Archive for the ‘NHL’ Category

Does anyone have some Advil?

Posted: August 19, 2011 in NHL

This week as almost every hockey fan knows, it was reported that Sidney Crosby suffered another semi-setback in his recovery efforts from a concussion suffered this past NHL season. According to reports out of Pittsburgh, Penguins GM Ray Shero said that Crosby still suffers from concussion-like symptoms (ESPN). This begs the almighty question, is Sid the Kid done in the NHL?

Concussions have been the early exit for many players in the NHL, or just their exit period. Eric Lindros, his brother, Scott Stevens, Mike Richter, Keith Primeau, and a hand full of others have had to end their careers because of difficulties resulting from concussions suffered during their tenure in the league.

The issue is a very serious one as we are seeing more and more athletes suffer from concussions, in every sport not just hockey and the degree of the injuries are impossible to say with certainty. We have field tests that can be applied however we cannot do brain scans or medical tests that will define the extent of ones head injury to the brain.

So with that said, and covered in a previous article, what could this mean for the NHL?

There are some hockey fans that are jumping to the claim that it is a huge loss for the NHL if Sidney never comes back. To that I say get over it, he is not the entire league and if you think so then clearly you don’t enjoy the overall product of NHL hockey and all the superstars it has to offer.

Now, would the league be missing out on some potential great plays and great playoff performances? Absolutely, there is no doubt that as this past season showed Crosby can be on pace for some great statistical years. However they were all based on projection, other injuries can hinder a season/career and affect those projections.

In addition, the NHL I feel, is loaded with stars and as many as several on each team. I am not going to say that someone would fill his shoes as each star brings his own unique skill set and abilities to the game. What this might do is give some Crosby lovers the ability to see the rest of the league and its greatness.

Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are the two top dogs in the NHL, whether you like OV or not he is the 1A to Crosby’s 1. OV may not have been a statistical stud this year, but in years past he has put up huge numbers and is a marketing gold mine for the NHL and its brand. But after those two you look at the stars on the scoring leaders list and it’s just pure talent after pure talent.

There are goal scorers, playmakers, slap shooters and heavy hitters which all equally contribute to the quality of the product we see on TV and live in the arena, as well as in our fantasy leagues.

I understand very well his impact on the game, but let’s remember two things here. First off, America loves football which is a very violent and aggressive sport. That’s why Ovechkin is so popular amongst the American fans, they love his style of play and recklessness on the ice. Therefore the game in the USA is protected as long as he continues to play like that and others like him. The USA matters here because majority of the teams plays in the USA and they are a market essential to keep the NHL alive. Both in marketing revenues, ticket sales, fan gear, etc.

Also in Canada, we love the game so much and appreciate it and ALL of its talented players, that the loss of one player should not decrease our interest in the game of the league.

The biggest losers in this scenario, besides Crosby himself, are the Pittsburgh Penguins and Team Canada. As we all know Crosby scored the game winning goal for Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics after a near impossible tape to tape pass from Jerome Iginla.

Team Canada has the deepest talent pool to go and look for its replacements, but we can all admit that there is only one Sidney Crosby, and if he were to be lost from the roster that would be a talent that we would simply have to swallow and move forward from. Even with the likes of Steven Stamkos guaranteed to make the next Olympic roster, barring some epic faux pas, he still will not bring the intangibles.

So now we move onto the next phase of this recovery process, how do we avoid these incidents? Can we?

Is it truly possible to eliminate, or almost eliminate, head shots from Hockey without ruining the games flow and competitiveness?

I for one do not know, I am merely an opinion writer who reads as much as he can on all sports and then generates an opinion into words. I think that at a certain point it is still up to the players to respect each other while respecting and honouring the competitiveness and ferocity of the game of hockey.

At its best (I would say Olympics, but maybe I just love seeing the maple leaf too much) hockey is just something like no other professional sport. You are on ice, things can be done that can’t be done on any other surface. Players throw their bodies around seconds before and after big shots, passes, etc. But in order to keep seeing these amazing plays and talents players need to take care of themselves and each other.

