Stanley Cup 2019, IV: Sweeping Up to Boston

I II III IV – V –

I don’t remember a year with this many sweeps.  Already there have been four, at least one in each round so far, leaving a trail of destruction leading directly away from Pittsburgh.  The Penguins were swept by the Islanders.  The Islanders were swept by the Hurricanes.  The Hurricanes were swept by the Bruins.  (And the Presidents’ Trophy winning Lightning were swept by the Blue Jackets #neverforget).  Sweeps are generally not entertaining, nor do they amount to great series in hindsight, unless of course you’re a fan of the teams wielding the brooms.  But man, it’s wild to watch said brooms getting passed from team to team as they ascend the playoff ladder.  Will there be one last sweep this year?  And will it too make another victim in the Eastern Conference?  We’ll see!

Holy cow, I was actually right about the Blues, amidst a sea of gray.  With their win, I have tied for the lead of my family’s bracket challenge group, though I can go no higher.   (They’re also my only winner on the Second Chance bracket, which everyone’s already forgotten about.)  I’ll still consider this a success, given how absurd this post-season has gone.  Thanks St. Louis!


Bruins vs Hurricanes:  I can’t believe I’m feeling bad for the Carolina Hurricanes, but boy, they got embarrassed here by the Bruins.  The magic had finally run out, spectacularly (a theme of the Conference Finals, evidently).  Their goaltending turned porous, offense became anemic, home ice advantage was nonexistent, and discipline was broken.  It was extremely frustrating to watch as a not-Boston fan, but unsurprising.  With an absolutely unstoppable presence in net for the Bruins, the fate of the Hurricanes was inevitable after a pair of massacres in Boston.  And seriously, what is with Boston and their goaltenders playing out of their mind in runs to the Cup Final?  I really really don’t want this to be another Tim Thomas Conn Smythe situation for Tuukka Rask, but goddamn it’s looking like it might be.  Boston as a city is spoiled, especially at this very moment, and I hope their fans appreciate it.  One day a reckoning will come for the Patriots and Red Sox and it will not be pretty —  let’s hope the Bruins’ is coming this June.

Playoff Series
2019-05-09; CAR 2, BOS 5
2019-05-12; CAR 2, BOS 6
2019-05-14; BOS 2, CAR 1
2019-05-16; BOS 4, CAR 0
BOS defeats CAR: 4-0
Prediction: Bruins in 6

Sharks vs Blues:  The Sharks had the hockey gods on their side.  Their luck was incredible.  A questionable call led to a four-goal rally in Vegas.  A razor-thin offside review stole the life from Colorado in their Game Seven.  Here, in Game Three, in overtime no less, the gods blinded the refs and allowed a goal to be counted on a play that should have been whistled down beforehand.  And after that, the Sharks didn’t win again — hell, they only scored two goals over the final three games.  Player after player went down with an injury.  You might say it was karma and that we’re better off without the Sharks constantly bending the rule book.  The run is over, and what a fall it was — It all reminded me a little bit of the 2006 Sabres insofar as I really believe a healthy Sharks team would have eked out the win, but man by the end they looked absolutely powerless.  It’s sad that such an improbable run of destiny ended like this, but at least this time there’s a great story on the other side.  This will be another crucial offseason in San Jose.  Will Erik Karlsson and Joe Thornton (and Joe Pavelski for that matter) ever be seen in teal again?  Will they improve their goaltending?  Is the window finally closing?  Is Doug Wilson going to swindle yet another team out of a superstar?  There are lots of questions to be answered this summer.  If nothing else, it should be exciting.

Playoff Series
2019-05-11; STL 3, SJS 6
2019-05-13; STL 4, SJS 2
2019-05-15; SJS 5, STL 4 OT
2019-05-17; SJS 1, STL 2
2019-05-19; STL 5, SJS 0
2019-05-21; SJS 1, STL 5
STL defeats SJS: 4-2
Prediction: Sharks in 7 ☓☓


Advanced stats herein are taken from February 25th through the end of the third round.

A2. Boston Bruins vs C3. St. Louis Blues:  A rematch nearly fifty years in the making, this time it’ll (hopefully) be a fair fight.  Over the next few weeks we’ll no doubt be drowning in the famous photo of Bobby Orr’s Stanley Cup-winning goal, which the average hockey fan may not even realize came against these very St. Louis Blues.  After the 1967 expansion, the NHL placed the six new teams into their own division, guaranteeing that one would play for the Stanley Cup by season’s end against one of the Original Six.  The Blues rose to the top among these new teams, reaching the Final in each of the first three post-expansion years.  There, they failed to win a single game against neither Montréal in 1968 and 1969, nor Boston in 1970.  The NHL finally changed the playoff format after these consecutive sweeps, having taken perhaps too long to realize their mistake.  (But the Blues would be swept once more by the Bruins in the second round in 1972 anyway.)

