The Stanley Cup story line's getting a little samey lately, isn't it?
With the Anaheim Ducks' tense 3-2 road win over the Ottawa Senators Monday night giving them a 3-1 series lead, the formerly mighty waterfowl are 60 minutes away from winning their first championship. They're one win from beating a Canadian foe and bringing the Cup to their Sun Belt home.
All they have to do is avoid becoming the first team in 65 years to blow a 3-1 Finals lead and 36-year-old Teemu Selanne's name will be etched on the trophy at long last, after 14 years, a lockout, more than 1,000 regular-season games and at least 86 playoff tilts.
Any of this sounding familiar?
Those of us in the key-banging racket need a new plot. We used up all the sunshine and hockey-ignorance jokes when Tampa Bay beat Calgary in 2004 and Carolina beat Edmonton last year. So, great, Anaheim's going to win the Cup and we'll all feed our columns from last year into Jokerator 2.4 -- have you updated? -- and it'll change NASCAR to Disneyland and barbecue to Chardonnay.
Gosh, it's almost like anybody could do this job.
We were in this spot a year ago, the Hurricanes winning Game 4 in Edmonton to take a 3-1 lead. But since the NHL has turned into "Groundhog Day on Ice," there's hope that good times are ahead. The Oilers won an overtime stunner in Game 5 last year, then won Game 6 at home before the Hurricanes finally put them away in Game 7.
That, we'll take more of.
But is it just me who's getting tired of that story line about the veteran star striving for his first championship at the end of a long career? You know, with the teammates trying to win it for him?
Selanne is this year's model. Ray Bourque is really the poster boy. The Boston Bruins traded him to Colorado in 2000, at his request, for the express purpose of his getting his name on the Stanley Cup, which happened the next season, Bourque's 22nd and last. Until that point, he'd been the player who had the longest NHL career without winning a title.
One of the guys traded for him, Dave Andreychuk, took his turn in the role four years later with the Lightning, leading his team to the Cup as captain in his 22nd season, tying Bourque's record.
Those were both pretty good tales. Bourque was one of the greatest defensemen of all time, stuck in Boston with little hope of winning a Stanley Cup during his lifetime, never mind his career. Andreychuk was a veteran who'd signed with the Lightning when they were lousy and he could have gone elsewhere, then had not wanted a trade to a contender as the club stumbled before winning an unexpected title.
But you know, last year it was Glen Wesley of the Hurricanes, a good but not great defenseman, who was trying to cap a long career with his first Stanley Cup. Now we get Selanne, who has been around forever but isn't even that old or obviously close to the end of his career.
We get this in every sport. Gary Payton or David Robinson in the NBA, Wade Boggs in baseball, John Elway in the NFL. Just listing the first ones that come to mind. There's something about the NHL, though, where it seems to have a little more resonance.
It probably has something to do with the fact that the NHL has the coolest trophy, a trophy with an actual personality. Baseball and football and basketball teams get a trophy for winning a championship, but it's the championship, not the trophy, that the players care about.
With the Stanley Cup, it's the Cup. The players want to touch it -- which they don't allow themselves to do before they've won it -- and skate with it and take it to their hometowns over the summer. They get to have their name on it.
But enough with the tale of the old guy striving for that first Cup.
Listen, in all four of the big North American sports, and just for the sake of convenience I'm counting hockey, there are 30 teams in the bigs, except that the NFL has 32. All things being equal, a guy with a 15-year career ought to have about a 50-50 chance of winning a championship.
Of course, all things aren't equal. Over time, good players often find themselves on good teams because good players are the key ingredient of a good team, and also because good players eventually have the power to have a say in where they play, and they tend to choose good teams.
But nobody deserves to finally win a championship just because they've played a long time. Your fair share of titles is one every 30 years. This goes for teams too, so please keep the whining to a minimum if the home team hasn't won for 20 years -- never mind seven -- because there are plenty of people worse off.
It's been 80 years since the Ottawa Senators won a Stanley Cup, and that was a different Ottawa Senators, though the same Cup. So if anybody in this thing "deserves" to "finally" win, it's the people of Ottawa.
I don't think they're going to get it. I thought at the start of the series that the Sens couldn't bang with the Ducks, and nothing, not even that weirdly lethargic, penalty-filled first period Monday, has convinced me otherwise. It's a fairly even series, but even without suspended bonehead Chris Pronger, the Ducks were able to control much of the action after those first 20 minutes Monday.
I hope I'm wrong. I'd love to see the Senators win three straight and take the Cup back north. Fresh material, you know.
The Stanley Cup -- in Canada?! Why, [import three paragraphs of NASCAR/barbecue jokes into Jokerator 2.4 and click on "Ontario"]!
Previous column: The NFL's new rival
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -