pieces, in which case the 345th incarnation of Doctor Who could be more your speed.

But if those two series are Britain’s most famous exports, BBC’s Sherlock is the best.

I made my first foray into BBC drama with Luther, a psychological crime thriller that just so happens to star STRINGER FREAKING BELL. Idris Elba, who you’d never have known was British if your only exposure to him was watching him roam the streets of West Baltimore like some sort of drug kingpin (he was), is the good guy here as Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, a cop who – and you may have heard this before – plays by his own rules, doesn’t let ethics stand in his way and is consumed with his work. The show, in the ever-odd world of British TV construction, has thus far featured two seasons and 10 total episodes. The six-episode first season was excellent, gripping throughout with a nervously cool performance from Elba and a psychotic-yet-alluring turn from Ruth Wilson as Alice Morgan. The second, a four-episode run, is still good, but gets a little strange and seems more hastily thrown together.

That’s hardly the case in either of the first two seasons of Sherlock, which sounds like a pretty quick commitment at just two runs of three episodes apiece. But rather than getting an episode in the 46-to-60 minute range – which is where Luther, most episodes of Downton and nearly every American drama wind up – Sherlock has delivered essentially six feature-length movies, running 90 minutes apiece and each working somewhat as a standalone while also featuring enough recurring threads to tie together as a series.

He's a cookin' up a something. (PBS)

He’s a cookin’ up a something. (PBS)

There are many reasons this take on a character who’s been around for well over a century works, but the biggest is Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. You may recognize Cumberbatch as Khan in the just-released Star Trek: Into Darkness or from his turns in Atonement, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or War Horse, but this was my first exposure to him. He owns every scene he’s in – and that’s to say, nearly every scene in the show – delivering some insanely long monologues to give Holmes a cocky and smug but still likeable confidence. We don’t need Holmes to be someone we want to hang out and have a beer with necessarily, but we need him to self-assuredly take the lead into situations that seem to have zero chance of a positive outcome. He’s also able to project just enough vulnerability to make you feel a little sympathetic for a guy who, while a genius in many ways, also has little consideration for a world that has tried time and again to shut him out.

Holmes’ foil and chronicler of his cases on an increasingly popular blog is of course Dr. Watson, played here by Martin Freeman (and most importantly, played by Not Lucy Liu). While Cumberbatch’s career has mostly taken place on the other side of the pond – he was the “Jim” character in the U.K. version of The Office – Freeman has had quite a few prominent roles in American movies, including Love Actually and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He also played Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, which should be just about winding down on your Blu-Ray player if you started the movie on its March 19 home release date.

Freeman ostensibly needs to play the straight man to Cumberbatch – especially amusing since there are periodic references to outsiders wondering if they’re gay – but he isn’t afraid to occasionally put Holmes in his place while also interjecting some humor to the proceedings. You can see the affection each has for the other building throughout the series, in both cases surprising considering Holmes tends to exist in his own self-righteous bubble with little regard for outside assistance.

The stories, as far as my limited knowledge of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works can tell, are at least partial adaptations of some of Holmes’ most popular stories, and there a number of details – sometimes readily apparent but often more in the background – that should leave even the most ardent Holmes fan nodding in approval. But they do so while fully committing to making this a purely modern-day adaptation, and creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss do a particularly impressive job visually. We get to see text-message exchanges and thoughts floating through Holmes’ head with some pretty brilliant on-screen graphics, a technique that’s definitely been used since but I don’t recall seeing prior to this series debuting in 2010.

Andrew Scott means BUSINESS (BBC).

Andrew Scott means BUSINESS (BBC).

Without giving much away, Holmes’ most prominent villain shows up at some point in the series for what was supposed to be a one-time appearance. But Irish actor Andrew Scott was so creepily convincing as Jim Moriarty that he pops up more often, to great effect. The Holmes-Moriarty relationship here is almost a direct descendent of the Batman-Joker relationship in The Dark Knight – one scene in particular made me think I was watching Christopher Nolan’s work – and that’s certainly a compliment.

There’s an episode or two that manages to make some seemingly simple plots a bit more convoluted due to the need to fill the 90-or-so-minute run time, and I would be curious to see how it would fare with six 45-minute shows. But that would likely turn Sherlock into more of a procedural crime show than the mini-movies we wind up with, and the last thing anyone wants a classic work like this to turn into is CSI: Baker Street. Three more episodes are due out sometime in the fall, so do yourself a favor and catch up before then.

As soon as you’re done reading about James Lipton’s previous life as a pimp.

CHECKING THE SCORE: 4.5 stars out of 5.

NBA Western Conference Finals Preview: Memphis vs. San Antonio

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Marc Gasol, the younger brother of some hack who plays for the Lakers (Getty Images)

Marc Gasol, the younger brother of some hack who plays for the Lakers. (Getty Images)

The NBA playoffs began with the general consensus that the conference finals would feature Miami vs. New York, as marketable a matchup as one could find, and Oklahoma City vs. San Antonio, featuring a rematch of last season’s brilliant series pitting two of the league’s most dynamic players against a team that’s won four titles in the last decade-and-a-half.

