The Stanley Cup Playoffs Are The Most Important Time Of Year

The Stanley Cup Playoffs Are The Most Important Time Of Year

Who's not excited for the best hockey of the year?

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There are a select few days in the sports world that should be considered a national holiday, and today is one of them. Today marks the beginning of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a span of high-level NHL hockey from now until June, where every team dreams of that one historic moment: hoisting the Stanley Cup above their head for the world to see. For me, it marks the beginning of being glued to my computer screen 24/7, incredible mood swings that are dictated by games, a spectacular amount of sleep deprivation, and weeks of wearing nothing but hockey jerseys. It's almost like my life revolves around this game for the next 6 weeks, even more so than normal. So let's take a look at the first round playoff matchups, and my *hopefully* correct predictions.

The first game of the playoffs this season (and most important in my opinion) features the #1 Tampa Bay Lightning out of the Atlantic division versus the second Wild Card Columbus Blue Jackets. As much as I love Columbus, with a burning passion, this series has me very anxious. Tampa Bay has had one of the best seasons in the history of the NHL, racking up an insane 62 wins and 128 points, both were NHL records for a single season. Plus, the Lightning have two of the best players in the league in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, and both are leading the league in every single stat possible. However, Columbus has been clicking at the right time, winning five straight before losing in their regular season home finale to Boston. With players like Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, and Nick Foligno clicking at the right time, this series could surprise some people. But perhaps the most fun matchup of this series is going to come between the pipes. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is leading the league in GAA, save percentage, and wins. But right behind him is the Columbus net-minder, Sergei Bobrovsky who comes in second in the league in all of the above stats, and Bob has significantly more ice time. Now, am I saying Columbus has a chance? Of course. Do I think we will win? Probably not. My call is the Lightning in six.

The next game features two Metropolitan (the best division) opponents, the #2 New York Islanders and the #3 Pittsburgh Penguins. As much as I hate to admit it, the Penguins really come alive during the playoffs, and I sadly see them moving on past the Islanders. While this isn't the strongest Pens team we've seen in the past few years, the Pens always make a run. Crosby has 100 points, and the big three of Kessel, Malkin, and Guentzel lead in points as well, including a huge 40 goals from Guentzel. Now, this is not saying that the Islanders are just going to roll over and give up, and the fact that Barzal is their leading player is nothing to sneeze at. But the Pens simply have more depth and more playoff experience, including their goalie Matt Murray, who comes in at 11th in the league in stats, while both Islanders goalies are in the twenties. While the Islanders are a good team, I just don't think they can hang with the experience and top lines of the Pens, so Pens in seven(sadly).

Now we finally get to the first game in the Western Conference, between the #2 Winnipeg Jets and #3 St. Louis Blues. This series is a similar situation to that of Pittsburgh and New York. St. Louis is clearly a good team, but simply doesn't have the firepower that Winnipeg does. Between O'Reilly, Tarasenko, and Schenn, the Blues can clearly do some damage, even more so if Bozak and Pietrangelo are on their game. However, with the experience of Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who really came alive during the Jets' playoff run last year, I don't see St. Louis really being able to compete with the defensive depth of the Jets, specifically Laine and Wheeler. I call Winnipeg in five.

Next up, we have the #1 Nashville Predators versus the first Wild Card team in the West, the Dallas Stars. This is a very interesting matchup and could be one of the more competitive series in the first round. These teams played five times during the regular season, with Nashville having the slight advantage in the series, 3-2. The two franchises are Central Division rivals and always play well against each other. Dallas has vital goal scorers in Seguin and Radulov, plus some great goaltending in Ben Bishop, who could prove vital if the Stars were to make a run because of his previous playoff experience with Tampa Bay. However, let's not forget about the monster that is the Predators' first two lines. Between the defensive efforts of Subban, Josi, and Ellis, plus the scoring abilities of Johansen and Arvidsson make the Preds very dangerous. Add in the experience and quickness of Pekka Rinne, and you've got a very dangerous team. I call the Preds in six.

Continuing in the West, the #3 Las Vegas Golden Knights are looking to knock off their Pacific Division rivals, the #2 San Jose Sharks. This situation bears resemblance to the Preds-Stars series because these two teams know each other very well. They have played each other four times during the season, with the series being split 2-2. San Jose can clearly compete with Vegas, specifically in their top lines with Burns, Kane, Karlsson, Thorton, and Palveski, but a clear weakness can be found in their goaltending. Both goalies for the Sharks have almost a 3.00 GAA per game, and with Marc-Andre Fleury on the other side of the rink, chances are very likely that Fleury will win the goaltending battle. For Vegas, watching them shows more cohesion as a team and a very solid backup goalie in Malcolm Subban. However, the Sharks have some significantly larger players who hit harder. Vegas likes to play the boards, while San Jose has a more straightforward passing scheme. This series will be very entertaining, and I'm going to say Vegas in seven.

