Friday, April 30, 2004

Sundin sets the pace

Toronto Maple Leaf captain Mats Sundin took the reins in game four and sent the Leafs back to Philadelphia tied at two games a piece in the best of seven eastern semi-final. Sundin scored the tying goal and the go ahead one in terrific display of determination Friday night at the Air Canada Centre. The Leafs besting the Flyers for the second game in a row, this time to a score of 3-1.

Simon Gagne gave the Flyers the lead at the seven minute mark as he converted a terrible turnover by Bryan McCabe in front of Ed Belfour, Gagne took the puck in the slot and put it home giving the Flyers an early one goal lead, but for Philly that would be all the scoring this night, as Belfour once again returned to his dominating form and the Leafs defence began to play with more stability.

Sundin then took charge of the game dashing down the left wing at the thirteen minute point and putting a shot into the corner behind Robert Esche. Sundin scored again at 7:45 of the second period, giving the Leafs the lead for good in a game where he dominated all facets of the play. Sundin won the key face-offs, made some terrific passes and scored the goals that made the difference, but for a goal post or wild clearing sweep he would have had a had trick on this Friday night. Darcy Tucker scored the insurance marker 2 minutes into the third period, sending the sell out crowd at the ACC off to celebrate.

A disturbing trend for the Flyers is the sudden vulnerability in the nets, as Robert Esche is beginning to give up goals that should be covered, he seems to be fighting the puck a bit too much now, out dueled again by Ed Belfour who made the key saves when required. Belfour faced 29 shots for his latest win; Esche had 31 shots to work on, giving up three of them as goals.

Once again penalty trouble was the demise of the Flyers who at one point took three consecutive penalties which tired out the penalty killers, the Flyers continued their trend of having terrible second periods. If anything has been the downfall of Philly in the playoffs it’s the inability to control the play in the second frame.

The Leafs weathered an anxious first half of the first period, but after Sundin’s first goal they seemed to regain the confidence they played with in game three. Friday’s game did not feature the massive body checks of game three, the Leafs out hit the Flyers again but the all inclusive nature of the physical play was not part of the play on Friday. Philadelphia had vowed to match the Leafs hit for hit, but when it came time to follow through they chose not to play a physical game. For Sundin it was true show of leadership as the big Swede moved into second place in all time Maple Leaf playoff scoring, his two goals is 67th and 68th points, moving him ahead of Dave Keon and behind only Doug Gilmour who has 77 points.

The teams return to Philadelphia to kick off what has now become a best of three final. Game five goes Sunday afternoon at 4pm EDT (1 pm PST). The Leafs will have to solve the riddle that is the Wachovia center, the Leafs have had a terrible time winning in Philly, but with the momentum on their side for now Game 5 would he as good as time as any to change their luck. The Leaf fans would love to take to the streets after Game six with another step completed on the way to the Stanley Cup.

Talk, Talk is better than War, War!

The two sides in the upcoming labour dispute got together for a little brainstorming session on Thursday, representatives of the NHLPA and the league got together for the first time in seven months. The two sides got together in a downtown Toronto office building and discussed only one issue, that of the much examined salary cap.

The tone of the conversation was said to be cordial, an informative session as the two sides discussed the rationale or lack of one in the concept of a hard salary cap for NHL salaries. The owners are of the opinion that controlling costs is the only real hope for the league to survive and flourish. The players of course for the most part believe that it should completely up to an owner and the player to decide what monetary value they attach to any contracts.

The three hours of discussion and ninety minutes of lunch didn’t seem to change anyone’s mind regarding the contentious issue. The two sides will get together once again for two days in late May. With such fixed ideas on how to proceed you get the feeling that cutting salaries and replacing equipment is going to be the order of the day come the summer. All eyes will be on the chat sessions as we await the September expiration date of the current agreement. If things aren’t resolved by that point talk will be cheap, action will be louder.

Hockey Fans hope that the renewed meetings will lead to a settlement and avoid a lengthy labour dispute that could do irreparable damage to the league and the game.

Hamilton trolls for a franchise

Hamilton City council is doing its part to try and attract an NHL franchise for the Steel city. Council today approved a plan that will turn the Copps Coliseum over to a company called HHC should they negotiate a transfer of an existing franchise the plan is for HHC to take over the rink and provide Hamilton City Council with two million dollars in annual rent. The company would also be on the hook for refurbishing the rink to be more compatible with the other rinks in the league, the main missing ingredient is luxury boxes, Copps presently only has 11 boxes, and the plan is to add another 100 in hopes of attracting those fans who wish to watch their hockey in luxury.

It’s not known which franchise the folks a HHC may be trying to lure north, but there is no shortage of troubled franchise in the southern USA. Not much is known about HHC; they keep a rather low profile and haven’t disclosed any of their plans, nor the partners and financiers of the grand idea.

While the dreamers of dreams and schemers of schemes finish off their approach, both Toronto and Buffalo sit back and wonder at what time should they put up their hands and say excuse us. The Leafs and Sabres both would be in line to receive sine sizeable money for territorial infringement. Something HHC says the have made allowances for, all that is left is for a team to come North, How about the Hamilton Hurricanes, Hamilton Mighty Ducks or Hamilton Panthers.

HHC should hold onto their wallets just a little bit longer, depending on how the bargaining sessions between the players and owners go, there could be an overflow of possibilities all at bargain basement prices. Or better yet, teams could be bought out of bankruptcy protection and moved after that. With the league suggesting that most of their franchises are struggling at one time or another, the Hamilton hockey fan could end up with the pick of the litter. The folks in Winnipeg and Quebec City will be watching things closely as well. If the league melts down during labour strife, franchises across Canada could rise from the ashes. It could be that one of the few positive possibilities for the fan, from what is shaping up to be a very dark period for the NHL.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Down to a best of three

Detroit took a page from the Calgary playbook of game three and came out flying for Thursday nights Game Four showdown. The Red Wings scored on their first foray into the Flames end of the ice, as Kirk Maltby scored at the 26 second mark of the first, setting the tone for a wild scrambling kind of night. Kris Draper did most of the work on the goal as he took the puck down the boards on the right wing, behind the net and then passed it in front of the Calgary net where Maltby banged it in, silencing the Calgary crowd temporarily.

The made for the only goal of the first period as both teams then began to trade chances from end to end. The shots on goal signifying just how tightly matched these two teams were, Detroit out shot the Flames 11-9 in the first, both teams had 11 shots in the second and 7 shots in the third period. Curtis Joseph and Mikkaa Kiprusoff continued to duel at either end of the rink with Cujo winning this night’s battle. Cujo and the Wings were finding all sorts of ways to keep the Flames off the board when they began to press in the Red Wing end.

The second period looked like it was going to be the end of the Red Wings as the Flames roared out of the gate scoring two goals in eighteen seconds, suddenly putting the Wings on their heels. Calgary had a number of other chances in the wild second period but couldn’t translate the chances into goals. Goal scorers for the Flames were Martin Gelinas and Ville Niemmenen. Red Wing markers came from Mathieu Dandenault, Boyd Deveraux and Henrik Zettenberg in addition to Maltby.

For Birthday boy Curtis Joseph the win came under quite a bit of fire, as Calgary was trying to get back into the game they started crashing the net, putting up the screen and generally tried to get him off his game. But the now 37 year old Cujo was up to the challenge.

To say the win was a big one for Detroit would be an understatement, a loss Thursday would have seen the Wings down 3 games to one, giving the Flames a serious confidence boost. As it is, the series now boils down to a best of three competition. The series now boils down to the young legs of the Flames, against the wise and rehearsed plays of the Wings. Now that they’ve clawed their way back to even, expect the Red Wings to keep up the same pressure as in Game four. For Calgary its more intensity, more shots and a little bit of luck, if a few of the just misses had gone in Thursday, this series would have had a whole different tone to it heading into game 5. Instead of being in a deep hole, Detroit is just as likely to win the series as Calgary is. The teams renew acquaintances on Saturday afternoon at the Joe.

HABS-ence makes the heart grow fonder

Finally Montreal just ran out of steam and out of time. They found a stronger, faster opponent, one which acquired a taste for the playoffs last year and improved their game, improvements that have them the hot club of 2004. Tampa once again made quick work of an opponent, taking the Habs out in four straight games, defeating them Thursday 3-1 at the Bell centre, making believers of those who may have doubted their success thus far.

Dan Boyle and Brad Richards did all the damage in the second period as the Bolts came back after an early first period Montreal goal by Nicklas Sundstrom. Three back to back penalties by Montreal in the second started off the Tampa scoring outburst, as Boyle scored on the Power Play and Richards scored shortly after Montreal had killed off another short handed situation. As the teams left the ice in the second, Montreal was tied in shots but trailing on the scoreboard and once again it was Nikolai Khabibulan who could take credit for the Montreal frustrations.

Both goaltenders continued their stellar play and despite the four to none sweep, Montreal had their chances. The Habs out shot the Bolts 28-24 tonight and coming oh so close to winning game three two nights ago. When they do the post season wrap on their efforts the Habs can look back to the last minute of game three as the turning point. The slight lapse in intensity in that last minute allowed Tampa to recover the momentum, tying the game and going on to win it in OT. As they headed into game four Tampa knew they had Montreal on the ropes and as the game progressed the Tampa speed paid off, as they took the play to Montreal in the second, finishing them off in the third with an empty net goal by Fredrik Modin as time dwindled down.

Tampa can now rest their sore bodies and take care of the aches and pains as the Flyers and Leafs continue their battle, the winner of that series will meet the Bolts in the Eastern Conference final. The Lightning must be feeling pretty secure at the moment, offensively they’ve finally got their big guns moving and even when they make a defensive lapse Khabibulan is in the net and Khabibulan is making this team look very good right now. The only question for Tampa is how long a rest is good for them, would they rather have Toronto and Philly beat each other up over 7 games, or finish things off quickly and set up the next round. Regardless, with the young legs available to the John Tortorella, they should be fresh and ready to continue their march next week.

For Montreal, a huge series against a traditional rival may have been all they could hope for this year. Claude Julien’s squad made a game effort of it in games three and four, but the total domination of the Habs in the first two games pretty well told the story of this series. Saku Koivu spoke for all his team mates when he expressed disappointment at the way the playoff run ended, but even in his disappointment he must know that his team is poised to take the next step. Montreal can continue to build for the future, having taken a core group of players on to the second round. Look for Bob Gainey to start to tinker with his line up now, finding the right combinations to put the Habs further into the playoffs next time around.

For now Canada loses another participant in the chase for Stanley, like Vancouver and Ottawa before them, Montreal will have to limit their participation in the playoffs to La Soiree du Hockey or Hockey Night in Canada. The only difference between the three, Vancouver and Ottawa were terribly disappointing finishes, Montreal’s unexpected run of comeback success, ending in not so much as disappointment but more of a promise of better things to come.

Joe Sakic to the rescue

Colorado hockey fans can keep their dream alive for at least one more night, as Joe Sakic scored in Overtime to give the Avalanche a 1-0 win over the San Jose Sharks, avoiding the ugly possibility of being swept out of the playoffs on their own home ice. Sakic was the hero of the night, as he finally got a goal behind Evgani Nabakov at 5:15 of the first overtime, his first goal in this series which has featured a drought for many of the Avalanche scorers. Indeed Sakic’s marker was the first Colorado goal since the first period of game 2.

While the loss will be a disappointment for the Sharks who had hoped to put their stamp on this series with a four game sweep, they have the opportunity to win in five games on home ice Saturday afternoon.

Both goaltenders put on a pretty good show, with Aebischer collecting his first shut out in the playoffs as he held the fort for the Avs, turning aside all 27 Sharks shots. Evgani Nabakov was amazing in the Sharks end facing 35 shots from a determined Avalanche team, many of the saves on point blank blasts from the likes of Hejduk, Sakic and Hinote.

Despite the win the road ahead is tough one for the Avalanche who will have to take both games in San Jose and another in Denver to come back to win the series. The Sharks have outscored the Avs 9-3 on games in San Jose, so a change in approach is going to be necessary to reverse their fortune.

For Tony Granato this series could determine his fate as coach of the Avs. Had they been swept on Wednesday night it was generally believed that he would not be back next year. He may still be on the hot seat, his team was caught a couple of times making ill timed changes leaving Aebischer on his own to face down Shark scorers. Its miscues like that which can make the difference between a win and a loss, continuing on or being eliminated. Granato needs to have his team to mount a comeback and defy history, otherwise he will be history.

Leafs deliver a message

Everybody seemed to make a hit on Wednesday night, from Mogilny to McCabe. Domi to Leetch, the bodies were flying and with the increased physical attention came some scoring opportunities for the Leafs. Opportunities that they took advantage of sending the Flyers a message that any thoughts of a four game sweep should be put away, smash mouth hockey was back at the ACC. In a highly entertaining fast paced game the Leafs announced that they were back with a commanding 4-1 defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers. Bringing the Leafs back to within one game of the Flyers in the best of seven series, the Flyers holding a 2 game to 1 lead.

Toronto set the pace in Game three as they delivered body check after body check on a suddenly very undisciplined Philadelphia team. Finally able to get some bodies in front of Robert Esche the Leafs found that he can’t stop what he doesn’t see. With Esche looking quite shaky at times, the Leafs capitalized on rebounds and sloppy defence. Four different Leafs got goals on Wednesday night a veritable scoring binge compared to their efforts of the past few games. Toronto fired 29 shots at the embattled Esche who must have been wondering where his defence had gone in game three. Alexander Mogilny, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Chad Kilger and Darcy Tucker found enough space to score on Esche, Tony Amonte claiming the only goal for Philly.

The insertion of Wade Belak seemed to set the tone for the night as his line of Ponikarovsky and Antropov seemed to shut down the Flyers trio of Primeau, Gagne and Brashear. The Leafs who played the fore-check in fine style, controlled a lot of the play in this game crashing a Flyer every time they got close to a puck. The domination by the Leafs was backed up by a return to form of Eddie Belfour who faced a rather easy game, tossing aside 18 of the 19 shots directed his way. Another change that paid off dividends was the insertion of Alexander Mogilny on the first line with Mats Sundin and Gary Roberts, Mogilny took advantage of his elevation to inspire his team mates with some crushing hits and put some points on the board as well. The Flyers were so fixated on Mogilny that by the end of the game they were taking undisciplined runs at the Leaf, putting them deeper and deeper into the hole they had created for themselves.

The night featured the kind of performance that Pat Quinn had challenged his team to come up with after losing the first two games in Philadelphia. Flyer coach Ken Hitchcock put it best when he said that the Flyers’ level of intensity dropped while the Leafs went up, which made the difference in Game three.

Quinn will want to play a tape of the game over and over again on the day off Thursday, keeping his troops motivated for Game Four on Friday. For Hitchcock he’ll need to remind his players to focus on the job at hand, they’re not going to beat the Leafs while sitting in the penalty box. Giving up as much of the ice to Toronto as they did Wednesday will only bring them more of the same on Friday. Letting Toronto carry the physical game to them is only a recipe for a seven game series.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Canada finds a second gear

It took a period of play and a shuffling of the lines, but Canada finally found some offence at the World Championships. Dany Heatley scored two goals on the way to a 3-1 victory over 9th ranked Switzerland. Brendan Morrison scooped up a loose puck and put it behind the Anaheim Duck's Martin Gerber for the second Canadian goal. Heatley was back in action again in the third period with the team's third and final goal. Canada out shot the Swiss 18-3 in the second frame, making up for a tentative first period which saw them out shot by the Swiss 12-6. Canada had 10 to Switzerland’s 7 shots in the third.

By the time Morrison put the puck in the net, it was clear that Canada was in control of the game and were starting to find their legs, much to the relief of the teams’ fans. The first three games of this tournament have been a rollercoaster for Team Canada, starting with the departure of head coach Joel Quenneville due to bad health. The Canadians managed to win their preliminary pool, despite some early problems on the ice. They barely came back to tie Austria and then had to hang on to defeat the French.

This final preliminary game will be seen as a major confidence boost for the Canadians, who began to come at the Swiss in waves as they got their game together in the third period. The Swiss had a short burst of energy with seven minutes to go, sneaking a goal behind Robert Luongo, but for the most part Canada controlled the play and weren’t really in any danger of losing this one.

The turning point came after the first period, when head coach Mike Babcock shuffled his lines, moving Heatley onto a line with Brenden Morrow and Daniel Briere; the combination clicked quickly getting Heatley his goal 44 seconds into the second. Brier and Heatley combined again for the final Canadian goal.

Canada now moves on to the Qualifying round with games against Germany, Latvia and the Czech Republic, the first game against Germany goes on Friday. They head into that round feeling better about their play, this third game a solid effort that got them back on track. The Swiss made up of European pros are considered one of the better teams so being able to control the play as much as they did should go a long way to heading into the next round in a positive frame of mind. They seem better able to adjust to the change of style and the slight differences of international play.

Canada is hoping to build on the momentum of the win and take the play to the Germans on Friday. Having had problems with Germany in the past, the Canadians won’t make the mistake of looking past the game at hand. With little room for error in these championships that old cliché, one game at a time, never had more resonance.

Fanning the Flames of Determination

19,289 fans were ready to party and while there were a few bumps along the way, by the time 60 minutes of play had ended they finally got their chance to let loose. Darryl Sutter credited a total team effort, for a hard earned 3-2 Flame victory over the Red Wings Tuesday night. Jarome Iginla picked up his first goal of this series as he managed to elude the heavy blanket the Wings had put over him in games 1 and 2. Iggy was a major factor in Tuesday's game as he finally had some space to operate and cause a bit of havoc in the Detroit end of the ice.

Rolling four lines all night long the Flames took the fore-check to the Wings, beating them to the puck and getting one, two and sometimes three shots in a row on Curtis Joseph. Stephane Yelle and Shean Donovan scored the other two markers for Calgary, Robert Land and Jiri Fischer countered for the Wings.

Power play opportunities gave the Flames the chance to score and control the play for large amounts of time. A situation that wasn’t lost on Wings head coach Dave Lewis, who questioned the four straight power plays awarded to the Flames, one of which resulted in the Iginla goal in the second. Lewis expressed his frustration with the officials offering up the suggestion that as he saw it, his players were getting mugged. Ending up on the short side of a score does tend to decrease your love of the tight checking style of playoff hockey.

Both goaltenders were tested often during the game and came up big when the time came to keep things close. Curtis Joseph faced 27 shots in the Red Wing net, while Miikka Kiprusoff had 29 shots directed his way.

Game four is Thursday night, and for the Flames it’s a chance to put some added pressure on the Red Wings. Detroit is already calling Game four a must game for their Stanley Cup chances, we can expect a hard hitting, high flying affair with a hint of desperation from the Red Wing side of the ice. The hard working Flames will just keep doing what they’ve been doing all through the playoffs, sending out line after line of guys not afraid to head for the corners, take the hits and make the plays.

Thus far it’s been a recipe for success, so don’t expect Darryl Sutter to change anything now. He has his team playing a style of hockey that has the fans excited and the players believing, that could be a huge obstacle for the Red Wings to conquer. The Saddledome will be rocking once again on Thursday, if the Wings thought things were loud on Tuesday they had best prepare for Game four. Should Calgary take a 3-1 lead by the end of play on Thursday, the Saddledome may end up an open air stadium.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004


Saku Koivu and his teammates are saying all the right things, the series isn’t over yet, this team can come back, we’ll give it everything we’ve got. But the simple truth is the Habs are in a big hole, after a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.

Now they have to believe that they’re coming back, as they prepare for game four on Thursday. But the way that game three got away from the Habs, will haunt them for the next game and most likely into the off season. Vincent Lecavalier tied the game with only 17 seconds to go in regulation time, setting the stage for an exciting overtime period. Brad Richards brought a quick end to the night with the winning goal at 1:05 of overtime. Lecavalier’s goal effectively silenced the sell out crowd of over 21,000 which had been singing the Na Na Na Goodbye song loudly with 18 seconds to go in the third. It was different tune on the way out of the Bell centre at the end of the game, something more akin to the blues, and no one was bopping.

Montreal outplayed the Lightning for the majority of the game, but the Bolts kept close enough to make the charge near the end and in OT. The Canadiens out shot the Bolts 31-28 and had numerous chances to build on their lead and put the game away. But, once again Nikolai Khabibulan was there to frustrate the Montreal attack; Khabibulan stepped up and kept his team in the game, setting up the frantic finish and thrilling overtime victory.

Montreal has the unenviable position of having to launch a four game comeback, something that has only been twice before in playoff history. While you never want to say something is impossible, the way the Lightning is playing that will be a huge task for the Habs. The Bolts know they are in the driver’s seat now, the large number of Quebecers in their line up would like nothing better than to bid farewell to the family and friends on Thursday night, with a four to nothing sweep of the hometown Habs.

If nothing else at least Montrealers and Quebecers alike have found a team to cheer for as the playoffs continue. If the Canadiens can’t make the journey, this Lightning team might make for a nice surrogate squad for all of Quebec. Break out the sun tan lotion and Lightning sun hats Hab fans, it looks like your next playoff round will start in Tampa Bay, travel agents are standing by for your calls.

More of a scrimmage than a game

Canada’s World Championship quest got back on track Tuesday, as the Canadian squad had little trouble taming the French team with a 3-0 victory.

With the pace of a controlled scrimmage Canada tested out line combinations and got J. S. Giguere a little goaltending practice, as the French squad provided little in the way of a threat. Giguere handled all 19 French shots with ease. The first period his most active as the French managed to get 9 shots on net, dropping to 3 in the second and 7 by the time the third period rolled around. The French who are back in the “A” pool for the first time since the 2000 Championships are not exactly an offensive threat, so far in the tournament they have been outscored 15-0 and hold a record of 0-3-0.

France rested Cristobol Huet of the LA Kings, for thier next game, the first of the regulation round which they need to win to stay in the "A" pool. For Canada they threw goaltender Fabrice Lhenry to the wolves. Fortunately for Lhenry the wolves weren’t particularly hungry; he faced 38 shots but only surrendered the three goals. He put on an admirable performance in support of an overmatched team. The French were on the short end of all facets of the game, hitting, shooting, scoring Canada controlled the flow of the game. Their only former NHLer was Sebastien Bordeleau who logged most of the ice time for the French, though he didn’t have much success against the Canadians.

Glen Murray got one goal for Canada and Shawn Horcoff put two behind Lhenry for the win as Canada gained revenge for the last match up between the two countries. The 1995 World Championships featured an upset 4-1 win by France over Canada. Canada at the time represented by minor league and European based professionals. There was never any danger of a similar embarrassment in this game.

While they take the win and improve their record, they need to increase the intensity level for tomorrow’s game against the Swiss. With goals in the first and second period, Canada coasted through the third period registering only 9 shots on net after marking 17 and 12 shots on goal in the first two periods. While it may be that they were playing more of a defensive shell in the third it was more likely that they lost interest in the game by the third. Such was nature of the flow of the game, end to end it wasn’t. That is unless you count the shifting of bodies from one end of the bench to the other waiting their turn to go out for a skate.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Avalanche Sliding towards elimination

33 shots after the start of Game three, the Colorado Avalanche found out that they were no closer to solving the riddle that has become Evgani Nabakov, they are however one more loss away from not having to worry about him anymore.

For the third game in a row Colorado came up short on the scoreboard as the San Jose Sharks took a one goal lead and turned it into a Game Three win, putting the Avalanche one loss away from being swept and eliminated from this years Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For Nabakov it was his second shut out in the playoffs this season as he leads the Sharks with outstanding goaltending. The unusually quiet Pepsi Centre crowd sat back and watched their Avalanche play a better game than the previous two efforts this series, but yet it wasn’t enough to capture a win. Vincent Damphousse put in the winning goal halfway through the third period, deflating the crowd further and taking all steam out of the Avalanche bench.

Holding the Sharks to 17 shots wasn’t enough on this night, as Nabakov shut the door, until Damphousse capitalized on his lucky break, banking the winning shot off of Aebischer into the net.

All that seems to be left now in this series is to see if Colorado can avoid being eliminated in four straight. There seems little chance of them being capable of winning four in a row to advance this year. They now have a choice, they can bow out in four and await the media onslaught or drag things out a few more days before facing the expected critical reviews of the season that was supposed to be, but isn’t going to be.

The loaded line up provided for Tony Granato at the start of the season was expected to challenge if not win the Cup. Through the regular season the sputtered and stalled. Featuring that season ending crash where they fell down the standings in the final month of action. They managed to put away a rather old and tired looking Dallas team but against these Sharks they just haven’t performed.

San Jose has out skated, out hit, outscored and of course totally dominated the goaltending in the series. That is why they sit 3 games up and fully in control of things. Colorado look lost on the ice, unsure as to how they should handle the faster and more physical Sharks.

On Wednesday night this most disappointing of seasons will most likely come to an end for Colorado fans. The newspapers and call in shows are probably already ahead of the pack, in dissecting what went wrong. A season that offered up so much promise in September is now crashing in disappointment before the end of April. Pierre Lacroix has a bit of work ahead of him, a lineup that features the likes of a Sakic, Forsberg, Kariya, Foote, Hejduk and Blake should not be floundering like they have in this series.

One thing is certain, Head coaching resumes will be flying into the Avalanche offices right after the post series handshakes, Pierre should start wondering if the GM resumes are arriving as well!

Canada hits snooze button, then receives wake up call!

Team Canada’s debut in the 2004 World Championships courted disaster Sunday, as the Canadians had to battle back in the third period, salvaging a 2-2 tie with a surprisingly successful Austrian team.

Canada which stumbled through the first two periods had to deal with an Austrian strategy of perpetual icing, a strategy that paid off dividends with two goals. Andre Lakos opened up the scoring for Austria with a deflected shot off of Willie Mitchell that eluded goaltender Roberto Luongo. The Canadians went to the dressing room outshot 10-4.

The confusion of the first held over into the second, as the Austrians took a two goal lead when Thomas Vanek scored three minutes into the period. The Canadians finally shook off their lethargy and began to take the game to the Austrian squad as the second period came to an end. Still they trailed by 2 goals but they were beginning to get more quality chances on Austrian Goaltender Reinhard Divis, who plays for St. Louis in the NHL.

With the thoughts of previous opening game miscues on their minds, the Canadians finally got on the scoreboard at 10:36 when Vancouver Canuck, Matt Cooke broke the shout out bid. Dany Heatley put in the equalizer at the fifteen minute mark. The Canadians continued to press and nearly took the lead as the game was winding down, Divis making a number of saves to secure the tie.

Canada has had its problems in the opening game of the World Championships in the past; last year featured the Danish surprise, when Denmark played Canada to a tie. In 2000 Team Canada lost to lightly regarded Norway.

To be fair to the Canadians they appeared to be just what they were, a team thrown together just starting to get to know each other. Many of the teams players are just arriving in Czechoslovakia after their NHL teams were eliminated from the playoffs. Team Canada also had the added distraction of having Head Coach Joel Quenneville hospitalized due to exhaustion. He has been put under sedation for the last two days, awaiting approval to travel back to North America for further treatment. His duties turned over to Mike Babcock who went from Assistant coach to Head coach in 24 hours.

Canada plays their next game on Tuesday when the take on France, wrapping up the preliminary round on Wednesday against the Swiss. That gives Babcock one day of practice to introduce everyone, rebuild the playbook and get settled in himself. While a tie against the Austrians might not be a welcome result, it could serve a purpose for the team. The first game should give the players something to focus on, the idea that every game is important and that all teams will be bringing their best efforts when they play Canada.

The chances of them remaining flat and disorganized will be reduced now that the uncertainties of the coach’s health have been resolved and the additional players have been added. For Canada the wake up call should be the only one required, the players know what the job at hand is all about. They just have to get themselves organized and go out and work in defence of their World Title, knowing full well that every country will be trying to knock off the champs.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Lecavalier shines on La Soiree du Hockey

For the second game in a row Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier showed the folks back home how well he’s progressed since joining the pros. The native of Montreal scored two goals on the team from his hometown Sunday afternoon, leading his Lightning teammates to a 3-1 victory over the Canadiens. The win gives the Bolts a 2-0 lead in the best of seven series that returns to Montreal on Tuesday night.

For Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis it’s a chance to shine in front of the province that gave them their start. Playing for Tampa can result in a low profile as the two Quebecers toil in relative anonymity in the regular season, this playoff round against the Habs is a form of a coming out party for them. And Lecavalier is making the most of his featured time on Canadian television.

The Canadiens provided a much better effort than game one, but in the end they couldn’t control Lecavalier, nor could they beat Nickolai Khabibulan when they needed to. Lecavalier scored the opening goal of the game at the 2:35 mark of the first, a power play goal while Michael Ryder was serving a roughing penalty. Frederik Modin followed up with a goal six minutes later. Saku Koivu scored the Canadiens only goal in the first period, when he brought the Habs to within one goal of the Lightning at 16:40. Both teams traded off opportunities in the second with Lecavalier getting the insurance marker, on another power play goal with only 3 seconds to go in the period, it gave the Lighting a 3-1 lead which is how the game ended. Both teams played hard in the third, but Khabibulan and Theodore both held the offense off the board.

Montreal find themselves in a familiar position trailing a series 2 games to 0, setting up Game three as a very important match. A Tampa Bay win would give them the momentum to put the series to an end. The Bolts don’t look like a team that will be lose 4 games in a row. With Lecavalier and Martin finding their range in the playoffs and Khabibulan able to shut teams down, Tampa can feel confident heading into the next game. If Montreal can find a way to keep the folks at La Soiree from mentioning the name Lecavalier they should have a chance to claw back into the series. If you see Vince smiling at the end of game three, you’ll know that the Bolts are one step closer to the Stanley Cup finals.

Esche makes the save, makes the save, makes the save.....

Game two in the Philadelphia/Toronto playoff series was a rather entertaining affair, with both teams counting numerous chances to score, but in the end limiting output to three goals.

Goaltending once again was the dominating factor in the playoffs, as both Robert Esche and Ed Belfour played outstanding hockey in the nets. 26 saves were credited to Esche in the Flyers 2-1 victory on Sunday night, and every one of them seemed a hard earned save. He especially earned his paycheque in the second period as the Leafs turned on the pressure and outshot the Flyers 11-1, frustrated at every turn by the wall put up by Esche.

Fortunately for Esche, a motivational address by Ken Hitchcock must have taken root as the Flyers came out in the third period as if on a mission. Controlling the bulk of the play they peppered Leaf goaltender Ed Beflour with 15 of his 24 total shots, only one getting by Belfour a power play marker by Alexei Zhamnov who scored the winner at 8:25 of the final period.

Belfour did his best to keep the Leafs within one as the period wound down, but Esche refused to give up the tying goal, making save after save. The third period progressed at a rapid pace, with end to end rushes, and full tilt offense for the entire twenty minutes.

All three periods featured some heavy hits, with both teams playing the puck in the corners and lining up on the blue lines to deliver some crushing checks. Even the goal scoring seemed to be hard fought, Tie Domi continued his remarkable pace in the playoffs, taking the body, going to the corners and crashing the net, scoring the Leafs only goal in the second period. His goal followed one by Donald Brashear who scored in the first period by heading to the net, the Leafs arguing he was a little too close to the net, but to no avail.

Game three goes Wednesday night and with the Flyer’s holding a 2 game to none lead in the best of seven series, they can look to history for some confidence. The Flyers have never lost a best of seven series when they hold a 2-0 lead, going 16 and 0 when they won the first two games. The Leafs don’t need to study the history books, their priority should be the game films, they need to find out what they’re doing wrong and fix it quickly. While Esche has had a good series, many of the shots taken on him have been clear vision shots from a distance. For the Leafs to re-write Flyer history they have to get some people in front of the net and move the puck closer for a better opportunity.

Class resumes Wednesday night, Professor Quinn is hoping his students get the message.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Tying the Can to Jacques

Nine years he served as a loyal soldier in the cause of hockey in the Capital. Taking a lost and dysfunctional group and turning them into one of the most offensive scoring machines in recent NHL History. Yet unable to take the next step in the progression, Jacques Martin bade farewell to his troops on Thursday as the Senators began the process of cleaning house and rebuilding the foundation for another run at the Stanley Cup.

Martin's parting gift from the bank account of Eugene Melnyk is a 750,000 dollar buyout, having just signed a two year extension in January. Whether he finds alternate work or not, (the smart betting is he does), he'll be able to take his time and consider just where the right spot in the NHL universe is for him.

General Manager John Muckler and team President Roy Mlakar came to the conclusion that Martin had "lost the dressing room" and that a change had to be made. Muckler explaining that you can't fire 29 players so someone has to go. Muckler went on to state that it was time for a new voice, new ideas. The goal is to find someone to take this team to the next level.

The Senators have been a conundrum for years now, every year they pile on the points in the regular season only to shut down in the playoffs, rarely making it to the second round and most times leaving after the first. Confounding their fans and hockey observers alike, there seems to be no answer to the failure of this team to succeed in the season that counts. Martin's fate was probably put in the danger zone after game five, when John Muckler went into the Sens dressing room and challenged his players to perform. If Muckler felt the need to step in and provide the incentive to win, he probably had already begun the process of dismissing his coach.

The removal of Martin and his staff is probably just the start of some changes to the make up of this team. Young players such as Jason Spezza and Martin Havlat need some guidance to develop; a new coach will have to find the best way to put their talents to work. Goaltending was another concern, the usually reliable Patrick Lalime, had a horrid game seven effectively sealing his coach's fate, it remains to be seen if he has also put himself on the trading block. The Sens Defence which in the regular season was possibly the best starting four in the NHL, were not effective in the recent Leafs series. With the exception of Zdeno Chara who dominated his ice time, the rest of the defence gave up too much of the ice and couldn't shut down the Leaf attack. Considering that many people think of Martin as a defensive coach, it is a telling point that it was his defence that couldn't get the job done. Combine that with a total failure of the high octane offense put together for this run and something wasn't working. The Sens decided that it was the coaching.

For his part Martin handled the events with nothing but class, as is to be expected from the quiet scholarly like former head coach. In a press conference following the announcement of his dismissal, Martin expressed regret that he won't be there to share in a Stanley Cup win from the team he used to coach. Saying that he is convinced the current roster is capable of winning a Cup, he's disappointed that things haven't worked out to enable him to be a part of it.

And so the search begins, names already being bounced around include Joel Quenneville, Larry Robinson, Paul Maurice and of all people Mike Keenan (God Save us Sens fans!). The best fit might be Robinson, who hails from nearby Winchester, his success in New Jersey and Los Angeles; his days with the fabled Canadiens would give Sens fans a bit of hope for a dismal off season.

But regardless of who replaces Martin, Senator Fans should remember fondly the man who rebuilt a team that was a sad joke 9 years ago. 9 years of steadily improving play, a meshing of young raw talent into an NHL powerhouse all done on his watch. A fairer world would have given Martin a Stanley Cup ring this year; instead he becomes a trivia question for the future.

The final word on the Martin firing belongs to Pat Quinn, no stranger to corporate purges Quinn quickly came to the side of Martin. He was the first to offer his support and praise, he won't be the last. Martin did an excellent job in Ottawa, but just ran out of time to finish the project. It is sad he won't be there on that day the Sens finally hoist the Cup, for that his players can share in the blame. You may not be able to fire all 29, but you can certainly ask them some pretty pointed questions. Just because the coach is gone, doesn't mean the players should not be held accountable, Mr. Muckler should save some time in his day timer to address that concern as well.

Struck by Lightning!

Three consecutive wins over an ancient rival must have exhausted the Montreal Canadiens both physically and mentally, for Friday night belonged to the Lightning. Game one was all Tampa Bay, from the net minding of Nickolai Khabibulan to the scoring machine of Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa was firing on all cylinders in an impressive 4-0 shutout of Montreal.

Nickolai Khabibulan played like the ghost of Georges Vezina in his fourth shut out this playoff season, 21 shots and no goals the story line for Khabibulan Friday night, needing only two periods to put in a good night. Tampa’s defensive play held Montreal to only five shots in period number three, as close to coasting as a goaltender can get.

At the other end of the rink, Jose Theodore must have felt like an abandoned puppy left in a field, Tampa rolled over the blue line time and time again, controlling the first eight minutes of the game not giving the Habs a chance to take a shot in anger. Theodore held the Lightning off the scoreboard through the first, but a horrible second period left the Habs 2 goals down heading into the third. Theodore made an untimely error fumbling for his stick on the Lightning first goal, as Ruslan Fedotenko took advantage of the mistake to put the puck in the back of the net. Vincent Lecavalier put in a deflection late in the second to put the Bolts up by two, and then scored again early in the third, with a bad goal through Theodore’s legs to add an insurance marker. Dimitry Afanasenkov scored with twelve minutes to go and that was it for Theodore. Mathieu Garon was put in to finish off the game, managing to hold off the Lightning for the remainder of the third. Theodore’s stats for the night 24 shots and 4 goals against, Garon 10 shots and 0 goals, though to be fair by the mid part of the third the Lightning were mailing in the rest of the game.

A terrible start to the second round, but many Habs were already thinking ahead to game two. Writing off the first game much as they did the first one of the Boston series, another game they were totally outplayed in. With two days now to review, it will be interesting to see how both teams come out on Sunday. Tampa will want to jump on the Habs quickly to recapture their domination of Friday. The Habs will be interested in getting back into the game, shaking off their shaky debut and taking the home ice advantage away with a win. For Montreal they need look no further back than two weeks, they’ll want to avoid going down 3-1 to this Lightning team, Khabibulan is not likely to lose three in a row. The Habs had best get busy gaining their wins early and often.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Hats Off for Marleau

David Aebischer was chased from the game in the second, Matthew Barnaby started yappin and flappin in the late third and throughout it all Patrick Marleau scored, once, twice make it three times as San Jose laid a bit of a whuppin’ on the Avalanche.

Marleau scored at the ten minute mark of the first to begin the Sharks scoring deluge, his goals followed by Vincent Damphouse and Scott Hannan all before the teams retired for their first intermission rest. With a 3-0 lead San Jose looked in complete control of game one of what is expected to be a high scoring series. Steve Konowalchuk got one goal back midway through the second, but it wasn’t too long before Marleau was back on the attack. The Shark captain scored two more goals within one and half minutes putting the Sharks up 5-1. Sending David Aebischer to the end of the Avalanche bench to watch Tommy Salo take over the net for the rest of the game.

With the big lead came the chippy play, everyone’s favourite agitator Matthew Barnaby started yapping at various Sharks through the rest of the second and into the third. Peter Forsberg took advantage of Jonathon Cheechoo’s penalty to score an early goal in the third making it 5-2 with nineteen minutes to go. But that would be it for the normally explosive Avalanche offense; the Sharks aided by outstanding goaltending from Evgeni Nabakov shut the Av attack down, frustrating their scoring lines throughout the third.

The ugliness boiled over as the last two minutes of play as Matthew Barnaby instigated one of three simulataneous fights to wind down the game. For his matchmaking skills Barnaby got tossed from the game, joining him on the way out were Chris Gratton, Ossi Vaananen and San Jose’s Curtis Brown. Just as things settled down, Bob Boughner decided to enforce a bit more Avalanche justice; he too got a ten second head start on the showers.

Marleau’s three goal performance was his second three goal display in the 2004 playoffs. His speed and puck sense make San Jose a very effective team coming out of their own end. Colorado will have to find a way to slow him down to keep the Goals Against low.

Game two is Saturday afternoon and it will be interesting to see which goaltender Tony Granato decides to go with. Aebischer got rattled early in this game and never seemed to bounce back. If Granato wants to shake things up a bit starting Tommy Salo might not be a bad ideas. But it really won’t matter unless the Avalanche can find the net. With 28 shots in Thursday’s game they couldn’t find the answer to Nabakov. Colorado on the other hand seemed to offer an open book test on Aebischer. Goaltending and goal scoring will make the difference in this series, if game one is any indication; the Sharks are well ahead in both categories.

Marty to the Max!

Martin Gelinas was the hero of Game 7 against Vancouver, scoring the winning goal in Overtime to send the Flames on to the next stage of the Stanley Cup playoffs. So it should come as no surprise that when Game 1 of the Flames/Wings series went into OT, Gelinas would be on the ice for the big moment. Gelinas fought off three Red Wings behind the Red Wing net to get the puck over to Marcus Nilson, who fired a rocket of a shot into the top corner of the Red Wing net, giving the Flames a 2-1 victory and stealing a 1-0 lead in the series.

Once again the story of the game was Miikka Kiprusoff who faced 28 shots on the night, many of them in the first period when the Wings totally controlled the flow of play. The wings out shot the Flames 13-2 in the first frame and kept the Flames away from Curtis Joseph for the first ten minutes of the period. However, the longer the game went on the more the Flames got into their groove, slowly getting more shots on Cujo and by the third they were out battling the Wings for the puck for a good portion of the period.

With overtime came the scrambles in the Red Wing end and the will power of Gelinas to move the puck, something he did with great style. Popping the puck out to Nilson for the winner. Jarome Iginla was held off the score sheet, with only two shots on the night, as the Red Wing defence managing to slow him down and keep him under wraps. But as Iginla said after the game, the great thing about the season is that any night somebody different is winning a game for us. Tonight it was Nilson’s turn to shine.

Detroit got the scoring underway at 6:15 of the second on a goal from Robert Lang. Robyn Reghyr tied the game for the Flames with 2 minutes to go in the second. Cujo faced 16 shots in the loss as a suddenly silent Hockeytown crowd sat back stunned at the twist of fate for game one.

The key problem for the Wigs was once again the power play, which went 0-6. A carry over from the Nashville series where they went 2-29 against the Preds with a man advantage. Unless the Wings can solve that troublesome statistic they will continue to play with fire against a team that mucks and grinds their way to a victory.

It only takes one goal to win, you can outplay the Flames and out shoot them, but with Kiprusoff in the nets it’s getting harder and harder to outscore them. And as Marty Gelinas showed on Tuesday night and Marcus Nilson proved tonight, the Flames only need one clear shot to salt away another win.

Game two goes Saturday afternoon at the Joe, having already split the opening two games and gaining home ice advantage, the Flames will be aiming to burn the Wings again. If game two somehow ends up in overtime watch for Marty, when he has the puck good fortune follows.

Flyers grab game one

Some sluggish hockey in the first followed by a bit more offense in the second and third periods that was the tempo of Game One between the Leafs and the Flyers. In a rather different display of hockey that what we are used to between the two there was more in the way of scoring attempts and less of the punishing physical nature that these two teams are famous for..

Tony Amonte opened up the game with a goal for Philly at 7:14; his score was answered by Alexander Mogilny at 14.28 of the first period. Both teams got their skating legs back into shape during the first. The Flyers who had a four day rest took a bit of time to shake out the rust, while the Leafs had to bounce back after clinching their series on Tuesday against Ottawa. As the second period got underway they started to pick up the pace and with the increase in the speed came a few more collisions.

Goaltending once again proved to be an important ingredient to the flow of the game, and for the first time in a long stretch Eddie Belfour just looked normal. Robert Esche our performing him on this debut game of the series. Esche faced 22 shots and performed a number of Leaf defying saves to secure the victory for the Flyers. Beflour had 23 shots on net to handle, allowing three to get by the usually secure wall he provides.

Marcus Ragnarsson scored the go ahead goal 5:13 into the second, bouncing a shot from Michal Handzus off of the leg of Leaf Nik Antropov. Simon Gagne put the game out of reach at the 15 minute mark of the third, marking the final goal of the game giving Pilly a 3-1 victory.

Toronto kept close for most of the second and third periods, unable to score on Esche. With little ill effects from their lengthy series against Ottawa, the Leafs can now rest up and hopefully get captain Mats Sundin back in the line up for game two. Which won’t take place until Sunday night; as in a sad indication of just how far hockey is falling in the rankings of US sports fans, the Flyers rink has been booked for Arena Football on Saturday. Yep that’s right Arena Football! So while the hunt for Stanley will take an extra days rest, Philadelphians will sit entranced with footballs bouncing off sideboards and roof high nets. Tis to make a hockey purist cry in his Labatt.

Cleaning out the Locker

The two teams that many hockey fans thought would be playing well into June are instead cleaning out their lockers this week. It was a sudden and disappointing end to a season that was supposed to lead to a championship.

Ottawa and Vancouver, young and fast, both with a solid line up of veterans and rookies. Teams that have raised the expectations of their fans the last three years, only to crash them to the ground by the time the playoffs arrive.

And as this season ends much like the last one, and the one before it. Questions are being asked and changes are being demanded. Both teams have been held up as the renaissance of how hockey should be played, a mix of European and North American hockey styles, smart teams that could load up the net as well as deliver the punishing body checks. They provided exciting, offensive oriented hockey, the antidote to the evil trap system that had taken over the game. Yet, when it came time to lift up the Stanley Cup, both teams were long gone from the chase.

Interestingly enough both teams have problems in some similar areas. Goaltending let both teams down during the regular season and at key moments in the playoffs. Will there be changes in the net. Ottawa most likely will have to look for a new goaltender, Patrick Lalime’s confidence seemingly shot in one period in game seven in Toronto. Vancouver’s situation is a little different, Dan Cloutier’s injury didn’t allow him to prove once and for all that he was the guy to lead them out of the wilderness. Entering a year where he can demand a much larger salary through arbitration if he wishes, the Canucks will have to decide whether he showed enough during the regular season to warrant an investment. Alex Auld most likely has confirmed his reservations with the Canucks for whenever the next season begins, Johan Hedberg is as gone as gone can be. The Canuck Management seems to have lost any confidence in his ability to get the job done.

The late season additions for the Canucks did not work out at all; Geoff Sanderson and Martin Rucinsky never quite seemed to fit into the mix that the Canucks were putting together. Their playoff performance negligible, it’s not expected that they’ll be in a Canuck uniform come the next training camp. And questions remain about how long the Sedin experiment should go on, the twins showing flashes of brilliance interrupted by long stretches of nothing. Vancouver fans are split on the twins, some feel they’re coming along fine, others figure they’ll never amount to anything of value. Markus Naslund watched as his seson turned sour at the end, never the same on the ice after the Steve Moore hit on him in Colorado, Naslund seemed to be distant through the stretch and playoffs. A point that Brian Burke highlighted in his end of season address to the media.

Of late Naslund has given the impression that he wouldn't be terribly disappointed if there were no hockey next year, effectively ending his time as an NHLer. He's said if the league were to suspend operations due to a labour dispute he might not return from Sweden in two years, instead keeping his family there and finishing his time in hockey out in the Swedish league. Perhaps it's just the diappointment of what could have been, but he looked like someone who was mentally tired of the pressure of hockey in Vancouver.