You can hit someone cleanly but still knock them off the puck and put them on their ass. It is not impossible and for the players that keep whining about that, to them I say shut up. Go back to camp and learn to hit, I see plenty of stars and defensive beasts manhandle other huge players cleanly without giving them a concussion. Crosby’s first hit to the head at the Winter Classic was a cheap shot, obviously, he wasn’t looking and got an elbow to the head. The second hit was just massive, but arguably from behind.

Anyways, to sum up this is a big story in the NHL and could have long lasting ramifications for the league, Team Canada but most importantly for a career we only saw get started. Like all athletes, equally, losing a player too soon in their career is never fun. Hopefully Crosby, along with every single other head injury athlete on the DL, can get their heads back in the game and idiot players that caused the injuries can get theirs out of their behind.

Where are you Father Time?

Posted: July 5, 2011 in NHL

There is something to be said about a perfect ending, but what defines perfect? The end is when there is no more, or in most cases at least. The end of the movie is when the director is done shooting until the inevitable sequel and three-qual. The end of a book is when there are no more pages to be read, the end of a meal comes when there is no more food.

Ideally a sports career would come when the athlete has no more game to be played, but we seem to define the end at a certain measure of performance. The athlete may be able to play the game within its context, however their abilities are severely diminished.

I for one support the forced retirement, pushing an athlete out before their time is up. As a fan of the game I do not need my time wasted with old timers trying to recapture their youth, making one last push for the ring, etc. My favourite example of this you ask? That would be the one and only Brett Favre, who refused to retire when it was right. What did it get him? More injuries, potential lifelong disabilities, increased chance of trauma in his twilight years. Most importantly it lost him a lot of respect amongst the fans of the game as he refused to accept what we all were thinking.

But this is not an anti-Favre post, which could be a book in of it self some day when I get the right offer from a publisher. This post is about aging athletes who make one too many comebacks, or maybe the last great comeback.

After Jaromir Jagr announced that he wants to come back to the NHL after some years away but still playing, I thought good for him. Now this was a fresh thought for me as usually I hate when aging athletes try to revisit their glory years one more time only to embarrass themselves and waste our time as a fan.

Evidence for this number one is Michael Jordan.

But Prestononsports he’s the greatest of all time! You say.

Yes I am aware, but wouldn’t it have been great if he won the second three peat with the Bulls and then just said “OK guys, I’ve now won 6 rings, two three peats in an amazing basketball city that has made me a God, time to go hangout by the pool and live life with no limits”

But he didn’t, he decided more years needed to be played and he played with the Wizards. Now luckily he did not bombard us with false retirement press conferences babbling like some clown that he needed the game, etc. He retired with a small blemish on an otherwise perfect professional career.

I would have preferred that he simply took his curtain call into greatness and left on top, see Michael Strahan after helping the NY Giants win the 2007/08 Super Bowl. He is proof that once you win, even though you probably could still play, it’s best to end it now when it can’t get any better.

Now let’s make one thing clear before I continue on, I am not saying once you win the first ring it’s time for you to get out. Jason Kidd still has a year or two to compete at the same level he did this year and contribute on the Mavericks, but only the Mavs. He fit into their system, does not need stats and his age is not affecting his ability to pass the ball which is what he does best.

Strahan was a defensive end whose body was taking a severe beating over a long, potentially Hall of Fame career. He got his long awaited ring and knew there wasn’t much point in going through more punishment with decreasing production when another ring probably wasn’t there.

What I am against is the on going soap operas, guys that are clinging to their younger days that clearly aren’t there anymore. Just get out of the league and accept that the young players are better, faster and making you irrelevant.

These may be strong words, but I feel that some athletes tarnish their otherwise great records by not being told strongly enough “Dude! You are a legend, you’ve made your millions and proven your worth, why are you hanging around when you don’t belong?!”

There are of course those athletes that buck the trend of aging and they will get their credit now, or at least the names I can think of that come to mind easily.