Moving back to the East, a series that has me very excited is the #2 Boston Bruins against the #3 Toronto Maple Leafs. Again, like most series in the playoffs, these teams know each other very well and do not always have the most friendly relations. These two teams have played four times in the season, with Boston winning the series 3-1. Based on the regular season meetings, and with the strength of the Bruins in Chara, Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak, the Bruins have no problem scoring and are very hard-hitters. However, Tuukka Rask has been off his game for a decent chunk of the season and has almost a 3.00 GAA. And if there's one thing that Toronto can do well, it's score goals. Between Matthews and Tavares, the Leafs are dangerous enough, but add in Marner and the third and fourth lines, there's a high chance that the Leafs can create some chaos up front to disrupt Rask. As much as we're really pulling for Toronto here, the Bruins have more depth and seem to have had the Leafs' number this season, so Boston in 7.

With the final matchup in the East, the #1 Washington Capitals will face off against the first Wild Card team, the Carolina Hurricanes. These two teams met four times in the season, with Washington sweeping the series 4-0. Unfortunately, I see this playoff series going about as well as the regular season one. Carolina's biggest weapon is Sebastian Aho, who by all means is an absolutely incredible player, but there isn't a lot of depth past the first two lines, whereas Washington is one of the most in-depth teams in the league. Carolina has decent goaltending, but I don't think that it will be enough against Ovechkin. Washington has other weapons as well, such as Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Oshie. But let's not forget the brick wall that is Brayden Holtby during the playoffs. With the incredible depth of Washington in the third and fourth lines, like Wilson, Eller, Carlson, and Vrana, I really don't see a way that Carolina breaks through the tough defense of the Caps and plays good enough defense of their own to survive. Sadly, I see Washington in five.

And finally, in the last playoff matchup, we have the #1 Calgary Flames from the West against the second Western Wild Card Colorado Avalanche. These two teams have not seen much of each other this season, mostly because Calgary plays in the Pacific while Colorado is a Central team. The Flames have swept the season series 3-0, and that's mostly due to the depth of the Flames, as well as their scoring abilities. Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, and Tkachuk lead the Flames with at least 27 goals each. While it's clear that the Flames have goal-scoring abilities, they have a similar problem to Boston, that the goaltending hasn't been as good as it should be this season. If Colorado wants to have a shot at moving on, their top players like MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog have to create some commotion in front of the net and take quality shots to score on a tough Flames defense. Colorado's goalie, Philipp Grubauer has been inconsistent this season, but has to be on his game every minute to deal with Calgary. I think Colorado can put up a decent fight, but not enough to defeat Calgary. I call Calgary in six.

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To The Coach Who Took Away My Confidence

You had me playing in fear.
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"The road to athletic greatness is not marked by perfection, but the ability to constantly overcome adversity and failure."

As a coach, you have a wide variety of players. You have your slow players, your fast players. You have the ones that are good at defense. You have the ones that are good at offense. You have the ones who would choose to drive and dish and you have the ones that would rather shoot the three. You have the people who set up the plays and you have the people who finish them. You are in charge of getting these types of players to work together and get the job done.

Sure, a coach can put together a pretty set of plays. A coach can scream their head off in a game and try and get their players motivated. A coach can make you run for punishment, or they can make you run to get more in shape. The most important role of a coach, however, is to make the players on their team better. To hopefully help them to reach their fullest potential. Players do make mistakes, but it is from those mistakes that you learn and grow.

To the coach the destroyed my confidence,

You wanted to win, and there was nothing wrong with that. I saw it in your eyes if I made a mistake, you were not too happy, which is normal for a coach. Turnovers happen. Players miss shots. Sometimes the girl you are defending gets past you. Sometimes your serve is not in bounds. Sometimes someone beats you in a race. Sometimes things happen. Players make mistakes. It is when you have players scared to move that more mistakes happen.

I came on to your team very confident in the way that I played the game. Confident, but not cocky. I knew my role on the team and I knew that there were things that I could improve on, but overall, I was an asset that could've been made into an extremely great player.

You paid attention to the weaknesses that I had as a player, and you let me know about them every time I stepped onto the court. You wanted to turn me into a player I was not. I am fast, so let me fly. You didn't want that. You wanted me to be slow. I knew my role wasn't to drain threes. My role on the team was to get steals. My role was to draw the defense and pass. You got mad when I drove instead of shot. You wanted me to walk instead of run. You wanted me to become a player that I simply wasn't. You took away my strengths and got mad at me when I wasn't always successful with my weaknesses.

