1. Winnipeg at Nashville Thursday in torrid Tennessee is as good a seventh game matchup as Gary Bettman — or The Maven — could contrive.
2. But back in October, nobody expected the Jets to be so good. The Hockey News forecasted Winnipeg would be sixth in the Central Division with Cup-winning odds at 35-1.
3. Nashville was tabbed for the Central Division second spot with appetizing 15-1 odds for sipping Stanley’s champagne.
4. This may seem odd, but I’m rooting for the Predators because I’m long-time pals with GM David Poile and love watching Filip Forsberg up front and P.K. Subban doing just about anything he wants on and off the blue line.
5. But my prediction is that the Jets will win Game 7. They’re playing with house money, they have Connor Hellebuyck in goal and he’s been steadier than Pekka Rinne at the other end.
6. I expect Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Stastny, Patrik Laine and Blake Wheeler to do more damage than Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and Roman Josi.
7. My best-case scenario for two so evenly-matched teams is that the game goes into double-overtime and be settled by an extremely clean goal; not a lucky bounce.
8. Speaking of clean goals in overtime, nothing could beat Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s series-winning breakaway and deke that opened Matt Murray‘s pads enough for the rubber to ease its way in through the tunnel and thereby out the Pens.
9. Insiders tell me that the virtual invisibility of captain Sidney Crosby in the finale was due to injury rather than the fact that he was so well-guarded.
10. Both injury excuses and refereeing alibis are rejected by The Maven on two grounds: A. Everybody suffers injuries; B. Whether you like it or not, refs do their best in a game that’s so fast it’s virtually impossible to detect a trip from a dive.
11. Department of Believe It Or Not: Boston’s super-irritant Brad Marchand says he’s looked in the mirror and will be a new, better and cleaner player next season. “Some things I’ve done need some fixing,” says Puck’s Bad Boy.
12. The Maven’s reaction to a possible Mister Clean Marchand: Don’t believe it. It seems to me I’ve heard that song before. The lyrics said forever more, but reality shows that Marchand is a latter-day Sean Avery — but with a ton more talent.
13. The Penguins are ex-champs for a few key reasons: A. So far, the best playoff goalie is Marc-Andre Fleury of Vegas; B. With Fleury at Matt Murray’s side, the younger goalie was a winner; minus Marc-Andre, Murray is Mister Ordinary. C. After two Cups, an invisible mold envelops defending Champs. D. That and inevitable attrition did them in at the end.
14. When Commissioner Bettman decided that Vegas should have an NHL team, the idea received a tsunami of ridicule. But who’s got the last laugh now? The Knights have become the story of a lifetime and enabled the league to coax $650 million for the upcoming Seattle franchise.
15. One player I’d like to see cha-cha-cha-ing around the ice with the Cup in his mitts: Alex Ovechkin. Now that Uncle Sidney has had his Silverware, the tenacious, non-stop No. 8 deserves at least one championship run.
16. No way, when Jon Cooper attended Hofstra University, that he could see himself orchestrating a Cup symphony. In October, the Bolts’ Stanley Cup odds were 12-1. Right now, I’d put ’em at 6-1 with Coop the smartest coach this side of Vegas’ Gerard Gallant.
17. On paper, Tampa Bay is the best of all surviving teams. Goaltending is A-1 and ex-Rangers blueliners Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh are inspired and experienced. Blueshirts alumni J.T. Miller and Ryan Callahan pushed the Bolts past Boston because of their indefatigability.
18. Honestly, I still can’t believe my eyes when I see Vegas still alive and well, and heading to the semifinals. And to think that six months ago nobody could spell William Karlsson let alone that he’d be right up there with Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and James Neal as the club’s prime catapults to the Final round.
19. Another guy who has a chance to lift the “Loser” label from his resume is the one who bested Murray when it counted. Braden Holtby has been a playoff also-ran for too long. Wouldn’t it be a story if he could beat the Bolts!
20. Before closing this playoff segment, The Maven takes his hat off to the Penguins. Winning nine straight playoff series these years is no small feat but a rather big one. Hail to Crosby-Malkin & Co. for jobs well done.
21. Then again, there’s THE BIGGEST PLAYOFF FEAT OF THEM ALL — 19 CONSECUTIVE PLAYOFF SERIES VICTORIES FOR THE ISLANDERS, 1980 THROUGH THE THIRD ROUND OF 1984! Deny that if you can.