What happens when you have "A Series Made In Heaven?" It could happen.
That is, two of the most evenly-matched A-1 teams meeting head-to-head in a best-of-seven playoff.
It would feature two of the oddest NHL couples – geographically – that ever set foot on this planet.
Florida against the Rangers. Sunrise vs. The Great White Way. Even Steven; but since we must have a winner, consider all the "alikes" and you tell me who's better.
As my Florida guy – but born a Rangers fan – Al Greenberg, puts it, "This would be an intriguing match-up. You'd have teams with similar styles who've played each other close all season so far.
You wanna know how similar:
Each has a world-class Russian goalie. The Bob, Sergei Bobrovsky, is enjoying a dah-dah-dah season and there's no nyeting about that. He's got a ton more experience than New York's Igor (Call Me Iggy) Shesterkin, but Iggie's got a lot going for him; such as best friend, defender Adam Fox.
The Foxy defenseman from Long Island is gunning for a second straight Norris Trophy. Then again the Panthers Aaron Ekblad had The Big Norris wrapped up last spring until Lady Bad Luck felled him a month before the playoffs.
That meant no Norris for Ekblad. That made it a lot easier for Tampa Bay which eventually sent the Cats trolling for marlin in the seas off Miami Beach.
As for Rangers-Panthers, on paper, the teams match almost evenly on the blue line with the Blueshirts getting the edge on the strengths of that troubadour from Rochester, Michigan, Jake Trouba.
When it comes to scoring, Florida has nothing like The New Rocket, Chris Kreider. Yet on offense, the Cats have eight guys with ten or more goals; the Rangers have four. The Cats also have more depth upfront with a dangerous third line.
Both general managers, Bill Zito and Chris Drury, understand the need for toughness. Compare these brutes, if you will: Reaves, Goodrow, Trouba, Hunt vs. Gudas, Marchment, Lomberg, Weegar. The collisions will be a sight to see. Even, as I see it.
It's not-so-even when we put coaches on the scale and it tips toward Gerard Gallant who's been there and done that; except win a Cup.
Then again, you have to love the way coach Andrew Brunette has taken over Florida's head gig as if he's been there since Roger Neilson. Still, I see it as Rangers in seven – overtime of course – and one heckuva series. (Now if we can only make it happen.)
POSTSCRIPT ON ALL-STAR WEEKEND: The NHL long ago realized that the original intensely competitive All-Star Game combats became too dangerous. Chicago's Hall of Famer Bill Mosienko broke a leg in the first one. Eventually, intensity gave way to safety. What's emerged is a festival of more skill than a sock. As it happened, Vegas was the best venue possible for the 2022 starry cavalcade.
There were many outstanding acts led by Trevor Zegras' blindfolded shootout score that even outdid his recent "Michigan" in a regular game. And how about former speed king Connor McDavid being beaten by both Jordan Kyrou (first) and Adrian Kempe (second) in the race, Ever the sportsman, McD's post-loss comment was a gentlemanly "Good for Jordan; he's a great guy."
Vegas was the perfect place for novelty acts and NHL empresario Steve Mayer took full advantage even featuring a "Fountain Face-Off" won by Zack Werenski while Jack Hughes' executed a Breakaway magic bit complete with magician's cap and surprise ending. Loved it. So did the crowd.
My personal traditional favorite is the Shot Speed contest won this time by Vic Hedman. He was clocked at 103.2. Which is yet another reason why goalies hate to see this guy with the puck at the point.
Considering all the obstacles that have confronted the league over the past months, the best summation of the All-Star event comes from ou David Kolb who was there. "Kudos for pulling it off."
(Look for a more in-depth evaluation on Friday.)
I'M JUST SAYIN':
* All things considered, the Kraken may not be in the mix for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division but the Mystical Fish have been reasonably competitive, wouldn't you say?
* Give the Kings, Ducks and Sharks credit for taking the prefix "Weak" away from labelling the Pacific Division.
* One more "Michigan" lacrosse goal from Trevor Zegras, and I'd suggest to National Lacrosse League Deputy Commish Jessica Berman that she hire TZ for some promos.
* On average, I'd say one out of 21 fans worries about whether the Salary Cup is going up, down or sideways.
* Blake Coleman of Plano (near Dallas), Texas, credits his grandmother for launching his hockey career. "She did it by taking me to my first game." Grandma recently passed away and Blake very tenderly remembered how much she helped him. Nice gesture; nice guy.
* Biggest Single Letdown Non-Award goes to the Habs Cole Caufield. Going into this season, the CC-Man was favored to win the Calder Trophy. Right now I like Anaheim's Trevor Zegras. Granted he played 24 games last season but he still qualifies as a rookie.
