What makes the Stanley Cup playoffs the best of all playoffs was on glorious display yesterday afternoon, as Full Metal Jacket spring wafted in through the open windows. There on my TV screen were the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues, coming at me live from St. Louis. And there in goal for the Blues was this guy named Jake Allen, doing the sort of things Patrick Roy and Marty Brodeur used to do.
Which is, absolutely stoning the Wild, the second-highest scoring team in the NHL this season.
In the end, the Blues won 3-1 to take a 3-0 lead in the series, and Allen stopped 40 of 41 shots. In three games, he's given up three goals, stopping 114 of 117 shots. That's a .974 save percentage if you're keeping score at home, and a microscopic 0.91 goals-against.
What's wondrous about that, and what makes the Stanley Cup playoffs No. 1 with a bullet, is that Jake Allen is not really that good a goaltender.
His 2.42 goals-against in the regular season ranked 16th in the league, and his .915 save percentage ranked 20th. Those are profoundly average numbers. But suddenly he's Roy, he's Brodeur, he's Ken Freaking Dryden.
And therein lies the Stanley Cup playoffs' special secret.
It is not extraordinary men doing extraordinary things that sets them apart. It's ordinary men doing extraordinary things.
It's Jake Allen turning into some superhuman wall in the compressed narrative of a seven-game series, lifting a team that is not much better than ordinary itself to the brink of what most analysts would consider an upset. The Blues were not supposed to win this series; now they're on the verge not only of winning it, but sweeping it.
You'll find that sort of unpredictability virtually nowhere else in playoff sports, or at least not nearly as often. Yet it happens all the time in playoff hockey, and it's usually because some Jake Allen, for a magical space of time, is transported beyond himself.
Goalies, after all, impact playoff hockey to a degree no single player impacts any other playoff. It's why the Stanley Cup playoffs are the most deliciously un-chartable, and why they are the best.
Because, sometimes, a Jake Allen happens. Ain't it cool?