Sunday, April 30, 2006

Shark Bait.

In the end, the San Jose Sharks just seemed to want the wins more. The Sharks came back from a game one loss to the Nashville Predators, to take four straight wins from Nashville to advance to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and send the Cats on to next year country.

Patrick Marleau continued his dominant pace with the play as the Sharks captain once again picked up points on the way to the 2-1 victory and a 4-1 wrap to the series. Marleau scored on the power play to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead, his seventh post season goal this year. With a power play that consists of Jonathon CheeChoo, Marleau and Joe Thornton, penalty killers have their hands full and Sharks fans must be thinking that this run could go rather deep into the playoff quest for Stanley.

Steve Bernier picked up the other marker to pace the Sharks to the 2-0 lead, a score that held until the third period when Paul Kariya finally tallied a power play goal of his own to close the gap to 2-1. To their credit the Predators battled their way through the third much like they have in many of the other games in this series, taking the play into the San Jose end of the rink only to have Sharks goaltender Vesa Tokala smother out any hope of a comeback.

For the Predators losing Tomas Vokoun proved to be a huge disappointment heading into the playoffs, but they can take some consolation from the fact that their back up goaltender Chris Mason more than held his own and gave a glimpse of solid goaltending to come in future years for the Cats from Nashville. None the less, it has to be a disappointment for the Predators, they had played solid hockey for most of the year and looked to have finally made the jump to favourite from just competitor. The loss in the first round will definitely be considered a step back from the progress they have made over the last few years.

The Sharks now can take advantage of a few days off to rest up, heal some injuries and wait to see who will be their next opponent. Whatever team ends up swimming with the Sharks had best pay attention to the game film from the last four games; the Sharks are becoming quite an impressive unit. Goals come from many possible options, you might shut down Thornton on one night, but Marleau will be there to make your life miserable. Jonathon Cheechoo continues to be a presence on the ice as well and as has been proven on countless power play chances in the last four games, the Sharks perhaps have the most potent power play in the league at the moment. Take penalties at your peril should be on the whiteboard of any team that faces them in the next round.

Stars out of orbit

It’s the shocker of the first round; the Colorado Avalanche led by Joe Sakic’s leadership toppled the number two seed in the Western Division. The Avs eliminated the Stars in their own home on Sunday with a 3-2 victory, taking their best of seven series 4 games to 1.

Jose Theodore cemented his place with the Avs with a remarkable performance in over time, stopping 11 Stars shots in a frantic scramble in the Colorado end of the ice. The Stars who played desperate hockey in the OT, took shot after shot on the Avalanche goaltender, all to no avail. The Stars had perhaps their best game of the series, as they controlled the play through the second and third periods, but by far the reason the Avs have advanced and shocked the Dallas faithful was on the play of Theodore, who was simply amazing at all the right times..

The result was highly unexpected; Dallas was a power all season long in the regular season and were expected to advance with ease over a Colorado squad that stumbled into the playoff round. But once the puck dropped in game one, the Avs once again came out to play hard.

With captain Sakic once again rising to the occasion, they played a hard hitting and fast paced style of hockey that the Stars at times seemed to have problems adjusting to. When the Stars did get their act together, Theodore was there to shut the door. He was particularly effective in the third period of play as he consistently kept the Stars from putting the game away; leaving his team mates the opportunity to get that one final goal to end the Stars season.

In their final period of play, the Overtime on Sunday, the Stars outshot the Avs 11-4, yet could not gain the winning goal to extend the series to a game six. It all ended for them with a play from Sakic who took the puck out from the corner dasher boards, into the slot and then his shot on Marty Turco led to the rebound that Andrew Brunette popped away for the series ending goal.

The term second season gets tossed around rather liberally at this time of the year, but for Colorado is truly is a second chance to expunge the regular season and concentrate on winning but four games out of seven, per series.

With round one under their belt, they’re well on their way to recapturing that form that many remember from past Avalanche squads. For Dallas, they now will have time to try and piece together how a season of such promise went so wrong, so fast.

Winnipeg's NHL dream gets a bit further away

Paul Friesen is a brave guy, in a town that is as hockey mad as Winnipeg, Friesen a writer for the Winnipeg Sun, has penned a column that puts a bit of a cloud over the NHL is coming back to Winnipeg stories.

Friesen shows how the new NHL is actually doing fairly well after it's one year hiatus, something that wasn't supposed to happen. The idea of crumbling NHL franchises laid waste by a lengthy labour stoppage was the lynch pin in any move to bring hockey back to the likes of Winnipeg and Quebec City.

And while the southern teams are still not packing them in with large numbers, the attendance in the so called sun belt trouble spots is actually increasing rather than decreasing, a rather bad omen for Canadian cities hoping to get back into the bigs.

The one team that is on the market, Pittsburgh, doesn't seem to be in any hurry to actually leave Pennsylvania, moves are in motion to secure a new rink in the city of three rivers, with or without the added bonus of gaming machines which is becoming a tad controversial as far as funding a sports arena goes.

Add on to all of that the increasing crawl upwards of NHL salaries and we find that many Canadian cities may find themselves in the same situation as before the lock out year, teams salary structures dont' add up to a profitable situation in the smaller Canadian markets.

While one hopes that somehow the economic universe rights itself to allow Canadian cities to once again dream of returning to the NHL, at the moment it's a situation that would take some serious study for an investor to take a gamble on tackling the NHL challenge in smaller markets.

While everyone hopes to wave a Jets flag again one day, the road is not quite clear yet for a return to Winnipeg or any other Canadian outpost at the moment.

Bye Bye Blue shirts

They went into the playoffs in a slump and never seemed to come out of it, for the New York Rangers the four games it took be eliminated from the playoff derby was just a continuation of the last couple of weeks of hockey in Manhattan.

The Rangers bowed out with a 4-2 loss at Madison Square Garden, a place that saw them share many great nights this year, but on Saturday became the scene of a wake for a season suddenly ended.

After what can only be described as a remarkable season, the Euro Rangers were crushed four straight by their Garden state rivals the New Jersey Devils. The Rangers were never really in this series from the beginning, with injuries to key players including the amazing Jaromir Jagr, the stars seemed crossed from the get go for anyone in Ranger Blues this playoff season.

Martin Brodeur continued to prove he’s the best goal tender in the game at the moment, as he shut down the Rangers time and time again. With disciplined play and a strict adherence to what they call Devils hockey, New Jersey dominated this series from the opening puck drop to the final whistle of game four. It was a text book display of how a Lou Lamoriello led team works and what makes them tick, one of the key components Patrik Elias. The Devil missed a good part of the season suffering from Hepatitis A, but now with a clean bill of health and bit of rest he’s on fire on the Devil attack.

Since his return to the Devil’s line up, they have been one of the hottest teams in the league, peaking at just the right time and promising to make things difficult for those that cross their path in the next round.

For the Rangers it must be a bittersweet ending to a pretty remarkable season, they were pegged to finish dead last or close to it at the start of the season, no one suspecting that the heavily Eurofied line up would stand the rigors of an NHL season. But with Tom Renney behind the bench they came together well during the regular season, setting scoring paces that many had trouble keeping up with until the end of the season.

It bodes well for next year, as they get a little bit older, a bit more seasoned and more familiar with each others style. But a series loss is still something hard to take. Having come so far in so short a time, the Rangers will surely be thinking of what could have been had only they been able to take up the challenge offered by the Devils.

Flat Tires in the Motor City

Oh, oh, suddenly history looks prepared to repeat itself with the league leading Detroit Red wings. The Wings gave home ice advantage back to the Oilers on Saturday afternoon, as Edmonton put on a display of puck control in the second period that set them up nicely for a frantic finish in the third. When the final whistle had blown, the Oilers were 3-2 winners on the scoreboard and 3-2 leaders in the best of seven series.

Edmonton took a three to nothing lead in the second period as they took advantage of a shaky day for Red Wing goaltender Manny Legace, the Oilers scored two goals on the first seven shots before Legace settled down in the red wing net. By games end Legace had faced only nineteen shots while Dwayne Roloson in the Edmonton net had faced thirty two Red Wing shots on goal.

Heading into the third period with a 3-1 lead the Oilers returned to a more defensive shell of a game, defending their zone nicely, deflecting shots, taking the body and allowing Roloson good vision to handle those shots that did get through. Roloson stood up well in the Oiler net, providing a comfort zone for the Oilers who have had troubles keeping a lead through this series that was not a problem on Saturday.

