Golden Knights fans concerned by the team backing into the Stanley Cup playoffs with seven losses in their past eight games can take solace in the thoughts of no less an authority than NBC broadcast legend Mike Emrick.
The hockey doctor said what happens at the end of the regular season many times does not set ground rules in the passion play stoked by Lord Stanley of Preston’s silver chalice, when tensions and chin whiskers rise — except, perhaps, for the Scandinavian players.
“Weird things can happen to teams that maybe finished poorly and now can turn things around,” said the Gordie Howe of the broadcast booth, who joined fellow peacock network pucksters Pierre McGuire, Eddie Olczyk and Mike Milbury for a teleconference on Monday. “Like San Jose, Vegas and Toronto, who only won three of the last 10 (games).”
Emrick went into the memory bank, past and recent, to make his point and increase NBC viewership.
“I think back to a ’91 group of North Stars that staggered to the finish, and won only two of the last eight, and faced the Presidents’ Trophy winning Blackhawks, who won nine of the last 12 — and (Minnesota) knocked ’em out in six in the first round,” Emrick said.
“Or that 2012 Kings group, that required the next-to-last game to even qualify for the playoffs, and went through three coaches that year. And then in each of the four rounds they won the first three games (and) won the Stanley Cup as the first eight seed in North American pro sports to win the championship.”
And, as do most Knights fans though they try to forget, Emrick vividly recalls a team from last season called the Washington Capitals, and a player from Russia with a thick beard and steely resolve called Alexander Ovechkin.
Back from the brink
“In Game 2 (of a first-round series) between Columbus and Washington, Alexander Ovechkin played 30 minutes in a game it took 72 minutes to settle — and his team lost,” Emrick said. “And they were down 2-0, and then they went into Columbus for a third game, and how many of those shifts must have been do-or-die? Because if they go down 3-0, they would have been in big trouble.
“He wound up playing 30 minutes in a game that went 89, and his team won. They survived that overtime … and they still had 15 more wins to get to the Stanley Cup.
“But they did. And that’s what makes this so wonderful, and that’s what makes playoff hockey so exciting.”
And that’s what makes Sharks versus Knights — it almost sounds like a battle torn from the pages of “West Side Story” — so intriguing.
Despite the teams slipping on banana peels down the stretch, the NBC hockey gurus are predicting their first-round series to produce quality playoff fruit.
“Which team is going to be able to defend better?” asked Olczyk, who scored 342 goals in 1,031 games over 16 NHL seasons, so he is allowed to respond to a question with one of his own. “Both teams aren’t afraid to give up chances, and sometimes they leave their goaltenders out to dry.”
Instant classic brewing?
The teams split the regular-season series, with the Knights winning two blowouts and the Sharks two close ones. The games were contentious at times and downright chippy at others. As Olczyk noted, both teams are attack-minded and tend to leave their goalies more exposed than partygoers on the Las Vegas Strip — which may partly explain Martin Jones’ abysmal .896 save percentage for San Jose.
“I think it’s going to be a hard series and it’s going to be a nasty series and it’s gonna be the team that can play with that discipline — not only when it comes to the parade to the penalty box but, most importantly, which team can defend the best,” said Olczyk, who predicts high scores and pushing and shoving after the whistle.
“It’s gonna be an awesome series. I can see this series being front and center six to eight weeks from now, and (people saying) you want to sell playoff hockey? All you’ve got to do is play the tape. Because I think it’s going to have everything that’s great about our game, and playoff hockey.”
So let the playoff games begin, and let the playoff beards begin to grow. Even on the Scandinavian guys.
Pittsburgh edges out Buffalo for the top NHL market this season! Pittsburgh led all local markets with a 1.30 household rating for games on NBC and NBCSN. It also led all markets for NBC games with a 3.55 rating and finished second behind Buffalo (1.08) for games on NBCSN (1.02). pic.twitter.com/dTgEhPcWs6
— NBC Sports PR (@NBCSportsPR) April 8, 2019
Tops for pucks
NBC/NBCSN’s top markets for NHL combined average ratings during the 2018-19 regular season.
1. Pittsburgh 1.3
2. Buffalo 1.18
3. Las Vegas 0.98
4. St. Louis 0.87
5. Minneapolis 0.67
6. Tampa 0.63
Source: NBC Sports