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The Better Team

winnipeg Ddq_c76VAAAd-Vh“Well, they were the better team.”

Sometimes that phrase is a dodge when a player or team believes they were the equal of their opponent. Most times, though, it’s accurate.

The latest case in point: The Winnipeg Jets, who ended their memorable NHL playoff run with a 2-1 loss on home ice to the Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets had a head of steam coming into the series, thanks to their near-flawless play in the opening round against Minnesota and a gritty seven-game series win against President’s Trophy winner Nashville.

Against Vegas, though, the Jets just didn’t have it.

Oversimplifying things (largely because I listened to most of the games instead of watched them), goalie Connor Hellebuyck was more tentative than he had been in the first two rounds and stars like Mark Scheifele, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrik Laine never got on track the way they did in the first two series. Honestly, though, what appeared to do the Jets in more than anything else were turnovers.

If you needed any proof, Justin Marchessault’s two goals in Game 2 should serve as your lab example.

Marchessault’s goals looked like they punctured the Jets’ collective psyche, but again those were only representative. Winnipeg turned the puck over. A lot. That creates a lot of pressure on your netminder. And eventually, your goaltender will crack under all that pressure.

Besides the simple pressure placed on the defense, the Golden Knights took advantage where Winnipeg couldn’t.

And another thing that wore on the Jets was constantly playing from behind, or as one NHL broadcaster said this weekend, chasing the lead. Those of you familiar with basketball realize teams expend a significant amount of energy trying to erase double-digit leads, and often trailing teams come close or take brief leads but can’t sustain them in the end.

And so it ends, three wins short of an historic run to the Stanley Cup. Disappointing in that Vegas played the Jets’ game better than Winnipeg did. Hopeful, however, because this deep run in the playoffs could make the Jets the better team come Stanley Cup finals time in June 2019.



Desperate Times Call for Desperate Baseball

mlb playoffs 2013

Follow hockey much, and as the playoffs near you hear broadcasters talking about “desperate” play.

If you don’t know what that means initially, you figure it out pretty quickly. Stars throwing themselves in front of 90-mph rubber disks. Puck battles all over the place. Goalmouth traffic more intense, goalie scrambles more spectacular and urgent.

Desperate has several meanings in the dictionary. Among them is “having an urgent need or desire.” So desperate is the perfect word as near-playoff teams fight like mad for positioning — or just to get in the door.

I’ve never heard of desperate baseball before, but that’s exactly what’s happening in the American League.

Three series remain for each of the wild card hopefuls: Tampa Bay, Texas, Cleveland, Baltimore, New York and Kansas City. Some teams have a fairly easy road ahead, but others have to go through one or several playoff contenders to punch their tickets.

Tampa Bay Rays

tropicana stadium

Series remaining: Versus Orioles, at Yankees, at Blue Jays
Playoff chances: Likely

Solidified their playoff push with a good showing against Texas. Perhaps the toughest road ahead, though, among the wild card hopefuls. The offense has been sporadic, but the pitching has been stout — as usual — recently. Too bad Floridians aren’t bothering to root, root, root for the home team.

Texas Rangers

ron washington

Series remaining: at Royals, versus Astros, versus Angels
Playoff chances: Likely but softening quickly

Will the Rangers pull out of their death spiral? Royals series now appears to be the key to Texas’ faltering playoff hopes.

Cleveland Indians

Jhonny Peralta, Asdrubal Cabrera

Games back: 0.5
Series remaining: Versus Astros, versus White Sox, at Twins
Playoff chances: Uhhhhhhh…maybe?

The easiest road to hoe among the wild card contenders — which is good, because Cleveland hasn’t been lights-out recently.

Baltimore Orioles

chris davis

Games back: 2
Series remaining: At Rays, versus Blue Jays, versus Red Sox
Playoff chances: Unlikely

Orioles have done a good job of beating the teams they are supposed to beat, such as the Jays. They have not done well down the stretch in beating teams either at their level or ahead of them in the standings, such as the Rays or Red Sox. This does not bode well for the O’s returning to the playoffs this year.

Kansas City Royals

royals indians

Games back: 3
Series remaining: Versus Rangers, at Mariners, at White Sox
Playoff chances: Slim, but…

Seriously, if it wasn’t for Ned Yost…if this team didn’t show the amazing ability to crash and burn right after sizzling through a 14-2 stretch…this would be a done playoff deal. A lot of fans (myself included) are holding our breath over the last week of the season. We’ve been conditioned to the bottom falling loooong before this…

New York Yankees

yankees 2

Games back: 3.5
Series remaining: Versus Giants, versus Rays, at Astros
Playoff chances: Losing steam

They are too old. Mariano Rivera is finally showing some cracks. And yet the Yankees have surged the past six weeks to be in the discussion. Aside from the Rays, it’s a fairly easy road the rest of the way.

The playoffs have effectively been underway since early August. Hope you’re ready for the real deal.

Here’s to Overtime

stanley cup 2013 2

Well, it’s official now.

The 2013 Stanley Cup finals are a classic in the making. The 2013 NBA Finals are a classic just waiting for a Game 7 exclamation point.