Over in Ottawa Peter Bondra didn’t have a stellar playoff, but his talent warrants a second look for a full season. Radenk Bonk the enigmatic centre will most likely be gone, disappearing completely in the playoffs he is far too hot and cold to be considered a dependable asset. His poor performance in the playoffs dragged down his talented line mates with him, to get the best out of Hossa and Varada you need to have somebody willing to feed them the puck. Scratch Bonk from your Sens depth charts.

The final question was answered Thursday morning in Ottawa. Jacques Martin had many chances to get the Sens to that next level of success. Excellent regular seasons wasted by a poor playoff performance. It seemed at times that Martin and GM John Muckler were working for two different teams; such was the feeling surrounding the handling of the talent on the ice and the motivational strategies off of it. With the Senators firing Martin they have started the sweeping motion, it will be interesting to see who else gets pushed out the door.

Marc Crawford Vancouver’s’ coach doesn’t have to worry about unemployment, Crawford having signed a multi year deal earlier in the season. And even though it appeared at times that the players had stopped listening, or were not prepared for the task at hand, his contract status and paycheck should buy him a little piece of mind.

His boss however may find that his parking space is given away shortly. The Brian Burke years have been a massive success off the ice, taking a team that was averaging 8,000-9,000 a game when he arrived and taking it to the point of every game being a sell out at GM Place. A completely dysfunctional squad in those years, reaching the lowest point with the reign of terror from Mike Keenan, has been transformed into a team that has been considered the next big wave. Burke should be allowed to rebuild this team to take it to the next level, his work thus far has made the team a success off the ice, he should be allowed to finish the job on it.

Yet today, Burke sits twisting in the wind, as John McCaw and Stan McCammon take stock of the situation. Burke insisted on contracts for Crawford and Todd Bertuzzi, at a monetary value that the bean counters may not have agreed on. With Bertuzzi having a rather dismal year on the ice by his standards and getting himself suspended with team on the hook for a large fine for his attack on Steve Moore, the Canucks may wish to hold Burke accountable. Add into the mix Burke’s combative nature with the Vancouver media and he’s got to be feeling a little unsure of his status.

The distraction of his contract status must have had some kind of effect on his team in the stretch; the team’s slump coincided with the daily reports of their GM on the verge of being fired. He stood up and refused to break up his core group of players, the loyalty not returned to him in the playoffs. He’ll have to move some of them now, salaries and non performance dictate change, the biggest decision for the Canucks is whether he will be the one to make those changes or whether he’ll be the biggest change made.

Two teams with similar styles and similar problems, the Senators have begun the road to new ideas and a new approach. The Canucks are still pondering their options; decisions could have an impact on them for years to come.

A 50/50 Draw

HockeyNation sits at the .500 mark on prognostications after the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 2004. Our brave predictions of a few short weeks ago, crushed like a first period collapse by a Senators goaltender.

For the record, in the East we had picked Ottawa to top the Leafs in 6 or 7, we were WRONG. Boo hoo, as Owen Nolan might say. We did hit the jackpot with Les Habitants as they topped the B’s in seven games as predicted. Tampa did not take as long as we thought to dispose of the Islanders but we did pick them to win regardless. And New Jersey disappointed us immensely with their quick exit from the Philly/Jersery battles. HockeyNation had bravely predicted the defending Stanley Cup Champs would defeat Bobby Clarke’s evil empire but it wasn’t meant to be.

Over in the West we watched in horror as the Vancouver Canucks exited the playoffs early once again, we predicted an exciting seven game series but backed the wrong horse. Go Flames Go. San Jose saved our reputation with the speed of their banishment of the Blues. Detroit took a little longer than we thought but they finally rid themselves of the pesky Preds, HockeyNation was a little nervous in game three and four as the Preds put a bit of a scare in the legions from Hockeytown. And Dallas proved to have been a bad decision as the Avalanche pretty well had their way with the Stars, getting rid of them without much of a sweat.

So it’s on to round number two, with a 50/50 chance of being right and if history is any example a 50/50 chance of my picks being considered part of the oracles of the puck. So here we go.

CALGARY and DETROIT, the Red Wings finally got fed up with dealing with the pesky Predators and got rid of them, only to land the Flames in the second round. If the Wings had problems with the Preds attack, things could get a little tense in the Joe this playoff season. Calgary is playing with a lot of confidence right now, having pulled together quite nicely as a team and all seem to performing as a unit, as designed on the playboard. With that we’ll pick our first upset special CALGARY in 7.

SAN JOSE AND COLORADO renew acquaintances with game one in San Jose on Thursday night. Both teams played well in their opening round. Colorado should have had the harder road to hoe, with a hungry Dallas Star team ready to bang them into the boards and take control. But that never happened; San Jose likewise did not have much trouble with the Blues. Either team has a pretty good shot at winning this series, but
we thing the SHARKS will bite the Avs and move on.

In the East it should have been a rematch between the Flyers and the Sens, a series that would have made the hitting in the Toronto/Ottawa series look like no touch football game. But someone called Eddie got in the way, pulling his Leaf teammates into the 2nd round on will power alone. And he brings that intangible into this series, spirit. Look for the Leafs to answer to the challenge. TORONTO should move on, but it will take six or seven games.

Montreal launched an amazing comeback against the Bruins and learned a valuable lesson about themselves. Hard work will win out. And hard work is on the horizon again with a well rested Tampa Bay Lightning looking to take away their dreams of Stanley. Despite the rapid climb to the top the Lightning will be feeling the nerves in this series; Montreal will be ready to capitalize on any miscues on the ice. If the Habs can keep their self confidence heading into the first couple of games they should come out victorious. MONTREAL in 7.

With our one day off from the frantic action, we return to our televisions Thursday. Westerners will only hear rumors of the Leafs and Flyers as Hockey Night In Canada has spilt the nation in two for the first game of the second round. The Flames/ Wings opener knocking the Leafs and Flyers to those folks living east of the Lakehead. The puck drops in both locales at 4 pm, after the one day armistice the Guns of April open up on three fronts, we await our dispatches from the combat zones.

The envelope please

With the first round of the playoffs out of the way, the NHL has taken advantage of the one day lull in the action, to announce its season ending award nominations.

Leading the way as the nominees for the Most Valuable Player are Jarome Iginla from Calgary, Martin St. Louis out of Tampa Bay and New Jersey Goaltender Martin Brodeur. One of whom will carry off the Hart trophy in less than six weeks.

Brodeur also finds his name put forward in nomination for the Vezina trophy, the second year he has been nominated in both categories. His challengers for the Vezina include; Roberto Luongo of Florida and Miikka Kiprusoff of Calgary.

The Calder trophy nominees for Rookie of the year go to, Andrew Raycroft of Boston, Michael Ryder of Montreal and Trent Hunter of the Islanders.

As they prepare to hand out the Norris trophy, consideration goes to Zdeno Chara of the Senators, Chris Pronger of the Blues and Scott Niedermayer of the Devils.

The Frank Selke trophy nominees for the best defensive forward are: New Jersey’s John Madden, Detroit’s Kris Draper and San Jose’s Alyn McAuley.

The Jack Murphy trophy for the coach of the year will be claimed by either, Tampa Bay’s John Tortorella, Calgary’s Darryl Sutter or San Jose’s Ron Wilson.

The envelopes will be handed out and the winners announced on June 10th in Toronto. An event expected to be televised by the CBC.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Giveaways and Goaltenders!

For the fourth time in the last five years, the Ottawa Senators playoff hopes have ended at the hands of the Leaf Nation. Tuesday nights loss a most dis-heartening display, defensive breakdowns, shaky goaltending and a guy named Belfour all combined to once again bring the Senators playoff season to an early end.

Patrick Lalime had a horrible first period, giving up three goals before the Zamboni made its first trip around the rink. For Ottawa it was poor play in their own end that spelled the end, giveaways at the blue line and an inability to beat the Leafs for the puck in their own end, gave Toronto scoring opportunities and they took advantage of them with a vengeance.

The Sens were off their game Tuesday, they got away from the pounding they had been giving the Leafs for most of the series. Instead, they were almost timid at times, afraid to take the play into the corners and come out with the puck. The Leafs first goal was courtesy of the hard work of Tie Domi, who pressured the Sens in their own end, taking the puck away and centering it to Chad Kilger who quickly found the net. A 1-0 lead for the Leafs and the folks at the ACC started to believe.

While the Sens continued to battle back in the first, once again Ed Belfour shut the door, the Leaf goaltender made save after save to keep the Sens off the board and the frustration level started to peak for the Sens. Joe Nieuwendyk picked up the slack for his team with two goals in the first that sent the Senators reeling towards the end of the period. His first goal was a 45 foot shot that somehow eluded Patrick Lalime and fluttered into the Sens net, the Leafs found themselves up by 2. Later in the first as time was winding down towards the first intermission, Nieuwendyk again found the mark, another soft goal that got by Lalime with only 20 seconds left in the first. Lalime seemed to wilt in the net as the throng in the Air Canada Centre saluted their heroes. As the catastrophe know as the first period ended, so did Patrick Lalime’s time in the Ottawa net.

As period two began Martin Prusek was in the Sens goal, and the strategy appeared to pay off at the start, Ottawa gaining a quick goal to pull within two of the Leafs. The rest of the game featured Ottawa getting their usual high amount of shots on net and the usual response of Belfour of save after save. Out shooting Toronto 37-26 in game seven they once again sat and shook their heads in amazement at the quality of the game Belfour brought to the series.

