By Neil Keefe
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We made it! We made it through the dog days of the sports calendar that starts the day after the Super Bowl and ends with March Madness. Now it’s smooth sailing until the MLB All-Star break when the sports world shuts down and ESPN uses the week to replay every Home Run Derby from the last decade.
The Giants got me through the brutal winter months, which weren’t so brutal thanks to a lack of snow and this run of awesome weather that created a spring training-like atmosphere for the northeast. And now we have almost arrived at the greatest day of them all: Opening Day.
April presents the perfect storm of sports with Opening Day clashing with the beginning of the NHL and NBA postseasons. Well, unless you’re a Mets, Islanders and Nets fan, then I don’t know what you do to get your sports fix since waiting for the Jets’ season isn’t really an option. It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, and it has led me to want to remake this Staples commercial that my dad used to tease me with when the summer was coming to a close.
We are at the point where the Yankees are ready for their third attempt at No. 28, the Rangers are in a position they haven’t been in 15 years and the Knicks look like they might be able to win at least one playoff game. Yankee Stadium is ready to open in 15 days and Madison Square Garden might actually host sporting events in late April, possibly May and if we’re lucky June.
With New York City about to become sports crazy with the combination of the new-car smell of early-season baseball games mixed with the importance of playoff hockey and basketball, there really is no better time to start a weekly random thoughts column to make sure nothing gets lost in the shuffle throughout the week.
I decided to leave the Yankees out of this for now since there’s a lot to get to with them and I’ll get to it all next week leading up to Opening Day. For now, here are some non-baseball thoughts as I mentally prepare myself for next Friday at 3:10 p.m.
– Ryan Callahan is having a magical year as every shot he takes goes in or almost goes in. He doesn’t have the hands, offensive skills or talent of the premiere scorers in the league, but he certainly has the “goal scorer’s touch” and yes, it’s a real thing. It doesn’t matter if he’s scoring the most garbage of goals on a sloppy rebound or sniping bar down in a shootout, it seems like there isn’t a goalie when Callahan is shooting.
On Wednesday night, Callahan scored one of his patented “touch” goals when he missed an attempt on what would have been a pretty goal in front of the net, but instead of scoring, he shot it off a defenseman, and because he’s Ryan Callahan, the puck went right back to his stick blade rather than into the corner or to one of the other nine guys on the ice. Callahan knew what to do with it and found the back of the net. Moments later he came down and let one loose off the crossbar.
It’s things like Callahan’s goals, the way the team scores ugly goals as a whole and find ways to win games, and the play from the soon-to-be-Vezina-winner Henrik Lundqvist that makes me think if the Rangers can’t win it this season they might not get a chance like this with all the stars aligning again.
– There’s not much to think about Tim Tebow going to the Jets other than the Jets are an absolute joke. I like Tebow and like watching him play and like watching media members scramble to try and analyze and make sense of his success, so this might be the first Jets player I root for.
Woody, Mr. T and Rex continue to say that Mark Sanchez is their starting quarterback “period” but if that’s the case, who holds a press conference for their backup quarterback? However, the trio also tells us they didn’t bring Tim Tebow here to be a backup? Can I offer anyone some crazy pills?
The problem is that Sanchez isn’t the Jets’ starting quarterback “period.” The first time Sanchez throws an interception or a pick-six or the offense goes three-and-out at Giants Stadium (I’m dropping MetLife from the name), you’re going to hear the kind of “Tebow” chants that rained down on Mile High Stadium in Week 1 last year while Kyle Orton lost to the Raiders. Those chants are powerful, and they will carry over to sports radio and TV. And those same chants that pushed Kyle Orton out of town and gave John Elway and John Fox no choice but to start Tebow and give the people what they want will be infinitely more powerful in New York. Because let’s be honest, Mark Sanchez isn’t going to do anything to prevent or stifle them.
And how do you have a press conference for maybe the most polarizing athlete in the world with the New York media present and the owner, general manager and head coach are nowhere to be found? The only Jets representative that was present was Jared Winley. The same guy Jared Winley who told Darrelle Revis to hang up on Mike Francesa last October. J! E! T! S! JETS! JETS! JETS!
– For as dominant as the Rangers have been, they still aren’t the best team in the Eastern Conference. That title belongs to the Penguins. And for as dominant as the Rangers have been, they are in a tough situation as the No. 1 seed right now. Pittsburgh trails them by five points with a game in hand, and if Pittsburgh takes over the top seed, the Rangers will face the Flyers in the first round. Sure, the Rangers are undefeated against the Flyers, but the Flyers are 10-3-1 in March, a division rival and if you believe in being “due” or the law of averages, the Flyers are the worst possible first-round matchup for the Rangers.
If the Rangers come out as the No. 1 seed, which they are likely to do, then they will likely face the Senators (currently No. 7), Sabres (currently No. 8) or Capitals (currently No. 9). (There’s also a chance they could face the Devils if a series of insane events happens.)
The Senators looked like they might take over the No. 2 seed from the Bruins, but then they lost five of six over a two-week stretch this month, and now they are battling just to fend off the Sabres and Capitals. The Sabres have won five straight and have outscored opponents 22-5 in those five games (including a 4-1 win over the Rangers). The Capitals have been up and down in March, but does anyone really want to face the Capitals after what happened in 2008-09 and last year even if they aren’t exactly the same team?
This is tricky because the Rangers have a past with the Capitals even if they are the weakest team of the three, and the Rangers and Sabres play a very similar style, and Ryan Miller just happens to be getting 2010 Olympics hot right now.
Despite what Brian Monzo tells me about being scared of the Senators knocking off the Rangers, I think I would want to play Ottawa then Washington then Buffalo, but this has been changing daily.
– What’s Mike D’Antoni doing right now? Sure, he will have $24 million from the Knicks when all is said and done, but there’s no way he doesn’t look like Ron Burgundy (it’s a mustache thing) after being fired from Channel 4 as an unemployed drunk who’s hated by the city. The last thing you want to see your team do when you’re let go is win, and the Knicks beat the Trail Blazers by 42 on the same day D’Antoni “resigned” and now they’re 8-1 with Mike Woodson as the head coach.
– I’m happy to see Bartolo Colon continuing his great comeback (8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K on Thursday morning against Seattle). I was 100-percent wrong a year ago when I said he was a bad idea for the Yankees to put on the roster, and this was even before he was put into the rotation. I do wish we got to see him start Game 2 of the ALDS.
– Thank you and goodbye to Brandon Jacobs. Even though I actually felt like Jacobs picked it up down the stretch and in the postseason he has clearly declined drastically since the 2007 run and his superb 2008 run. He became a locker room distraction, a loudmouth with the media and even entered the A.J. Burnett Zone from which there is no return. I will remember Jacobs for the good times and try to forget about the bad times (unless I need to reference them to draw comparison to something else that’s negative). He leaves New York for the 49ers as a two-time champion, and now I can only hope he fumbles against the Giants in next year’s NFC Championship Game.
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