Penalties did not come back to haunt the Oilers as the Wings were unable to take advantage of the six man advantage situations that came their way. Frustration must be building in the Red Wing camp as they continued to outshoot the Oilers but couldn’t solve the Roloson riddle this time around.

They now have all the pressure on their red and white shoulders, having been down this road in playoffs past and been unable to turn around a situation that suddenly gets beyond their control. They now need to win two games to stay alive, while Edmonton needs only one to advance.

It should make for a noisy and wild crowd at Rexall Place Monday night; the Oilers stand ready to upset the team with the highest point total in the regular season. It’s a feat that once again will prove; that it’s not where you end up in the standings, as long as you end up in the playoffs. So far, the Oilers are making the best of their opportunity to launch yet another upset in a first round, something that the Red Wings unfortunately seem to have more than a passing bit of knowledge about.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Iggy leads the charge

Calgary’s captain Jarome Iginla was at his crashing, bashing best on Saturday night as he led his Calgary Flames out of the gate and onto a convincing 3-2 victory over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

Iginla scored two goals for the second night in a row, crashing the net, crashing the boards and delivering big hits at key times to spur on the rest of the Flames. The win gives the Flames a 3-2 lead in the best of seven series and the opportunity to advance to the next round with a victory on Monday night in Anaheim.

The Flames played in your face hockey all night long in the hard hitting and fast paced game. Chasing Duck goal tender J. S. Giguere from the game in the second period after surrendering three goals on eight shots. It was a shaky performance for Giguere who had played above and beyond the call in game four back in Anaheim.

The change of goaltenders caught the attention of the Ducks, who played with a bit more attention to their own end for the rest of the second and third periods, as Ilya Bryzgalov stopped all 19 shots he faced in relief of the shaky Giguere.

Anaheim took advantage of the power play in the third two score twice and put some pressure on the Flames in the final minutes of the game. On the whole the game was not as close as the score would indicate, Calgary won most of the battles on this night, led by Iginla who basically picked the team up and carried it on his shoulders for most of the night.

When he’s on his game as he has been the last couple of nights, you just sense how great a player he has become over the last few years. He now is one of those dominating presences on the ice, the guy you just expect to do something big at a key time.

The Flames move on to Anaheim for game six on Monday night, Randy Carlyle has a big decision to make regarding his goal tender for that game. However, it may be a moot point by game time, if Iginla is in the same kind of state of mind on Monday and Kiprusoff continues with his stellar play in the Calgary net, it will be a tough night of skating on the Pond ice for the Ducks

The Advancing Legions of Bytown

Five games and the deed is done, the Ottawa Senators advance to the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, leaving the Tampa Bay Lightning to ponder changes as their season comes to and end. The Sens by the end of the night had three goals to Tampa's two and four games to Tampa's one, one team advances one goes home, Tampa the team making the summer vacation plans.

Tampa put Sean Burke on the firing line in a last gasp bid to extend their lives in this first playoff round and for the most part he did his part well. Burke by far was the difference between keeping close and being blown out. Time and time again he made key saves on Ottawa's big scorers to allow his Lightning team mates to at least keep the thought of a come back alive. But in the end, the depth of the Senators proved to be the end of road for Tampa Bay.

Every line on this team seems capable of putting a game away, you shut down Alfredsson or Spezza, fine Havlat or Redden will pick up the pace, tonight rookie defenseman Andrej Maeszaros added his name to the goal scoring list, just another Sen doing his part.

With a past history of first round frustrations, the Scotiabank crowd was ecstatic to witness the clinching game of a first round series, a monkey finally off of the back of the team that has shown so much promise over the last few years only to fall short of the ultimate goal.

Ray Emery served notice that a rookie goaltender can make a difference when the money is on the line, showing some remarkable poise for a guy enjoying his first playoff exposure. If anyone was pointing to goal tending as the weak link in the Sens bid for the Stanley Cup, they can put away their fingers, Emery is the real deal, solid and unflappable. His performance in round one should do nothing but build even more confidence from his team mates in his ability to lead them on in the playoffs.

While the Sens continue to try and make things difficult for themselves (the second period was not a stellar twenty minutes for Ottawa and allowed Tampa a glimpse of hope) the difference is this time around they corrected their errors and reclaimed control of the game by the third period. As Tampa coach John Tortella put it, "Ottawa was a better team than us, lets give them credit". Pretty well sums up the series nicely one thinks.

Things were so respectful by the end of the series that Tim Taylor magically appeared with the game puck from game one, Emery's first Playoff victory. Taylor explained that he had kept the puck as a bit of gamesmanshmotivateiviate his team and get Emery off his game. As it turned out Emery stayed on his game and the Bolts needed more than a hidden puck to turn their tide. However, returning the puck was a classy move by the Bolt, who waited to be the last player on the ice to shake Emery's hand and hand over the playoff souvenir. A show of respect that will become part of Senator playoff lore as they travel further into these playoffs.

A one week rest beckons Ottawa now as they await their next opponent, perhaps the Habs, maybe the Sabres or the Flyers, it probably doesn't matter. The Sens are looking solid and believing in themselves, a powerful combination that will be hard to beat.

Suddenly the wind has picked up a bit

Carolina is back in the playoff hunt after a key game four victory at Montreal’s Bell Centre. The Hurricanes who looked anything but powerful in games one and two, played with a determination on Friday night as they edged Montreal 3-2 tying up their best of seven series at two wins apiece.

With Saku Koivu out of the line up indefinitely with a damaged eye, it was up to the rest of Les habitants to focus in on what needed to be done. On Friday they seemed to lose some of that focus as Carolina battled back to control a fair amount of the play on the night.

Radek Bonk was given the unenviable job of trying to fill Koivu’s place on the Ryder and Higgins line, but couldn’t seem to mesh with his new line mates, by games end, coach Bob Gainey had relegated Bonk to the bench for periods at a time as he tried to find the key ingredient to that line that would regenerate some offence from them.

Gainey’s line up problems continued with the scoring line of Kovalev, Ribeiro and Bulis not registering a shot on goal in the entire game, something that will have to change should Montreal wish to upset and defeat the number two seed in the East.

For Carolina, Rod Brind’amour had a strong game as he scored the winning goal early in the third period. It was Justin Williams who had the best night for the Canes though, scoring a goal and assist to aid the cause. Williams is definitely Public Enemy Number 1 in Montreal, after his stick accidentally hit Koivu in game three, every time he and the Hurricanes touched the puck a cascade of boos would resonate around the Bell Centre. It added to Carolina’s feeling of us against the world in the series and didn’t seem to affect their play through the game.

The two teams now travel to Raleigh for game five, having given Carolina a chance to gain even footing in the series, Montreal must return to its game plan of slowing down the Canes and taking the attack to their end of the rink.

Down to a best of three series now, the Hurricanes can feel a lot better about their chances. The high scoring machine that led the East for parts of the season seems to finally be getting untracked, not a good thing for a Montreal squad that up until game three seemed to be in total control of the series.

The force of Forsberg

Philadelphia has battled their way back to even with Buffalo in their best of seven series and they can thank Peter Forsberg for their recent return to the playoff run.

Having been humiliated in Buffalo in game two, the Flyers have changed their style and matched the Sabres stride for stride, shot for shot and more than matched them in the goals department.

Friday night it was Forsberg’s magic that brought them back from the near dead, Forsberg tallied two goals and an assist as the Flyers edged the Sabres 5-4 in game four of their best of seven series. With the win the Flyers draw even with Buffalo and now put some pressure back on the Sabres as they head for game five in Buffalo on Sunday.

R. J. Umberger who we last saw flat on his back on the Buffalo ice, marked the go ahead goal midway in the third period with a shot that dribbled under Ryan Miller’s arm, one of the few soft goals the Buffalo goaltender has let in during the series.

Buffalo made a game of it through the third, refusing to go away and battled through til the final horn, but on this night Robert Esche held the fort and the Flyers stormed the other end to take away the bitter taste of the first two games in New York state.

It’s a whole new series now, a clean slate turned into a best of three showdown.

The Flyers with Forsberg on fire, suddenly believe in themselves again and played hard through game four, giving Buffalo indication that they are in for a lengthy war of attrition now.

Buffalo simply can’t afford to let their scoring chances slip by anymore, far too often Friday night they could not convert their chances and as the game progressed the Flyers were able to capitalize on the lucky bounces to take the win.