Well, it’s not the 1970s anymore.  The Blues are a wagon train of destiny, having risen from the ashes of 31st place in January to make an improbable but perhaps predictable run to the Stanley Cup Final, their first appearance in the fourth round since the aforementioned sweep in 1970.  Waiting for them in the other corner are the Boston Bruins, and I mean waiting — they’ll have been resting for 11 days before this series begins.  They made quick work of the Hurricanes, earning this extended break, though the Blues will also get nearly a week to heal up as well.  So, then, what’s going to happen?  Well, I frankly have no idea save for a strong gut feeling and a few numbers.  Both team’s possession stats are solid, with the Bruins having a clear advantage in special teams and goaltending.  St. Louis has the best fourth line in the playoffs, though Boston’s depth scoring has also been quite good.  Top lines are pretty even, and defense is a toss-up as well, depending on who remains healthy.  A first time champion is always welcome (except you, Ottawa) so I want the Blues to win.  But first cups are hard and long droughts have elusive ends — I’m going to pick the Bruins in five.  Tuukka Rask is just too damn good right now.  The Rat is too damn frustrating to play against.  Nobody can win a faceoff against Patrice Bergeron.  In the end, Zdeno Chara will retire with one last Cup win, raising that thing like 12 feet above the ice in Boston.  And St. Louis’s hockey misery will continue with its most painful loss yet.

I want to be wrong, one last time dammit.  For 2019’s sake.

Power Play%
BOS: 28.8%
STL: 23.5%

Penalty Kill%
BOS: 81.1%
STL: 81.0%

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
BOS: 54.19%
STL: 53.20%

PDO
BOS: 102.30
STL: 100.82

Notable Injuries
BOS: none
STL: Vince Dunn

Season Series
2019-01-17; STL 2, BOS 5
2019-02-23; BOS 1, STL 2 S/O
BOS: 1-0-1 [0.750]
STL: 1-1-0 [0.500]

Playoff History
BOS: 1970, 1972
STL: No series wins vs. BOS


One more shot to crown a blue champion.  And what a way it would be to do it, with their name literally being “the Blues.”  Fingers crossed!

Final Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  1SJS, STL
Cup Champions since 2005:  1CAR (’06), BOS (’11)
Longer Cup drought:  STL — 51 seasons (!!)

Let’s go St. Louis.  You’ve wanted this for 51 years; please, please, please take it from Boston.  We all need this.

Notice

Today I gave notice at work.  I’m leaving at the end of the month for another opportunity.  It felt… weird — this is the first time in my nearly eight year professional career that I’m voluntarily leaving a position.

I’ve been employed with three companies already in this short time: the first I was unceremoniously kicked out on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday afternoon, but I was relieved because that place was a hellhole.  The second was the culmination of a sixteen-month downward spiral into bankruptcy, having survived monthly rounds of layoffs like a cockroach until finally my time had come.

It’s a curious thing.  Compared to these different kinds of involuntary terminations, you have all of the power when you resign.  I didn’t understand the consequences of that until I did it — immediately, my supervisors began bargaining with me to stay.  Instead, I had to tell them it was over, there was no way to make it work, I was already committed, etc.  It made me feel guilty, even though I know this is the best path for my career and my life going forward.  Besides, they say never to accept a counter-offer; if you go this far through the process of getting another job, there’s probably a reason (or reasons) why.

So, then, why am I leaving?  Well, I entered into my third and current position shortly after I was laid off of the second, having started the interview process before the axe dropped.  I’d had limited luck with other opportunities during the bankruptcy, so when this company came calling with an offer early in 2017, I accepted without pause.  The timing was perfect, though I wasn’t especially thrilled with the small size and relative blandness of the office after having spent three years in a dynamic and wonderful environment.

It was also far away — a 35-mile commute and grueling on bad afternoons.  In contrast to my previous 33-mile commute in 2014, the only reason it was somewhat tolerable was because I was coming home to San Francisco every day.  The office boasted a head count near twenty — far smaller than the 500+ of the last one, but larger (and far more professional) than the aforementioned first hellhole.  A compromise position, basically.  It paid significantly better than before, though still somewhat poorly for the area, and most importantly at the time, it was extremely stable.  An engineering firm with a founding date in the 1800s, it couldn’t have been any more different than the solar-coaster of the 2010s.