Miami and San Antonio made it, but after Indiana finished off the Knicks on Saturday, the other half of each conference final will feature a team that’s … well, not exactly what David Stern would describe as TV friendly. Instead of thinking “hey, we have a fantastic final four that will drive ratings through the roof,” the league’s New York offices instead are left with the villainous Heat and the country’s 28th-, 40th- and 51st-largest media markets.

Oklahoma City is roughly the same size as Memphis, but Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the tasty possibility of rematches against the Spurs and Heat would have rendered that largely irrelevant. New York has Carmelo Anthony AND IS NEW YORK, so who cares if the Knicks are trotting out ‘Melo and four guys who couldn’t shoot a usable iPhone photo let alone a basketball. (Oh right, they were. Jason Kidd had as many points against the Pacers as your Great Aunt Bethany and he played 89 more minutes than her. J.R. Smith also decided to start hitting Rihanna rather than 18-foot jumpers).

While what we’re left with may not move the needle much, the basketball itself should be excellent. The Heat and Spurs were the two best offensive teams in the league based on true shooting percentage (Oklahoma City actually was second, but Westbrook’s absence essentially renders that irrelevant) while the Pacers and Grizzlies – by nearly every metric available – were the league’s two best defensive teams.

And if Marc Gasol-Tim Duncan, Mike Conley-Tony Parker and Zach Randolph-NBA officials don’t get your interest piqued, I’m sure the real storyline in this series will. The one you won’t be able to stop hearing ESPN promote.

It’s Beale Street vs. the Riverwalk! Which tourist trail will reign supreme?

Tony Parker has an alter ego who plays for Team France. (PR Photos)

Tony Parker has an alter ego who plays for Team France. (PR Photos)

2.) San Antonio vs. 5) Memphis

What’s in the past: Well, first of all, a series between these two from two years ago that just so happened to feature the eighth-seeded Grizzlies toppling the Spurs. But we’ll get to how they match up in a moment. San Antonio got here with one cakewalk through the Lakers and then a far-tougher-than-expected six-game win over Golden State. The Spurs easily could have been down 3-1 against the Warriors, but wound up even after four games before closing out the final two the way a championship contender should. They got some fantastic individual performances from Duncan and Parker while Kawhi Leonard – if he hadn’t already – established himself as one of the league’s up-and-coming two-way stars.

Memphis dropped its first two games against the Clippers in Round 1 and has won eight of nine games since. The Grizzlies were probably the better team in all five games against Oklahoma City – only Durant’s brilliance down the stretch helped the Thunder steal Game 1 – and have, in my mind, the biggest breakout star of these playoffs east of Stephen Curry. Conley isn’t even shooting that well in the postseason – 38.5 percent overall, 28.6 from downtown – but he’s averaging four assists for every turnover and initiating an offense that’s averaging four more points than it did during the regular season. That’s something that just doesn’t happen in the playoffs. Golden State averaged 1.5 points more than it did in the regular season with the benefit of three OTs in Round 2, but every other team to reach the conference semifinals scored at a lower rate than it did during the season.

”He’s the real key to their basketball team,” Popovich said of Conley. ”Everybody just thinks about Zach and Marc, who are sufficiently wonderful as players. But Conley is very, very important to that group.”

What’s to come: The Grizzlies’ six-game stunning of the Spurs in the first round two years ago would seem to be a good barometer for this series – remember, Rudy Gay was hurt that postseason and is probably taking contested 20-footers on a playground somewhere in Toronto as you read this – as the major players for each team are still around. But Randolph owned Duncan in that series, Manu Ginobili was more of an offensive force and not the inconsistent bit player he’s become and Gasol was more “Pau Gasol’s younger brother” than “Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol,” “Last Gasol Standing” and “Gasol whose beard you’d want in a fight.”

Memphis and San Antonio played four times this season, two of which went into overtime and another of which was decided on a Conley layup with under a second remaining. But Sunday’s Game 1 will be the first time we’ve seen these incarnations go to battle. Gay was still around for the first three meetings, and in that 92-90 Memphis win on April 1, the Spurs played without Duncan, Leonard and Ginobili.

Memphis' Tony Allen gets advice on which San Antonio restaurant has the best fajitas from coach Lionel Hollins. (AP)

Memphis’ Tony Allen gets advice on which San Antonio restaurant has the best fajitas from coach Lionel Hollins. (AP)

Conley and Parker may decide this series, but how much they see of each other is up in the air. Parker was particularly a liability against Curry in Round 2, and while he may check Conley for stretches, Leonard will likely be on Memphis’ budding star down the stretch. For the Grizzlies, it’s an easy call. Tony Allen should be matched up with Parker on key possessions, though San Antonio will try to exploit Conley checking the bigger Danny Green or Gary Neal if that’s the case. Putting Allen on Parker would also keep him away from Ginobili, but Memphis has a seemingly perfect candidate to make sure the Argentine doesn’t go off on the offensive end in the long-armed Tayshaun Prince.

Looking inside, Memphis should have an edge if the Spurs decide to match bigs with Gasol and Randolph. How’s this for a playoff upgrade? The Grizzlies averaged 22.2 free throws in the 37 regular-season games they played after the Gay trade. In the playoffs, they’ve gotten to the line an NBA-best 31.6 times per game. Part of this is due to the fact that Memphis shoots the 3 less than anyone else in the league, but that’s still a stunning jump considering it was 16th in free-throw attempts during the season.

