The Staals Are Brothers! (and Other Overused Conference Final Stories)
The beginning of the Conference Finals means the race to Lord Stanley’s mug is nearing its last phase. It also means the media firestorm will be burning hotter than ever—and the off-day stories will be more and more ridiculous.
Without the comfortable coverage of local broadcast teams, fans will be inundated with repetitive and painfully obvious stories that will weasel their way into newspapers, pre-and postgame interviews, and color commentary.
Here’s a look at some of the stories we can look forward to hearing—over and over and over again.
Penguins-Hurricanes: THE STAALS ARE BROTHERS!
Hey, didja hear?
Eric and Jordan Staal, centers for the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins, are brothers.
(a) have two other hockey playing siblings—Marc and Jared;
(b) grew up/worked/drove tractors/played hockey on a sod farm in Thunder Bay, Ontario;
(c) once staged a pillow fight for an NHL commercial;
(d) bet a Gatorade on regular-season games and/or stats;
(e) got arrested (together!) at Eric’s bachelor party in 2007.
Nothing makes hockey writers and broadcasters drool quite as much as sibling rivalry on the world’s biggest stage.
Just after Eric and the Hurricanes advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, the eldest Staal was asked about the prospect of facing off against his little brother. Countless YouTube clips feature familial shooting competitions, parental interviews and brotherly jawing.
There’s even a Staal Brothers Drinking game for those who want to imbibe while taking in the rivalry—and destroy their livers in one fell swoop.
But any friendly competition that added spice to the regular season is likely to get a little hotter—and a little less pleasant—with a waltz with Lord Stanley on the line.
And you can bet the talking heads will eat it all up.
Series Over/Under: 16,923
Photo Credit: Getty Images.
Penguins-Hurricanes: Bill Cowher = Traitor
Bill Cowher, former Pittsburgh Steelers coach, was born and raised in the Steel City.
Too bad he's now a Carolina Hurricanes fan.
Cowher, who played football at North Carolina State before manning the sidelines for the Steelers, has become a staple at Hurricanes game, cranking the goal horn and rallying the troops in Raleigh.
The former Steelers bench boss told ESPN radio that he "has a better feel for Hurricane team right now" than he does for Pittsburgh, but conceded that he "grew up watching" the Penguins.
Pittsburgh fans, for their part, can take solace in the fact that Cowher's replacement, Mike Tomlin, has been spotted sitting rinkside at Mellon Arena—and rocking a personalized jersey to boot.
Even with Cowher's defection and Tomlin's fandom, the scales tip in the Penguins favor: kicker Jeff Reed's hair provides all the luck and protection Pittsburgh needs.
Series Over/Under: 14
Penguins-Hurricanes: The Trade Heard 'Round Hartford
The Hartford Whalers had a lot of problems.
Ron Francis was not one of them.
That didn’t stop the team from swapping its captain—plus Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings—with Pittsburgh on March 4, 1991.
Just months after the trade Francis centered the Penguins’ second line en route to Pittsburgh’s first Stanley Cup. The next season he would score the Cup-clinching goal in a four-game sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks.
All three of the new Whalers had moved on by 1993, while Francis enjoyed a seven-year career in Pittsburgh.
Francis would return to the Hurricanes as a player in 1998, and still paces the bench as associate head coach for the team that drafted him fourth overall.
Like Cowher, the Francis story reeks of torn loyalties and old successes. Expect the "you never forget your first Cup" coverage to be vast and unending.
Series Over/Under: 26
Blackhawks-Red Wings: Chelios, Lebda Return Home
"Your allegiances change quickly."
Brett Lebda, despite masquerading as Captain Obvious, is simply voicing a common opinion among NHL players. After all, how many boys actually end up hoisting the Cup for the team they pretended to play for on their backyard rinks?
Despite dreaming of playing for the Blackhawks, Lebda considers himself a "Detroiter" now, and promises that any affinity he had for the 'Hawks is long gone.
Chris Chelios, who played for Chicago for nine years, said he would always remember listening to Wayne Messner sing the national anthem.