Ray Lewis defies the laws of age and performance as at 36 he is still a menacing force as the field general for the Baltimore Ravens defense as their middle linebacker. The Miami graduate has played 16 masterful season totalling almost 1900 tackles, amazing.

At his advanced age in a gladiator sport he still manages to be the difference every year. Granted most of his skills now come from his ability to lead his troops like a medaled war veteran. They believe in him, his passion and his guidance and they will do everything for him because they know he’d do the same for them.

Teemu Selanne defied everything about age this year if you ask me. The Anaheim Ducks winger compiled a season for the ages, literally, while amassing 80 points in 73 games, including 31 goals. Not bad for a savvy veteran eh? Oh ya, he just turned 41, in case you didn’t know that. Talk about a rebound year after only getting 48 points last year at the ripe age of 39. Factor in having the stellar play of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry this year he still managed to get his, incredible. I guess 40 is the new 30 after all.

Jagr will play next year in Philadelphia on a one year contract worth roughly $3.3 million US, not a bad payday for an aging star who has spent recent years abroad. Many people were baffled with the moves that the Flyers made last week, shipping Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of town. However they new they needed to sign a goalie to finally rid them of that haunting problem.

The deals made room to sign a top tier goaltender, and they received ample pay back when you factor in the youth and price tags. I do not know enough about the trades to offer specific criticism or praise on the value and intelligence of the move, but on the surface I see why they did it and it looks like it has a strong chance to pay off.

In the end, I’m a fan of old timers saying screw you to father time and defying the odds. But for every aging star who manages to prolong his/her career into their twilight years without missing many steps, there are plenty more who should have hung it up a long time ago.

Please Mr. Jagr, when you come back don’t make us regret not having a mandatory retirement in sports. You did so much in Pittsburgh and Washington; I would hate to see you Jordan or Favre your way out of hockey when you could’ve been one of the great mysteries of sport.

TO THE STREETS!

Posted: June 16, 2011 in NHL

I’m upset. I lost in a game of twenty-one last night on the driveway. It was really close but man I’m upset, I should go burn some cars.

That’s got to be the rationalization and thought process that goes through these fans’ minds when they take to the streets and lower themselves to the classless act of rioting no? Someone beat me or my team so as a result I’m going to trash my home city and attack fellow country men/women to get my anger out, right? Because for the life of me I cannot put myself in their shoes and come to a rational or logical conclusion as to what sort of anger would make me lash out like that.

Let’s back up a bit and start on a more positive note first. Congratulations to the Boston Bruins for your hard earned Stanley Cup championship last night. You deserved this win far more than the Canucks did and here is why I think this way:

1) Vancouver had home ice advantage and yet played like a beer league team on the biggest stage in hockey. Everyone dreams of scoring the goal in a game 7 and yet no one except Ryan Kesler seemed to want that goal last night.

2) In the last two wins by Boston, including game 7, they simply outworked Vancouver. They got to more pucks, were more physical all around (although I don’t condone punching in the face to entice a fight/penalty, play the game.) and as we saw in Boston scored more goals, which usually helps your cause.

3) Vancouver gave me the impression with their play that they felt they were the Miami Heat, in that they played expecting to win. As if these games were a mere formality until their moment of glory in front of a home crowd. Sorry Vancouver, now you’ve learned that nothing in sports is a guarantee and everything must be earned.

I could list more reasons but these are the few main points that come to mind that I can defend the strongest and I feel mean the most. You have to want the cup, to yearn for it; it has to be the epitome of your existence on the ice (not in real life but once those skates are on that’s what you’re thinking about). Every time you’re skating, practicing, training, the cup is why you’re doing it.

This is how I would attack it at least, but hey I’m just a purest who believes naively that the sport is about winning, whether the sport calls for you to win as an individual (tennis, golf) or to win as a team.

The Boston Bruins showed true resolve in these playoffs and my hat goes off to them. They won three, seven game series in this year’s playoffs, something that has never been done before.

