Archive for April, 2009

10 Things We Learned From The First Round

April 30, 2009

1. There’s something to be said about Youth. Whether it’s good young goalies like Jonas Hiller and Simeon Varlamov leading their teams to victory or the rash of young forwards like Boston’s Phil Kessel, David Krejci and Milan Lucic or Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews having such a big impact on their team’s success, there seems to be a trend developing. Even Ovechkin and Crosby are still under 25. It’s a New Age, folks. I feel old.

2. Sergei Fedorov is not dead. He just looks that way. That game winner vs the Rangers looked like the Fedorov of old, a world class, laser beam, top corner money shot. Maybe playing big games in a red uniform makes him feel young again, who knows. At 39 years old, he’s a great example of a veteran playoff performer who can still make a difference. Take that, Kournikova.

3. Versus Sucks. It just does. You know it. I know it. They may be great at covering deer hunting and cage fighting and motocross, I wouldn’t know, but they suck at hockey. Example one: Their “contractual” inabillity to switch over and cover the end of the Canes – Devils series after Washington and New York had finished, denying millions of interested fans the chance to see one of the most exciting finishes to a playoff series in recent memory. Instead we just got an extra 45 minutes of staring at Brian Engblom’s hair. Thanks a lot. Morons.

4. Joe Thornton needs a change of scenery. I think his time in San Jose might be done after another crushing early round defeat. Folks there have no choice but to wonder if they will ever win with him leading the parade and whether it might be time to see what he could bring in trade. Unfortunately for Joe, that’s exactly how it happened in Boston, too. Say it isn’t so.

5. There’s a reason Olli Jokinen had never been in the playoffs before. Maybe he’s just not the kind of player that’s going to put anyone over the top in terms of post-season success, people. His impact on the Flames was negligible, having only one decent game that I can recall and, in fact, in the final two losses he went pointless with a plus/minus of -4. How’s that price tag of Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust, and a 1st round draft pick looking now, Calgary? Ouch.

6. The Carolina Hurricans are pretty goddamned good. Again. You have to wonder if the fairly consistent success of this team is wasted down there in NASCAR country but that’s a rant for another time. Meanwhile, they knock off Jersey in dramatic style and come to Boston hoping to do the same. Prepare for the storm.

7. John Tortorella is not Mike Milbury. Throwing a water bottle? C’mon, John. If you’re gonna go apeshit at a fan behind the bench, do it right. Get your ass up over that glass, get the fat bastard’s shoe off and then beat the motherfucker with it. It’s the only way them shitheads will ever learn. Nice idea going for the stick, though. Too bad they stopped you.

8. The Columbus Blue Jackets have hope. Sure they went down in 4 straight to Detroit but anyone who witnessed the fight they put up in that last game saw a glimmer of the pride and desire one needs to make hay in the playoffs. Lesson learned. Might have been the first berth ever but certainly will not be the last. And then there’s Steve Mason, too. The future is bright.

9. The Boston Bruins are Back. It’s been a long time coming and any hardened B’s fan will tell you about their sufferings during the last decade. Lack of winning, lack of toughness, lack of pride. All those things were making even the die-hards a little ashamed of wearing the Spoked B. No more. This team is motivated, hungry, talented and fierce. All the things we love about hockey. Good defense, good goaltending, deep offense and some slamming tough guys. Who in Boston wouldn’t love that?

10. The Montreal Canadiens, their entire franchise, it’s players and it’s fans, are complete and utter weak, bagless failures. Period. No argument. No doubt. No need to go into any more detail as it was all laid bare for the world to see in their whimpering first round defeat. The way the team behaved, the way the coaches and management behaved and, especially, the way the fans at the games in the Molson Centre behaved. It was truly and completely embarrasing. Feel shame, Montreal. Feel shame.

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Chippy On The Pens

April 29, 2009

Well, when we saw the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated in the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins we knew damn well there was one person out there hurting more than the rest. And that person was whatever guy it was had the misfortune of sitting next to Chippy McGuinness at the bar as those final seconds of the series ticked off and Sidney Crosby and Co. skated out to congratulate their goaltender.

Dude is probably still trying to locate his teeth amidst the broken glass and dried blood on the floor of the place.

