The NHL Playoff Preview for People Who Don't Follow Hockey
The NHL playoffs are undoubtedly the most exciting in all of sport. But you spent the winter watching basketball and True Detective and feel ill-equipped to jump in now. Fear not: I'm here to give you just enough information to pass yourself off as knowledgeable around drunk people, and maybe even enough to comprehend some of what you're watching. If you're an actual hockey fan, head over to SI's official preview, to which I contributed "serious analysis." Otherwise, start memorizing the phrases below...
Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild
The least you need to know: The Minnesota Wild are like the Miami Heat of the NHL, if the big three consisted of two players who are only tenth best at their position and a third whose skills had totally collapsed. Last year, they were just good enough to be dismantled in the first round. This year, they hope to save the crushing embarrassment for round two.
The Colorado Avalanche are a former hockey power making a startling return to relevancy this year thanks to a stable of young superstar forwards. Their defense is suspect, so they'll need goalie Semyon Varlamov to carry over his great regular season play.
Who to root for: Neither team seems equipped for a deep playoff run, so root for a great story in Wild goalie Josh Harding, who recently returned to the team after adjusting his treatment regimen for multiple sclerosis. Also, for max entertainment, root for Avs coach Patrick Roy to have a patented meltdown.
Smart-sounding phrase to memorize: "Just considering the possession stats, it's clear the Avs have played over their heads this season."
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks
The least you should know: The defending champions, the Blackhawks are a threat to win it every year. Lead by forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and defenseman Duncan Keith, there's no flaws on their roster, except maybe their goalie, who really isn't even that bad any more.
St. Louis has never won a Stanley Cup, despite trying really really hard. You'll recognize U.S. Olympic heroes T.J. Oshie and Ryan Miller on their roster. Don't let that fool you into thinking the team is likable.
Who to root for: Root for Miller and Oshie if you really love America. But just remember Blues fans are largely also these people.
Smart-sounding phrase to memorize: "It all depends on whether the Hawks forwards can break open Hitchcock's stifling defensive system."
Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars
The least you should know: The Dallas Stars, now made by the same people who brought you two decades of Red Wings domination, are an extremely aggressive, fun team to watch. They're not as well-rounded as some other teams, but they have offensive talent and aren't afraid to use it.
Anaheim's a similarly offensive dynamic team, except all their players are jerks.
Who to root for: Not the Ducks.
Smart-sounding phrase to memorize: "For all the scoring talent on both teams, I can't believe they were both bottom-third in power play efficiency."
San Jose Sharks vs. L.A. Kings
The least you should know: The San Jose Sharks look like one of the best teams every year going into the playoffs and every year they choke. They score a lot of goals on the strength of talented geezers Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and less-old Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture.
L.A. is equally formidable, but fundamentally different from their hated in-state rival. They often choose to dump and chase the puck, using their ginormous forwards like Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown to wear teams down physically and create space.
Who to root for: Root for Sharks center Joe Thornton to score four goals.
Smart-sounding phrase to memorize: "Marian Gaborik provides the Kings the scoring touch they so desperately needed."
Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings
The least you should know: The Bruins are in the business of kicking the crap out of other teams literally and figuratively at the same time. They're lead by 7'11", 66-year-old mountain giant Zdeno Chara. They've appeared in two of the last three finals.
The Red Wings prove that great franchises don't even have down years like regular franchises. With much of the talent that made their team great for 20 years either retired or on the verge of retiring, they still qualified for a 23rd consecutive postseason (seriously).
Who to root for: If you like winning and can tolerate Boston, go with the Bruins.
Smart-sounding phrase to memorize: "Datsyuk may make all the highlight reels, but this series will prove that Bergeron's really the superior defensive center."
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens
The least you should know: The Lightning were all over the news leading up the Olympics, with face of the franchise Steven Stamkos breaking his leg and GM Steve Yzmerman leaving his own captain, Martin St. Louis, off Team Canada. Stamkos is back -- and his usual ridiculous self -- but St. Louis is gone. The Lightning's shot at the cup will depend on one of their lanky goaltenders -- 6'7" Ben Bishop or 6'6" Anders Lindbäck -- getting hot.
The Montreal Canadiens are a talented team of small players, coached by Michel Therrien, a guy maybe better suited for an untalented team of giant players. They also feature Carey Price and P.K. Subban, the two biggest rockstars in Canada since Rush.
Who to root for: Montreal is the only Canadian team in the playoffs this year, which means if you're Canadian (with an "a") you must hate them with a seething jealousy. If you're just a fan of great uniforms, though, Montreal's are some of the best.
Smart sounding phrase to memorize: "If Therrien couldn't win with Crosby and Malkin, how does he expect to now?"
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
The least you should know: With the two best players in the world on their roster -- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- the Penguins always enter the playoffs with high expectations. If they don't make a return to the finals this year, coach Dan Bylsma could get the boot.
The relatively anonymous Columbus Blue Jackets probably don't have the splashy names of Pittsburgh, but they're not that far behind in talent. With goalie Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes, they could easily "steal" this one from the favorites.
Who to root for: Picking the Jackets as a bandwagon team semi-ironically has been a real trend for the past few seasons -- just check the #Lumbus hashtag on Twitter. Don't fall for it. Sidney Crosby is a hockey god and every game we get to watch him is a heavenly gift.
Smart-sounding phrase to memorize: "Even if Pittsburgh gets Goc back soon, I don't think they have the depth to beat Boston or New York."
Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers
The least you should know: C'mon, it's New York/Philly, you fill in the blanks. All you're watching is the Northeastern United States's greatest geographical rivalry played out in proxy by two Quebecois superstar mercenaries: Martin St. Louis (New York) and Claude Giroux (Philadelphia).
Who to root for: I'm going to assume you already have strong feelings one way or the other here, regardless of how much hockey you watch.
Smart-sounding phrase to memorize: May be best to just watch this one quietly. Nothing annoys these fans more than perceived inauthenticity.