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A Tale of Two Finals

By Eddie Matz | Posted 5/28/2003

Usually, rooting against a dynasty is easy. In fact, it comes naturally to most sports fans. Nobody wants to see the New York Yankees win division title after division title and World Series after World Series. Well, maybe Yankee fans do, but nobody else does.

You'd think it would be the same with the Los Angeles Lakers. After all, they've won three NBA championships in a row, their two superstars are permanently engaged in an ego vs. ego grudge match, and their small forward (though injured) happens to be married to one of the most beautiful women on the planet. We couldn't possibly have been pulling for them, could we?

Sure we could. Why? Because the NBA playoffs are all over our collective televisions, and, that being the case, we damn well better be entertained. With every playoff game the San Antonio Spurs win, our lives instantly become that much more boring. Everything about Gregg Popovich's team is ho-hum. Their black and white uniforms are blah. David Robinson is blah. Even league MVP Tim Duncan is blah--highly skilled, but undeniably blah. Even if he weren't blah, it wouldn't matter, because San Antonio doesn't have That Guy.

That Guy is the player you block out two hours on a Sunday afternoon for just so you can see what he does next. That Guy cannot be a center. It's just not possible, no matter how good he is. That Guy could conceivably be a power forward (Dirk Nowitzki), or perhaps a point guard (Jason Kidd), but ideally That Guy is either a shooting guard (Richard Hamilton), a small forward (Michael Finley), or, even better, both. Like Kobe Bryant.

Sure, San Antonio has a couple fellas who can do some things, create some excitement, drop a nasty move here and there, but Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are no Kobe Bryant. My golf plans don't get rearranged for them. O's games are not skipped for them. My late-afternoon stroll with my son will always, always win out over them.

Now, the Dallas Mavericks--that's a pretty exciting club. They don't have That Guy, either, but they do have an international band of merry men (Germany's Nowitzki, Canada's Steve Nash, Mexico's Eduardo Najera) who play with un-NBA-like passion. These guys know how to entertain a crowd.

Too bad it doesn't matter. Even if the Mavs do mercifully beat the yawn-inducing Spurs, one thing's for sure: The NBA Finals will suck. You know it, I know it, David Stern knows it. No matter who emerges from the East, they won't win more than one game against the Best of the West.

At least with Kobe and Co. in the mix, the Finals would've sucked a whole lot less.

The Stanley Cup finals, on the other hand, will not suck. How could they? Coming out of the West, you've got the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and out of the East . . . well, it really doesn't matter who's coming out of the East because the Mighty Ducks are coming out of the West. The Mighty Ducks, for crying out loud! They were the No. 7 seed in the West. Seven! Anybody out there remember the last time a seventh seed made it to the finals? Of anything? Me neither.

What's more, this is Anaheim's first ever trip to the Stanley Cup finals. To get there, they had to upset not one, but two, perennial puck powers: the top-seeded Dallas Stars and the second-seeded Detroit Red Wings.

I'll admit it--until recently, I was just like the majority of sports fans in the Mid-Atlantic. I didn't care diddly-squat about hockey, for one simple reason: I didn't know diddly-squat about hockey. But like most things in life, once you expose yourself to it and learn a little bit about it, hockey's not nearly as bad you expected. In fact, it's quite good. Seriously, give hockey a chance.

If you do, you'll see a guy named Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Some folks call him J.S, some folks call him Jigger. Won't be long now before folks start calling him God.

Almost unknown before this year, Giguere is a goalie. Specifically, he's the Mighty Ducks' goalie. They say in hockey that all you need is a hot goalie, and there's no telling how far your team can go in the playoffs. Well, hot would be an understatement for the 26-year-old net minder. The guy's been downright combustible, making more stops than an MTA bus in a construction zone during rush hour.

How's this for hot? In the Ducks 4-0 series sweep over Minnesota in the Western Conference Finals, Jigger stopped an eye-popping 122 out of 123 shots. That's right. The Wild managed to squeeze just one measly goal past him in four games. His playoff shutout streak of 217 minutes and 54 seconds, besides being longer than the running time of Gandhi, is the fifth longest in playoff history, and the longest in more than 50 years. Simply put, Giguere is That Guy.

I know what you're thinking: Why would I want to watch such low-scoring games? You wouldn't. Not if it were basketball, baseball, or football. But hockey's different. Watching Giguere--or any unconscious goalie--is akin to watching the death-defying stunts of a great magician. And who doesn't love magic?

All I'm saying is, now would be a great time to start caring about hockey. Just watch the Ducks for one game, beginning to end. That's all. You'll be surprised how much you don't hate it.

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