You did a lot more than just take away my strengths and force me to focus on my weaknesses. You took away my love for the game. You took away the freedom of just playing and being confident. I went from being a player that would take risks. I went from being a player that was not afraid to fail. Suddenly, I turned into a player that questioned every single move that I made. I questioned everything that I did. Every practice and game was a battle between my heart and my head. My heart would tell me to go to for it. My heart before every game would tell me to just not listen and be the player that I used to be. Something in my head stopped me every time. I started wondering, "What if I mess up?" and that's when my confidence completely disappeared.

Because of you, I was afraid to fail.

You took away my freedom of playing a game that I once loved. You took away the relaxation of going out and playing hard. Instead, I played in fear. You took away me looking forward to go to my games. I was now scared of messing up. I was sad because I knew that I was not playing to my fullest potential. I felt as if I was going backward and instead of trying to help me, you seemed to just drag me down. I'd walk up to shoot, thinking in my head, "What happens if I miss?" I would have an open lane and know that you'd yell at me if I took it, so I just wouldn't do it.

SEE ALSO: The Coach That Killed My Passion

The fight to get my confidence back was a tough one. It was something I wish I never would've had to do. Instead of becoming the best player that I could've been, I now had to fight to become the player that I used to be. You took away my freedom of playing a game that I loved. You took away my good memories in a basketball uniform, which is something I can never get back. You can be the greatest athlete in the world, but without confidence, you won't go very far.

Cover Image Credit: Christina Silies

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Andy Ruiz Jr. May Not Look Like The Typical Boxer, But It Doesn't Make His Victory Any Less Deserved

Andy Ruiz Jr. just proved that dreams can come true.

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On June 1, boxing fans witnessed something special as Andy 'Destroyer' Ruiz Jr. defeated Anthony Joshua via TKO after going seven rounds in the ring at Madison Square Garden in New York City to become the first ever Mexican-American heavyweight champion of the world. Ruiz Jr. (33-1) was a heavy underdog (+1100) heading into the match-up with Joshua (22-1) but ultimately flipped the script to hand the British fighter his first professional loss ever. Surely the fight will go down as one of the greatest moments in sports history.

Some members of the media and fans have been quick to label the fight as a 'fluke' and 'rigged' which in the end is no surprise to me. That always happens in the sports world. Many did not believe we would get this result yet failed to remember the one rule of sports -- expect the unexpected. Over the past week, I've been coming to the defense of Ruiz Jr. in the wake of others choosing to call him a joke.

I was shocked and surprised to hear two of my favorite sports analysts, Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe, make fun of Ruiz Jr. and frame him as just a guy that looked like 'Butterbean.' When I viewed their tweets on social media it honestly made me upset. Sure, Ruiz Jr. may not have fit the mold of what a professional boxer should look like, but they simply should not have just judged a book by its cover.

Personally, I thought it was disrespectful for Smith and Sharpe to throw shade at Ruiz Jr. in the way they did. I felt like they should have done a better job of acknowledging the winner considering the result of the match. Yet choosing to bash someone because of their physical composition appeared like a low blow. The very foundation of sports allows people of all shapes, sizes, genders, races, and backgrounds to compete -- that's why most people follow them in the first place.

Smith was open behind his reasoning for his tweets in which I'd like to shed some light on. Smith was upset about how boxing time after time contains elements of corruption with fans having to wait years until promoters schedule big fights. He along with other followers of the sport were looking forward to the highly anticipated yet potential future match-up between Joshua and fellow heavyweight Deontay Wilder. Smith believes that by Ruiz Jr. beating Joshua it essentially diminished the chances of that fight ever happening with the same amount of buildup, but that still doesn't provide any excuse for mocking the new heavyweight champ.

Ruiz Jr. was there for a reason and ultimately seized the opportunity that was right in front of him -- that's not his fault for getting the job done. Just because someone doesn't look like the part doesn't mean they don't possess the same qualities and characteristics as their counterparts. The following pair of videos display the amount of talent Ruiz Jr. does have in the ring. Even fellow boxer Canelo Alvarez and former UFC lightweight/featherweight champion Conor McGregor acknowledge that and have come out to say something on their behalf.

Unfortunately, I don't expect much to change because most will stand their ground and continue to behave the same way. All I'm saying is I did not enjoy some of the top figures within sports media stereotyping Ruiz Jr. based on his looks. I would think that we would be better than that and recognize that anyone can accomplish something great in this world. It all just starts with a simple dream.

I understand and respect other people's takes on this subject, maybe I'm looking into things deeper than what they are, but it struck a chord with me and I felt the need to say something about it.

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