Throw all the stats out now, its two out of three games and a winner advances. If you thought this was an exciting series before, it’s about to get a whole lot more entertaining!

Big D, back in the hunt!

It was a must win for Dave Tippet’s Dallas Stars and the guy that needed it most was the fellow in the nets Marty Turco. Having seen his team collapse around him in previous games Turco put on a performance Friday night that announced the Stars would not go quietly in the NHL night.

With the Stars playing a more offensive oriented game, complete with many scoring chances they controlled a good portion of the play and held the Colorado Avalanche to only one goal, as they clawed their way back onto the ledge of their best of seven series with the Avs with a 4-1 victory in Denver.

Turco made the difference tonight as he turned aside 22 of the 23 Avalanche shots, at the other end of the rink Jose Theodore was under siege as Dallas came at him in wave after wave of attack, firing 39 shots on the Avalanche goaltender, with four of them finding the mark and sending Dallas on to victory.

The Stars played desperation hockey, as befits a team that stood on the cups of elimination in four straight games, a situation that nobody imagined when the playoff pairings were decided that last week of the season. Down 3-0 in games heading into the Pepsi Centre, the Stars fought back with a flurry that has been missing more than a few times in the last three games.

There were scary moments in the third period, a twenty minute frame of time that seems to cause the Stars no shortage of problems. In the last few games the Stars have fallen apart in the third, surrendering goals at key times and letting a shot at victory slip through their fingers, while there were moments in the third Friday that must have had Turco thinking here we go again, the Stars held things together and scored an insurance marker into an empty net in the last minute of play.

For Dallas it’s a life, the chance now to build on it and battle their way back into this series. It’s hard to play desperation hockey night after night, but for Dallas they have to do it three more times, they dug the hole for themselves, Friday they began to climb a little bit out of it, time will tell if they escape completely or have just delayed the inevitable!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Alberta angst!

Both of Alberta’s NHL teams let a chance to take a commanding lead in their respective series slip through their fingers on Thursday night.

The Calgary Flames allowed the Anaheim Mighty Ducks to get even in their best of seven series, as they squandered an amazing third period performance by Jerome Iginla. The Calgary captain carried the offence on his back in this game, taking charge of the play and scoring two goals on J. S. Giguere, bringing his team back from a two goal deficit, only to lose the game early in the first overtime period by a score of 3-2.

Anaheim had taken a 2-0 lead in the second, spurred on by Teemu Selanne who scored his first playoff goal for 2006 in the second. Coming into the third period the Ducks became guilty of backing off on their attack a bit, which gave the Flames an opening to launch their come back, Iginla showed those flashes of brilliance that mark him as a team leader as he seemed to will the Flames back onto the score sheet.

The goaltending was of a high caliber Thursday, both Miika Kiprusoff and J. S. Giguere put on a duel for the Anaheim crowd. Giguere faced30 shots on the night while Kiprusoff had to try and fend of 27 shots over the course of the night.

The winning goal came from an unlikely source, journeyman Sean O’Donnell was the Hero of the night in Duckland as his blast from the point popped through the five hole on the Calgary goaltender, tying up the series at 1:26 of the first over time period.

Effectively a best of three series now, the Flames return home to Calgary for the first of the best of three showdown on Saturday night. If they wish to take the lead they will have to play a more physical game, refuse to surrender their end of the ice and get more shots and chances on the Anaheim net. As Teemu Selanne put it, this series is like a saloon fight, punches and counter punches night after night.

It very well could come down to a game seven and the last team standing moving on to the next round.

While the Flames were trying to put one more goal into the net in Anaheim, they’re northern cousins were learning a valuable lesson at the Rexall Centre. Keeping out of the penalty box goes a long way to keeping the Red Wings off of the scoreboard.

The Oilers took far too many undisciplined penalties Thursday night, allowing the Red Wings to set up their potent power play 13 time, 3 of which were converted into key goals on the way to a 4-2 victory.

In a game that seemed a tad inconsistent in the officiating department, the Oilers failed to realize that when the whistle is going against you, the need to play with a bit of thinking would go a long way.

You sense that the Red Wings are regaining some of their swagger as the series moves along, the Oilers with a chance to put the Red Wings behind the eight ball in game four, instead find themselves now tied at 2 wins a piece and in the uncomfortable feeling of having to now win a best of three series, something that doesn’t leave a lot of room for error over the next three games.

Smarter play in their own end and a reduction in the foolish penalties that end up haunting you will be the two points of study while they wait for the puck to drop on Saturday afternoon in Detroit.

The Oilers have opened the door for the Wings now to reclaim their status as the top team of the league. It would be best to shut it firmly on Saturday in front of what will no doubt be a wild Red Wing crowd. Giving the Red Wings any more momentum could prove to be a fatal mistake in the game plan for Edmonton. The road to Stanley now goes through Detroit, best to speed down the highway on Saturday than have to hope to drive it again in a game seven.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Marvelous Marleau

Patrick Marleau is quickly making the first round his round, the San Jose Sharks captain loomed large on the minds of the Nashville Predators Thursday night, as he paced the Sharks to a 5-4 victory by picking up a third career playoff hat trick.

Marleau was simply dominating in this game, as he fought his way into open ice and took the hits in the crowded areas to pot the three goals, all of which would be needed as the game wrapped up with a flourish of a come back from the battered Predators.

While the prognosticators were gushing over the expected play of Thornton and Cheechoo before the series got under way, the Sharks captain went almost un-noticed, until the series was under way that is. But once the puck dropped in game one, it became apparent that Marleau was going to make sure he got his share of the press by the time this series would come to an end.

With the Preds trying to key on the Thornton – Cheechoo combination, it seems they have focused so much angst on them that Marleau almost has a free reign on the ice in the Nashville end.

The Sharks benefited from a lack of discipline on the Predators side of the ice, far too often the Preds would take stupid after play penalties, setting up short handed situations that the power play line up of Marleau, Thornton and Cheechoo took full advantage of.

With Marleau on a goal scoring spree it appeared that the Sharks were home and clear by the time the third period got underway, but a few lapses by the Sharks allowed the Predators to claw their way back into the game. Full credit has to be given to Barry Trotz team, which refused to give up and kept coming at the Sharks in the third, coming to within a goal of sending game four into over time.

The road now however is daunting for Nashville, the Sharks when they aren’t making mental mistakes in their own end, seem to be gaining confidence with each shift. They looked as fast and physical as they have all year in the first two periods of the game, if they can keep that pace up in game five Saturday in Nashville, they’ll be able to rest their weary bones for a few games. A win Saturday wraps up the series for the Sharks, the Predators should be aware, Marleau may wish to pad his stats if he’s going to share some down time with his team mates between rounds.

Bolts on the Brink

It was a second period explosion that spelled the doom for the Tampa Bay Lightning, as the Ottawa Senators picked up two goals late in the second within fourty seconds of each other, sending the Bolts reeling to the dressing room.

It was a solid three periods of hockey for the Senators, who controlled the play for most of the game. The game once again showcased the return of Martin Havlat to the line up, Havlat who has scored in four straight games now, continued to be a force while on the ice. His assist on the Dany Heatley goal in the second, is the thing of highlight reels a wonderful pass that set Heatley up for the all important goal that broke the back of Tampa Bay.

The only flaw in the Senators game is a sudden inability at times to clear their zone; they sometimes give up the puck to Tampa Bay deep in their own end, a situation which provides the Lightning with too many scoring opportunities and tests Ray Emery more than he really should be.

Emery however seems up to the occasional challenge provided by the defensive miscues; he once again rose to the occasion on Thursday stopping 30 of the 32 Tampa Bay shots. John Grahame in the Tampa net was not quite as successful, giving up 4 goals in 17 shots before being replaced by Sean Burke late in the game.

Grahame’s Goals against was a sore point with John Tortorella in the post game press conference, as the Tampa coach expressed frustration with what he called the “25 per cent rule”. Tortorella expressed disappointment with the inability of Grahame to make the big saves when the time comes to bail his team out. It’s unusual for a coach to blast his players publicly when they are in such a dire situation, but perhaps feeling he has nothing to lose the Tampa coach, told it like he saw it and then announced that Sean Burke would start in game five in Ottawa on Saturday night.

While it might be easy to pick on Grahame, Tortorella might have saved some of his vitriol for the rather sad state of the Tampa Bay defence, they were beaten to the puck in their own end time after time, left players such as Heatley, Havlat, Spezza and Alfredsson frequently open in front of the net and found themselves out played in their own end for most of the night. One doesn’t see Burke having a much different outcome on Saturday unless those miscues are addressed and quickly.