First to hockey (simply because I’m more of a hockey fan). If Game 1’s triple-overtime heart-stopper or Game 2’s OT affair didn’t set the stage for you, then all you had to do was watch 15 minutes of Game 4. What a back-and-forth, high-flying, can’t-breathe-until-the-end roller-coaster as Chicago topped Boston 6-5 in oooovertime.

stanley cup 2013

Sometimes the experts are right. A lot of people said the Blackhawks and Bruins were evenly matched teams, and they were looking forward to this series because of that. Turns out it’s becoming hard to find a more evenly matched series than the one we are witnessing now.

And honestly, you could say the same thing about the NBA Finals culminating with the winner-take-all Game 7. Granted, some of the games haven’t been as closely contested as those in the NHL playoffs final round, but the Game 6 ebb-and-flow…certainly fits the bill of the ESPN Instant Classic.

nba finals 2013 2

Everybody’s familiar with the storylines going into the Finals. The question now is which team (and which stars) have more in the tank. Most money here would be on the Heat, and that makes sense. Miami game off a grueling seven-game conference finals against Indiana and is no stranger to going deep into the playoffs, but San Antonio collectively has doing this lengthy playoff run for much longer. Most everybody wonders whether Game 6 was the Spurs’ last wad to shoot, but the game should also pinpoint the Spurs came back repeatedly to gain, then lose, then gain, then lose control.

NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs

For the Stanley Cup, who knows? Why try to predict how that will turn out?

As these series end, the one thing I hope doesn’t happen is blowouts. Both series have been so entertaining that it would be a shame to see them end in boat races.

Actually, some more overtime would be nice. Scratch that. Overtimes would be fitting. These two series are too even to end with a pedestrian regulation-time contest.

You don’t see season-ending series like this all that often. Here’s to overtime to end them.

Frozen in YouTube: Sports Moments to Remember

Sports fans have games — and sometimes moments — that they remember vividly until they can’t remember anything. Here’s my list:


1983: The O’s Finally Get It Done

The Orioles were giants of the 1970s — basically everywhere except in the title column. The Pirates denied them in 1971 and 1979 (the year I just about woke up crying because Game 7 went well past my bedtime…and, well, Baltimore lost). They were stuck fighting the Red Sox and Yankees (where have we heard that before?) for primacy throughout the decade. The 1983 team wasn’t supposed to be a contender, at least not that I can remember, but it got sultry steamy summery hot at the end of the regular season before steamrolling Tony La Russa’s White Sox and then Philadelphia. That wry grin of relief on Scotty McGregor’s face at the end of the World Series Game 5? Likely a result of the torture of losing the Pirates in Game 7 four years earlier.

1983: Pine Tar

I really wish I could find the Royals broadcast of this. By 1983, our family religiously listened to the Royals radio broadcasts — simply because, well, we could get three or four TV broadcasts every year. All I remember was pandemonium. Basically what you saw when George Brett was called out. Good thing the umps herded together like musk oxen. Otherwise things could have gotten really ugly.

1985: One Call

I missed the last few innings of the 1979 World Series. That didn’t happen this time. Dad never pushed his love of the Cardinals or Reds onto us, which made it convenient for the rest of us to root wholeheartedly for the Royals. And, matter of fact, Dad may well have cheered for the underdog KC because we all have a special place in our hearts for underdogs — unless they are a hated rivals. Any way you look at it, Don Denkinger will go to his grave as persona non grata in StL, but it didn’t help matters that Jack Clark misjudged Steve Balboni’s foul pop and a wild pitch pushed runners to second and third with one out. And once the Royals’ comeback was complete in Game 6, of course the underdogs flattened an unraveling Cardinals team in Game 7.

1988: Kirk Gibson

Another sports moment missed, but not because of bedtime. I was nasty sick for Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, but i made it through 8 1/2 before I finally zonked out. Of course, you know what happened. Vin Scully’s call was pretty cool, come to think of it, but Jack Buck nailed it.

2011: David Freese

I know. Wrong announcer reference. But holy cow.  And the upper-deck shot is a true YouTube moment to end an amazing baseball game.


Since I really don’t have a true favorite team at the professional level, my moments surround Dear Old Nebraska U.

1970: Game of the Century I

OK, you didn’t have to be born yet (I wasn’t for another month or so) to realize this was one of the best games college football has seen. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Huskerland, Sooner Nation or anywhere. And Lyell Bremser’s call of the Johnny Rodgers punt return will stand the test of time for generations.

1984: Heartbreak in Miami

The Huskers were robbed. But they never would have been in a position to need a two-point conversion if they got off to a good start and Mike Rozier stayed unhurt.

1996: The Run

OK, find me a more impressive football run. Yeah, the game was in hand. Yeah, the Gator defense looked like it was on the boat with a Discovery Channel crew. But this…this was flat-out amazing.


1980: I Believe in Miracles

No backstory needed.

1996: A 3-OT Cup Winner

Colorado wound up sweeping, and truly dominating, the series, but what a classic game. Regulation and four minutes into a third overtime before anyone scored. Chance after chance for both teams denied by John Vanbiesbrouck and Patrick Roy. Poo-poo the low-scoring games if you want, but this was desperation hockey on both ends by the time it finished and Stanley’s holy grail was handed off.

2006: Alexander the Great Undresses An Entire Team

I’ve seen amazing goals. I was looking for Chris Drury’s goal in the playoffs against the Kings in the 1990s for a case in point (one where he effectively sticked his way through both defensemen and scored on the backhand). Guess I’ll have to settle for this one from Alexander Ovechkin.  Just one of the most amazing feats of individual hockey ever. And, on a totally separate note, I really miss hearing Curt Keilback.

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