Once again the regular season stats go for nothing, the high expectations of September give way to the cold dark reality of April, and the Sens season is done.

Give full credit to a Toronto team that held on by the skin of its teeth for the early games in this series. Battered and missing key players such as Sundin and Nolan, the walking wounded of the Leafs kept the pace. Outplayed and out shot for the duration they found a way to win. Whether it was Tie Domi having a career series, Joe Nieuwendyk taking his battered old body down the ice for one more successful shift, or the spectacular performance of Belfour these Leafs just held on until they outlasted the Sens.

Whatever the hold they have over these Senators it’s a real tangible one, there is no shaking the feeling of disappointment that surrounds this Ottawa team now. Another off season of questions awaits, how a talented squad like this could go so flat when the time to step up came will be the grist for off ice debate for months. Expected by many to not only challenge for the Stanley Cup but strongly thought of as a favorite to win it, they instead must sit back and dwell on what should have been.

Toronto's reward for their grit and determination of game seven, is the chance to suit up and do it all again on Thursday night. They take Wednesday to rest their bones, celebrate a hard fought victory and begin to study how to approach another old nemesis the Philadelphia Flyers. With the will to win as shown in the first series, they face a Flyer team with its own ghosts to be exorcised. Nothing suits the Leafs better than facing a team desperate to prove its worth. They knocked off one in this series; don’t put a repeat performance beyond them for the next.

In another series that may come down to goaltending, the edge is most definitely with the Eagle. He may single-handedly will this team into the Stanley Cup finals, and if the first series is any indication a Vezina trophy is all but his for the taking. All hail Eddie, Master of all he surveys!

Monday, April 19, 2004

It's All About Jarome!

For Vancouver it was 30 seconds from disaster, six seconds to heaven, then a minute and twenty five seconds to finality.

For Calgary on Monday night it was all about Jarome Iginla, the Calgary captain stepped up to upper stardom with his one man show at GM Place, the term franchise player gets used an awful lot these days but in this instance if the skate fits, you have to admit.

Iginla was the story in the series and in Game 7, his playmaking ability, his hits, his shot and most of all his leadership. Lesser players would have sulked about a missed penalty call and a stumble at centre ice which turned into an opposition goal. Instead Iginila took his team into the dressing room and came out ready to roll in Overtime.

Iginla had the chance to put away the Vancouver Canucks in regulation time, with thirty seconds to go on Monday night, flying down the left wing Iginla fired a puck wide of the empty Canuck net, missing it by a couple of inches. Heading back to the Flame end, Iginla had his stick knocked from his hands, and then tripped at centre ice ending up out of the play. Markus Naslund took advantage of the missing player to take the puck behind the Flames net, pushing it out to the front where Matt Cooke knocked it in with six seconds to go sending game seven to Overtime.

A frantic finish to a low scoring tightly checked three periods of play. Iginla and Cooke traded off goals, as both scored twice in the highly entertaining 60 minutes of hockey. Neither team wanting to admit that the end might be near.

A rest and then came sudden death overtime, the point of hockey that every child has played out on his mind on a pond, a rink or a street. You’re the goaltender who has to make the big save, you’re the go to guy, with the pressure on it’s your shot that sends your team on to greater things.

Tonight Miikka Kiprusoff was the goaltender, Martin Gelinas the scorer, but Jarome Iginla the hero.

Both teams had players in the penalty box to start the overtime period, a carry over from the regulation time. The Flames had Ferrence in for twelve seconds, the Canucks Jovanovski for over a minute. The Canucks gave up the blue line and Iginla brought the puck into the Canuck end of the rink, from the left wing he fired a shot at the Canuck net, Alex Auld made two spectacular saves but couldn’t control that third rebound, Gelinas all alone at the side of the net punched it in sending the Flames off to Detroit with a 4-2 win.

The discipline of the Flames was the highlight of this series, knock them down they bounced right back. Beat them in triple overtime, they came right back. The determination of Calgary to keep at it shows just how much Darryl Sutter has brought to this team in his short tenure at the helm.

The ability to bring the best out of Iginla, to take a young team and have them play with the poise of a veteran squad, not fearing a mistake, sucking it up and going back out shift after shift and taking it back. A team that was battered, bruised and short of key players found a way to stay in a hard fought seven game series. Injuries to those players may not bode well for round two, but somehow you get the feeling that somebody in a Flame uniform is going to step up and fill in just fine thank you.

Seven years they’ve missed the playoffs, 15 years since they’ve won a series, that one a season that gave them a Cup. This is a team that will be reckoned with, maybe not this year, but the way they’re playing don’t put destiny past them. This team believes in itself right now, of the remaining teams left in the Stanley Cup Derby they are playing as a TEAM, a most important ingredient for success.

If Detroit thought that they had their hands full with Nashville, hold onto your helmets here come Jarome and the Flames. Dismiss their chances at your peril!

They Hab it all!

The comeback is complete, with the Bruins vanquished; Montreal will continue to play on in April. Battling back from a 3-1 deficit and finally able to solve Andrew Raycroft, the Montreal Canadiens led by Richard Zednik, took a 4 games to 3 series victory at the suddenly very quiet Fleet Centre in Boston Monday night.

A rivalry that goes back to the original six has given hockey fans many great nights of hockey over the years, many exciting series and these last seven games were no exception. Goaltending was the key to the seven games, Games 1, 2 and 4 belonged to Andrew Raycroft, numbers 3, 5, 6 and 7 to Jose Theodore, as both kept their teams alive at key times throughout the seven games. Even in defeat Monday night, Raycroft held the line the only goal scored on him was beyond his scope, a neat little pass from Alexei Kovalev over to Zednik from behind the net, before he knew it the puck was in the net, the series on the verge of going to the Habs.

Boston battled back but couldn’t find the combination to score an equalizer on Montreal, injured captain Joe Thornton gave it his best shot, but was largely ineffective in the final game, held off the score sheet and unable to hit with the ferocity he’s known for. The Bruins had their chances taking 32 shots at Jose Theodore, but he was on his game and like two years ago, shut the Bruins down and took Montreal on to the next round.

An empty net goal by Zednik assisted again by Kovalev and Saku Koivu brought the game to its conclusion. Kovalev had a strong game with basically the use of just one hand, as he set up the two goals, made some timely back checks and stayed with the flow of the game for the entire three periods.

For Boston the disappointment must be unfathomable, a promising season, high octane offence and the goaltending story that was Raycroft all for naught, as Montreal managed to control the flow of the last three games, full value for their historical comeback. The Habs were 0 and 12 in those series that they trailed by 3-1, The Bruins 17-0 on the ones they led by that margin. Statistically speaking this should have been the Bruins game to take, and a series to win. But then, statistics are for those that have the time to read them.

The Bruins can hit the books; The Habs will be content with hitting the Lightning.
Game one is Friday night in Tampa, one of the oldest franchises against one of the newest. One steeped in tradition, the other trying to find its way to starting one. If ever the Lightning wanted to attract some interest, the time has come. They could be the only first place team to be considered an underdog going into a second round series. Such is the scope of the Montreal tradition. The first test is Friday; the exam comes anytime between games four or seven.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

SENSational Sixth

You couldn’t ask for a better ending to game six than what the Sens and Leafs gave hockey fans on Sunday night. Well ok, if you’re a Sens fan, then having them score on the many opportunities in the second or third, would have been helpful in keeping the blood pressure in check, salting away the win before the end of third buzzer a much more sensible way to do things. If you’re a Leaf fan, you probably were wishing that Tie Domi was down the ice just a little bit further, Domi was in on many of the shots in the final period not to mention both overtimes, but never really fired a dangerous bullet at Patrick Lalime.

But if you’re just a fan of good hard hitting, action packed hockey then Double Overtime on a Sunday in mid April is just about as good as it gets. The Sens and Leafs put on a show at the Corel Center and the only sad thing about it is, that we’re one game closer to the end of the latest edition of the Battle of Ontario.

Penalties played their part at the start of game six, as the Sens quickly found themselves two men short after just two minutes, as both Peter Bondra and Greg de Vries sat in the box watching the Maple Leaf power play work the 5 on 3 advantage. And at 4:14 of the first the Maple Leafs were up 1-0 on the strength of a Brian McCabe goal that went in off the skate of Brian Pothier and into the Sens net. From then on it seemed like all Senators as wave after wave approached Ed Belfour only to be turned aside once again.

Game six began to take on the appearance of Games 2, 3 and 5, as Belfour made save after save after save. Posts were hit, shots whistled wide and through the crease but none went by the Toronto goaltender neither in the 1st nor in the 2nd. It took Zdeno Chara to change the scoreboard in the third as he jumped into the play and took the puck around the Leafs net firing a shot from a side angle which caught the short side of goal. The Sens tied things up at 4:14 of the third and the manic play would then grow even more desperate.

The Leafs were content to just dump the puck into the Ottawa end and go chase it, hoping to capitalize on a miscue, intercept an errant pass or just bang a body off the puck. A couple of times that strategy came dangerously close to working as Ottawa would have bursts of energy for four or five minutes and then collapse into shoddy play in their own, only to turn it back on a few minutes later. That scenario would continue through the end of the third and into all of the first overtime. Rested up to a fashion after the first extra frame, the Sens got the jump again in the second overtime, taking the play to the Leaf end right from the puck drop they crashed over the Leaf blue line. The winning goal coming at 1:47 of the second extra period as Antoine Vermette popped a pass through the goal crease, picked up by Mike Fisher and put into the back of the Leaf net good for the 2-1 win and good enough to book the trip to Toronto for a game seven showdown on Tuesday night.