The Sens who seem to be shaking off the first round jitters of past years looked quite comfortable and in control as the third period progressed on their way to the 5-2 victory. Aware that they can put the Bolts away with a win Saturday, expect a fast paced and hard hitting game at Scotiabank Place.

With a 3-1 lead in the series the Sens can see the next round just over the horizon, while they don’t want to get caught looking ahead. Keeping to their game plan from Thursday night will go a long way to moving them on to round two on Saturday.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Two on the brink, Two back in the hunt

It was a mixed bag Wednesday night in the NHL playoffs.

The New York Rangers took one more step towards the golf course as they once again could not respond to the New Jersey assault and dropped a 3-0 decision to the Devils as Martin Brodeur collected his 21st career playoff shutout. Brodeur turned aside all 25 Ranger shots on the way to the win as the Devils continued their mastery over the Blue shirts.

The night got off to a rough start for New York as Patrick Elias scored just over a minute into the game to set the scene for what would be the Rangers third consecutive loss in the first round series against the Devils.

The return of Jaromir Jagr to the Rangers line up didn’t seem to have the desired effect as the Rangers continued to have problems understanding the Devils plan off attack and offering up some counter measures to get themselves back in the series.

The Devils can put the Rangers away on Friday night when game four takes place at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers already appear to be a beaten club, all that remains is to post the score on Friday and shake hands.

Colorado dodged a bullet in their series with Dallas, taking an Overtime win away from the Stars who showed more life on Wednesday than they showed all series long. Alex Tanguay scored the winner just over a minute into the first overtime as he fired off a centering pass that deflected off of Dallas defender Willie Mitchell and in behind Marty Turco for the winning goal and a strangle hold of three games to none in the best of seven series. It made for an unfair ending for Turco, who had performed quite nicely in this game three, keeping his Stars in the hunt until the very end.

The Stars held the lead 3-2 going into the third period but couldn’t put the Avs away as they battled back with an Andrew Burnett goal with 56 seconds left in the third to force overtime, setting up Tanguay’s heroics and the 4-3 victory.

With Dallas on the brink of elimination, game four should be akin to a stand at the Alamo for the Stars. They were the favourites going into this series, many observers suggesting that they would dominate the Avs in all categories of the game, but it’s been the Avs which have been taking control of the play for the most part.

Friday could see the first upset of this playoff season, an upset to everyone but the guys wearing the Avalanche uniform, they’ve been playing this series like they should have been the Stanley Cup favourites, one more win and people might start thinking of them that way again!

St. Christobal finally lost one, as the Montreal goaltender faced disappointment and a loss for the first time in this playoff year. Though the blame for the loss can’t be placed at his skates, Huet was once again magnificent as he faced 36 shots from a Carolina attack that seemed to recapture some of the jump from the early season.

Realizing that they were on the brink of a big hole, the Hurricanes refused to go down on Wednesday night, depending on rookie goaltender Cam Ward to hold off the Habs a huge task, but he was up to it as he kept his team alive long enough to score the winner in OT, a 2-1 decision in a low scoring affair.

Eric Staal netted the goal that gives the Hurricanes a bit of life, with a bullet drive from the point as the Habs played a man short due to Tomas Plekanacs’ hooking penalty. It was the second game in a row that Montreal surrendered a lead in the third period, something that Bob Gainey will no doubt address at the next practice session for Montreal.

Game Four goes Friday night at the Bell Centre, Montreal has the chance to put the Hurricanes into deep trouble, but may find the job a little harder to do, depending on the status of Captain Saku Koivu. He was clipped by an errant high stick and suffered a cut near his eye, taken from the ice holding a towel to his eye area, he was sent to Hospital for observation over the cut. Losing his services would be a huge blow to the Habs who had been looking to be giant killers in the first round with their success over the gang from Carolina. Friday gives them the opportunity to regain the energy and leave the Hurricanes pondering a one game and go home scenario for a game five.

We can put away the funeral rites for the Flyers for one night at least, spurred on by Peter Forsberg the Flyers entertained the home side with a 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, a bit of breathing room for a team that had seen some dark days in northern New York state.
Forsberg put the Flyers into the lead in the second period and then gave them a two goal cushion just past midway in the same period, as he began to show why he’s considered one of the most dominant players in the game today. It took a couple of lucky bounces here and there, but the Flyers atoned for their embarrassing loss two nights ago in Buffalo.

The Sabres didn’t seem to have the same jump they had on Monday, letting Philadelphia carry a lot of the play. They also ran into another stellar night for Robert Esche, who looked more like the Game One goaltender than the fellow we saw in Game Two.

Esche, benefited from a much more effective Flyer defensive corps, they played a tighter game in their own end, moving bodies out of the way, giving Esche more vision to see the Buffalo shooters. It was a recipe that proved to be successful by the end of the night and the 4-2 victory.

The Flyers pulled out all the superstitious stops prior to this one, an appearance from Flyer legend Bernie Parent, some hard rockin’ tunes by AC/DC to set the mood and then the ultimate weapon, a tape presentation of God Bless America featuring Kate Smith.

It worked for Game Three, so expect Kate to get a reprise Friday when Game Four gets underway.

Buffalo needs to get back to their style of hockey, a faster paced attack, lots of fore checking deep in the Flyer zone and bodies in front of the net to take advantage of the increased number of shots that should be directed towards the net.

Buffalo has a chance to put the choke hold on the Flyers with a win, give the Flyers a chance to even the series and suddenly you’re playing with fire. The Sabres had best come out leaving nothing behind on Friday, a 3-1 lead looks a lot more secure than a series tied at 2-2.

Oilers dodge a bullet

They gave up a two goal lead in less than seventeen seconds, survived a game ending scare and eventually preserved enough to take game three from the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 4-3. Oh and by the way, they played not one but into a second overtime period before things were settled in Edmonton.

For most of the game the Oilers had managed to once again shut down the most offensive oriented squad in the NHL, keeping the Wings to one goal heading into the third period but with a quick couple of goals the Wings were back in the hunt, and the Oilers began to feel the heat of taking on the league’s best team.

Detroit seemed to gain control of the third period after those two quick goals and the Oilers could only seem to hang on and hope they could avoid the kind of mistake that puts a game away. In fact, for many in the rink the game seemed over in the first over time period, as the Wings recovered from a scare in their own end of the rink to charge down the ice and have Jason Williams put a shot on net that seemed to be in, but after video review proved to have actually gone under the padding at the side of the net.

With that bullet dodged the Oilers managed to avoid any more drama until the second over time frame. Close to half way through the second OT Jarret Stoll sent everyone but Red Wing fans home happy as he fired a shot past Manny Legace to bring to an end the Oilers third longest playoff game in history. Stoll’s goal came after a remarkable save by Legace on Sergei Samsanov who tried almost successfully to put a wrap around in behind the Wing goal tender, Legace took a stab at the puck as it went by him but couldn’t react in time to stop Stoll’s shot and keep the OT rolling along.

The loss puts the Wings in what is becoming a familiar position for them in first round series; once again they trail a series many felt they would dominate. The Wings now need to rally and equalize things on Thursday, turning this best of seven into a best of three winner take all competition.

For Edmonton the lesson of Tuesday night is simple, a full effort for sixty minutes will be required to knock off the league leading Wings. The Oilers changed their style of play in the third, playing too tentative and allowing the Wings to bring the play into their end of the rink far too often. Fore checking and ice control will be a key to shutting down the Wings, allowing them to dictate the flow of the game is a recipe for disaster when playing such a high scoring squad as this. The fact that the Oilers could only manage five shots in the third tells one how much control they ceded to the Wings in the third and how close they came to frittering away a solid game of fourty minutes.

Expect coach Craig MacTavish to review the rules of the game with his players before Thursday comes around, the one rule he’ll be particularly inclined to reinforce, a game lasts sixty minutes not fourty!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Flames turn up the heat on the Ducks

Calgary finally broke free of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks Tuesday night; as they scored two goals in 34 seconds in the third period to break open a tight checking and low scoring affair at the Pond in Anaheim.

With Darren McCarty and Robyn Regehr book ending the goal spurt, the Flames were on their way to an eventual 5-2 victory over Anaheim, putting their stamp on this closely fought series and taking a 2-1 lead into game four Thursday night.

