Day one of the Elite Eight featured a scene strikingly similar to The Usual Suspects: Here was Phil Kessel, who slipped out the arena door á la Keyser Soze. Here came a getaway car, driven by Milan Lucic, á la Kobayashi.
And here was our tournament director, running out of the rink like Chazz Palminteri – huffing and puffing in exhaustion, looking every which way for a trace of the suspect, to no avail.
We don’t know if Kessel will be caught – or if he’ll strike again. He’s on the loose, and everyone and everything is at risk. Heck, we delayed the Elite Eight by 80 hours, hoping for his capture, but that didn’t happen. So now we hope our 17 squad cars surrounding the rink will scare him away.
Who knows. We’ll see what happens.
What we do know is this: Today’s Elite Eight winners advance to the Final Four.
BOBBY ORR BRACKET
No. 1 Claude Giroux, Philadelphia vs. No. 7 Patrick Kane, Chicago
Breakdown: Giroux works hard at his trash-talking craft. All the good ones do. He spent seven hours studying for first-round opponent Thomas Vanek, the native of Austria who Giroux linked to Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este (1889-1914).
Such a reference is the reason why Giroux is a lock for the All-Puck Tourney Hall of Fame.
But even a legend is capable of being dethroned, and Giroux faces a formidable test in the likes of Patrick Kane, who enters this match-up rolling on a curly-haired wave of momentum.
Kane’s scintillating victory against James Neal was dubbed “The Battle of the Glamour Boys,”which featured an arena stocked with 10,000 coeds who watched the helmet-less players display their pretty-boy hair styles. It was a match-up for the ages. And by game’s end, it was Kane who embarrassed Neal into insecurity (he stared into the mirror and fiddled with hair gel).
So Giroux has his hands full. And you can only imagine the tiring research he performed this week.
He became frustrated as the hours mounted, slamming his fists on the computer desk as he scrolled through old news, boring content, nothing suitable for trash talk.
Party pics of Kane drinking? That’s nothing new. Kane thrives on alcohol. Everyone knows it. Big deal.
The cabbie punch? Wooptydo. Old news. And remember: Kane redeemed himself by knocking out cab driver Gary Bettman, en route to his first-round battle against Teemu Selanne.
Now what, Giroux wonders.
He curses in anger, his eyes tiring. He feels hopeless. But then, like a true legend who rises when the going gets tough, he strikes gold. He finds an ESPN feature entitled “Raising Kane.” It looks harmless at first, but then Giroux reads about Kane’s childhood, how he grew up with three sisters, how he once bought his sisters shoes at Aldo, and the kicker: how he often played with dolls.
Played with dolls?
This is a tank of fuel for Giroux (remember: He is like Dick Vitale, plus Snooki, plus 25 Red Bulls, all wrapped into one skater. He’ll drive you nuts.).
He takes the ice, loaded with hope and insults. He creates a turnover in the opening minute (“Hey, Ken: Where’s Barbie?), then rings a shot off the post for a 1-0 lead.
In the second period he forces another turnover (“Don’t lose the puck, baby doll”), then rings another shot off the post. 2-0.
Kane, however, will not go away quietly. How can he? He is the hero of Game 6 of the 2010 Cup Finals. His game-winner gave the Hawks their first title since 1961. And that was against Giroux’s Philadelphia Flyers!
Kane beams with confidence. He starts to chew his mouthguard, the cocky trait that’s characterized his career, kind of like Patrick Roy bobbing his head after a save.
The macho bravado leads to a goal that cuts the deficit to 2-1, and the Kane Koeds Section goes crazy.
But here comes Giroux again, forcing another turnover (“You were drafted in 2008. Barbie’s 50th anniversary was 2008. What a co-inky-dink!”). He rings a shot off the post for a 3-1 lead, then adds insult to injury by pulling Kane’s mouthguard from his lips, á la Johan Franzen.
The Kane Koeds Section hushes in silence. Kane’s mouthpiece-chewing antic was so macho, so attractive, and now it’s gone.
And so is Kane’s game.
He misses the net on all five shots across the final 7:37 of the third period and loses 3-1.
GIROUX: “Maybe this is the beginning of the end.”
GIROUX: “Well, Sean Avery admitted to playing with dolls during a 2008 interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. Ever since, his career has been in shambles.”
GIROUX: “Hey, Ken: If you can’t play hockey, you can always play house.”
MAURICE ‘THE ROCKET’ RICHARD BRACKET
No. 1 Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay vs. No. 11 Patrice Bergeron, Boston
Breakdown: Phil Kessel stole all of Bergeron’s gear after the Sweet 16 match-up and lugged it down the arena hallway. It was a sly move by Kessel, who diverted the attention of his ex-coach, Claude Julien, and took advantage of Bergeron’s time-chewing habits (long interviews, massages, showers).
“Kessel got me good,” Julien says in a moment of humility. “The old saying is: Never let the enemy know you’re the enemy. And that’s exactly what he did. He fooled me.”
So Bergeron must continue without his comfy equipment.
But the question is: Who’s equipment does he use? Well, that’s where things get tricky.
According to All-Puck Tournament Rules, he must borrow equipment from two teammates. (Hey. Bergeron bears the responsibility of his stolen equipment. He should’ve been more aware of his surroundings, Kessel or no Kessel.)
Next: Those teammates are determined by random drawing, according to Article 37, Act II, Section 4, Code 8, Rule 2A of the Tournament Bylaws.
We placed names into a helmet, pulled out two, and found these guys: Brad Marchand (5-foot-9) and Zdeno Chara (6-foot-9).
Talk about a bad draw.
The 6-foot-2 Bergeron takes the ice in the first period, looking like a yard-sale mannequin come to life.
He has the skates of Marchand (which are two sizes too small), and the stick of Chara (which is long enough to stretch from this tournament to your keyboard).
It actually works to Bergeron’s advantage in the opening period for two reasons. One, because Stamkos laughs himself into hysteria and cannot keep his focus. Two, because Bergeron uses Chara’s 15-foot stick and utilizes the poke check to perfection.
The game is scoreless through 20 minutes.
Then the second intermission hits, and Bergeron’s bipolar disorder kicks into effect.
You have to recall Bergeron’s mental make-up: One minute he’s sky-high, the next minute, he’s down. Sometimes it takes one thought for him to unravel. It’s like a light switch. Flick. It’s off. And there’s nothing helping him.
So here comes Bergeron’s light-switch moment: He thinks back to the NHL 36 episode in Jobing.com arena, in which he searched aimlessly for his misplaced equipment, while the cameras rolled and the anxiety mounted.
He slips out of his daydream, back into reality and slumps toward the ice for the third period.
Marchand’s skates make his feet ache with each step.
Chara’s helmet keeps slipping over his eyes.
Marchand’s tight hockey pants nearly cut off his circulation.
Bergeron’s psyche is ruined. Stamkos takes advantage and scores three times in the third for a 3-0 win.
BERGERON: “Cannot believe this random drawing stuff. Total hogwash.”
STAMKOS: “Shut up.”
STAMKOS: “Hogwash is a sensitive word for me.”
STAMKOS: “People always say I smell like a hog, and tell me to wash my equipment.”