Tim Thomas, whose career took him to the ECHL and Finland only to have it end with him getting his Stanley Cup win and being only the second American born player to receive the Conn Smythe trophy, also the oldest.

However it was not all glamour and sunshine in Vancouver on this night. I was extremely proud of the Vancouver fans to start off the night. They sang the Canadian anthem beautifully when called upon by Mark Donnelly as he typically does.

Then to end the night, instead of racing for the exits the Vancouver faithful stayed and cheered on their team in the final seconds, thanking them for a great season and a long playoff run.

Everything after the game made my blood boil and is one of the things I hate the most in sports, riots. They have no place in society must less over a sport result that you happen to be upset with. This has been evidenced countless times over any soccer event it seems, however they tie societal and political motives to that sometimes as well.

Last night however I saw Canucks jerseys and t-shirts committing these heinous acts of vigilante violence and it made me think back to other events that cause uncalled-for rioting. As a proud, red and white bleeding Canadian it makes me angry that some of my people put on this display and opened us up to critical, although unjust, comments from onlookers around the sports world. As a sports fan I’m just disappointed.

I saw the pictures of drunk and misguided fans challenging the police who were sent there to control the situation best they could when confronted by 100,000+ angry fans. Do you know what I saw? The fans in jerseys were challenging the police, egging them on almost begging them to attack.

This just has no place in sports, C’MON PEOPLE! Yet this is sadly not the only event I remember this happening in, but like many problems I have in the world of sports today it needs to stop.

The last two NBA championships that were won by the Los Angeles Lakers prior to this years win by Dallas provided us with another example of poor fandom. LA is notorious for riots after sports victories, probably a result of the gang population and their quest to find any excuse to engage in violence with anyone.

The city even publicized that there would be extra police protection issued in anticipation of the rioting, yet it still happened. Damage to personal property, looting, bottles thrown at police and police cars and even dumpsters set on fire in the streets.

Let us not forget the great city of Montreal, some of the best rioters in sports. Call their team a bunch of losers and it seems they’ll take to the streets, usually with the same tactics as Vancouver. They burn and flip cars, yell and throw things at the police, loot stores break windows, etc.

Why are these people so angry? It’s a game and I live for passion, believe me I feel it when my team loses or a team I hate wins. But I don’t go around breaking things in my house, which I would then have to clean up and replace.

No, I take the emotion like a man, feel upset inside, get frustrated or what have you but then its over. I’m not saying that these fans need to stop feeling emotion, but they need to learn to control it.

Did anyone during this looting stop to think that maybe instead of lashing out at people who have no control over this situation they could console each other? What did the city of Vancouver do to the people? Provide them with a great experience of cheering in the streets? For shame Vancouver city, how dare you allow your fans to gather together and cheer outside the arena and have a great experience as both a city and a sports fan.

The worst part is that this could ruin any sort of these fan gatherings for the rest of us going forward. Can you imagine in Toronto if the Leafs were ever be in a game 7 situation? The city would literally be shaking the whole day, I would be downtown myself cheering on with the 1000’s of other fans, but I would be scared if they lost.

Fans need to control themselves, if not for their own cities for all the others. You cannot conduct this kind of behaviour and feel that it is appropriate and also, not consider the repercussions that may come unto others.

When you screw up like this everyone sees it and they remember it. Now all cities again will be on alert for the next big event, this will be another chapter in the book of fan stupidity and may lead to the streets being closed to fans for similar big events.

I can only hope that amongst all the hung over depressed Canucks fans today, they’re thinking to themselves what idiots and clowns they made of themselves yesterday. There is no justification for these actions, only embarrassment and blame to be received. You didn’t deserve to win, if not for the play but for your behaviour. There is still a thing called class in sports and you have a long way to go before learning what that word means.

Boarding Passes Please

Posted: May 11, 2011 in NHL

Can you say game 7? I’m not sure what these coaches are saying, or the players are drinking, but these playoffs are something to behold. Another series, not even the conference finals, will be decided by a game 7 in these 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs and I could not be more excited.