These teams have the two lowest turnover rates in the playoffs, and Memphis has yet to give the ball away more than 13 times in 11 postseason games. The Grizzlies were 35-9 in the regular season when they had 14 turnovers or fewer.

San Antonio’s best option, to me, is to be to play small whenever possible to force Randolph or Gasol away from the paint. That will open things up for Parker’s penetration, and someone like Matt Bonner could have a big series camping out in the corner and waiting for Parker to drive and kick. The problem, of course, is that Bonner would be a defensive liability in a wheelchair league, so that will limit Gregg Popovich’s interest in sticking him out there for long stretches. What he can do more often, though, is give Boris Diaw a significant amount of minutes. Diaw likes to spot up on the left side of the floor – he was 25 of 49 from beyond 16 feet on that side during the regular season – and unlike Bonner, can also take someone like Randolph off the dribble. He can also at least resemble something other than a matador while defending Randolph, as well.

The pick: There’s little not to like about this series from a basketball standpoint. Memphis is the more traditional, old-school team that plays from the inside out, but the emergence of Conley as more of an offensive threat and the always outstanding high post game of Gasol allow it to score at a level good enough to, along with a championship-level defense, make it very dangerous. San Antonio has more of a chameleon-like approach, as it’s happy to run up-tempo stuff with Parker and rely on long-range shooting or dump it into Duncan and Tiago Splitter and let them go to work. No result would be hard to imagine here other than this being a short series. I love what the Grizzlies have become, but still think they’re a perimeter threat better than Jerryd Bayless or Quincy Pondexter away from being a true title contender. Still, Memphis’ defense and inside game make this feel like a toss-up, but I’ll take the Spurs in 7.

Success With A Side of Humility

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From left: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin celebrate Bergeron's Game 7 game winner. (Bruins/NHL)

From left: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin celebrate Bergeron’s Game 7 winner. (Bruins/NHL)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s guest column comes courtesy of former STATS colleague and current Pew Research Center superstar Mike Lipka, who is the rare Boston fan you shouldn’t be rooting against.

Whenever someone tells me how fortunate I’ve been as a Boston sports fan these last dozen or so years, I remind them that I know how it is on the other side.

In 2001, when I was a senior in high school, just watching the Diamondbacks prevent the Yankees from winning a fourth straight World Series qualified as a thrill. No Boston team had won a title – or come particularly close – in my conscious lifetime. The Red Sox didn’t win one in my grandfather’s eight decades of fandom. The Celtics, long the pride of the city, were a laughingstock in the latter half of the 1990s. The Patriots had been a joke for almost their entire existence.

And my dad is from Cleveland.

If you had told me during my high school days that, before my 30th birthday, there would come a time when I’d almost feel guilty about too much good fortune, I would have laughed you out of the room. But that’s where I’m at after watching one of my beloved hockey teams stage what seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime comeback for the second time in five years.

The Bruins had underwhelmed for much of the season, but they’re still well within the grace period after winning the Stanley Cup two years ago, silencing an arena of hockey-mad Canadians with a dominant Game 7 performance against Vancouver.

Monday night’s Game 7 against Toronto had a much different feel. After a strong start, the Bruins were getting pushed around at home by the young Maple Leafs, who hadn’t even been to the playoffs since prior to the 2005 lockout. They were down three key defensemen, most notably underrated workhorse Dennis Seidenberg. Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin had been all but absent for most of the series, and, as legendary Boston University coach Jack Parker might say, continued to play like the Belmont Bantams.

With the Leafs up 4-1 in the third period, I started going through the stages of sports grief, and was pretty well into acceptance when goaltender Tuukka Rask skated to the bench with the home team still trailing by two. “They need to pull a BU,” I texted a friend, laughing at the impossible odds of such a thing happening again.

I was referring to what my alma mater did in the 2009 NCAA title game. The Terriers were also down two in the closing minutes; that deficit stood as they entered the final 60 seconds. Miami of Ohio players were already starting to celebrate on the bench.

The first goal seemed like nothing but a tease. After 59 minutes of near-total frustration for a team that had had no trouble scoring all year, Zach Cohen flipped in a backhand that seemed like it would do nothing but make the final score closer. But a half-minute later, when Matt Gilroy’s perfectly patient pass across the slot teed up Nick Bonino’s game-tying blast, I got buried underneath a pile of fellow Terrier loyalists in the upper deck of the Verizon Center.

Colby Cohen’s inevitable OT winner set off an evening of D.C. celebration — one that included a tequila shot with Gilroy — that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Boston University celebrates its wild comeback to win the 2009 national title. (AP)

Boston University celebrates its wild comeback to win the 2009 national title. (AP)


Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul tweeted that Monday’s game “will haunt me until the day I die.” The Bruins didn’t win a championship that night, but their survival may have been even more unlikely than BU’s. For one, they were down three goals in the third; BU never faced such a deficit, and no NHL team had ever overcome that kind of a hole in a Game 7. They were also facing professionals, not a fresh-faced group of college kids with a freshman goalie.

Nathan Horton’s goal, making it 4-2 midway through the third, barely registered. Milan Lucic’s, with 82 seconds to play, was the tease. And then Patrice Bergeron played the role of both Bonino (who scored an OT goal for Anaheim in these playoffs) and Colby Cohen (who’s now in the Bruins system), pulling the Bruins even in the final minute and putting them into the next round in overtime. I yelped and hoisted my unsuspecting and confused housemate into the air, then tried to explain to her what had happened.