I always felt like my time at this place was temporary, a stepping stone on the path to another more engaging opportunity.  The folks here were ordinary, slightly boring, but extremely knowledgeable.  The company itself, having had over a century to perfect their structure and processes, was extremely supportive and helpful.  Somewhere, there was always a subject-matter expert to solve a problem you might have.  Still, the remoteness of the office, both from home and from its corporate headquarters in the Midwest, was felt more and more over time.  I’d spent my entire first six years in California slowly moving westward — now every day I’d be heading back deep into the east.

The unease grew over time.  The commute became a slog, especially during the abundant rains of the past few winters.  Folks began to leave a few months after I started — twenty eventually shriveled to seven.  Optimism and big words about growth and development turned to wind.  The pay simply wasn’t cutting it.  And finally, our largest client this year filed for bankruptcy.  It was a slow, but perfect storm.  I signaled to the void that I was looking for a way out, however that may come.

To be clear, I wasn’t looking, just leaving the door open.  Tens of folks came knocking over the course of a year or so — many misguided, but several nailed the mark.  I wanted to be closer to home, to be paid an actual Bay Area professional’s salary, and, most importantly, to do meaningful work on a vibrant team, and for leadership I understand and trust.  After a handful of misses in mid-2018, three serious opportunities met my wants and needs since the start of 2019.  One turned me down.  One is… still happening, I guess — never heard yes or no from them.  But finally, the third ultimately landed me my first job offer ever during a period of non-unemployment.

I was ecstatic but nervously excited.  After a long two plus years in the wilderness (and eight in the Bay Area), full of professional development and maturation, I am finally, finally going to be working in San Francisco.  It’s going to be so different, I’m not even sure if I’ll like it — but I have to try.  The office is beautiful, the folks at the company are extremely nice, and I’ll be in a role that allows forces me to grow professionally, as a crucial member on a very small, high-performing team.  There will be immense pressure, but I’m confident I’m ready to take the next step in my career.  It also pays… quite well, enabling further opportunities to live and thrive in the city that I love.

Nearly everything is going to change in a few weeks.  Hopefully I’ve made the right choice.

Aural Impressions: The National, I Am Easy To Find

The National is a phenomenal band.  They’ve been remarkably consistent at producing great albums for well over a decade now, which is a testament to their musical talents, as well as their ability to capture specific, timeless feelings in sound and word.  To demonstrate this ability at the next level, they produced a short film with director Mike Mills, featuring Alicia Vikander, and set along to their new music.  Titled I Am Easy to Find, it’s 100% worth a watch:

After you’ve wiped away your tears, you can hop on over to listening to the counterpart album of the same name, released just 20 months after their previous record, Sleep Well BeastThe cover bears art taken from the film, though it’s also extremely reminiscent of Trouble Will Find Me.  Indeed, there are obvious connections between the latter and this album, with Sleep Well Beast acting as somewhat a transitional release for me.  (Which is also what I would consider High Violet, between Trouble and Boxer, but that’s just me.)  I Am Easy to Find is a high-concept album, an experiment in the evolution of The National’s sound, featuring a female vocalist on each track, with many taking over lead vocal duties from Matt.  It’s, as I’ll get into below, a bit of a surprise if you’re coming in expecting a sequel to Sleep Well Beast.  Without further ado, my impressions of this gorgeous record:

  1. You Had Your Soul With You: We kick it off with a glitchy, sliced up guitar riff fluttering between channels.  Heavy drums make way for a light vocal with trademark thickly layered guitars in the wings.  Backing vocals from Gail Ann Dorsey feature on this track and several others through the album’s run — in the second half, The National go completely off board as I alluded to above, with Dorsey unexpectedly performing lead vocals for a verse, accompanied by piano and strings.  Buckle up, this album is going to be a trip.  Shock aside, this song specifically is going to be a grower.  A frenzy of strings appears a few times throughout, and hurried piano break into silence at the conclusion, calling back to a style flirted with on tracks like “Dark Side of the Gym.”  That said, there’s not much else that I find memorable here just yet.  If anything, it certainly sets a tone for the album.
  2. Quiet Light:  What sounds like a dulcimer reminiscent somewhere between Jon Hopkins and Joshua Tree-era U2 (and also used on Sleep Well Beast), combined with stuttering drums and piano turn this into an “upbeat” version of “Hard to Find,” sunny and welcoming — it reflects its title well.  It’s relatively uniform throughout, adding only a few more harmonies over its second half.  It closes underneath foreboding, downwardly screeching strings, which is, unfortunately, the only part of this song I find interesting.  Overall, it’s okay.
  3. Roman Holiday:  Now this is instantly gripping, built around a sad piano riff accompanied by minimal electronic drums.  Matt’s baritone growls lowly, while Dorsey backs it up in the chorus.  As it continues, a very National sound envelops this core, adding characteristic drums and a hollow bass guitar.  A sparse bridge allows harmonies to thrive, as well as contributing another lead vocal for Dorsey.  It’s pretty short, so I’ll probably be listening to this one a lot.  An early favorite on this record.
  4. Oblivions: Heavy piano chorus and finger-picked guitar hop around together as Matt splits vocal duties with Mina Tindle.  It’s a conversational duet between the two singers.  The minor key continues the melancholic streak started in the previous song, but the added energy and steady kick takes it to the next emotional level with layers upon layers of vocals.  An outro consists of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus singing sans lyrics, an interweaving multi-part harmony.  Good lord this is a great song.
  5. The Pull of You:  Built upon a previously unreleased song called “Sometimes I Don’t Think,” I heard its predecessor at Berkeley in 2016.  It wasn’t included on Sleep Well Beast, so I kind of forgot about it.  It doesn’t have much in common with the original but a similar chord progression and a few lyrical phrases.  The co-lead vocalist is Lisa Hannigan, appearing as the first voice heard.  After the first chorus is a spoken interlude by Matt, which they’d previously added on “Walk It Back,” supplemented by one from Hannigan and/or Sharon Van Etten later on.  Overall, the song is a swirl of strings, familiar drums, and walking piano chords; it doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from what we’ve already heard.
  6. Hey Rosey:  Beginning with a jangly solo piano flourish, minimally dissonant strings, and a Dorsey lead vocal off the bat, this doesn’t feel at all like The National.  The second verse brings a thick, trudging bass with rhythmic synths and quick tornados of distorted guitar straight off of “Afraid of Everyone.”  High piano intervals bust into massive acoustic drums and more strings, making this easily the most unique song on the record, and the most innovative since “I’ll Still Destroy You.”  It builds and builds and builds until closing on a satisfying, lengthy instrumental outro.  I like this song now, but I have a feeling it will eventually become one of my favorites.
  7. I Am Easy to Find:  The title track is a slow ballad of piano chords reminiscent of “Slipped” at half-speed, ambient noise, sawtooth synths, with a smooth, catchy, but brief refrain.  Kate Stables provides co-lead vocals as well as plentiful self-harmonies throughout the verses and chorus, but especially so in the bridge.  Melodic electronic blips feature throughout the second half along with Blade Runner-esque synths also included in the background of the bridge.  The delayed entry of drums three-minutes in was an excellent choice.  Another masterpiece on an album chock-full of them, I will be listening to this one a lot.
  8. Her Father in the Pool: The first of three interludes on the album, this is simply an extended reprise of the outro from “Oblivions.”  Not sure why it’s on here at all, given the excessive length of the album, but the title does refer to a scene in the short film, wherein Her Mother tells the story of Her Father’s scar.  It’s reminds me of a mix of “Treefingers” and the untitled hidden track from Radiohead’s Kid A, if they were a minute of choral singing, if that makes any sense.
  9. Where Is Her Head:  Organic percussion, lively strings, prepared piano, and arpeggiated keyboards dominate this energetic piece, anchored on the vocals of Eve Owen and an extremely bassy Matt.  It’s like “Graceless” but exceptionally lush; it’s relentless, never slowing even as the percussion drops out for a breather.  Dueling vocal lines are intertwined throughout, almost like the closing track of a Broadway musical’s first act.  This song might be the shorted nearly five minutes I’ve ever experienced.  Nine tracks in and we might only be hitting the climax here.