Last night the Detroit Red Wings managed a heroic effort on the ice, beating the San Jose Sharks 3-1 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit to even up their Western Conference semi-final series. In the process they not only sent the crowd into constant cheer and standing ovations, they sent the series back to San Jose for a deciding game 7 with the Sharks forgetting what to do when they smell blood.

Sharks defenseman Doug Murray said it best “”We put up an embarrassing effort. It’s nothing to do with X’s and O’s. It’s about whatever it takes to get yourself ready. We weren’t skating, we weren’t making quick plays, we weren’t doing anything right”(NHL.com). After watching most of that game I would say it was pretty embarrassing for a game 6 effort, not to take anything away from Detroit. The Red Wings were all over the ice last night. They found the puck like a fat kid at a Smartie party and refused to give it up.

But the defense is not the problem, or at least not the only the problem. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, once again are seeing their post season production dip well below their regular season success, and it’s hurting them big time. Marleau has only 5 points this entire playoffs and not a single point in this series. “I think I’ve done some really good things…they haven’t showed up on the score sheet, but there’s another game to play”(REDWINGS.NHL.COM). Let’s hope for his sake he plays like it’s his last game he’s going to play, or the Sharks may be without one of their best offensive tools.

This attack on Marleau however does not excuse the Sharks other turtling offensive monster, Joe Thornton. As we seem to do every off-season, I have to comment on the captain’s lack of play in crucial situations. He may have 5 assists in the series, with three coming in the OT win in game three, but now he has only one point in the three deciding games. As the leader of this team with a strong resume of consistent top tier production, Sharks management has to be getting frustrated with their star.

“You work 82 games to get home ice for Game 7. Now, we’ve just got to make it work.” This is all true Mr. Thornton, you do work 82 games to get home ice for game 7. You also work 82 games to plan your attack, build chemistry with your teammates so that you don’t disappear in your team’s time of need. You work 82 games so that you don’t have to spend a sleepless night worrying about becoming infamous for allowing a convincing 3-0 series lead slip away when you had home ice advantage in that series. We all wondered what kind of history Joe would leave after he left Boston for what was to be greener pastures in San Jose, hopefully it will be the kind you talk fondly of.

Time for credit giving, and I give it all to the Red Wings, they played an energetic, up-tempo style last night fitting of their past championship teams. They made sure to remind everyone that they are still here, and they still have all the pieces they need to make another run at a championship. “It’ll be a fun game to go out there and play”(NHL.com) said Red Wings defenseman Niklas Lidstrom. Fun? You’re in a game 7, en route to one of the great playoff comebacks in history and you’re saying it’s going to be fun? That right there tells you why the Red Wings are different from all other teams. They’ve been there so many times before that now they look at these high pressure games as fun, and a chance just to play the game.

This victory started in the minds of the Red Wings players and their coaches well before the puck dropped last night. When asked about the team plane and the chance at one more flight, Babcock told reporter’s “”We’re getting on it…We plan to be flying back for Game 7.” That right there shows you the confidence that oozes from these players when their backs are against the wall. When you have a coach as strong minded as Babcock, and who believes in his player’s more than himself you’re bound to win a few.

After watching last night’s game I don’t see how San Jose can come back to win this series, but that’s why you play the games. Pavel Datsyuk was an animal out there and doing whatever he wanted, when he wanted with the puck. People talk about player’s having the puck on a string, but he literally seemed to have the puck glued to his stick. With several double shifts Datsyuk caused havoc all night for the Sharks. Whether he was dangling around the offensive zone waiting for his teammates to get open for a pass, or picking the pockets of almost every Shark’s player out there, they couldn’t keep him off the puck.

To lose in some convincing fashion, three games in a row nonetheless, you have to feel as though the Shark’s have tossed it in. The sharks looked like a team of 20 year olds playing in a men’s league, they were all over the ice all the time, never giving up on anything. They went for the hit, they passed to everyone, and they were patient, never seeming rushed.