How much better can it get? I’m already at the point with the Patriots where regular-season success is standard. I realize how lucky I am to watch a player like Tom Brady for all these years, but how can you get excited about another AFC East title for a team that has won three Super Bowls — and could have won six had a handful of plays gone differently?

I’ve long known that the Red Sox can’t ever top what they gave me in 2004. It doesn’t prevent me from enjoying as much baseball as possible every summer. Still, it’s a strange feeling to have.

And now I’m getting similar pangs watching hockey.


Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (New York Daily News)

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (New York Daily News)

Perhaps the most amazing thing about sports is that there’s always a new chapter to be written. Tonight, the Bruins and New York Rangers will meet in the playoffs for the first time in 40 years. We’ll find out if Henrik Lundqvist’s domination of Boston will extend beyond the regular season; if the Bruins’ offensive resurgence in Game 7 was a flash in the pan or an actual reawakening; if young defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski are really ready to play key roles; if the Rangers are the loaded contenders they looked like in January or the struggling underachievers they appeared to be for much of the season.

The good fortune may be about to end. But I’ll always look forward to the ride.

The NHL Playoff Primer: Conference Semifinals, Part II

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Original 6

The NHL is big on its history, and why shouldn’t it be? The Stanley Cup is the oldest trophy in North American professional sports and the league loves to remind us of the allure of the Original Six franchises, all of which were part of the NHL before the Great Depression.

Owning those roots is pretty good business for a league that has had about as much success with expansion in the past two decades as The Situation has had post-Jersey Shore. San Jose, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Florida, Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus and Minnesota have combined to win two Cups and have one franchise relocated. The Sharks are the lone team in that group that’s both been a contender year in and year out and not struggled to fill the seats, but unless they can finally break through in the next few seasons – the Shark eating the hockey stick logo is directly next to the word “underachiever” in most English dictionaries – there’s a better chance of that group losing another team than winning another title.

Market size and location, of course, have a considerable amount to do with the general lack of success of those franchises, and that’s why the Original Six is such an outstanding marketing tool.

Not that the NHL always takes advantage. Know how many times Montreal, New York and Toronto have visited Detroit since Thanksgiving 2008? Once each! The Maple Leafs have also hosted the Blackhawks –you guessed it – once! in that span, depriving Chicagoans and Torontonians a chance to regularly trade deep dish pizza for poutine.

Fortunately, despite the best efforts of Gary Bettman, each team is guaranteed to visit the other 29 NHL cities at least once a year starting with next season’s latest crack at realignment. It’s about time. Had these shenanigans of seeing a non-conference team every other year in a best-case scenario continued, there would have been generations of kids in Raleigh, N.C., wondering what the Winged Wheel on Detroit’s jerseys is all about and masses in Columbus scratching their heads over why the Canadiens are called the Habs.

Now, instead of just watching a guy with a No. 8 jersey skating around when Washington comes to town as often as the World Cup is held, fans in Denver will know him better as Alex Ovechkin, overrated Russian marksman and David Copperfield of the postseason.

Just like every Eastern Conference city calls him already.

But today’s not a day to get hung up on Wild Panthers and Blue Jacketed Predators. It’s time to turn back the clock by looking forward to two old-school rivalries – one of which hasn’t been renewed in the playoffs since Bobby Orr was in his prime, Secretariat was a record-setting celebrity and the Yankees were better known for swapping families than winning baseball games.

Chicago's Patrick Sharp celebrates a goal against the Red Wings (Getty Images)

Chicago’s Patrick Sharp celebrates a goal against the Red Wings (Getty Images)

1.) Chicago vs. 7.) Detroit

The Blackhawks will win if: Corey Crawford’s body isn’t overtaken by a giant octopus. Many have wondered whether Crawford is a good enough goaltender to win a Stanley Cup – particularly after his struggles against Phoenix in last season’s first round – but those critics aren’t very vocal these days. Crawford was one of two netminders with a sub-2.00 goals-against average in the regular season – teammate Ray Emery was the other – and he gave up seven goals in five games in the first round win over Minnesota.

Mike Ilitch, meanwhile, may want to have his lawyers put down their Hot-N-Readies and double check the legalese on his stake in the Red Wings, because Crawford absolutely OWNS Detroit. His 11-2-2 record and 1.82 GAA in 15 starts in the series is good, but it’s even more astounding when you take a peek at his .943 save percentage. The Wings are getting looks, they’re just not getting much of anything past Crawford. He’s given up eight goals in winning his last six starts against Detroit – four this season – and the Blackhawks have won seven straight in the series overall, allowing one goal each in five of those.

Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch displaying the same face his customers experience after eating at Little Caesars (Getty Images)

Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch displaying the same face his customers experience after eating at Little Caesars. (Getty Images)

The upside for the Red Wings is that they’re always in the game against Chicago. Save for a 7-1 rout at Joe Louis Arena on March 31, the last TEN games in this series have been decided by exactly one goal. The Blackhawks’ superior depth and skill certainly had something to do with them pulling out seven of those, but the playoffs have a way of sometimes minimizing talent disparities.