Power plays once again take on a larger than life affect on the outcome of these games; both teams combined scored only 2 goals while at even strength all five other goals came on the power play. It’s becoming a given that keeping out of the penalty box will go a long way to keeping goals out of your net.

Those guarding the nets had an interesting night of things, in the Anaheim end, Jean Sebastian Giguere faced only 24 shots but allowed five to get in behind him, while at the other end of the rink Miikka Kiprusoff stopped all but two of the 29 shots directed his way during the course of the game.

It was a key victory for the Flames, who played much tighter hockey and shut down the Ducks attack Tuesday. After a couple of worrisome nights in Calgary for the Flames, they seemed to get on the same page in game three, a change of direction that bodes well for their chances to take a controlling lead of the series in game four Thursday night.

Mr. Marleau sends his regards!

While everyone sings the praises (and justifiably so) of the Thornton-Cheechoo corporation, many seem to have forgotten that San Jose has a pretty good goal scorer sitting around the bench in the name of Patrick Marleau.

Tuesday night, Marleau decided to re-introduce himself to the local fan base and say hello to the Nashville Predators as well. The San Jose captain accounted for two goals as his San Jose Sharks dominated the visiting Predators, securing a 2-1 lead in the best of seven series.

Nashville got off to the early lead, but once San Jose turned on the power it was all but over for the Cats from Tennessee. Chris Mason had a less than successful night in the Preds net allowing two soft goals on shots that he no doubts wished he’d squeezed just a little bit harder on. The rookie goaltender who has been tossed into the spotlight due to the injury to Thomas Vokoun showed a few nerves on the night, allowing in the goals that when scored tend to kill a team in a game.

That’s not to excuse his Predator team mates, who have been rather anemic offensively at times in this series. The only bright side for the Predators was their ability to shut down Joe Thorton, making sure that somebody was close by every time the puck would meander towards him, Thornton rarely got the chance to set up a play or take a shot on net such was the interest shown to him by the Predators. Unfortunately for Nashville though, there usually were four other players on the ice more than willing to take up the challenge and push the puck deep into the Predator zone. By them time they were finished with that challenge, the Sharks had a 4-1 victory under their belt and looked to be in charge of this series quite nicely.

The telling stat on the night was shots on goal, the bulk of the play must have been in the Nashville end of the ice as Mason faced 40 shots over the course of the game, compared to the measly 17 shots (only 4 in the third period) attempted on San Jose goaltender Vesa Toskala.

With the win the Sharks set themselves to take a strangle hold on the series on Thursday night, judging by the action on Tuesday, it might be time to start working on repeating the name of Patrick Marleau, forgotten no more, he seems ready to carve out his bit of Shark history to go along with his pals Thornton and Cheechoo.

Taking Charge in Tampa Bay

For Ottawa fans Tuesday night brought back that loveable bunch of guys that just seem to dominate the games they want to dominate. From the opening face off the Sens were on a mission Tuesday night, taking charge of play and out skating, out hitting and out scoring the Tampa Bay Lightning on the way to the 8-4 victory. The Sens scored three times on their first eleven shots, which set the pace for the game and kept the Tampa crowd quiet for the most of the night. With the decisive victory they took a 2-1 lead in their best of seven series against the defending Stanley Cup Champs.

With stalwart defenceman Wade Redden back in the fold for the game, the Sens fed off the energy of the night. Redden gained three points on the night a goal and two assists, while Antoine Vermette scored two goals of his own to aid the cause of the Sens. Martin Havlat re-introduced himself to the official scorers, by tallying two key goals as they headed towards the 8-4 victory.

The Sens played a much more physical style of game than the one in game two which saw them collapse in the second period and give a game away to a more determined Tampa squad. Tuesday it was Ottawa showing the determination; they took the corners, crashed the net and cleared their own zone regularly. The fast pace they brought to the game wearing down the Lightning early and left them searching for answers by games end.

The fact that Tampa gained a couple of goals in the third to make it close was more a matter of mental errors from Ottawa over any determined action to launch a come back. Ray Emery had another solid night in the Senator net, facing 35 shots and closing the door on the infrequent attempts by Tampa to apply pressure in the Ottawa end of the rink.

Prior to the game, head coach Bryan Murray had suggested it was time for this team to step up and claim the ice as their own. They took the suggestion to heart and notified Tampa that Game Two was most likely a setback that they won’t be dwelling on too long. It was the kind of offensive explosion Sens fans had long been waiting for and it came at just the right time. Game Four will be key, but should the Sens keep the pace up that they had on Tuesday, Tampa will be in a world of trouble by this time Thursday night.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Shooting Stars off course

Dallas had the perfect opportunity to finish off the perfect come back, coming early in the overtime that Colorado forced with 2 minutes to go in regulation. In that OT, the Stars Antti Miettinen rattled a puck off the goal post, the clanging still probably ringing in the American Airlines Centre, as the Avs turned the play around and went down the other way and put the game away with a 5-4 victory, and took a 2-0 lead on what was supposed to have been Dallas’ series.

Joe Sakic continued to write new chapters to a book many thought had almost been finished, as the Colorado captain once again lifted his team to victory, scoring the over time ending goal at 4:36. Sakic tipped a blast from John-Michael Liles in behind Marty Turco and suddenly the road Dallas must travel not only gets higher in elevation but the pressure mounts ten fold as well.

For Dallas the loss could be devastating. They surrendered to a huge Colorado lead in the first, battled back hard and took the lead in the second, only to see the game tied up with time running out in the third. It was a desperation goal late in the third for the Avs who had seen a commanding 3-0 lead disappear, as the Stars began to find their game and turn the attack into the Avalanche end of the ice. From that tying goal came the chance to stay alive, from that came the chance to win. It's all a visitor can hope for and all a home team can dread.

The mission is simple now for the Stars, pull out the stops and shut down the Avs completely on Wednesday. The home crowd in Denver which may have been thinking the sunset years were on this combination of Avs, suddenly have a 2-0 lead and very confident looking team coming home. That should make for a loud and boisterous gathering ready to cheer on their Avs.

It’s a hole the Stars have dug for themselves, outplayed completely in game one, they regained their focus in game two (well the last fourty minutes anyways). But in the end couldn’t do what they need to do, put the puck in the net and the Avalanche on the losing side of a score. Only two more chances to get it right, or they can start thinking about the changes that might soon come to big D.

Correction: This story was modified on Wednesday, to correctly identify the home of the Stars as the American Airlines Centre as opposed to the Reunion Centre. My thanks to the shar eyed reader who picked up on my error and sent the correction.

The wind dies down

Carolina thought they were making the turn around, they finally managed to solve the Christobal Huet riddle, battled back after a horrible start and sent game number two into not one but two Overtime periods.

And then the wind just died down and the hurricane became more of a tropical depression (at least that's probably how they feel in the Carolinas tonight). The game started out much like the first one did, with Montreal controlling the play, scoring the goals and chasing starting goaltender Martin Gerber from the net after goal number three. Tossed into the fray in the first, back up and rookie goaltender Cam Ward, offered up a bit of backbone to the Hurricanes. Turning back Montreal shots with confidence and giving his team mates the opportunity to regroup and rethink the approach they’ve been giving Montreal thus far.

Whatever they discussed in the dressing room between the periods paid off, Carolina came back to the ice in the second ready to reclaim some of their respect, looking more like the team that topped the standings for a good portion of the regular season. By the time they were finished with their rejuvenation project, they held a 4-1 lead and seemed to have the Habs suddenly not so sure about themselves. Huet, who has performed miraculously at times for Montreal looked at times ordinary and definitely beatable. But just as quickly as things went awry, he managed to turn it back on and knock down the Hurricane attack shift after shift.

Montreal’s hard work paid off with a tying goal and then a return to lead only to see Carolina battle back and tie things up again as the third period wound down, Cory Stillman putting the tying goal behind Huet at 18:30 of the third. From there it was a period of scoreless OT, followed by a second period of Over time, brought to an end after just 2 and half minutes into play. Michael Ryder gave Newfoundlanders cause to cheer as he converted a pass from Chris Higgins to put the game away a final tally of 6-5 in favour of les bleu, rouge et blanc.

Higgins’s play defined the success of the Habs this series, he out hustled the Hurricanes in their own end, crashing into the corner taking the puck along the end dasher area and passing it out to Ryder, who converted the pass into a goal and victory.