If this game tells us anything these playoffs though, it’s that it tells us nothing. The Canucks faced the exact same situation but when they went home they were inspired, and took care of business on home ice. Now it’s the Sharks turn to take care of business at home, but not before the Red Wings do everything they can to crash the party.

LIGHTNING STRIKES!

Posted: May 5, 2011 in NHL

Last night the Tampa Bay Lightning did more than what most people thought they would do, they made it to the Eastern Conference championship series and in the process swept the East’s #1 seed Washington Capitals. In a series that was dominated by the Lightning from game 1, they dominated tight games led by stout defense, league leading goaltending and a re-emergence by their stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St.Louis. The two Quebec born Canadians are now first and second in the playoffs in total points (Lecavalier 12, St.Louis 13) and are showing youthfulness and a jump in their step that we haven’t seen in years. St.Louis is playing at the highest level of his career perhaps and Lecavalier looks better than I have seen him in years. Both forwards are extremely aggressive on the offensive end and don’t let up. But we all know these two can play, how about the unheralded efforts of Sean Bergenheim (leads playoffs with 7 goals) and Steven Downie (leads playoffs in assists) according to ESPN.com. Downie, who struggled early in his career with Philadelphia, finally showed he had potential last year when he amassed 46 points in Tampa Bay while playing in 79 games. Given his struggles early in the league he learned quickly that you can’t do whatever you want and earning your stripes is law not a choice. Now he finally seems to be accepting his place in line and contributing every way he can. Last point on the series, I have to give enormous credit to 30 year old goaltender Dwayne Roloson who seems to be coming into his prime nicely. Wait what? He’s actually 41?! Yes, Dwayne Roloson (and not a robot in disguise) is leading the playoffs in wins (obviously will be tied eventually, but still leading), GAA and save percentage. If you asked anyone who would be the goalie of the playoffs no one was saying Dwayne was going to take over the way that he has. With veteran tricks and a cool demeanor, the Tampa Bay net minder has supported his team’s offensive resurgence with outstanding displays between the pipes and shows no signs of slowing down.

Now questions begin for Washington, again, they must seriously look at their core make up and see where the problems lie. This year it was obvious that teams were figuring out how to stop their dynamic superstar Alexander Ovechkin. Although he managed to get 10 points in his 9 games played in these playoffs, 4 of those coming on the power play, something was not right with him this year. It appears after watching these games that something is missing from the OV of old when he was scoring at will and started off his career by scoring 50+ goals four out of his first five seasons. But this season series loss was not all his fault as the rest of the high powered Washington offense seemed to disappear when it mattered most. The Capitals managed to score only on 5 of their 34 power play opportunities, which just won’t do. Fellow superstars Niklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin combined for only 8 points, not even matching that of their captain. If the Capitals are going to go anywhere they need consistent and timely production from their three dynamic superstars. Defense was also an issue, too many goals were allowed after momentum seemed to come their way. It seemed to me countless times when the Capitals battled back from deficits the lightning were able to waltz right in, tie or take the lead, and bring all the momentum back to their side. Either way George McPhee and Ted Leonsis need to get together and figure out how to take advantage of the talent they have before it disappears, if it hasn’t already.

Whatever the Capitals decide to do they have to do something but for now congratulations to the Tampa Bay Lightning on an amazing playoff run. They haven’t lost since being down 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and show no signs of slowing down. They’ll have plenty of days off now to recoup and prepare for whoever their next opponent will be. Probability says it’s nearly impossible for lightning to strike once, now they’ve done it twice these playoffs. Whatever the odds are for lightning striking three times in a month I’ll take it, would you bet against this storm?

Green with Envy??

Posted: May 4, 2011 in NHL

Today the NHL banned the “green men” from touching the glass of the visiting teams penalty box at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver during Canucks home games and I for one think this is absurd. The ruling handed down by the NHL was quoted as follows “they’re no longer allowed to touch the penalty box glass or perform handstands to distract the visiting team’s players.” I’m sorry did someone lose an eye during their time in the penalty box? Was someone’s little feelings hurt? This is another example of Gary Bettman and his mission to change the NHL’s full title to No Humour League.

