Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler, where being better for months can be erased in a matter of hours. Let’s get to it:
*Parity, or at least the perception of it, has long been a staple of the NHL playoffs. In sports with less scoring and thin margins, underdogs can gain the upper hand more easily than in sports with a lot of scoring.
(I’ll pause here and note that the NFL’s gift is figuring out how to have it both ways. By awarding 6-8 points for a touchdown and conversion instead of just one point, scores are inflated. A game that finishes 28-21, for instance, is really 4-3 when considered a different way. But the NFL has a similar margin for error as the NHL and therefore a similar amount of playoff parity).
The NHL playoffs have often stood in stark contrast, though, to the NBA playoffs when it comes to this subject. Basketball teams routinely top 100 points, and even though those baskets are scored 1-3 points at a time, there are still a lot of them. With more scoring, the better team has a better chance to ultimately prevail.
That’s what has made the NBA and NHL playoffs so fascinating so far this year. There is still a lot of parity in the NHL — more than in past years and more than in the NBA — but underdogs are also having their day in basketball.
As of Tuesday morning, lower seeds in the NHL playoffs are 13-11. In the NBA, they are 4-6 — including the Clippers’ stunning comeback win over top-seeded Golden State after trailing by 31 points on Monday.
Making those numbers even more impressive: Most of the work in the NHL and all of it in the NHL has come on the home court/ice of the higher seed, since in both leagues those seeds start series with two home games. All NHL series are three games deep as of now, while NBA series are either one or two games in at this point.
The most shocking example in both leagues, of course, is Columbus holding a 3-0 series lead on No. 1 seed Tampa Bay. The Lightning finished the regular season with 128 points — 21 more than any other team in the league and 30 more than Columbus.
That said, every team in the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs had at least 98 points this season. And 1-8 in the West were only separated by 17 points. There are quality teams and/or tight match-ups throughout.
In the NBA’s Western Conference, 1-8 were separated by just nine games this year — Golden State at 57-25 and the Spurs plus Clippers both at 48-34. The bigger surprise in that league is that two of the upsets so far came from the East, with the Nets and Magic (both 42-40) beating the 76ers (51 wins) and Raptors (58) once on the road.
The net result is that if Tampa Bay falls — which could come as soon as tonight in Columbus — both the NHL and NBA playoffs will feel as wide open in tandem as I can recall when it comes to crowning a champion.
*Brad Miller, a utility player hitting .250 on a Cleveland squad batting just .194 as a team, was designated for assignment Monday with Jason Kipnis slated to return from injury. Miller, ah, wasn’t not happy about it. Per Cleveland.com:
“It’s a tough trend,” said Miller. “They acknowledge that it wasn’t fair. But I’m just a player. I go out there and play my hardest and play for the guys next to me. Obviously, they don’t want the best guys up here. So I’m just trying to take it somewhere else and see what we’ve got.”
*The disparity between the Twins’ top relievers and lower-leverage guys is striking.
Taylor Rogers, Trevor Hildenberger, Trevor May and Blake Parker — who have all appeared in at least seven games and tend to get the highest-stress situations — have a combined 1.46 ERA in 24 2/3 innings.
The bullpen ERA for everyone else? 9.28. That bears watching as the Twins start to play almost every day and won’t be able to keep their top four guys fresh simply with off days. We got a glimpse of the downside Monday when Adalberto Mejia gave up four runs in the eighth inning of a 5-3 loss, one day after all four top relievers had to pitch in a win over Detroit.