Many of you already know Chippy as the firecracker sports reporter for the KSWNO, our original powerhouse media outlet. Many of you on business trips to the Anaheim Convention Center know her in a different way, who knows. Regardless, it is undeniable that her approach to the game of hockey is one of the key inspirations for the very site you are now reading. She has always been an ardent promoter of the brand of rugged, hard-nosed hockey played by Dave Schultz and the Broadstreet Bullies of times gone by, something that has endeared her to us beyond all measure.

Plus, she can kick each and every one of our asses anytime she wants. So why not be nice to her, eh?

Check out her latest article at the KSWNO for more evidence of why they call her the Bob Probert of sports journalism.

Maybe, if we’re lucky, she’ll drop by here from time to time.

Maybe we’ll even survive the experience.

Up Next

April 29, 2009

It took until the final minute of the first round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs but the Boston Bruins finally found out who their second round opponent would be.

An improbable, dramatic, flat out amazing comeback win for the Carolina Hurricanes over the New Jersey Devils in game seven of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series earned them a trip to Boston for Friday night’s opener at TD Banknorth Garden. Eric Staal scored the stunning game winner with just 32 seconds left on the clock in the third period, less than a minute after Jussi Jokinen had tied the game at 3 to silence the Devils and their fans, who surely thought they had the game won at that point. Not the case and the ‘Canes move onward.

There is a certain amount of playoff history between the Carolina team and the Bruins, though it is not as obvious as that between them and the Canadiens, nor nearly as sexy as that or some other potential match-ups for the Bruins. We’ll delve into those stories as the series evolves but, regardless of rivalry and intrigue, these are two very good hockey teams about to clash here. Carolina played brilliant hockey down the stretch and into the post-season and has just succeeded in knocking off an extremely dangerous New Jersey team who had home ice advantage over them.

They simply cannot be taken lightly. Nor will they be by Claude Julien and company. It’s been his job to keep the team on it’s toes in the week long layoff after sweeping the Habs and one can only hope that the same drive and focus will remain as potent as it was when the puck drops on Friday.

I, for one, cannot fucking wait.

The other second round series we have to look forward to are as follows:

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks starting Thursday night in Vancouver. The ‘Nucks have home ice in this one but, then, so did the Flames and a white out might be no better than a red storm when it comes to stopping these Hawks. They’re too young, brash and talented to care, I think. Prediction: Chicago in 5.

Detroit Red Wings vs. Anaheim Ducks starting friday night in Detroit. I want to pick this one for my upset of the seond round but I wonder if my desire to see the Wings fail is clouding my vision a bit. They are a dominating hockey team, no doubt, deep and skilled and experienced. Chris Osgood, however, could still be the weak link and the Ducks have some serious mojo going. Prediction: Okay, fuck it. Anaheim in 7.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals starting Saturday in Washington. Call me a hater but I’m already sick of this series and it hasn’t even started. I know, I know, it’s the Superstar Match-Up we’ve all been waiting to see, and the NHL will keep shoving that notion down our throats for the next two weeks, don’t worry. Ovechkin vs. Crosby, the Young Guns Series. All that flashy, high powered offense is fine, of course, but winning in the playoffs still takes a little someting called defense and it remains to be seen which team has the commitment to do so. My hunch is it will be the Pens. Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6. But don’t bet the farm on it, by any means.

It’s all going be interesting no matter what happens, so stay tuned, true believers. The fun is just beginning.

Separating Toughies From Phonies

April 28, 2009

THN hightlights a blog post this morning from ECHL Idaho Steelheads player Justin Bourne. Bourne, son of Islanders winger Bob Bourne, knows his role. He’s a skater, he’s there to score, and he appreciates the tough guy. But he laments the development of a new style of “pest” in the league:

There has been an increase in the irritating breed of “the pest.” The fans love the pest – blindly loving the “competitiveness” of their own fireball, while cursing his twin brother on the other team. If the pest is smart and disciplined in his antagonism, coaches love him, too. They’re fun to have on your team, provided he’s not the type that leaves you shorthanded all game like the media-magnificent Sean Avery.

But I don’t like this recent evolution; a new breed of rat that can smell a linesman coming like a piece of gouda and then suddenly grows a foot taller.

Like Justin, I detest these sorts of phonies, too. These are the pusilanimous chickens who give a good facewash when there’s a guy in stripes holding the other guy back. And we’ve been seeing a lot of facewashing this post-season. Some suggest it’s because the players aren’t sure what the refs consider roughing and what they consider a fight — inconsistency. Others just do it because they know in five seconds, a linesmen is going to intercede and things’ll get settled down for a faceoff.