It’s not hard to figure out which loss hurts more, Saturday’s embarrassment or Monday’s squeaker. The Canes were never in the game on Saturday, tonight they were in it full force, but yet the Habs got the breaks and made the breaks.

Tonight may have been one of those backbreaker losses that teams don’t come back from. There are no Hurricane warnings in Montreal, nor will there be need to post one for Wednesday night, sometimes the wind just blows itself out, something that may soon happen to the hockey team from Carolina.

The lights are dim on Broad Street too!

They’re too slow, they’re too lumbering and they’re not looking very good. The Philadelphia Flyers have now had their helmets handed to them twice in three nights, Monday saw the Buffalo Sabres get to Robert Esche, gaining five goals on ten shots. That tells you all you need to know about how bad the night went for the gang from Philadelphia.

The Sabres came out flying as they say and never looked back as they punished the Flyers for miscues in their own end, took advantage of Philadelphia’s overly aggressive and thus punishable moments and filled the net behind Esche.

By the time the carnage had come to an end the Sabres were ahead 8-2 on the scoreboard and 2-0 in the series, a complete domination of a Flyers team not seen in many years.

For whatever reason, the Flyers can’t seem to wrap their heads around the idea that penalties will not aid their cause and neglecting their own end of the rink will come at a high cost. Broad Street Bullies no more, its more like they've become the Broad Street bone heads.

Buffalo on the other hand has this new NHL all figured out, or so it seems. They use their speed to their full benefit, beating the Flyers to the corners, moving through the neutral zone with speed and taking control of the Flyers end of the rink as if it were their own.

The Sabers benefited from not one but two hat tricks on the night, an unusual thing at playoff time to say the least. J. P. Dumont and Jason Pominville became the first tandem since Mario and Jaromir in 1996, to get the dual tricks, pretty good company to be mentioned with!

The more the Sabres scored, the uglier the Flyer mood seemed to get. Culminating in an incredibly dumb move by Denis Gauthier with a viscious cross check into the boards in the second period, for his troubles Gauthier was ejected from the game. Ben Eager followed Gauthier into penalty trouble in the third as he was assessed with a ten minute misconduct as thing deteriorated on the ice as the third period carried on.

The key if Philadelphia wishes to have any hope in this series is to stay out of the box, on the ice and in the face of the Sabres. They don’t seem fast enough to keep up, so they need to pin them into their own end and fore check them into turnovers.

Unfortunately for Flyer fans, their tempers and frustrations are running the show at the moment and with the expected result. Should they keep that up, they’ll find more of the same in front of their own crowd on Wednesday night. Buffalo doesn’t appear to be easily intimidated, instead they turn around and make the Flyers pay for the mistakes.

Mistakes they make far to often and there are results on the scoreboard that testify towards that, and testify loudly!

We’ve seen the lights going out on Broadway!

The Rangers backup goaltender Kevin Weekes was given the starting assignment on Monday; his task to try to shut down the Devils attack and give his Ranger team mates a chance to atone for Saturday’s disaster. Weekes tried to hold his end of the bargain as best he could knocking aside 21 shots, but even he couldn’t shut down John Madden.

The New Jersey winger tied an NHL playoff record by scoring two short handed goals on the way to his first ever post season hat trick. The Devils added one more to take game two of the best of seven series 4-1, the Devils once again taking the body, making the plays and out skating the Rangers into submission.

In a regular season that showed such promise, the post season has been more than a disappointment it’s been a disaster. With injuries piling up and confidence running down, the Rangers look all but beaten as they head back to the Gardens for games three and four.

Weekes described it best when he described the state of the Rangers as they finished off game two. "We came out and only got one on Marty (Brodeur)," Weekes said. "Earlier in the year maybe we get four or five but they are playing differently now. They are playing Devils hockey."

And that is a worrisome thing for the Rangers, they can’t seem to compete with the Devils brand, they can’t figure them out and they can’t score on Brodeur.
Unless they solve both of those problems, game four will be the final night of hockey at Madison Square.

Bolts just seemed to want it more

They battled back from an early set back, refused to fold under the Ottawa attack and by playing some hard hitting and fast paced hockey Tampa Bay brought their series back home to Florida tied at one apiece with the Eastern Division champions. Memories of their third period collapse of Friday long forgotten as they outskated the Sens for the puck and knocked the puck lose in the corners to generate those key scoring chances one of which they used to their advantage. Most important stat of Sunday’s third period was the shot totals, Ottawa managed but two shots in the third frame as Tampa claimed a 4-3 victory over the Sens.

The way the Sens came flying out of the gate in the first period, one would think this was going to be the soul crusher game, a quick goal early by Bryan Smolinski in the first on a rush from Daniel Alfredsson sent the Scotiabank crowd into a joyous mood as it seemed the Sens had found a groove and were ready to roll. Only problem it seems is that somebody forgot to tell the Lightning things were done, the Bolts battled back nicely through the game, evening up the first period marker with a goal from Martin St. Louis after a turnover in the Ottawa end. Instead of taking the play to the Lightning after that first goal, the Sens fell back into a bit of sloppy play letting Tampa get back into the game, an invitation they took full advantage of by the time the game ended.

Ottawa appeared to be back in control as the third period started spotting a 3-2 lead only three minutes away and the knowledge of history of Tampa success in Ottawa which has been fleeting, Tampa had lost nine previous games in Kanata prior to Sunday’s victory. But the celebration over Peter Schaeffer’s goal that made it 3-2 was a short lived affair, as Dan Boyle scored a clutch goal in the third to tie things at three, fifty five seconds later at 6:19 of the third Martin St. Louis struck again, scoring the fourth and eventual winning goal.

From that point on rather than sit on the lead and tempt fate, Tampa kept the pressure up hemming the Sens in their own end and disrupting their attack time and time again. John Grahame had another solid effort in the Tampa net stopping 21 of the 24 shots he faced, he was helped out by his defence and some stellar forechecking from the forwards something they got away from on Friday night.

Ottawa’s Ray Emery was a tad under siege in the third period and ended the game with 32 saves, many of them keeping Tampa from putting things away completely. The two teams are off to Florida for Tuesday’s game three, a new life for the Bolts and home date in a sold out rink, it makes for a bit of drama for an Ottawa team that loves to keep its fans on the edge of their seats for the entire run of the show.

Mindful of past history in Sensland, the folks will be watching their televisions with a mix of hope and anxiety, the need to take the play to Tampa and keep taking the play to Tampa is paramount to the Sens attack. Allowing the Bolts opportunity to push into the Ottawa end and set up shop, will have many of the Sens fans chewing nails like crazy on Tuesday.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Call up’s dream day

Brad Winchester probably never expected to see his name listed in the Stanley Cup headlines in the first round series with the Red Wings. In fact, so unsure was Winchester of his place with this Oiler team at times, he didn’t even bother to bring the family to Detroit from Wisconsin to see the game.

Hope they had the TV on! Winchester became an instant hero in Edmonton as his goal with a buck fourteen to go in the second gave the Oilers a 3-2 lead over the Wings, a lead that would not be overcome as Edmonton locked down the Wing attack through the third and adding a insurance marker in the late third for a 4-2 victory.

Winchester has been up and down on the Oiler club all year, a fixture with Hamilton for most of the season he was recalled on March 29th for his last on ice appearance in the Oiler colours. Sunday, Craig MacTavish penciled him into the line up for George Laraque giving him the chance to skate with Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff.

Winchester and Laraque were used to replace the injured winger Ethan Moreau. Prior to Winchester’s excitement it appeared that the Red Wings were going to be in control of the flow of the game as they took a 2-1 lead by the middle of the second period, but the last five minutes gave the Oil two quick goals and from there Wing coach Babcock felt the control of the game slipped away to the Oilers.

Dwayne Roloson once again played solid goal for the Oilers, who with a few breaks on Friday could have been leaving the Joe with a 2-0 lead in the series. Roloson faced 35 shots compared to Manny Legaces 24 shot total. The key save for Roloson a point blank stopping of Henrik Zetterberg with nine minutes to go in the game, shutting down the Red Wing sniper and shutting the door to the attempts of a Red Wing comeback. The game did generate a bit of controversy as Marc Andre Bergeron let go of his stick during a slide to defend, but no penalty was called at the time.

Game three moves on to Edmonton on Tuesday, the crowd in Edmonton will be delirious with the hard battling Oilers return. No doubt holding a special cheer for the call up kid Winchester, they’ll be standing in the rows waiting to see if lightning will strike twice.