Detroit was the start of these no fun rules when they threatened to fine Detroit Red Wings zamboni driver Al Sobotka $10,000 if he twirled/swung the ocotpus as he removed it from the ice, which is tradition. I’m sorry, was he hurting someone? Was he insulting anyone? No he was not, the octopus was already dead so it wasn’t inhumane and small traditions like this make sports great. Throwing the hats on the ice is a huge time delay when a hat trick is scored and yet that is openly allowed still, so why the double standard? There was word that the slime left from the octopus damages the surface of the ice after it is removed. However something tells me that either the minimal amount left and the sharpness of NHL skates (which slice players faces easily upon even the slighest contact) have any effect on the game whatsoever.

More importantly though this is character that is being limited and identity prevention. The Canucks have now become synonymous with these “green men” hanging out beside the visitors penalty box, doing stunts, banging on the glass, doing handstands up against the side to taunt opposing teams players. Where is the harm? They’re not swearing, insulting them or doing anything illegal. What about when players are in the corners and fans bang on the glass emphatically is that banned too? You’d have toif you want to promote fairness of the rules, everyone can hit the glass or no one. Now getting to the caricatures that they had specific to the visiting team. Vince Vaughin in a Canuck’s jersey was funny, same with Carrie Underwood. Fans at San Diego State baskteball home games littered the student section with billboard head shots of tons of random celebrities (below) and that only added to the positive fan experience enjoyed by all.

Mr. Bettman, please don’t limit the fun fans bring to the league, your sport is already #4 on the major sports list in North America. The fans were bringing their own identity the arena and it added something to the experience. Fan expression is a part of professional sports and to silence it is like silencing peoples freedom of speech. As long as no one is hurt (unlike the Tie Domi water bottle incident) then let it go! I believe in green and I believe in the NHL, do the right thing and let them cheer!

ROUND TWO!

Posted: May 2, 2011 in NHL

I would be lying if I said that I have been disappointed by one of the best season’s in sports so far, isn’t this awesome?! NBA and NHL playoffs are into their second rounds and for the most part I have enjoyed every second of the first rounds so far. We’ve seen buzzer beaters, blowouts, defensive stands and offensive onslaughts all in the first rounds. Now to break apart the action we’ve seen so far let’s break it down by sport and reflect on what we’ve seen.

 The NHL passed the entertainment test with flying colours this year and I cannot praise them enough. We had four series go to a game seven, the result of intense play all around and neither side willing to accept defeat and go home early.Vancouver withstood the comeback of a lifetime attempt by Chicago, Boston stood tall overMontreal at home and Tampa Bay despite a slow start came out victorious in Pittsburgh to advance for the first time since winning the cup in 2004.

 I would vote that the Vancouver/Chicago series was by far the most exciting as games were blowouts near the end due to Chicago’s refusal to go down quietly as the defending Stanley Cup champions. One could also argue thatVancouver became a little nervous in the spotlight as the President’s Trophy winners after the regular season and strong cup favourites. One must learn never to under estimate the heart of a champion and their ability to rally behind each other in times of desperation. The team that has the least to lose is the deadliest of all and we can’t forget that when a team is in the dumps and everyone is counting them out, they’re more in the game than you think. The Canucks made it seem like they won the cup after beating Chicago in OT which I caution against because you have won nothing yet. Player’s train and play for the ring and the chance at history, not to make it past the first round. Roberto Luongo was quoted as saying this win was bigger than winning gold for Canada.  I caution against using such strong statements about a professional organization in the same city where you helped solidify your legacy months ago to adoring fans. They may wear Vancouver Canucks colours for 8 months of the year, but their blood flows red and white 365 days a year so be careful what you say around them. All in all this series was spectacular, I can’t remember the last time I watched so many games so closely while not having vested interest in the outcome.