Way to represent, chickens. Grit is needed, especially in the playoffs but this sort of lowly shin-kicking is beneath the sport of Hockey. Either play tough 100% or go back to Europe.

As an added extra bonus, who does Bourne hold up as the ultimate true tough guy? It’s HGW’s Patron Saint himself, Milan Lucic.

For the Boston Bruins, a guy like Milan Lucic has been no phony. He mows guys over, jaws at them and if they’d like to fight, he punches them in their face for free. I can’t think of someone I’d rather play against less.

I say, take that, wannabes!

Joe’s Woes

April 28, 2009

I’ll be honest. I had notions, early on in this post-season, when it was apparent to me that Joe Thornton and his San Jose Sharks were on their way to a first round knockout at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks, that I would sit down and write a scathing expose on Jumbo Joe’s consistent, relentless playoff failure.

You must admit, even the most ardent admirer of the Team in Teal, would agree the time had come. Going into the playoffs as commanding President’s Cup winners, hot on the heels of a sensationally successful regular season that saw them put up an impressive 53-18-11 record, going a commanding 32-5-4 at home. They had earned that home ice advantage and they were built for the playoffs, with depth, experience and goaltenting.

Supposedly.

In the end, it was disppointment alley again as the Ducks beat them handily in 6 games to send Joe and his mates off to some more early spring golfing. If they hurry they can still catch up to some of their pals from the Phoenix Coyotes or the New York Islanders. All that regular season success and what real difference is there now between them and such woebegotten franchises? Not much.

So, yeah, here I was all set to compose a torrid diatribe on Why Joe Thornton Can Never Win and why he had to be traded from the Boston Bruins in order for them to progress to the Stanley Cup contenders they currently are. Why he should never be a team captain on any team. I had all the stats ready to post, the ignominious record of the Sharks’ miserable blunders and missed opportunities in the early rounds of the playoffs since they acquired him, none more glaring than this year’s.

But my heart’s just not in it anymore.

Now I just feel bad for him.

Y’see I like Joe. I always have. When he was here in Boston, at least early on, I worshipped the kid. A big, rangy, talented number one overall pick with hands of spun gold. A sublime playmaker who was big enough to hold his own in any physical confrontation. He’d drop the gloves on occasion which endeared him to the Bruins faithful and, aside from getting tagged by Eric Lindros once, he was a decent scrapper. That kind of skill and show a little moxie and you’d think people here would be building statues of him outisde Faneuil Hall.

Not the case, however. Whether is was his fault or not is easily debated and many learned Bruins fans would point to a stingy ownership and clueless management (hello, Mike O’Connell) when assessing the team’s failures in that era. As time wore on, however, and the frustration mounted and the faithful began to turn their backs on their beloved Spoked B, it became evident, even to a weasel like O’Connell, that something needed to be done. So on November 30th, 2005, the trigger was pulled and off went Joe to San Jose for Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau.

I was pissed. Horrified. I’d been an O’Connell hater since day one and I felt that giving someone so obviously imcompetent at his job that sort of authority, to trade away the goddamned Franchise, was utter sports suicide. I mean, the guy went on that same year to lead the league in scoring and win the Hart Trophy as league MVP. And all you got back was a defenseman on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent, an 25 goal scorer and a dime-a-dozen 4th line center?!? By any rational standard, it was a horrific trade. The only real good that came out of it was that it sealed Mike O’Connell’s fate and he was later fired before he could do any more damage and Peter Chiarelli, a real GM, was hired.

Still, looking back, it’s hard to argue that it needed to be done. I always said, it wasnt’ that he was traded that irked me but what was received in return. It was piddling compensation for a player who is inarguably one the league’s elite talents. That said, it’s been a steady upward climb for the team ever since he left and now they sit poised for ever greater glory in the 2009 Playoffs, winning back the attention and the hearts of a city that had forsaken them.

So, yes, I guess there was every indication back then that the team might never win as it was, built around an easy going, laid back playmaking center like Joe. That making him captain at such a young age was a mistake, that he wasn’t ready to shoulder that burden, that he might never be ready. That that sort of leadership is just not part of his makeup. I see that the folks in San Jose agree with that notion, choosing Patrick Marleau to wear the ‘C’ over him.