Ottawa fans may not want to admit it but the Leafs were a gutsy bunch on this Sunday night. Despite injuries to a number of key players, they never seemed to let down. The Leafs had a number of chances in both overtimes and could have sent the Sens packing for the summer on any number of times, but it wasn't meant to be in game six. As Patrick Lalime rose to the occasion and stonewalled the Leafs through the regulation and extra periods. Lalime handled 28 Maple Leaf shots, making a few incredible saves to keep the Buds from getting more than a point ahead during the game.

But again it was Belfour who made the difference the Sens fired 46 shots at the Eagle through the four and a bit periods of play, Belfour once again was outstanding in the Leaf’s net, single handedly keeping them in the game until the very end. The Senators win ruined his bid to become the NHL record holder for shutouts in one series, heading into Sunday’s game Beflour had recorded three shut outs, one away from the record books.

He has one more chance to state his case on Tuesday, but don’t look for the Sens to be helpful, coming out fast and hitting the Leafs in their own end, will no doubt be the recipe for the deciding game. If Ottawa can continue the incredible pace they have developed in the first six games, then Eddie won’t be in the record books this year. But if he gets a little help from his defence and the front lines then anything is possible, it will just be part of the background to a Game 7 that should be a dandy.

Canucks dodge bullet in Cowtown

By rights this game should never have turned into the Overtime Classic that it became. The Canucks were cooled off and in the showers by the end of the second period as they had a two goal lead heading into the third period. The only problem was nobody told the Flames that the game was over. Calgary launched one of the greatest comebacks seen in the NHL in a long time, as they capitalized on sloppy defensive work in the Vancouver end of the rink, and got a few breaks on deflections to claw their way back into a four all tie at the end of regulation time.

With no particular rhyme or reason to the Canuck play in the first ten minutes of the third, the Flames were allowed to get back into the game. It would prove to be a mistake, which came dangerously close to eliminating the Canucks from further playoff action this year. Unable to clear the front of the Canuck net, Alex Auld was left to fend for himself on far too many occasions in regulation time as Martin Gelinas amongst others had ample opportunity to send the Saddledome crowd into rapture. But the Canucks finally settled down again and began to take back some of the play. But make no doubt about it, the third period had them on their knees hoping against hope that a stray shot or pass didn’t make it behind Auld.

As the first overtime period began it was a carry over of much of the play of the last five games, heavy hits, long leading passes just missing and fast paced end to end rushes. In a game that featured 1 goal in the first period, 5 goals in the second and 2 goals in the third, none would be scored in the first or the second overtime period.

The winning marker came at the 112th minute of play as Brendan Morrison protected the puck from one side of the boards to the other and then to the front of the net, putting the winning marker behind Miikka Kirprusoff sending both teams back to Vancouver for game seven on Monday night.

Saturday night’s game was the longest OT game in Canuck history, and the result was what they needed to keep alive their plans for a challenge for the Stanley Cup. The Flames who never seem to say die, will have to regroup after a heartbreaking loss such as this, they had a number of chances in the two OT periods to score, but couldn’t’ seem to get the puck past Auld who after that shaky finish to the third, managed to settle down and close the door the rest of the way. His counterpart in the Calgary net Kiprusoff equal to the task, holding wave after wave of Canuck shooters to bad angles and low risk shots.

While this series never needed any hype, Monday’s game is anticipated as yet another classic in the waiting. The Flames determined ability to never give up, against the Canucks fighting for their playoff lives. Monday should be the biggest ratings bonanza for the CBC this year so far, with Montreal/Boston as the opening act, the Flames and Canucks should provide an amazing grande finale to the CBC twin bill on Monday.

Hockey fans can only hope they get the same kind of action that periods 4, 5 and the start of six provided on Saturday night.

Stars disapear into black hole of playoff results

They looked old, confused and incapable of stopping a relentless Avalanche attack, and now they don’t have to worry about it. The Dallas Stars were eliminated Saturday afternoon after a 5-2 loos, as Colorado rebounded from a horrible end to the regular season with a dominating performance in the first playoff round.

The Stars began the game fine with Chris Therien coring the opening goal at the five minute mark, they held their own until the last two minutes of period number one when D’arby Hendrickson scored his first playoff goal this year, after that the Avs controlled the game, taking advantage of the Dallas miscues and setting the pace of the game to one they could control.

Dallas never seemed to get the game plan straight as the Av’s controlled all facets of play in this series including the goaltending, the one area that most observers had given the nod to the Stars on. Marty Turco was nowhere near the level he had shown in the regular season when his GAA was a measly 1.98. Twice in this series Turco had five goals scored on him and in each game he gave up at least three goals. Without his usually reliable performance the Stars could not launch a come back and handed the Avs the four games with a minimum of effort.

If there is one team that is going to see some wholesale changes in the off season (if there is hockey next year) it will be the Stars. This is one team that needs to be re-assembled and pointed in a new direction.

The Avs on the other hand have turned around their late March downward spiral and managed to get everyone on the same page again. David Aebischer continued to play a strong game in the Av’s net, stopping 62 of 65 shots in the last two games, he holds a stingy 1.83 Goals against record heading into the second round. Colorado’s scoring machine has also fired up the boilers, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk and Joe Sakic are a couple of the Avalanche veterans who have regained their scoring touch as the first round progressed. Rookie Marek Svatos picked up six points in the series, fitting in nicely with the Avalanche lineup after only appearing in four regular season games.

As they wait for the winner of the Flames/Canucks series to be revealed they can only rest up and try to keep sharp. They could end up playing the Sharks or the Canucks next week, either team will have its hands full with a rejuvenated Avalanche team, with confidence building in their game they could be a tough opponent for the second round.

Making a HABit of coming back

The Montreal Canadiens have set the stage for a game seven showdown in Boston on Monday night. The goat of game four got the fourth goal of game six; as Alexei Kovalev converted a Saku Koivu pass into an empty net to salt away the Canadiens 5-2 victory over the Bruins. His goal was followed up by Jan Bulis’ empty net goal that finished off the victory. The Habs have now battled back from a 1-3 deficit to tie the series at 3 a piece going into the game 7 showdown.

The Canadiens have been able to out hit and out play the Bruins over the last three games, as they finally solved the Raycroft riddle in the Boston nets. No longer intimidated by the Bruins net minder, more of the Habs shots are finding eyes and slipping in behind him. Raycroft has found it hard to win that clinching game, unable to shut down the Habs for that all important fourth win. If anyone’s confidence is going to be affected in a game seven it might be his.

The fast pace and heavy hitting dominant through this series continued in game six, Joe Thornton was on the receiving end of a number of crushing hits, the Canadiens holding him off the scoring sheet for the sixth game in a row.

Jose Theodore made the key saves once again that the Habs have been used to in the past, making the task of controlling the play in the Boston end that much easier for his team mates. The folks in Deer Lake, Newfoundland were doubly happy Saturday night, not only did local hero Darren Langford pick up his first career playoff goal, but it was a round on the house at the local bar. Langdon is owner of a bar in the Newfoundland town; his policy is a round on the house for every goal he scores. Fortunately for his bottom line he’s not known as a goal scorer, but if it helps the cause, why not load up the bar and load up the net.

The Canadiens can rest up their injuries and focus in on the idea of a game seven showdown. The way this series has gone, the Bruins must be feeling a little uneasy; Montreal has been coming on and seems to have the momentum factor in their favour. Expect an intense, fast paced game Monday from Boston.

Pesky Predators meet with extinction

Eventually experience won out over youthful exuberance. The wily old veterans of the Detroit Red Wings putting an end to any thoughts of the Nashville Predators pulling yet another April surprise on Hockeytown’s Heroes. Ray Whitney and Steve Yzerman got the first two and only goals in the first two minutes of the first period, sending a message to their fans that all is well, the playoffs will continue.

Curtis Joseph was solid if under worked in the Red Wing net, facing only fifteen shots on Saturday, the Predators failing to capitalize on 5 power play opportunities. The largest crowd in Predator history made lots of noise, but could not will their team on to another victory, the Red Wings were able to use their two goal advantage by shutting down the Predator attack, keeping them off the puck and out of the Detroit end.

Tomas Vokoun could only watch as his team mates failed to launch a comeback, leaving him on his own to face 26 Red Wing shots. Yzerman’s goal put him into the Red Wing history books as he jumped ahead of Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe for most goals in Red Wing history with 68. With the Wings alive for the next series, he has a chance to add to that history book.

Flyers exorcise Devils, advance to second round

The Devils won’t have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup this year, the defending Cup champions made an exit after five games, as Philadelphia defeated New Jersey 3-1 to advance in the Stanley Cup play downs.

Robert Esche once again outplayed Martin Brodeur in the net as he faced 32 shots in the game five clincher. Brodeur had 40 shots directed at him Saturday, an indication of how the Devil defence had fallen off their game in this series.

Zahmnov, Markov and Kapnenan scored for the Flyers, Niedermayer with the only reply for Jersey. Brodeur while not to blame completely for the Devils disappearing act, certainly let in a few suspect goals over the five games. His counterpart at the Flyer end Esche, would make game winning saves time and time again, giving his fellow Flyers a bit of confidence in the back end as they rest up for the second round.

They will have to wait for the results from the Ottawa/Toronto and Montreal/Boston series before they know who they match up with next week. The Devil’s have no such concerns, all they need to know is what tee times are available for Sunday.