Column: Keep your upsets, hockey

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Columbus Blue Jackets’ Pierre-Luc Dubois, left, knocks the puck away from Tampa Bay Lightning’s J.T. Miller during the third period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. The Blue Jackets beat the Lightning 7-3. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Last week Goliath fell. Not only did he go down, he went down hard. The Tampa Bay Lightning won 62 games this season, tied with the 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings for most all time. They had the league’s best offense, across a spectrum of metrics, and the eye test told the same story. Simply, they were on another level than the rest of the NHL this past season.

Then the playoffs started, and they were promptly swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Got outscored 19-8 over the course of four games to a feisty Blue Jackets crew. Such is hockey. There is tremendous variance in playoff hockey. It is unpredictable and so-called inferior teams win all the time. Fine with me.

The Blue Jackets are a very small market team (not that Tampa Bay is the Evil Empire New York Yankees) with some good young American defensemen in Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, some former Hockey East guys in Adam Clendening and Cam Atkinson and under accomplished stars like Matt Duchene and Nick Foligno. It was cool to see a franchise that knows a lot of struggle and lack of recognition earn some success and glory. Upsets, especially in that fashion, are cool.

Along those lines, it was very cool to see American International College, a perennial NCAA bottom feeder, upset the country’s top team St. Cloud State in the first round of the NCAA tournament recently. It is a rare treat for the little guy, and the positive sentiment they yielded in the college hockey zeitgeist was representative of the way hockey fans feel about these things. But it isn’t the most abnormal occurrence; RIT made the Frozen Four out of Atlantic Hockey several years back.

The game just seems to lend itself to upsets and people have internalized that as a positive externality that stems from the intensity and craziness imbued in playoff hockey.

Where this happens far less is basketball, particularly the NBA. That league is one, where even with minor slip ups, like the Golden State Warriors’ Game 2 loss the other day, the better teams, and really the better players, win out over the course of the series. That is a good thing, and it should stay that way.

Playoff hockey is hectic and that makes it great. I don’t feel any type of way that the Blue Jackets are a part of the playoffs going forward. In the NBA, however, I want the best matchups. I don’t want to see Clippers-Rockets, I want Steph Curry versus James Harden. The Western Conference finals were elite last year and the rematch next round is all but assured because this is basketball.

It was remarkable when the then eighth seeded Golden State Warriors knocked off the top seeded Dallas Mavericks in the 2007 NBA playoffs. Baron Davis and his boys were immortalized for such a feat. But what was lost was an elite Mavericks season, 2007 MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the league’s best team. I, for one, prefer to enjoy watching the best players play, as they often produce the best basketball.

Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. I would consider them very analogous to Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. The former three are done, and as a fan I cannot say woe is me. The games are still going to deliver. The latter three? If they were to be punched out round one many a fan, including myself, would be crushed. They are supremely good, and therefore, awesome to watch. It is not rocket science.

I like Danilo Gallinari a lot. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is cool, Lou Williams is Lou Williams, Pat Beverley plays with terrific intensity and hey, I even have a tertiary interest in Jerome Robinson from seeing him at Boston College. But I am all set when it comes to their advancement in the NBA playoffs. Nice season boys, I will catch you next year. Give me Curry versus Harden. In the East, Andre Drummond is a former Husky, but it would be robbery for fans to lose out on watching Giannis Antetokounmpo and his incomprehensible performances because the lowly Pistons felt like stirring the pot.

In hockey, the parity is delectable. In basketball, all it does is take away from the caliber of future play. It is cool to see an upset once in awhile, it is a fun short-term story line. But then you have Loyola-Chicago versus Kansas State in the Elite Eight and you wonder where all the good basketball went. On the ice David can do what he wants, but on the hardwood, Goliath is the one who brings the goods.


Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.

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