This, of course, may lie at the heart of the problem of why he can’t seem to find his way to any post-season success. It may have something to do with the very person he is, the very way he approaches the game, with that even, almost carefree personality. No one can argue his talent and playmaking abitlity, but maybe it takes more than pure skill to be a winner. Maybe the problem is he admired his hero Wayne Gretzky too much and not a guy like Mark Messier enough. I don’t know.

I know I felt sad watching him trudge off the ice after the handshake last night, I really did. He went down that tunnel beneath the stands hunched over, head down, the weight of it all bearing down on him like the rubble of a collapsed building. Lord knows the grim thoughts coursing beneath that tousle of blonde surfer’s locks, troubling and darkening the otherwise smiling personality that is so genuinely and easily likable.

Maybe that’s part of the problem, too. Who knows?

So why don’t I just leave it like this. A great moment of old school hockey at the start of what was a very entertaining game last night. Featuring none other than Jumbo Joe Thornton.

Better luck next year, my friend.

Deep Sixed

April 27, 2009

Unlike Blair Betts the other night, we saw this one coming.

Donald Brashear has been suspended by the NHL for a total of six games for his actions prior to and during Game 6 of the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals first round playoff series. Which means he’ll miss Game 7 tomorrow night and five further contests should his team advance. According to the league there was a one game suspension for a confrontation with Colton Orr during warm-ups and five games for a cheap, brutal blindside elbow to the head of Betts during the game which resulted in a broken orbital bone that has put him out indefinately.

It’s a stiff penalty but one wonders if it’s stiff enough for a stiff like that. Brashear, obviously unable to contribute to his team in any other way on the ice, felt the need to bring his goonish brand of thuggery to the contest in the only way he knew how, too stupid to see how it might hurt his team. There is a place for tough hockey in the NHL Playoffs. In fact, some would deem it essential to winning, but the actions of Brashear, as stated previously, are not tough hockey and they have no place in an honest, hard-hitting playoff game.

Should the suspension have been longer? I don’t know. It irks me to think that Huggy Bear might return to skate again for the Caps should they move on and make a run at the Cup. Certainly the thought of him ever touching it is repugnant enough. The real consideration, however, is how to deal with the damage done to Betts, who will likely not return, regardless of how far his team can progress through the post season. Damage done deliberately by someone intending to injure and disable him. Damage the extent of which remains to be seen.

It’s not something that should be taken lightly.

In any case, it puts me in the awkward position of actually rooting for the Rangers tomorrow night (don’t tell anyone). Not just because I want to see actions like that punished but for my own selfish desire to see another bitter rival arrive ot the hometown rink to do battle in the next round.

I feel dirty.

Steve Mason, Tim Thomas and Some Other Guy Up for the Vezina

April 27, 2009
Columbus goaltender Steve Mason

Columbus goaltender Steve Mason

Good news for Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins fans: your goalies are up for the Georges Vezina Award. Columbus goaltender Steve Mason and Boston’s Tim Thomas share the nomination with Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom for the award named after the late Montreal Goaltender. This is the second honor for Mason who is also up for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. Mason is the fifth goaltender to be nominated for both the Calder and the Vezina. Should he win, he joins the likes of Ed Belfour, Tom Barrasso, and Tony Esposito. Bruins goalie Frankie Brimsek was the first to win both in 1939.

While we here at Hockey Gone Wild are hardcore hard-nosed aficanados, guys like Ken and myself know that our teams wouldn’t have made it to the playoffs with some solid backstopping.

Good luck to Mason and Thomas. May the best goalie win.

7th Heaven

April 26, 2009

Not so fast New York Rangers.

I may have been a bit premature in my anticipation of another Original Six matchup happening at the Garden in Boston next week. Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals would not go quietly into that good night as they beat the Rangers handily at MSG today, 5-3, to force the first Game Seven of this, the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It will take place Tuseday night at the Verizon Center in DC.

Tonight in Raleigh, N.C. the Hurricanes will try to do the same as the Devils try to close them out and advance. Tomorrow, it’s the Sharks and Flames’ turn to play the survival game.

How many Game 7’s will we see remains to be seen but, if I had to bet, I wouldn’t put much faith in Joe Thornton’s San Jose team, considering their meek showing so far against Anaheim. With the Ducks playing on their home turf and possessing more proven playoff talent, I can see the team in teal biting the big one. The Flames may not have much hope, either, going into Chicago with the Blackhawks having all the momentum and looking like a team on a mission. Flip a coin on that New Jersey – Carolina game.