"I don't know where they get those [singers], but they find them and it'll be pretty emotional," Chelios recalled.
Oh, and he had one more message for his Chicago friends—no free tickets.
“You’re on your own.”
Series Over/Under: (Homecoming) 7
Series Over/Under: ("Chelios is Old" Jokes) 326
Blackhawks-Red Wings: Chicago Is Young
This story has such versatility!
“Young” can be substituted with “inexperienced,” “coming of age,” and/or “unable to grow playoff beards.”
If using the last one, the story should utilize a picture of Patrick Kane’s peach fuzz or Jonathan Toews’ Wolverine-esque muttonchops. For added effect, contrast said pictures with Brian Campbell’s Carrot Top-inspired ginger curls or Adam Burish’s wooly mammoth impersonation.
There is no stereotype easier to cover than the “age vs. beauty,” “youth vs. experience” angle. The Detroit Red Wings have taken home Lord Stanley eleven times, most recently last year.
Compared to the Blackhawks’ three—the last in the 1960-61 season—the Red Wings may as well take up a permanent lease on the Holy Grail of Hockey.
This storyline generally leads to one of the following conclusions:
(a) Youth—and not knowing how terrified they should be—will play in the Blackhawks' favor.
(b) Youth—and the inexperience of dealing with playoff pressures—will bring down the ‘Hawks.
(c) Experience—and the Red Wings’ superior follicular fortitude—will prove to be an unbeatable foe.
(d) Experience—and Detroit’s average over-the-hill age of 30.48—will send the Red Wings to an early grave.
Note: For a Detroit spin, phrase the story as "Detroit is Old," with substitutions of "experienced," "riding out maturity," or "hairier than the ownership situation in Phoenix."
Series Over/Under: 649
Blackhawks-Red Wings: A Winter Classic Rematch
The Conference Finals brings to a close the local broadcast runs and opens the door for the NHL’s national partners—NBC and back-of-the-woods Versus—to work their butcher magic.
Everyone knows what that means: self-promotion, with a healthy helping of self-promotion.
While Versus throws up “Sports Soup” graphics that take up half the screen, expect NBC to counter with its own special brand of “look at me, look at me!” marketing by constantly reminding viewers of the Winter Classic.
The second-annual outdoor game, which pitted the Red Wings against the Blackhawks at Wrigley Field, had all the drama the Peacock could have asked for, including a come-from-behind win by Detroit.
This storyline can be nicely tied in with shots of the teams’ respective third jerseys, any player rubbing his hands together or steaming his breath, and/or Mike Babcock rockin’ the fedora and letterman jacket combination.
Series Over/Under: 931
Storyline Saved: The Black and Gold Precendent
Pittsburgh was riding a sports high in early 1980. On January 20, the Steelers became the first NFL franchise to win four Super Bowls when they defeated the Los Angeles Rams.
Just a few months earlier, the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles to claim their fifth—and most recent—World Series pennant.
Following the success of the football and baseball teams, Pittsburgh was nicknamed “The City of Champions,” the Penguins thought it prudent to capitalize.
Dropping their blue and white duds for the black and gold of the city’s other franchises, but kept the skating Penguin atop the triangle background.
The Boston Bruins cared not for the switch, and filed a protest with the NHL over Pittsburgh’s new color scheme.
The Penguins argued a black and gold precedent was set by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the city’s NHL franchise from 1925-26 and 1929-30. The League ruled in favor of the Penguins, and switch became permanent.
Series Over/Under: n/a
Storyline Saved: MORE BROTHERS!
Had both the Anaheim Ducks and the Vancouver Canucks advanced to the Western Conference Finals, viewers may have been facing an unprecedented event: brothers! In the NHL!
Where the Staal brothers face off against each other, the Canucks' Sedin twins and Ducks' Niedermayer brothers have the luxury of pulling on matching sweaters each night.
Thankfully, the Red Wings and Blackhawks prevailed. The Staal sibling situation—didja hear they’re brothers?—may have gotten even more airtime had the Sedins vs. Niedermayers match up panned out.
And everyone knows one series of "Brothers in the NHL" graphics is one too many.
Series Over/Under: n/a