The Predator becomes the prey

Now that was the San Jose Shark attack everyone thought was coming. Helped on by some careless play and penalty trouble for the Predators, Jonathon Cheechoo racked up three points on the day, as the league’s top goal scorer picked up a goal and two assists, in on every scoring play in the 3-0 shut of Nashville.

With the refs under strict orders to enforce and maintain the order and Gary Bettman watching from his box, penalties were the rule of the game. San Jose spent more than half the first period serving penalties, a situation that eventually resulted in a 2-0 lead for the Sharks who capitalized on the man advantage situation.

For Nashville goaltender Chris Mason it was a remarkable turnaround from game one of the series, one which he dominated much to the chagrin of the Sharks. Sunday was a different story, Mason faced 37 shots, far too many of them on his own, as his forwards and defencemen at times suffered serious lapses in play leaving the young goaltender on his own to face the onslaught of Thornton, Cheechoo and company.

Vesa Toskala faced 25 shots, making some key saves at key times to bring any Predator advance to a standstill. In only his second playoff game the San Jose goaltender picked up his first playoff shut out.

The two teams now aware of the full justice program of the zebras and will have to refine their game accordingly. Penalties become costly when the other guys score the goals and end up taking the win.

The series tied at 1-1 moves on to Northern California on Tuesday for game three.

More important than a game

Daniel Alfredsson expressed the comments quite correctly on Sunday, with Wade Redden absent from the Sens line up due to the death of his mother Pat, at 57 years of age. Alfredsson rightly pointed out that there are things far more important than hockey.

The loss of a parent is one of those unfortunate passages we all have to make as we go through life, it’s perhaps the saddest moment many of us will ever face.

We offer our condolences to the Redden family in their time of loss.
May they find a small slice of comfort from the best wishes of hockey fans everywhere.

Fanfare for some fantastic first nights

While the Dallas/Colorado game wasn’t all that entertaining, nor New Jersey’s evisceration of the Rangers (unless of course you hate the Rangers, then it was a beauty for you) much fun. There have been some pretty impressive opening nights in the 2006 two month NHL road show known as Stanley!

Eight games played, three of them into overtime, two of those going into double overtime. One that was as close to overtime as you could get. Now that’s Hockey!

Ottawa allowed everyone in the capital to breathe again with a remarkable third period of domination of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which eventually overshadowed the remarkable effort of John Grahame in the Bolts nets, an amazing display of goal tending that spotted his team a 1-0 lead, before the Sens decided that enough was enough and it was time to step up and play some hockey.

Friday night’s Calgary/Anaheim cliffhanger had some nervous folks on the Red Mile for a bit of time there, as the Ducks battled on impressively without Jean Sebastian Giguere and his lower body injury. Back up Duck, Ilya Bryzgalov more than held the fort, keeping the Flames at bay for most of the game and giving his fellow Anaheim skaters a shot to steal game one right under the lid of the Pengrowth Saddledome. Calgary seemed to get off of their in your face style at times and that proved to give the Ducks some extra jump when it counted. If not for Kiprusoff once again, the night might not have been a fun one in cowtown. It sure wasnt fun for any Canuck fans, Brian Burke seems to have his latest project on a path, something his former students have stumbled off of since he was told to clean off the desk.

Edmonton almost stole game one from the Red Wings, playing an impressive game they took the play at times to the Wings and matched them stride for stride, shot for shot, goal for goal (well except for that winning one). Then at other times you just wondered how long Roloson could hold on, the Wings would turn it on and come in waves, shot after shot after shot, all deflected left, right, up and away, any questions about going into battle with Roloson were put to rest after Friday night. The Oilers can ride their goalie as far as the forwards and defence are willing to move the team. Having the winning goal go in off your own team however, tends to cause all sorts of bad karma for a playoff team.

Nashville surprised all with their back up goaltender Chris Mason holding the hot hand on Friday night keeping the offensively skilled Sharks with Thornton and Cheechoo at bay for the night. We’re not sure he’s going to be able to hold them down for four wins; you just sense that San Jose will come out in game two and blow the doors off the place. But for a playoff debut as the go to guy, Mason stole the show and deserves all the credit he got following the game.

Saturday provided three blowouts and classic.

Suffice to say that they’re asking some tough questions around the dressing rooms of Carolina, New York and Dallas tonight.

Montreal administered a spanking on the Canes that should rock them to core. One part flying Frenchman of old (probably more flying Finns and such now) and one part hard nosed hard hitting workmen, they gave Peter Laviolette’s team a lesson in hockey the Gainey way, and it was not a lesson the class enjoyed, judging by the faces at games end.

The Rangers look beat after game one, New Jersey so dominated them you suddenly wondered how they managed to win as many games as they did this year. If Jagr is out as it surely looks like he will be, this may be the first series to end and possibly in four games.

And what the hell is going on in Big D, The Avalanche ( a team I figured was spent) suddenly look like the guys that got used to carrying that Stanley Cup around the Pepsi Centre a couple times over the years. Dallas got off to a fast start; giving everyone the option to nod their heads and go hey I told you Colorado was done. But then next thing you know Joe Sakic is leading the charge, five goals later (five unanswered goals!) the Avs have stolen game one and Dallas looks in need of a good therapist.

But it was Buffalo that gave us the classic of the night one extravaganza’s the battle between Philadelphia and Buffalo gave us pretty well everything you could ask for in a hockey game. The fastest pace you could imagine, this despite the fact that in skating the Sabres are going to kill the Flyers over the long haul, but on night one the Flyers were up to the race. The hits were tough as you would expect in any match against the Boys of Broad Street (we think the new rink is still on that road but stand to be corrected). The hit on R. J. Umberger was the thing of hi-light reels and Don Cherry film festivals. A nasty but legal hit on someone caught with his head down and in the wrong place at decidedly the wrong time. It will be replayed throughout these playoffs, one of those events that define a hard hitting series between to tough rivals.

The hit will no doubt mark the Sabres Brian Campbell as Public Enemy number one upon the return to Philly, which when you consider the history of the Flyers of the 70’s is a tad interesting to note. Then again, Philadelphia more than any team in the NHL probably knows the importance of the concussion, so many of their stars in recent years have missed far too much hockey because of them, so perhaps they come by their pent up anger by repetition.

They can’t complain about the hit mind you, perfectly legal within the guidelines of the NHL, a solid clean body check delivered to a rookie who as his coach says, “needs to learn to keep his head up”. Hell of a way to learn a lesson though.

The hard fought game one sets the stage for what now looks like a more competitive series than first imagined. Buffalo was expected to outskate the Flyers wearing them down and then scoring at will, that may come to pass, but in the short term the Flyers seem destined to make the Sabres earn their way out of the series. One wonders if either team will have anything left once they advance.

All of a sudden this is the series everyone will be watching with much more interest, it looks like the definition of hockey, a sure fire win for TSN which has the exclusive coverage on this one. A few more 6-1 blow outs for Carolina and New York and even Habs, Ranger and Devils fans will be migrating to see where the hockey is.

For the first nights we came out pretty good in the entertainment.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Road To Stanley

Game by Game recaps of the quest for Lord Stanleys Drinking and Soup Bowl.

Game Five, OTTAWA 3, Tampa Bay 2
Game Four, OTTAWA 5, Tampa Bay 2
Game Three, OTTAWA 8, Tampa Bay 4
Game Two, TAMPA BAY 4, Ottawa 3
Game One, OTTAWA 4, Tampa Bay 1

Game Five, SAN JOSE 2, Nashville 1
Game Four, SAN JOSE 5, Nashville 4
Game Three, SAN JOSE 4, Nashville 1
Game Two, SAN JOSE 3, Nashville 0
Game One, NASHVILLE 4, San Jose 3

Game Six, EDMONTON 4, Detroit 3
Game Five, EDMONTON 3, Detroit 2
Game Four, DETROIT 4, Edmonton 2
Game Three, EDMONTON 4, Detroit 3 (2nd OT)
Game Two, EDMONTON 4, Detroit 2
Game One, DETROIT 3, Edmonton 2 (2nd OT )

Game Six, ANAHEIM 2, Calgary 1
Game Five, CALGARY 3, Anaheim 2
Game Four, ANAHEIM 3, Calgary 2 (1st OT)
Game Three, CALGARY 5, Anaheim 2
Game Two, ANAHEIM 4, Calgary 3
Game One, CALGARY 2, Anaheim 1 (1st OT)

Game Five, COLORADO 3, Dallas 2 (1st OT)
Game Four, DALLAS 4, Colorado 1
Game Three, COLORADO 4, Dallas 3 (1st OT)
Game Two, COLORADO 5, Dallas 4 (1st OT)
Game One, COLORADO 5, Dallas 2

Game Four, NEW JERSEY 4, New York 2
Game Three, NEW JERSEY 3, New York 0
Game Two, NEW JERSEY 4, New York 1
Game One, NEW JERSEY 6, New York 1

Game Six, CAROLINA 2, Montreal 1 (1st OT)
Game Five, CAROLINA 2, Montreal 1
Game Four, CAROLINA 3, Montreal 2
Game Three, CAROLINA 2, Montreal 1 (1st OT)
Game Two, MONTREAL 6, Carolina 5 (2nd OT)
Game One, MONTREAL 6, Carolina 1

Game Six, BUFFALO 7, Philadelphia 1
Game Five, BUFFALO 3, Philadelphia 0
Game Three, PHILADELPHIA 4, Buffalo 2
Game Two, BUFFALO 8, Philadelphia 2
Game One, BUFFALO 3, Philadelphia 2 (2nd OT)

A day late, and if things go wrong a dollar short!