Whatever happens, the 2009 Playoffs have already been a world of fun.

And the first round isn’t even done yet.

UPDATE: The Hurricanes and Devils are the next to join Club Seven as Cam Ward and the ‘Canes turned the tables on future shutout king Marty Brodeur and company in a 4-0 blanking of New Jersey at the RBC Center.

So that’s a Two-For Tuesday we’ve got to look forward to.

Donald Brashear: Goon

April 26, 2009

The term Goon is an ugly one. A lot of folks, especially us here at HGW, who adore and enjoy tough hockey abhor the term. It suggests a stupid, one dimensional cartoon character of an athelete who is not so much a Hockey Player as he is a WWF wannabe.

Most tough guys in the NHL are not like that; they play by a code, they respect other players, they fill what I believe is an essential role on a team that consists of strong team leadership, protection for skilled players, grinding, hitting and emotional inspiration when necessary. Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins is a great example. He’s smart, agressive, has enough skill to anchor a very valuable fourth line that can contribute to a successful playoff team and knows when to fight and when not to. Nothing about the term “goon” apllies to him whatsoever. He plays the game right.

Then there’s Donald Brashear.

Who is nothing but Goon.

Witness his ridiculous cheap shot (video) on Blair Betts in today’s Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Rangers and Capitals. A premeditated blow to the head intended to injure and incapacitate a player. The kind of hit that and jeopordize a man’s career through the horrors of post-concussion syndrome and the like.

Five minute major and match penalty? Nope. Incident to be reviewed by the league and possible suspension? Let’s hope so.

This is the kind of action that brings a bad name to tough hockey players everywhere. This is the sort of crap that has the league looking at putting further restrictions on fighting next season and, when you see it, how can a guy argue? It’s nothing to do with the rugged, in your face style of hockey that we adore here.

It’s Goonism, pure and simple.

I hate having to say that. I hate having to use that word but in this case, no other term will suffice. Donald Brashear, the man whose fighting style has nicknamed him “Huggy Bear”, is an embarrassment to his sport, his team and, specifically, the role he is supposed to play on the ice with that team.

Get rid of him.

He won’t be missed.

One Punch Knockout

April 23, 2009

Take a long, delicious look at the above picture. It perfectly summarizes the entirety of the Boston Bruins first round playoff match-up with the Montreal Canadiens which ended last night in a no-doubter style 4-1 win for the Man’s Team.

In the photo you can clearly see the result of mentally and physically foundering Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek’s ill advised decision to square off once again with Bruin’s left wing Milan Lucic near the end of the second period. So ill advised, in fact, that you can see in the video, as the two come together, Lucic actually hesitating, chuckling, as if to say, “Are you sure you want to do this again?”

About a second later it was over as the man they call “Gino” landed one sqaure, clean right to the jaw of Komisarek and he went flailing to the ice yet again.

One punch was all it took.

Which is pretty much how the entire series went from a Boston perspective. Like Komisarek, the Canadiens never had any business going up against a team so far their superior, so much better at those things that lie at the heart of good, old fashioned hockey: skill, desire, toughness and an unwillingness to quit.

Komisarek and the Canadiens, however, know all too much about Quit. They seemed to have one foot out the door whenever adversity struck in the series and it struck often. Their fans know all about Quit as they practiced the art of leaving early to beat the traffic in both games at the Molson Centre.

Before they slunk off into the night with their tail between their legs, however, they once again revealed the miserable nature of what makes them such Drama Queens. When the score became 4-1, like petulant little whiners, they quit on their team and decided to rain mock cheers and boos down upon struggling 21 year old goalie Carey Price. It was a moment of astonishing embarrassment for all in the hockey world who observed it.

Have they really become so hockley dumb up there? Have they really lost that much perspective on what this game is all about? I think so. It would be sad if it wasn’t so much goddamned fun.

So now the Bruins move on and the Habs become a small footnote in their quest for Lord Stanley’s magnificent hardware. Their second round opponent is yet to be decided but there is a strong indication it might be yet another close, bitter rival uniformed in red and blue.

Oh, yeah. Guess who’s coming to town?

S’okay. Gino needs a new punching bag.