Gentlemen, start your mind games.
Oops. Too late.
Both Bruce Boudreau and Paul Maurice have already spread the butter of faux flattery on a National Hockey League playoff series that figures to be bold, brash, belligerent and bitter.
Let’s start with Boudreau.
“They’re playing as good a hockey as they’ve played all year,” the head coach of the Western Conference banner-winning Disney Ducks said when interrogated about the Winnipeg Jets by the Orange County Register. “It would not surprise me if everybody picks them and we’re underdogs.”
So there you have it. When the Ducks and Jets commence their best-of-seven throw-down on Thursday night under the watchful eyes of Minnie, Mickey and good, ol’ Goofy in Orange County, it is Team Quack that shall be assigned the role of dark horse. It matters not that the Ducks were 10 points superior to the Jets over the long haul of an 82-game regular season, or that they won 43 actual hockey games (regulation/overtime) compared to the Jets’ 36, which was fewer than any of the 16 outfits participating in this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament.
Bruce Boudreau says his Ducks are underdogs, so it must be so.
But wait. Jets coach PoMo has something to say about that.
“We’re a huge, decided underdog in this series,” Maurice advised news scavengers who assembled for his club’s dress rehearsal on Monday. “They finished first, best team in the Western Conference. We didn’t.”
He tried mightily to say it with a straight face. Almost pulled it off, too. Didn’t work, though. Maurice wasn’t fooling anyone, no matter how hard he bit down on his lip.
Make no mistake, he and the Jets believe they can better the Ducks, just as Boudreau and his Ducks know they can beat the Jets. Both bench jockeys play the poor, pitiful me card because blowing smoke up your opponent’s butt is a more preferable tactic than providing bulletin board material.
So who is the favorite? The Ducks of course.
True, Boudreau’s boys had the benefit of repeatedly kicking sand in the faces of Pacific Division 98-pound weaklings like the Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes, whereas the Jets were required to go to-and-fro with the likes of St. Louis, Chicago, Nashville and Minnesota. But 109 points is 109 points is 109 points. And 43 regulation and/or overtime victories trump any number of wins collected via the increasingly annoying and gotta-get-rid-of-it gimmick known as the shootout.
Put any kind of spin on it that you like, but the Ducks’ record dictates that they enter the fray as the favorite.
BEACH BLANKET BUFFOONERY: So how do fans prep for the NHL playoffs in Southern California? They go to the beach, naturally.
Oh, yes, it was all about sand and surf Sunday at Newport Beach, where an assortment of ducklings gathered at Balboa Pier to raise a ruckus for their hockey heroes. Billed as the Paint it Orange beach party, the Power Players (a bevy of beach babes) and team mascot, Wild Wing, laid out what was billed as Southern California’s largest rally towel.
How convenient. A towel is handy when they decide to surrender.
GET A GRIP, GARY: My, my, my…Gary (La La) Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press was waxing oh so eloquently the other day in an effort to put perspective on NHL playoff hockey returning to River City for the first time since 1996.
Trouble is, he got lost in his own moment.
“There are new heroes,” he wrote. “Hawerchuk and Carlyle and King can gracefully step aside now. They are now memories. No longer haunting vessels of lost glory?”
Glory? The NHL Jets? Sure, if you call losing to Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton every year in the playoffs glory.
Will these Johnny-come-latelies ever learn that the only glory years for the Jets took place in the 1970s, when the club won a trio of World Hockey Association titles? There was no glory in the NHL years.
One more thing, La La: Stop telling people what to wear to home games. You’re sounding like a True North Toady again.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.