Perhaps I’m just looking for a silver-lining after last night’s 4-3 loss by the Capitals to the Bruins. Or maybe I’m just geeked up for summer movie season. Being down two games to one isn’t an insurmountable hole from which to climb, but in the numbness that happens beyond the loss has me wondering why this series has already been so emotional.
The reason? The same reason I’m trying not to get my hopes up for Marvel’s The Avengers. It’s all about the villains.
Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara and to a lesser extent Tim Thomas are like an all-star team of infuriating opponents all wearing the same sweater. They are coached by the joyless Claude Julien. They dress in black. They hail from the most obnoxious den of sports fandom in the Western world. Oh yeah, and they are the reigning conquerors of Lord Stanley’s Cup. They are, unequivocally, the greatest villains the Caps could’ve drawn for a first-round series.
Meanwhile, The Avengers stands as the unofficial starter’s pistol to the stacked 2012 summer movie slate. It’s the culmination of five separate movies that has been in the works for the better part of seven years. It combines some of the world’s most well-loved superheroes; Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and features a perplexingly weak villain: Loki, Thor’s little brother.
Whether it’s the narrative of a brutal NHL playoff series or the Star Wars Trilogy, a story needs a great villain. You have to want the protagonists to succeed because of how powerful, vile and cruel the bad guys are. Lucic and company play a physical game that has permitted very little easy ice for the Capitals through three games. They play in the gray area between “gritty” and “dirty.” They aren’t just bullies, they’re flat-out good. After all, they have the Cup to prove it.
This is a bit confusing because when you play word association with the Caps and “villains,” your mind immediately heads to Pennsylvania. If the media-fueled rivalry between the Capitals and the Penguins doesn’t qualify, then the long-standing historical blood wars with Philadelphia would certainly rate.
Right now, the Pens and Flyers would certainly move the meter at Verizon Center. But after the physical and chippy play that’s dominated the first three games, the Bruins have cast themselves and an amalgam of Dr. Doom and Magneto. They are cunning and cruel, relentless as they are talented. And in a way, the fact that they are less familiar than the Pens and Flyers makes them a better villain. With a long-standing rivalry, those helpful television announcers will often instruct you to “toss the records out the window.” It seems that how the teams look on paper has figured greatly into the perception of the series.
In the limited terms available to describe hockey through hockey cinema, the Bruins are a terrifying fusion of Team Iceland and the Syracuse Bulldogs.
Meanwhile, we’re left to fend with The Avengers (surely bound to be) grappling with their own problems coming together as a team to defeat their foe. But once we get to the foe, unless there’s some big reveal that hasn’t leaked yet, it’s setting up to be a complete letdown.
I’m gonna go ahead and paraphrase a little bit of Samuel L. Jackson’s dialogue as I’m expecting it:
Nick Fury: “Avengers, we’ve assembled you because you’re the best of the best. There’s a mad villain out there who will destroy everything if we don’t stop him.”
Iron Man: “Who is it?”
Nick Fury: “It’s…Thor’s snotty little brother. Loki? Remember him? Pale guy, sort of beady-eyed.”
Not exactly high stakes, is it? Loki’s a beatable foe. Loki inspires annoyance but not that magical concoction of vitriol, fear, and respect that you need in a super villain. Loki is Daniel Briere, Martin St. Louis or maybe Brian Gionta. Even if he’s capable of winning against our heroes, he’s going to do it via trickery (Loki is literally the Norse trickster god) rather than terror.
The Capitals are not out of this series. A win on Thursday is almost a must. But they have their work cut out for them in such a great and terrible foe in Boston. The Bruins will continue to play beyond the whistle and abuse Braden Holtby as much as they can. They’ll goad the Capitals into penalties. They’ll test the limits of the NHL’s traditionally loose playoff officiating. Marchand will pester, Lucic will antagonize and Chara will physically dominate.
Believe me, I wish they were squaring off with Thor’s pipsqueak brother.