  10. Not in Kansas:  Heavily reverb’d plucked guitar and an optimistic piano line once again call back to “Hard to Find,” but lyrically this is Matt’s stream of consciousness, bringing up an absolute boatload of topics, most notably to me: Ohio, the oft-referenced home of the band, and R.E.M. and their 1986 song “Begin the Begin.”  The song falls out to silence several times, closing mostly indistinct sections of the narrative with a three-part harmony lullabye chant featuring Dorsey, Hannigan and Stables, accompanied by an airy choir and plodding piano.  It’s loquacious and a lot to take in and the instrumentals aren’t very notable.  After “Where Is Her Head,” this is sleep-inducing– possibly intentionally so.
  11. So Far, So Fast:  A growing force of rhythmic synths bring to mind Jon Hopkins again with a vengeance, while a happy series of piano chords bolster a deep vocal from Hannigan.  This is another slow song, with short crashing guitars drowning in wave after wave of synth.  Matt doesn’t even appear until 2:30 into it, when he adds to Hannigan’s lead vocal with a harmony of his own.  There’s a lull four minutes in, after which spurts of frantic drumming and tapped guitars struggle to break out from beneath the undulating synths,  while another choir chants lightly above them.  The outro continues along for quite a while in this manner, fading out with the bassy crash of drums.
  12. Dust Swirls in Strange Light: The second interlude on the album featuring the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, this is the only to feature “lyrics,” in this case in the form of chanted captions taken from notable scenes the film.  Distant guitars and electronic drums build into a flurry of vibrant music, combining nearly every instrument we’ve heard so far into an unstructured cacophony of life and chaos.  Basically, if they boiled down the short film into just three minutes and turned it into a song, this would be it.
  13. Hairpin Turns: The second single released from I Am Easy to Find, this song is very much born of the Sleep Well Beast sound.  Its drums are confusing at first listen (though still in 4/4), and Matt croons in two octaves with Dorsey.  A piano riff lightens up the chorus, while the lyrical phrasing of the chorus reminds me, specifically, of The New Pornographers.  It’s somewhat spacey, featuring tremolo synths in the wings, a wide open bridge, and cascading arpeggiated guitars and piano join later in the final chorus.  It’s a slow burn and a real treat to listen to — the ending of this song feels like a warm hug.
  14. Rylan An unexpected release for a decades old song, this studio version of “Rylan” is actually rather different than even recent renditions.  I heard it for the first time live in Berkeley last year, where it more closely matched in construction its previous “studio” version from their session at KEXP in 2017, while using the slightly altered lyrics featured on this album.  This version is obviously much more polished and production-laden, with feedback effects, strings, multi-tracked pianos, and another backup & lead vocal from Stables.  The lead vocal of the second verse is a dissonant, processed self-harmony, breaking the warm flow of Matt’s original lines, but it’s something that I will get used to.  The bridge also differs significantly, as the instruments switch to a string orchestra from the hustling snare-heavy drum beat.  The extended outro from the live versions is truncated into a compact, but awesome few measures, where it ends suddenly.  This was an incredible song to leave unreleased, and it’s easily one of my favorites on the album, encompassing everything I love about The National in under four minutes.
  15. Underwater: The final interlude on the album, here the Brooklyn Youth Chorus is accompanied by strings, singing a far more foreboding and dissonant piece.  It reminds me a lot of Radiohead again, this time mixed with Game of Thrones.  Like the title implies, it almost feels like drowning.  There’s a real pace to it, despite the lack of anything resembling a steady meter.  The choice to put it here on the album is curious — it feels like it should build upon the energy of “Rylan,” or ramp us down into “Light Years” — this cut does neither.
  16. Light Years:  Finally, we close on the other “new” song played at the Berkeley show.  This is the one that made me realize there was maybe, possibly a new album coming soon, and it’s incredible, built around a swirling and cascading piano phrase.  It’s just a sincere Matt amidst a sea of gently wailing guitars with a subdued Dorsey on backup vocals.  I was enraptured by this song immediately on that late-summer night across the bay — the crowd was silent at attention as it washed over us.  The bass builds through the second verse, implying a climax that never comes.  Instead, it’s calm with just a hint of tension at the start of the progression, and in a bass note at a dissonant interval from the piano root.  Strings fade the track out before I want it to be over.  Again, I’m going to be listening to this one on repeat often.  What a way to close a special album.

Well, that was really something.  It’s a both a mostly normal, rock-solid record from The National, while also being a bold departure and form-breaking art piece simultaneously.  The ubiquity of solo female guest vocals throughout treads some unexpected new ground; the instrumentals are phenomenal as always and the production is top-notch.  I’ll need many many more listens to dive into Matt’s lyrics, but those lines that already stand out to me are going to stick around — that said, it might take years to get all of them into my brain (looking at you, “Not in Kansas”).  Coming so soon after Sleep Well Beast, I would not have expected this album to be such a lengthy, creatively broad work, but that’s what we’ve got, somehow after what seemed like three years straight of touring; it’s another gorgeous, moving, timeless collection of songs and it will be a joy to indulge in them throughout this summer and beyond.  How The National continues to put out such high quality work time after time, I’ll probably never know, but I am going to appreciate the heck out of it as long as they’re still making music.