Sunday, April 23, 2006

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.

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