 Boston and Montreal provided us with a spectacular original 6 matchup again! We saw great drama play out this year as always but with some extra twists that made this first round series irresistible to even the casual hockey fan. Earlier in the year we had the very controversial collision between Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins All-Star Captain and defenseman) andMontreal’s Max Pacioretty. Everyone knows the hit after countless YouTube views and SportsCentre replays but that hit was the gasoline thrown on the fire that was waiting to engulf these teams into a fury of competition and emotion. The first game after the hit was filled with boos and heckles every time Chara hit the ice or touched the puck. The emotionally charged Canadians could not wait to get this series started and it showed from games 1 through 7. Montreal jumped to an early 2-0 series lead after surprising the Bruins at home looking like a team on a mission behind the stellar play of Carey Price and quick feet of the Canadians players. Then before we knew it, Boston came right back taking both games in Montreal evening the series at 2-2 and winning the first game by a home team in game 5 to take the lead 3-2 and giving themselves 2 chances to win the series. In the end Boston won a thriller in OT in game 7 to move onto the second round and in the process temporarily erasing the memories of last years embarrassing collapse in the conference semi-finals against Philadelphia.

 Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were the surprise of the first round as I did not expect that series to go to 7 games at all. Pittsburgh although having an extremely strong season given their injury losses to Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, still managed to finish a very respectable 4th place, three points ahead of their opponent and very offensively talented Tampa Bay Lightning. I predicted in an earlier post that this series would be easily won by the Lightning, boy was I wrong. Pittsburgh through the whole series showed great resolve and it looked like the Penguins were going to manhandle the lightning and send the former champions home early. Pittsburgh started off great with close wins in games three and four by the exact same score, granted the second time it was in OT, to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. HoweverTampa showed great poise and resilience in winning the next three games to close out the series. They started with an absolute beat down in game 5 winning 8-2, followed by a strong 4-2 performance in game 6 to set up an always exciting and emotion filled game 7. The series finale was certainly not nearly as entertaining as the others from a scoring point of view, but to see Tampa win a close game 7 by a score of 1-0 says a lot about a team. It shows they know what to do to win; they didn’t need their offensive powers to shoot the lights out. They stayed tough in the defensive zone, withstood a lot of penalty kill situations and rewarded the strong play of 41 year old net minder Dwayne Roloson.

 Finally we have Philadelphia taking on the surging Buffalo Sabres in the East. A lot of people including well paid analysts smelt upset city here and picked the Sabres to take down the reigning Eastern Conference champs in either six or seven games. If there was an upset to be had it certainly wasn’t going to be easy as these Flyers, like their broad street bully’s of the past, do not go down easy. Crafty play by Daniel Briere against his former team and a goalie carousel helped advance the Flyers into the second round. Buffalo got started early, winning tight games and eventually getting the series to a 3-2 lead but could not hold on. Philadelphia rallied behind its leaders in Pronger, Richards and Carter and with big contributions from Claude Giroux proved too strong. Was it simply more experience on the Flyers end? Or did time just run out for the Sabres and their late season charge into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league? I firmly believe that although there is serious goal tending issues in Philly, as witnessed when they went through all three goaltenders, but their position player talent is too large to ignore. If they can find stability between the pipes we may see at least half the pair from last year’s finals in it again this year and maybe leaving without disappointment this time around.

This is not to ignore the other series champions, Detroit in four, Washington in five, San Jose in six, Nashville in six. However seven game series always make things more interesting, it’s the result of hard work in the past six games and a great reward to fans who were watching the six previous games, or even to those who weren’t. San Jose and Detroit look like real contenders out there and whoever wins their series could very well represent the Western Conference in the cup finals, but we’ll just have to wait and see. As for Nashville I feel that although they showed great poise in beating Anaheim(a strong playoff contender) and winning their first series in team history, I do not see them getting past Vancouver in the next round. Washington has a tough battle coming up with Tampa Bay but we’ll have to wait and see just how that one pans out before I look to change any of my playoff predictions. I can only hope that the second round of these very exciting and intense playoffs brings even half the entertainment that I got from the first.