Well I had great plans for playoff previews, features, prognostications, fearless forecasting. But well Mama Health threw a curved stick at me and laid me low in the most critical time a Hockey fan could have, the pre playoff pandemonium.

So I’ll try and catch up over the next few days and refine a few of the things I thought of doing with more current fare. Like the kid that’s late for practice, I’ll skate a few laps and hope I’m not in the coach’s doghouse.

Here a day late (and yes I did write these up yesterday for those naysayers), is my Fearless bit of prognostication on the 2006 Quest for Stanley. While I benefited from some early viewing I saw nothing that swayed my original plans, so here they are.


Ok first off I didn’t give up faith after the first two periods tonight, thought the Sens should have put more than a few chances away, but Grahame was pretty amazing in the TB nets. Was relieved mind you to see Ottawa get back on track in the third and take charge of the game. I think Ottawa will be fine in this series most likely winning things in five games. This boo hoo stuff about Hasek, geez get over it, Emery was the guy down the stretch and should carry the freight for the rest of the playoffs.


I think this could be an upset series, The Canes did not play particularly well down the stretch and Gerber was rather weak when the games were on the line. While Carolina has a pretty impressive offense I have a feeling Montreal will be able to take control of these games. I’ll say Les habitants in seven games. Cristobal Huet has been pretty good for the Habs since Theodore was exiled to Avalanche land. I also think his team mates will be particularly good on the back check to keep him out of any unexpected troubles.


Bad match up for the Flyers, Buffalo is a quicker team, plays with more passion and have some solid goaltending. While I don’t think the Sabres are going to be going all the way they’ll be more than a match for the Flyers.


Such a good year for New Yawk, too bad it’s probably about to come to an end. The Devils have actually been the high achievers of the last six weeks, turning things around quite nicely since Lou took charge. New York had a great regular season run but I’m not sold on them going on in the playoffs. Lindqvist is a bit damaged and that doesn’t bode well for the Broadway guys.

The Maltby goal in the opener is going to take the steam out of the poor little Oil boyos, They scraped into the playoffs and had a pretty good first game against the Wings, but I don’t think they can topple the top team in the league. The two teams have played hard against each other all year, splitting their season series, but now the money is on the line. Roloson seems to be in the right place, but they’ll need more than that to beat the Wings.

I think once Calgary gets back to their style of play they’ll be fine. The first game (currently into OT as I write this) will make them nervous as they’re not playing that in your face kind of hockey that makes Calgary famous. They have done it in spurts tonight but seem to get away from it at times and that’s when they get into trouble.

Tonight was a surprise for me, I thought that the Sharks were the team to watch in the playoffs Thornton and Cheechoo have been on fire in the last month of the season. With Vokoun out for Nashville this was supposed to be a blow out, but hey every playoff round has it’s hero, guess this Mason kid wants to put his name in the hat for series spoiler. That being said, I figure the Sharks will figure him out soon, the Sharks were quite impressive the way they bounced the Canucks out of the playoff race in the back and back series, once they get that desperation back they’ll be back on track.

Every team gets old and this time it’s Colorado’s turn, they’ve not had a great year and while you can’t count out Burnaby Joe, I think the Stars will be the dominating team in this one. Colorado has not played with much confidence of late and that will be murder going into Dallas.




OTTAWA will defeat LES HABS in FIVE maybe SIX GAMES
NEW JERSEY will overpower the SABRES in SIX

OTTAWA will move on to the Stanley Cup Final with a SIX GAME WIN over the DEVILS.

CALGARY will also get ready for the big dance with a seven game series against the SHARKS.


There you have it the fearless forecast, one day late but still just as valid!

Hope ya’ll check back from time to time to see what’s up at the HockeyNation!

Enjoy the games. There have been some beauties already!

Not quite ready for the prayer cards yet!

Regular observers of the old hockey blog might have noticed a certain lapse between postings of late, (I believe seven days counts as a lapse). Well things were a tad unhealthy in the home of the HockeyNation, with a pretty nice case of the flu and bronchitis taking your faithful scribe to somewhere close to the other side.

Well ok, that’s a bit dramatic, but I don’t know there were days I could have sworn there was a bright light or something heading my way. Or at least like I had stepped in front of an Al McInnis slapshot from his real power days.

But alas the miracle of antibiotics, Industrial strength cough syrup and a lack of motivation to leave bed eventually brought us back from the near dead.

We shall gingerly skate back onto the blog with occasional posts, at least until we fully can comprehend what we are thinking and might actually type.

We'll begin to try to reclaim our blogshare with my belated picks, (now I made these yesterday I'll have you know so no yeah sures from anyone). They'll show up in the next posting you see.

By the way to whoever chose to present me with the gift of the last five days of blecch, the package awaits your return on the backdoor porch. May you have as much fun as I had.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Vancouver's Dog Days of April

The backpage photo in the Province's sports section gave a visual to the obvious, two pieces of toast with a Canuck logo. Cruel but correct, for after Saturday night the Canucks will not play meaningful hockey again until September.

A team with so much province and carrying the expectations of a city and province with them, couldn't seal the deal, wouldn't keep their end of the compact between team and fan and for that the fans are now speaking out and the words aren't kind.

Bertuzzi? Get rid of him goes the chorus! Crawford, he's lost the dressing room say the phone in show callers, surely they can't keep him despite two years remaining on a contract. Naslund the team captain and solid citizen? Well maybe the whole team needs a makeover, thanks for the memories Markus is the cry. Yep, there's nothing worse than a Vancouver fan with no more hockey to watch.

For those wishing to share in the mourning, CKNW's audio vault will provide you with all the angst of Canuckland from 9-midnight both from Thursday and Friday nights shows.

Over at the Tyee, Steve Burgess has picked up the pulse of the city and put it into an article for the online magazine. Read it a couple of times and you'll be picking up the phone to join the wake, hockey has ruled Vancouver since the Canucks came into the league in 1970. Dreams apparently die hard on the shores of the Pacific, especially when so much was expected and so little was delivered.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Oilers squeak into playoffs

The race for eighth had all the thrills of a turtle race, but in the end it’s where you place and for Edmonton and their fans there will be more hockey to be played after the regular season ends on Tuesday night.

Ales Hemsky probably didn’t know it when he raised his stick in the air in celebration of a winning goal, but his marker with 34 seconds to go in the third period put his Oilers in the win column and as the night went on it had put them in the playoffs.

Hemsky put a shot behind J. S. Giguere late in the third period, the fourth time he’s scored a game winning goal on behalf of the Oilers.

Edmonton had time to shower and maybe hit Boston Pizza for a late dinner before they would find out that the Vancouver Canucks had eliminated themselves from the playoffs with a loss to the San Jose Sharks.

With a playoff spot assured now, the Oil has their eyes focused on a possible jump to seventh place, they could jump ahead of the Colorado Avalanche should the Avs continue their losing ways on the Western Canada swing, the Avs play in Vancouver on Saturday night and wrap up the regular season in Edmonton on Monday.

For MacTavish and his crew, there may yet be one more meaningful game in the regular season, a chance to keep some momentum going and improve their place in the Western standings.

Regardless of the outcome this weekend though, it’s all well again in Oil land, they have made the playoffs, a brand new season beckons, an opportunity to prove that the playoff magic is back in Northern Alberta.