* My pal, Coby Maeir is gonna get an argument on this I'm sure. He's up in Columbus telling people that that Southern Gentleman, Big Al Barkov, is the best two-way player in the league.
* My Swiss (Thun) hockey-playing grandson, Ariel, says "Nix to that" and goes with Mika Zibanejad as best two-way man. So does his goalie pal Itamar (Mel) Meltzer.
* Best thing about All-Star Weekend is that all us uptight hockey people get a chance to loosen up and have some F-U-N. That's what the cavalcade of aces is all about. Enjoy the festivities. We did.
* My three Vezina candidates right this minute: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Sergei Bobrovsky and Igor Shesterkin.
* Sorry, Bud, but I can't get excited about a World Cup in 2024. But I am excited about this NHL second-half run with so many legit Cup contenders.
* I happen to love the fact that tiny Switzerland contributes some good, big fellows to the NHL. How about Minnesota's Kevin Fiala, the pride of St. Gallen, Switzerland. He leaves the All-Star break aiming to extend his double-digit point streak.
* No team lost more momentum via injury than the Devils when Dougie Hamilton went down.
* Yeah, there's a lot to like about Colorado and Vegas in so many ways except one – Goaltending.
* Here's my Skills Competition idea for next year's All-Star festivities. Have one "Butterfly" goalie vs. a Stand-up goalie. Have Auston Matthews do five each Shootouts and see who wins. You know who my dough is on and it sure ain't Mister Butterfly.
* I still don't fathom all the Jakob Chychrun trade rumors. Take this foundation away from the Coyotes and what do you have left?
* Definition Of "This Is Hockey Rooting:" Not Long Ago the boobirds were screaming, "Fire Dave Tippell!" Now it's"Yay, Dave!" all over again.
* Gotta Like Department: Frankly, I was moved by Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli comments on hiring Pat Verbeek as new g.m.: They singled out Verbeek's "Outstanding work ethic and vast knowledge." All true.
* Then, the Samuelis added: "He brings a unique pedigree – as championship player and executive." (Pardon me, but I never heard "unique pedigree" in any description of a hockey exec before.)
* A question that I cannot answer: Why are European female hockey teams not yet on a competitive level with the Canadians and Americans?
* Forget about the drums and bugles, a key takeaway from All-Star Weekend is Las Vegas is an intense hockey town.
TEN SECOND TRIVIA: What was the name of Pittsburgh's original NHL arena and what was it before being a hockey rink?
It was called Duquesne Gardens. Previously it had been a trolley carbarn.
GIDDY OVER GILLY: We need all the good news we can get so thanks Sean Mccaffrey of BlueCollarBlueshirts for an update on Gilles Villemure. To newcomers, Villemure ranks with the greatest backup goalies ever. He occasionally out-shine Rangers Hall of Famer Ed Giacomin. Gil had been seriously ill with brain cancer – "It was touch and go," says Sean – but has recovered enough to have just completed an autograph and greet session. "What a turnaround," enthuses Mccaffrey and a hearty good luck to old pal Gilly!
DON'T LAUGH AT ARIZONA: Sports business guru Even Weiner sees things clearly and sees them whole. So, when my biz-buddy says there's a method to the Coyotes seemingly mad idea to play in a 5,000-seat Arizona State U arena, I pay attention.
"There's a sports gambling element to this that could create a revenue stream for the Coyotes," writes Weiner. "Pro sports franchises in Arizona can get a sports betting license. The NFL Cardinals will be housing a sportsbook in its Glendale facility. Coyotes ownership is already involved in the gambling business."
Meanwhile, the Yotes ownership is attempting to build an arena-village in Tempe, Arizona.
After a few years in the Arizona State Arena, theoretically, the Coyotes would move into the new Tempe facility. What matters now is whether the Tempe city fathers go along with the hockey team's plan. For the moment, that's the pivotal question.
No less meaningful is Commissioner Bettman's point made in Vegas that, yes, the Coyotes can survive for a few seasons in an interim home. That's a valuable green light.
WHO SAID IT? "I told him not to worry, I brush my teeth every day." (Answer below.)
DON'T TRY BUYING THE RANGERS OR MAPLE LEAFS: According to the money magazine, Forbes, the Blueshirts and Leafs are the most valuable NHL franchises; tied for first with a valuation of $ 2 billion each. After them are the Red Wings, Bruins, Blackhawks and Habs; all valued at $1.75 billion each. I was surprised to see the Flames buried in 29th spot at $750 million. (Clearly, Calgary needs a new arena.)
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT: Esa Tikkanen of the Oilers on shadowing Craig Janney of Boston during a Bruins-Edmonton playoff.