What a difference a game makes.
The New York Rangers went into the weekend waiting to find out if they would be playing the Chicago Blackhawks or the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final next week.
The Penguins went into the weekend still looking for a general manager and with a head coach who’s going into his third week of twisting in the wind.
If the Penguins had won Game 1, 5, 6 or 7 in the Rangers series, they might be waiting to find out their opponent for the finals. A lot of people seem to believe if the Penguins had advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, they would have beaten the Montreal Canadiens. That’s a nice theory. The fact is they lost three straight to the Rangers and made it five years of falling short since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.
But, would one more win have justified keeping Ray Shero and/or Dan Bylsma? If the Penguins had played the Canadiens and lost in six or seven games, would both have survived? Would we still be seeing all the speculation about trading stars such as Kris Letang and James Neal?
If one more puck had slipped under Henrik Lundqvist’s pads, would the Penguins’ immediate future be drastically different? As sick and twisted as it may be, the answer is yes.
• Through 11 conference final games, not one of the top 11 regular-season scorers was still playing. Patrick Sharp, of the Blackhawks, was the 12th-leading scorer in the regular season.
• One thing that jumps out — at least to me — watching the Blackhawks and Kings is that they are both much better teams than the Penguins. The playoffs prove every year that hockey is a team game.
• A big difference between the Blackhawks and the Penguins is that Chicago’s two highest-paid players are not their highest scorers. Patrick Sharp had more goals and assists than Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
• It will be interesting to see the fan and media reaction if the Penguins make major changes to construct a team that is better suited for going deep into the playoffs and, instead of being at or near their customary spot at the top of the standings in February, they are four points out of the last playoff spot.
Will the, “Don’t worry, we’re built for a long playoff run” sales pitch work?
Don’t bet on it.
Bet on panic.
• Rapper 50 Cent’s ceremonial first pitch Tuesday night at Citi Field before the Pirates-Mets game was so bad that the Washington Post, after researching YouTube and looking at lots of feeble attempts, declared it the worst of all time. It published a chart to back up the claim.
You have to wonder a little bit about the Mets choosing 50 (or is it Cent?) to throw out the first pitch. He doesn’t quite qualify as family entertainment. I can’t repeat his lyrics here. Feel free to Google them.
• Ever since the Steelers made Kent State running back Dri Archer their third-round draft pick, there has been speculation about how the Steelers will be able to use him.
Critics of the choice call him “a toy” because he’s only 5-foot-7. It’s June. How many offensive coaches are there? They have three months of OTAs, mini-camps, mini-mini camps, training camp and four exhibition games. They can’t figure out a way to take advantage of the fastest guy in the NFL?
Archer ran a sub 4.2 40-yard dash. He may be the fastest player in NFL history. Get him the damn ball.
• The Kings do the NHL no favors by getting to the Stanley Cup Finals. They definitely don’t do NBC any favors. The ratings for Kings’ games in Los Angeles stink. Through Game 5, they averaged a 1.7.
To put that in perspective, The Nightly Sports Call, a perfectly nice TV call-in show on Pittsburgh’s CW, which I hosted several hundred times, usually gets between a 1.5 and 2.1. That’s a host, a co-host and a caller and it gets the same percentage of the audience in the Pittsburgh market that the Kings get for a conference final in Los Angeles.
The Blackhawks drew an average of 13.4 in Chicago for the same series. That’s 12 times the audience in Chicago or 39 percent of the total national audience. The dream matchup for the league and NBC would be Penguins-Blackhawks. It would probably be the most- watched Stanley Cup Finals ever because of the huge numbers in Chicago and Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, it would probably draw somewhere in the mid-20s.
The Rangers, by the way, averaged a 4.1 rating. So, a New York-Los Angeles Stanley Cup Final is not all that good for business.
• If I had $2 billion, I might pay it just so I wouldn’t have to hear Donald Sterling’s name mentioned again.