Chicago’s power play was, to be kind, a disaster during the last month of the regular season – 4 for 33 over its last 15 games – but it scored twice with the man advantage against the Wild and continued to be the most dominant even-strength team in hockey. The Blackhawks are also among the best on the penalty kill, shutting Minnesota out in 17 short-handed situations. Think that trend can’t hold? Think again. Joel Quenneville’s boys have killed of 62 of 64 opponent power plays since St. Patrick’s Day. There’s no Irish luck in that.

The Red Wings will win if: Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are the two best offensive players in the series. That may sound overly simplistic, but Detroit’s big guns have to be a pair of bazookas if it’s going to win. Datsyuk was his usual outstanding two-way self against Anaheim, frustrating Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf while chipping in two goals and five assists, while Zetterberg came alive after a slow start with three goals and four assists over the series’ final three games. This Datsyuk goal was especially filthy.

These two have had a bit of a tougher time dealing with Jonathan Toews and friends. Zetterberg has one goal in the last THREE SEASONS against Chicago and is a minus-9 in that 13-game span. Datsyuk didn’t have a point in the four games in 2013 and has just four goals in the last 20 in the series. So outperforming Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp looks like a bit of a tall order here.

Toews is certainly capable of doing his share of two-way work against a team’s top line, but the Red Wings will have another problem with the return of Chicago’s Dave Bolland. The third-line center hasn’t played since April 22 because of a lower-body injury, but he’ll be back Wednesday night to hassle Detroit’s offensive stars. And with 21 points over his last 23 postseason games, Bolland can provide some scoring as well.

There figure to be lots of 3-2 and 2-1 games in this series, and that means that even if Datsyuk and Zetterberg can get going, Jimmy Howard will need to outplay Crawford.  Is he up for it? It’s hard to say. Howard has been part of three postseasons prior to this one and has yet to make it out of the second round. In his last 24 playoffs games, he’s allowed at least two goals all but once – not exactly the mark of a goaltender that’s going to carry his team.

The Red Wings had six legs of cross-country flights in their seven-gamer against Anaheim, while the Blackhawks have been sitting home since last Friday. Detroit might be a bit tired of traveling, but its best chance to steal one at the United Center could still be in Game 1 if Chicago looks at all rusty.

Fun fact: Hossa scored a goal in each of his final three games with Pittsburgh against Detroit in the 2008 Stanley Cup finals. He has three goals in 19 games against the Red Wings since spending the 2008-09 season with Detroit.

The pick: Blackhawks in 5

Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin celebrate Bergeron's Game 7 winner (Boston Globe)

Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin celebrate Bergeron’s Game 7 winner (Boston Globe)

4.) Boston vs. 6.) New York Rangers

The Bruins will win if: They continue to find a horseshoe up their collective rears after Monday’s comeback for the ages against Toronto. It’s nearly impossible to determine how Boston will come out in Game 1 after its historic Game 7 thievery against Canada’s Finest, but it’s easy to guess who it will look to for inspiration. Three years ago, as any Boston fan remembers but will certainly claim not to, the Bruins blew a 3-0 second-round series lead to Philadelphia. To top it off, they coughed up a 3-0 lead in Game 7, and the Flyers then had to go home to start the conference finals against Montreal two days later. They took the momentum with them, winning Game 1 6-0 and cruising past the Canadiens in five.

But those Flyers had a growing sense they were the better team over a multi-game span in that series, while these Bruins were on the verge of a collapse until Monday’s North End Nailbiter went their way.  Now they have to cease the celebration and get ready for a team they haven’t faced in the playoffs since 1973.

The best thing to come out of Game 7 for Boston was the revival of its struggling second line of Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand. The trio combined for one goal in the first six games, but Bergeron tied the finale late in regulation and then won it in OT after Seguin and Marchand put the pressure on goaltender James Reimer.

Much like Pittsburgh transitioning from the speedy Islanders to the more patient, puck-controlling Senators, the Bruins now go from facing a team that wants to get up and down to one that’s more interested in keeping the mistakes to a minimum and letting its goaltender win games. Goals will be precious in this series, particularly on special teams. The last nine games between the Bruins and Rangers have featured four power-play goals on 58 chances. Keep some Dostoyevsky handy for this series. It might start to look pretty entertaining after about two periods.

Henrik Lundqvist (Reuters)

Henrik Lundqvist (Reuters)

The Rangers will win if: Henrik Lundqvist is in the Bruins’ heads. Hmm, almost sounds repetitive. But it certainly applies to yet another series. Lundqvist is 11-4-0 with a 1.92 GAA over the last four seasons against Boston, though the Bruins did sneak three apiece by King Henrik while dropping two of three meetings in 2013. Lundqvist is coming off shutouts in Game 6 and Game 7 against the Capitals, so he probably wouldn’t care if the Bruins had scored 13 goals in the final 90 seconds against the Maple Leafs.

But here’s how little margin for error this man has. Lundqvist has a 1.74 GAA and .939 save percentage in his last 17 playoff games – and he’s 5-12! The Rangers somehow scored at least four goals in three of their seven games against the Cap, but that broke a streak of TWENTY-ONE postseason games in which they’d failed to score four. Again, keep your iPod loaded with podcasts about the harvesting of lima beans. The red-light guy at TD Garden and MSG certainly will.

