It's Stanley Cup playoff season, which means there will be the usual heroics, hatred, blood and beards galore. But there will be no Dustin Byfuglien this year to mesmerize us with his typo-inducing surname. The Cup is, of course, named for Lord Stanley of Preston, and not Stan Laurel or Stanley Roper as some people mistakenly believe. In 1889, Lord Stanley witnessed a hockey game between the Montreal Victorias and Montreal Hockey Club and fell in love with the sport. Matt Cooke earned his first-ever suspension in that game, while Jacques Lemaire announced his retirement when the contest ended. Lord Stanley's family also took a shine to the sport, and his two sons formed the Ottawa Rideau Hall Rebels. They convinced their father to donate a cup to a tournament-winning team. The Lord purchased a punch bowl from Sheffield, England, and thus the Stanley Cup was born.
Some of the early teams to win the Cup included the Montreal Wanderers, Toronto Blueshirts, Vancouver Millionaires and the United States' first winner, the Seattle Metropolitans. The Cup eventually made its way into the NHL, with New York area teams winning the prize 11 times (four each for the New York Rangers and New York Islanders, and three for the New Jersey Devils; the New York/Brooklyn Americans never were able to win one). The tradition of the winning captain hoisting the Cup and skating around the rink didn't begin until 1950, when Red Wing Ted Lindsay first did it. Over the years, the trophy has grown bigger, as numerous team and players' names have been engraved on it, which also include a number of misspellings (the 1981 "Ilanders" for instance).
That concludes our brief history of the greatest trophy in sports (next week: The Lonely Story of the WHA's Avco Cup), and here is a brief history of the past week in the world of New York sports.
Almost Only Counts in Horseshoes, Hand Grenades and the Regular Season: The Rangers played their kind of game on Wednesday night in round one of their series against the Washington Capitals: They blocked shots, they forechecked, they were patient, they didn't panic, they grinded. Unfortunately, the Caps did the exact same thing, but they did it just a little bit better than the Blueshirts did, and their offensive stars came through when they needed them to. Henrik Lundqvist did his part, as he was the best Ranger on the ice. Matt Gilroy scored his first NHL playoff goal in his first NHL playoff game (on a nifty pass from Wojtek Wolski). Dan Girardi blocked five shots. But one loose puck in front of the Rangers' net that couldn't be corralled and one mistake by Marc Staal did them in, as Washington was right there to take advantage of New York's mishaps. And, unfortunately for the Rangers, there's no shootout in the playoffs. But on the positive side of things, there was nothing in game one that showed the Rangers can't compete with the Capitals. They just need to score (and how about on the power play for a change?). Paging Marian Gaborik . . .
First Place: After the New York Yankees gave a lifeline to the Boston Red Sox over the weekend (though the Sox have stumbled back into the drowning waters since), they've recovered nicely with consecutive wins against the Baltimore Orioles and now stand atop the division. While Mark Teixeira is making baseball history by simultaneously getting off to a fast and slow start and Jorge Posada is hitting nothing but home runs (though more often than not it's nothing, except for Thursday's game-tying long ball), the highlight of the week was A. J. Burnett's performance on Wednesday. He lasted six and 1/3 innings, and allowed four runs. The first six innings were stellar; it was the other 1/3 that didn't work out so well. But he's off to a promising start, nonetheless. Other positives in the Yankee universe: Alex Rodriguez has an OPS of 1.394, Bartolo Colon has been a godsend out of the bullpen, CC Sabathia continues to pitch like an ace, Nick Swisher drove in the winning run in the rousing comeback on Wednesday and Joba Chamberlain saved the game when he blocked home plate after a wild pitch (insert food/plate/overweight joke here). The lowlight of the week (and the season) is the confounding case of Phil Hughes. His ERA stands at 13.94 with a 2.23 WHIP. The rest of the team is overcoming some ugly batting averages (Brett Gardner .150, Posada .189, Granderson .194, Swisher .211), but the Hughes problem is a big concern. And now it looks like Pedro Feliciano may be done for the year. During a press conference Brian Cashman pointed the finger directly at Rube Walker for the reliever's bum shoulder.
It Gets Late Early Around Here: With all the negativity surrounding the New York Mets the last six months (six years?), the last thing the team needed was to get off to a bad start. But that's just what they've done. And it's an ugly bad start at that. Of course, bad pitching will make any team look lifeless and listless, but Terry Collins is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore. Or maybe he's not so mad, as there are mixed accounts about his postgame speech on Wednesday. He was furious or encouraging, depending on whom you believe. At any rate, the team didn't heed his advice, and the losses are mounting up quickly. It was an especially tough week for Met pitchers. Hall-of-Famer Bob Lemon once said, "The two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen." Well, hopefully the Mets have a lot of good friends, because the bullpen part? Not so much. And the starters haven't been any better. And between Mike Pelfrey, Ryota Igarashi and Bobby Parnell, the team's pitchers are fielding like they're members of the Tigers in the 2006 World Series. And their fielders aren't fielding either. Their hitters aren't hitting with runners in scoring position. And their manager is making a few poor decisions, also. So really, nothing's going right for the Mets these days. Jose Reyes has a 12-game hitting streak going and Jason Isringhausen made a triumphant return to Queens. That's about it for the positives, though. It has to get better, doesn't it?
The Wild Card: Before the season started, if you told a New York Knicks fan that by April, Amar'e Stoudemire would be serenaded with chants of "M-V-P" throughout the season, the team would finish with a winning record, they'd be the sixth seed in the playoffs and Carmelo Anthony would be on the roster, he would be ecstatic. And in fact Knick fans are ecstatic. Well, at least they should be. They are now in position to be the "most dangerous first-round team in the NBA." They're a true wild card, as they've spent the last two months attempting to build chemistry, cohesiveness and a team identity, so no one, including themselves, really knows their ceiling for this year's playoffs. Can they peak and surge their way through the postseason? Maybe. Will they fizzle out? Who knows? Their Big Three all have plenty of postseason experience, just not with each other, which is the rub. But the ride should be fun whatever the outcome turns out to be.
Over and Out: We're down to four teams as the end has come for the New Jersey Nets, the Devils and the Islanders. Brook Lopez ended his season in strong fashion, but he had to do it almost single-handedly, as Deron Williams and Kris Humphries didn't make it to game 82. Though they tried, the Devils and Islanders couldn't sabotage the Rangers' season, and their years came to a close with a whimper. Though the trio of teams all finished near or at the bottom of the standings, their coaches are in three different situations. Avery Johnson is securely ensconced as the leader of the rebuilding Nets. Jacques Lemaire retired once again (we think), and the Devils did give him his last win (we think) on the last day of the season as a parting gift. But Jack Capuano had been eagerly awaiting his fate, and the answer finally came down: He'll be back, and he surely deserves to be.