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Playoff hockey offers no gurantees

Columnist Bruce Penton looks at Stanley Cup favourites
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Last week you may have read in this space a whimsical suggestion that Tampa Bay Lightning couldn't possibly be beaten in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

There are no such guarantees, of course, no matter how many regular-season records a team might set or tie (most wins in an NHL season, for one).

The reality is that games are won on the ice, not in newspaper columns, and this season’s two-month run to the June conclusion has a number of interesting sidebars.

Like, who doesn’t like the St. Louis Blues to win the West? The hottest team in the league during the second half of the season, the Blues were dead last in the league when they replaced coach Mike Yeo with Craig Berube and suddenly turned things around. How can the Calgary Flames not be favoured to win the West? They racked up more points than anyone in the conference (107) and got there by a solidly balanced offensive attack — five players each with more than 20 goals and 60 points. Mark Giordano is expected to win the Norris trophy as the league’s best defenceman and if the Flames had a reliable goalie like St. Louis does in Jordan Binnington, they might coast to the West title. But neither Mike Smith nor David Rittich inspires a great deal of confidence, and goaltending could be their Achilles heel.

Who isn’t secretly rooting for Canada’s team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, to win their first Stanley Cup since 1967? With the addition of free-agent John Tavares, who lived up to the hype with a 47-goal season, the Leafs are at least a contender, but they’re sloppy defensively and defence wins in the post-season.

Speaking of Canadian teams, who doesn’t feel a bit sorry for Montreal Canadiens, the only non-playoff team to have a positive goal differential this year? The Habs and their 94 points would have easily qualified for the playoffs in the West, but there is more power in the East and 94 points just didn’t cut it.

So who other than Tampa, St. Louis or Calgary could possibly win the Cup? Never count out the defending champs, so there’s a vote for Washington. Sidney Crosby and the Penguins had a so-so year but playoffs are a different deal. Boston is healthy and the Bruins had as many points as Calgary, so why not?Nashville and Winnipeg have playoff experience and could pull off an upset. Vegas got a taste of late-season play last year, and they're flying under the radar this year. The veteran-laden San Jose Sharks have loads of playoff experience.

The rest? It would be a real shock if Dallas, Colorado, Islanders, Carolina, Columbus or Toronto stood tallest in mid-June. They’re probably all in next-year country.

  • Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: “The New York Jets unveiled their new uniforms and they are not getting good reviews. The worst part? They still say New York Jets on them.”
  • RJ Currie of “The NY Times reports scientists want more study into a rare genetic mutation that keeps Jo Cameron, 71, from feeling any pain or anxiety. Her next big test — Knicks season tickets.”
  • Comedy writer Brad Dickson: “A sign you're too into football: you've been in a downward emotional spiral ever since the AAF folded.”
  • Another one from RJ Currie: “How about the Alliance of American Football folding just eight weeks into its inaugural season? Just like that, they went from an alternative to an AAFterthought.”
  • Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Ryan Fitzpatrick has now been employed by 25 per cent of the NFL’s 32 franchises after signing with his eighth team, the Dolphins, last week. Which certainly makes him a quarterback in more ways than one.”
  • RJ Currie again: “Canadian tennis star Briana Andreescu threw the opening pitch at a Toronto-Baltimore game — a perfect strike. The Jays gave her the ball, a commemorative photo and a contract offer.”
  • Headline at “Hapless Mariners can’t even get a rebuilding year right.”
  • Headline at “Bryce Harper informs Phillies GM of 2-week vacation In August he’d planned before getting job.”
  • Comedy writer Tim Hunter, after a rhino poacher was trampled to death by elephants and eaten by lions in South Africa: “Just outside the village of Karma.”
  • Brad Rock of Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, on the Miami Marlins drawing just 5,900 fans for a game against the Mets: “The crowd was so small that Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs personally frisked every fan who entered the stadium.”
  • B.C. comic Torben Rolfsen, on the Lakers’ presidential vacancy: “Magic lived up to his name — by disappearing.”
  • Janice Hough of, on the soap-opera Lakers: “I’m so old I remember when the Clippers were Los Angeles’s dysfunctional NBA franchise.”

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