Not exactly a calm week around here. Kinda like that iconic opening sequence from The Wide World of Sports: The thrill of victory; the agony of defeat. Only in this case, reverse that order.
Two sports currently monopolize the televisions in this home: Hockey and NASCAR. With the Stanley Cup Final underway and NASCAR mid-season, no time for anything else. This year the Stanley Cup Final is personal—The New York Rangers defeated Les Habs to advance to the final—the first time having an emotional connection to a team competing for sports’ most coveted trophy.
Should have been prepared for a rocky Final when Sports Illustrated decided to feature the New York Rangers on its pre-Stanley Cup Final cover. The dreaded Jinx now haunted Rangerstown, mocking the jubilant fans rocking their first Final appearance in 20 years. What’s the deal, S.I.?
Heartbreaking losses in Games 1 and 2 in LA—in OT and double OT—confirmed the validity of that Jinx. While the teams made their way to New York City, NASCAR thankfully provided a lively diversion at Pocono Raceway.
May have mentioned that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is my favorite driver. After winning the Daytona 500 back in February, Junior’s “taking chances” racing-style continues to ensure a place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Junior’s never won at Pocono, the playground for Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Kurt Busch. Not that Dale does not compete at Pocono—11 Top Ten Finishes, 7 Top Fives, and 1 Pole—he just never captured that checkered flag. Until Sunday, that is. A thrilling final laps’ shoot-out with Brad Keselowski saw the 88 car cross that line first.
Jubilation mitigated the dejection over the Rangers’ tough two losses. Junior won at Pocono—and he won his second race this year, the first multi-win season in ten years.
Back to the Stanley Cup Final Sunday night, hopes high as the Rangers take to the ice at MSG and their boisterous hometown fans. The Rangers respond with their best-played game of the series—but once again the Hockey gods turn their back on the hometown team. At the end of the game, the series favors the Kings 3-0, a series that just as easily could be 3-0 Rangers. The Rangers now faced elimination in Wednesday’s Game 4. Talk about deflating the Dale, Jr. Jubilation Bubble.
Never concede defeat; never give up hope. Look for all positives. Could continue the mantras, but Sports Illustrated once again intervened. Its cover featured a split NHL/NBA theme, and along with two Rangers, one of the L.A. Kings appeared. Tag—the jinx passes to the Kings.
The emotional roller coaster continued throughout the nail-biting Game 4. Though many say LA actually played its best game of the Final, the Jinx and the Hockey gods—together with a not-in-our-house Rangers’ mindset and a Vintage Henrik Lundqvist performance—prevail. The Blueshirts are back in the hunt for the Cup and on their way back to LA for Game 5. Don’t forget, the Rangers came back from a 3-1 deficit against Sid Crosby and the Penguins to advance to the Conference Final.
And NASCAR? Headed to Michigan this weekend, one of Dale Jr.’s perennially strong tracks. His 2012 victory at Michigan ended that 143-race winless streak that seems so improbable these days.
Time to bury that agony permanently as we enter the weekend. Or better yet, send it to the Kings’ fans, along with that S.I. Jinx.