The Rangers probably aren’t going to win another series with Rick Nash failing to score a goal, but they’d love to see some continued production from another former Blue Jacket. Derick Brassard had five goals and six assists in 13 regular-season games after coming over from Columbus, then recorded nine points in his final five games versus Washington.

One thing that could keep Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask from completely dominating this series is a lack of healthy defensemen in front of them. New York likely won’t have defenseman Marc Staal – forward Ryane Clowe is also hurt – while Boston defensemen Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg and Wade Redden are all question marks.

Fun fact: Including the first round of the playoffs, the Rangers and Bruins are a combined 43-5-5 this season when scoring at least three goals.

The pick: Rangers in 6

The NHL Playoff Primer: Conference Semifinals, Part I

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Ohhh, Canada :( (Canadian Press)

Ohhh, Canada 😦 (Canadian Press)

I’m not going to lie and say that forecasting the NHL playoffs is as difficult as the NCAA tournament, but predicting the outcome of these series isn’t exactly like picking between pie and cake (HINT: ALWAYS PIE).

And after all, the purpose of Checking The Score’s postseason previews is to provide some meaningful, cogent analysis of what’s to come on the ice, not to toot my own horn like I’m some sort of master prognosticator. But I did pick the victor in seven out of eight series in the perennially fickle first round (thanks as always, Alex Ovechkin), meaning I have a pretty good grasp on the remaining eight teams competing for the Stanley Cup.

Or that I’m about to go 0-4 in Round 2.

(Probably that).

Nevertheless, it’s time to do what the Toronto Maple Leafs still haven’t done in nine years – move on to the conference semifinals.

Today we’ll tackle the two series that begin Tuesday, and on Wednesday we’ll take a trip down Original Six lane with Chicago-Detroit and Boston-New York.

Tomas Vokoun (USA Today)

Tomas Vokoun (USA Today)

1.) Pittsburgh vs. 7.) Ottawa

The Penguins will win if: They stop turning the puck over. Say what you want about Pittsburgh’s goaltending situation – which currently can be summed up as “Tomas Vokoun usually stops the vulcanized rubber disk that teams are trying to get past him and Marc-Andre Fleury does not” – but no netminder is going to look very competent when his defense is giving the puck away like Halloween candy in its own zone.

In case you needed an example:

The Islanders had an NHL-best 1.57 takeaways for every giveaway against the Penguins in the first round, nearly twice as much as their middle-of-the-pack ratio during the regular season. Pittsburgh was outplayed for large chunks of the four games they didn’t win by shutout, and really only survived thanks to its excellent special teams (7 for 21 on the power play, 18 for 20 on the penalty kill). For as much talent as the Penguins possess alongside a healthy Sidney Crosby and an occasionally motivated Evgeni Malkin, they’re not one of the league’s speedier squads. That was never as apparent as it was against the youthful legs of the Islanders, who were able to fly between the two blue lines and create plenty of good odd-man chances.

Now Pittsburgh will have to do a complete 180. Ottawa doesn’t want to get up and down as much as it wants to suffocate teams at center ice. The Penguins didn’t have a problem dealing with the Senators’ physical approach in the regular season, winning all three games despite only scoring eight goals and going 1 for 15 on the power play.

The Senators will win if: They don’t take a boatload of stupid penalties. Ottawa spent the fourth-most time of anyone killing penalties in the regular season and got somewhat drawn into a blood bath against Montreal, though neither cost it – the Sens had the best PK during the 48-game slate and killed 16 of the Canadiens’ 19 chances. The big storyline heading into this series is reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson’s return after Matt Cooke’s skate slashed his Achilles tendon in mid-February, but Ottawa can’t afford to get caught up in any sort of quest for retaliation – despite some CSI-like investigating from its owner. The Penguins’ power play is a different animal than most when it’s clicking, and like Herb Brooks said in Miracle … well, I’ll just hand it over to Kurt Russell.

Ottawa’s game is to sit back and wait for teams to make mistakes – something the Penguins have proven to be prone to – but the Sens shouldn’t be afraid to take some chances here. They’re outmanned talent-wise up front, but can rely on Craig Anderson to snuff out a few odd-man rushes the other way if a breakout pass goes awry. The Penguins will be thinking about every mistake they make, particularly if they’re forced to turn back to Fleury at any point.

Fun fact: The six series Pittsburgh has won under Dan Bylsma all ended on the road.

The pick:  Penguins in 6

Jeff Carter (Getty Images)

Jeff Carter (Getty Images)

5.) Los Angeles vs. 6) San Jose

The Kings will win if: They can get some production from Jeff Carter. Carter is generally looking to do one thing with the puck – he’s had more goals than assists six straight seasons, including an alarming 26-to-7 ratio in 2013 – but when you’re as accurate as this guy’s been, why look to pass? Carter scored 19.5 percent of the time he put a shot on net this season, making him the league’s second-best marksman of anyone who attempted at least 100. The Kings were 18-2-3 when the big winger scored in the regular season, and he combined for three goals in games 4 and 5 against the Blues in the first round. He had none on nine shots over four games against San Jose, yet the Kings managed to win twice and drop another in a shootout.

Both teams can roll out three dynamic forward lines and have goalies capable of stealing multiple games in a series, but there may be more consistent pressure on Jonathan Quick than San Jose’s Antti Niemi. The Kings were outshot by nearly five a game against the Blues and lost the faceoff battle badly in their two defeats.

