By this point, even someone as famously unruffled as Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has had enough.
Are you able to put (the Game 5 disaster) behind you?
“It’s one game. Game 6. A conference final. It’s a great challenge,” says Lundqvist, as if he’s trying to remind himself what day it is.
Is there anything you’ll seize from your past to help you?
“Why do you keep asking about the last game?” Lundqvist snaps, sending a shudder through the pile of flesh and cameras surrounding his locker. “I don’t think about the last game. I think about tonight.”
The term of art for this sort of thing is The Rob Ford Gambit.
We’ve all been here for a while and, like the rest of us, Lundqvist is getting a little crooked. There is nothing so deflating as watching a Scandinavian lose his cool. It’s like watching a dog tell a lie.
Outside Madison Square Garden, it’s a New York spring. The city has already grown cloying. You start out thinking 20 blocks sounds like a pleasant walk. By the time you arrive, you’re a human puddle.
As you come down 8th Ave., a double-decker party bus filled with Rangers fans is creeping the other way through rush-hour traffic. Everyone on the bus is waving towels and screaming. They seem happy. More importantly, they seem oblivious to all the frustrated drivers they’ve hemmed in who are trying to kill them with their eyes.
Inside the Garden, it is glacial. The ice surface is on the fifth floor. Therefore, the rest of the arena must be kept at meat-locker temps. When they begin to add up Manhattan’s loss of productivity due to sick days, at least 10 per cent of it will be dummies who came to a Rangers game in a T-shirt, then spent the next week pole-axed on the couch.
We’ve grown inured to this sort of thing – hockey extending well beyond its logical limits.
Which is to say, winter.
After defeating the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 Thursday night, the New York Rangers will start this year’s final against either Chicago or Los Angeles on June 4. Game 7, if necessary, will be played on June 18. When we look back, after the great collapse, we’ll all agree that our hubris lay in monkeying with the natural order of things. Among those crimes – skating in June.
In the ’30s, the Stanley Cup was awarded in mid-April. That’s the perfect month to end hockey. A portentous time of renewal and change. Back then, they’d watch the Cup being handed around, then go home and clean out their rain gutters.
(Note: Please do not write to me if rain gutters hadn’t been invented in the 1930s. Just sit there quietly, being pleased with yourself.)
It took 40 years – into the 70s – to push it into the middle of May. By that point, NHLers had begun to earn enough money that they didn’t need to take summer jobs. And, really, that was the end of everything.
June hockey is an affront. This June’s hockey is going to be exponentially affronting.
While we are hopscotching between New York and Montreal watching Dale Weise and Dustin Tokarski and Rene Bourque take over (that last meant to be read with a sneer), the real Stanley Cup final is being played out west.
Montreal versus New York has been a lot of fun. Plenty of storylines. An encouraging amount of angst and violence. It’s been a maple-syrup telenovela. It’s had just about everything, except exceptional hockey. Rangers/Canadiens is a couple of guys slap-fighting in the parking lot of a McDonald’s. Everyone stops to watch, but only out of a sense of obligation.
Out west, all the entertainment value is on the ice.
We’ve had fun waving the flag (well, some of you have). But once Boston was eliminated, it was fated that whomever came out of the Kings/Blackhawks series was going to cakewalk to a Cup.
Hockey in June will not only be out of time. It may be unwatchable.
This is not a suggestion that we shorten the playoffs. The playoffs are just fine. But it is long past time to conjure some way to truncate the regular season.
The owners will never give up a single game. We’re stuck at 82. But rather than 6 1/2 months, we could get this thing done in a flat six. Make March 31 the drop-dead date on the regular season.
That will be hard on the players – less time for rest and recovery. And that’s why they’re paid so much. They’ll adapt.
God knows the rest of us have, and not for the better.