Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The ten types of games you meet in the season's final week (and how to watch them)

We’re into the final week of the NHL season, with just six days left on the schedule. At this point, just about every night of action should feature at least a few games worth watching.

But which ones? In the final week, it’s no longer as simple as just looking for matchups between top teams or division rivals. That strategy works fine in December, but this is April. When there’s this little time left on the schedule, different kinds of games require different strategies to ensure an optimal viewing experience.

So today, let’s sort through the various types of games you can encounter in the final week of an NHL regular season, some possible examples from the next few days, and the best way that you as a fan can approach them.

No. 1: The de facto playoff game

The matchup: It’s not a playoff game per se, since, you know, it’s not the playoffs yet. But the way things are playing out, it’s probably not going to be the playoffs at all for one of these teams unless they can pick up a win.

Possible examples: Anything involving the Panthers or any of the Western wild-card teams. But the big one comes on Saturday, when the Blues face the Avalanche in a game that could be for the conference’s final playoff spot.

How to watch it: If you’re a fan of the team that needs the win, consider this practice for the real thing. All post-season superstitions go into full effect. Screaming profanities at officials is mandatory. Screaming at broadcasters, opposing fans and anthem singers is optional but encouraged. Screaming at children and pets is probably overdoing it but nobody’s judging you.

Whichever way you decide to approach it, be ready, because you are in full playoff mode for the next few hours. By halfway through the game, you’ll remember that playoff mode feels awful.

(There’s also the evil cousin of this game: the de facto playoff game between two teams that your favourite team is chasing in the standings. Fun fact: Literally every one of these ever played has mysteriously gone to overtime and become a three-point game.)

No. 2: The possible first-round preview

The matchup: These two teams have a good chance of meeting in the first round. In the old days, everyone knew what this meant: Sound the gong, because it was set-the-tone time. But today’s NHL is a kinder and gentler place, and we typically don’t see much of that nonsense anymore. Instead, these games typically start off feeling like any other. But eventually, depending on how things go, we can still get a hint of bad blood, and maybe even a little bit of message sending.

Possible examples: Penguins at Blue Jackets on Thursday. Bruins at Panthers on Thursday. Devils at Capitals on Saturday.

How to watch it: Talk yourself into disliking the other team, even if you have to really reach to do it. Work your way up to something approaching hatred. Finish off with a degree of loathing you never though humanly possible, and then spend the next few days plotting all the ways you can’t wait to you see your team smite their enemies. Try to look surprised when the matchup falls through on the season’s final weekend and your team ends up playing someone else instead.

No. 3: The possible Stanley Cup final preview

The matchup: This is the offshoot of the first-round preview, because it features two very good teams in different conferences. These matchups are actually relatively rare these days, thanks to a schedule that emphasizes divisional matchups down the stretch. But every now and then we luck into one or two, and when we do it’s hard not to have your mind wander ahead to June.

Possible examples: Predators at Capitals on Thursday. Blue Jackets at Predators on Saturday if we’re feeling generous. Predators at Panthers tonight if we’re feeling really generous, which let’s face it, we are not.

How to watch it: Those are the only inter-conference games between playoff teams left on the schedule, but at least they feature a genuine contender in the Predators. So watch, enjoy, project ahead to that Cup-final matchup, and then try not to think about how this category will probably disappear entirely once we’re back to an even number of teams again after Seattle arrives.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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