Getting Anze Kopitar going wouldn’t hurt, either. Kopitar has 15 assists in his last 22 games but has scored just once in that stretch – a critical Game 4 goal against St. Louis. Kopitar was injured when the Sharks bounced the Kings in six games two years ago in the first round – the last series LA has lost – but he’s healthy this time, and Los Angeles would love for him to do more than just set Dustin Brown and Justin Williams up. That won’t be easy, though, as Logan Couture has turned into one of the game’s best two-ways centers and will be matched up with Kopitar and Co. as often as possible.

The Sharks will win if: The put the puck on net with regularity. San Jose averaged the fourth-most shots in the regular season and fired away a Western Conference-best 36.5 per game in the first round against overmatched Vancouver. Their big guns – Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau – scored at least three goals apiece, while Joe Thornton set up five and was a team-best plus-3. The Sharks had 24 power-play chances – scoring seven times – and they only gave the Canucks 10 chances with the man advantage. They had a stunning plus-35 disparity in the faceoff circle.

While the four big scorers will be needed to produce, they could also get Martin Havlat back from a lower-body injury at some point in the series. Even if Havlat is still out, there’s another winger that’s producing at a high level in San Jose in converted defenseman Brent Burns, who’s given the Sharks an outstanding presence in front of the net and somehow registered eight points in four games against the Kings this season. The move happened in early February, and to hear Joe Thornton tell it, the switch had even more to do with winning than your average playoff beard.

“It kind of changed around our season, to be honest with you,” Thornton told the Calgary Sun. “We were hovering around ninth or 10th spot and Burnsie comes up to forward. He’s such a big load to handle.”

Things aren’t going to continue to be as lopsided against a far more disciplined, wiser group in the Kings, but here’s why keeping Quick busy is so important. Last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner faced more than 30 shots 11 times this season – including twice in the first round – and the Kings won only two of those games. Since 1992-93, only one team – the 2010-11 Bruins – won the Stanley Cup while allowing more than 30 shots a game in the postseason. If the Kings let San Jose get too much space in the offensive zone, they could be in trouble – regardless of how much Quick seems to step up his game in these situations.

Finally, home ice is going to be more meaningful in this series than perhaps any other in the postseason. LA and San Jose were a combined 36-6-6 on home ice and 16-26-6 away from home, though they combined for three road wins in Round 1. The Sharks have had a week off since sweeping the Canucks, and considering the Kings have won 10 straight at Staples Center, stealing Game 1 on legs that haven’t gone through a back-and-forth playoff game in six days may not be their best bet.

Fun fact: These two Pacific Division pals have played 22 times over the last three seasons – including the 2011 playoff showdown. They’ve each scored exactly 63 goals in that stretch.

The pick: San Jose in 6

Survivor: Caramoan – Fitting Finale

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America's newest 600-thousandaire (CBS)

America’s newest 600-thousandaire (CBS)

The finale of Survivor: Caramoan was clearly Cochran’s to lose heading in, but it more or less became a foregone conclusion just moments in as a gaunt, 95-pound Erik was carried off on a stretcher.

Did Erik, whom the one-named, robotic doctors claimed to be dealing with starvation despite his having scarfed down a stadium’s worth of burgers and hot dogs hours earlier, have any chance to win? Probably not. But had he stuck around, things could have changed considerably. Instead of having a reward challenge to determine who gets an advantage in the final immunity challenge, the remaining castaways would have had to participate in two ICs. While Cochran was singing his praises as a challenge monster periodically during the show’s Ben Hur-sized finale, he had predetermined advantages in two of the four he won.

That alone makes it extremely unlikely Cochran would have won the final two ICs, and that would have set things up for his ouster – if Erik, Eddie and Sherri could have combined to form one rational thought at the tail end of their Philippines stay. Eddie and Sherri certainly weren’t capable of that, proclaiming during their meeting in the woods early in last night’s show that there was no way the jury wouldn’t vote for Dawn. Very intuitive. Teaming up to take down Cochran and Dawn would have given us a rather undeserving winner of $1 million, but at least it would have made Probst’s dramatically delayed reading of the final votes a bit interesting. As it turned out, the last hour prior to the reunion show was a sizable waste of time from a procedural standpoint.

Sherri, Cochran and Dawn (CBS)

Sherri, Cochran and Dawn (CBS)

That’s not to say the show didn’t have its moments. Among them:

  • Eddie unveils his master plan to the world: When you’re attempting to engineer the world’s first combination of a veterinary practice and a bar, it may not be best to blurt it out to an audience of nearly 10 million people. For as vacuous as the space between Eddie’s perfectly aligned ears may be, it’s not quite the worst idea I’ve ever heard, which means it’s one that probably 9.98 million of the folks plopped down on their couch Sunday night could execute better than Eduardo. But considering Comcast’s Gordon Holmes and Checking The Score had already outed Eddie’s plans, the cat was already out of the bag – or half in it if the VetBar ever sees the light of day. Here’s to hoping The Bark Bar eventually makes waves, since I’ll happily accept royalty checks for that can’t-miss moniker.
  • The four remaining castaways pretend to feign sympathy for Erik: “I love you!” Dawn shrieked. “I don’t come out here to make friends,” Cochran admitted, “but I seriously made a friend in you. I wouldn’t have wanted to share this with anybody else.” Oh, except for the fact that a group that just minutes earlier voted out Brenda now got rid of one of the five remaining contestants without having to witness the horror of a coconut tree leading to his demise. The thought bubbles for Dawn, Cochran and Sherri almost certainly couldn’t have been more full of glee as Erik was carried off, while Eddie surely had the same reaction once the producers sat him down and explained what was happening. “OH ERIK NO DON’T LEAVE US NOW WE LOVE YOU AND CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU!!” = “Don’t let the ambulance door hit your feet and please bathe and allow a lawnmower to run through your hair before we have to see you on the jury.”
  • Reynold being Reynold: In case it wasn’t clear from his 31 days on the island, Reynold’s biggest fan is Reynold. And – shock! – he’s so insecure he has to know what other people think of him. Reynold’s chance to address they jury turned into a game of Catch Phrase, as he wanted to know the three adjectives Dawn thought best described him. She hit the nail on the head with “chauvinistic” and “vulgar,” but swung and missed with “has a great sense of humor.”
  • Cochran owning every response in tribal council: It’s pretty easy to be caught off guard by some of the questions at the final tribal council even if you have some sense of what’s coming. It’s still tough to judge who’s going to bitter and who’s up there to try to make a ridiculous point – i.e. Brenda (we’ll get to her). In Cochran’s case, he could have stumbled over every word, a la Sherri, and still probably won easily. But as you might expect from someone with a Havard law degree, his answers were articulate and thoughtful from the beginning. He didn’t hide behind the fact that he had to lie and deceive to get as far as he did, and he was proud of the fact that he was able to do so when necessary without really burning any bridges. As soon as he wisely ousted Eddie in the last vote, I thought he had a good chance to become the third Survivor with a unanimous win. This performance just cemented it.
  • Erik losing his mind: Apparently the IVs the Survivor medical staff hooked Erik up with contained a small amount of fluids before suddenly pumping him full of heroin. He was the last person I’d expect to pop off at the final tribal council, but apparently he was not such a big fan of Dawn and Sherri. He especially went hard after Miss Congeniality, who proved to be anything but as she told Erik to sit down and that she didn’t need him or his vote. That turned out to be true, so instead of living off her Survivor winnings, Sherri will have to keep making movies with Melissa McCarthy.
Brenda about to get angry (CBS)

Brenda about to get angry (CBS)

  • Brenda taking away Dawn’s bite: I fully expected Brenda to have fire in her eyes when she got up to address Dawn, but she was less fixated on Dawn pouring her heart out on the beach while their pals BBQ’d last week and more concerned with The Great Denture Incident of 2013. Dawn, you may recall, claimed to lose her retainer in a pond in the fittingly titled “Zipping Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” only to have Scuba Brenda swoop in to rescue her perfectly disingenuous smile. Thinking they were tag team partners for life after that incident, Brenda couldn’t fathom being backstabbed by her bestie, and now she wanted Dawn to take out her bottom teeth to reveal what only she, Dawn, Dawn’s husband, Dawn’s children and every dentist in Provo had seen before.
Brenda?!!? (Warner Bros.)

Brenda?!!? (Warner Bros.)

  • Though they made up only after Probst practically waterboarded a nearly nine-month pregnant Brenda by satellite, it’s safe to say Brenda is having a baby on her own volition and not to donate to Dawn’s collection.
  • Phillip revoking Sherri’s membership in Stealth R Us: She’ll be OK though, because she’s a successful businesswoman who has 75 employees and once kept a bus above 50 MPH for many hours without crashing.
  • Eddie seriously basing his vote on where Cochran said he’d stand if he were at a bar with the self-proclaimed Three Amigos: Behind Reynold but in front of Eddie, Malcolm and the golden retriever that’s trying to grab a Heineken before going to the attached vet to be neutered. Duh.

The reunion show is typically either fairly insightful or genuinely useless, with this one landing firmly in the latter category. This was the first time to my knowledge that the entire cast wasn’t on stage – just the jury – and that might not normally be a bad thing. The reason wasn’t a lack of seating, though. Apparently crazy old Brandon Hantz was not invited, and this was CBS’ ploy to get people to not notice.

Probst’s questions, normally strong, often missed the mark here, ranging from repetitive to ridiculous. His insistence that Dawn and Brenda make nice was creepy, his lack of questions to Erik and Eddie was odd and the plug of Boston Rob’s book – available in a recycling bin or bird cage near you – was a complete disaster.

One of these guys just $1 million. The other will be lucky to make $14 on his book. (CBS)

One of these guys just won $1 million. The other will be lucky to make $14 on his book. (CBS)

CBS, it seemed, was more interested in the reunion of what was one of the better seasons of the show turning into a turn-back-the-clock takeover. Between Boston Rob, Richard Hatch’s disturbing cameo and ex-Navy SEAL Rudy getting paid by the amount of times he could sneak the word “queer” onto national TV, it was uncomfortable at best.

Uncomfortable also seems like it might be the best way to describe what Survivor has in store next. The show will be headed back to the Philippines to shoot “Blood vs. Water,” which is rumored to have former castaways competing with a family member.

I’ll probably change my tune come September, but for now that sounds less appealing than being stranded in a TGI Fridays with Brandon, Shamar and Phillip.