THE CUP COMES HOME?

2011 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW

 

Well, so much for conventional theory, or wisdom, or whatever.  Seems Iíve managed to put forward my worst showing, ever, when it comes to predicting the winners, a perfect 0 for 2 in the conference finals.  The only thing I was able to correctly predict was the number of games it would take for Tampa Bayís Cinderella story to strike midnight.

But, as Iíve said time and time again, we donít award championships based on conventional theory.  There is a reason we actually play the games.  We all can make arguments about who should win.  Unfortunately, what should happen on paper isnít always what will happen in reality.  Evidently I still have a lot to learn.

I have to say, though, getting there is only a fraction of the fun.  Watching it all unfold is where the real fun is, and once again, Iíve had a blast.

 

Vancouver Canucks vs Boston Bruins

Tagline: Olympic Hangover or Boston Brewiní?

Headliner: 40 years without a championship, or 39 years without a championship?  Hereís what we do know Ė like it or not, one of these droughts is about to end.

How they got here: Vancouver Ė blew by San Jose in 5 games, with much credit given to the officials, capped off by a thrilling 2OT win in Game 5; Boston Ė defeated Tampa Bay in an epic 7 game series which had everything but the, ahem, Green Men ďreplacementsĒ (just ask Ben Eager about it)

Conn Smythe (Playoff MVP) Candidates: Vancouver Ė Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin; Boston Ė David Krejci, Tim Thomas

Hero potential/Difference makers: Vancouver Ė Manny Malhotra (if he plays), Alex Burrows; Boston Ė Michael Ryder, Nathan Horton

Vancouver wins if: They continue to get the breaks and the referees on their side.  Sad of me to say this, but Game 4 of the San Jose series was the turning point, only because the Canucks managed to score on not one, not two, but three times while enjoying a two man advantage!  That sound you heard? - all the air getting sucked right out of the HP Pavillion.  Vancouver never looked back, despite being down, but not out, for the better part of Game 5, capped off by a thrilling period and a half of overtime, ended by what will undoubtedly go down in history as the luckiest bounce ever.  Kevin Bieksa will take it.  The Canucks are back in the finals for the first time in 17 years.

If history holds true, Vancouver wins just by virtue of having hosted the Olympics last year.  Montreal won the Stanley Cup in 1977, a year removed from hosting the Summer Olympics in 1976.  Calgary did it again in 1989, a year removed from hosting the Winter Olympics in 1988.  Vancouver held the world stage just last year, in 2010.

Boston wins if:  We know they will get the goaltending they need from Tim Thomas, but for the Bruins to have any chance in this series at all, they have to fix their power play.  5 for 61?  How is this team even here?  By comparison, Vancouver is 17 for 60 Ė best in the playoffs.  Fix the power play, and stay out of the penalty box.  Seems simple, right?

Of course, outside of the stellar goaltending from Tim Thomas, one of the main reasons the Bruins are still fighting for the Cup is the tower of power on defense, none other than Zdeno Chara.  Heís everything to this team Chris Pronger was to Philadelphia last year, and Anaheim and Edmonton in years prior.  Despite not being involved in this yearís proceedings, Prongerís take on the finals is neither team will relish the long travel between time zones.  Both will have to find ways to overcome the jet legs.  Words of wisdom for sure, but Pronger is not playing in this series.  The Bruins, with sub-par performances from Thomas and Chara, are essentially a one line team, and are, by my best estimation, toast.  But what do I know?

One final thought.  I have to give EA Sports kudos for picking all but one of the post season winners correctly.  Using NHL 11, theyíve correctly predicted the winners of 13 out of the 14 series weíve witnessed this spring (they had actually picked Detroit to beat San Jose in the 2nd round, and in all fairness, as it turned out, could have gone either way).  Here, they call a long, but close series, where the home teams win their games, with Vancouver prevailing.  Itís very hard to argue with a 93% success rate, artificial intelligence or not.  Even still, more often than not, home ice in the finals is where itís at.  The Canucks didnít have it in 1994 against the Rangers, but they have it now.  Theyíve worked hard all season for it.  Theyíve made it through all the adversity.  And, hey maybe theyíve gotten a little bit lucky along the way.

May the best team win.

Prediction: Canucks in 7

 

SAD DAYS IN MAY

Well, it wasnít all fun and games in May, as twice again we were reminded of just how short and precious life really is, as we lost not only a true warrior in the truest definition of the word, but as well an aspiring young athlete, potential future NHLer, all within the span of about two weeks.

First, it was former NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard.  The epitome of the type of player everybody wants on their team, but nobody likes to play against.  Boogaard was unfortunately found dead in his Minnesota apartment after having succumbed to what the coronerís report described as an accidental, toxic mix of alcohol and the potent painkiller, Oxycodone.  Having played five seasons in Minnesota, Boogaard signed a free agent deal with the New York Rangers last summer, but only managed to play the better part of two months before suffering a concussion on December 9th, 2010.  His family have come forward and readily acknowledged he was seeking help for addiction, yet, it remains unclear what he was seeking help for.  Just a tragic, tragic story all around.  I was at times, in this very column, critical of this young man for the way he played the game on the edge.  On the other hand, I will always respect what he stood for.  I never met the man, yet those who were touched by his presence describe him as a huge teddy bear.  What I do know is this Ė if God was looking for an enforcer on May 13, He got Himself a damn good one.

Here is just a sampling of some of what his colleagues had to say:

Wild goaltender, Niklas Backstrom: "Unreal guy - just a really big teddy bear.  Outside the rink, he didn't want bad for anyone."

NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman: "The news that we have lost someone so young and so strong leaves everyone in the National Hockey League stunned and saddened. The NHL family sends its deepest condolences to all who knew and loved Derek Boogaard, to those who played and worked with him and to everyone who enjoyed watching him compete."

Boston Bruins defenseman, and former team mate, Shane Hnidy: "It's really tough.   It hit me pretty hard last night when I heard. I send everything out to his family. It's a tough time for everyone.  Everyone just saw the big tough exterior, but he was a great guy that really gave back.  Especially in Minnesota, he was probably the biggest, most popular player there. He always gave back.Ē

New York Rangers forward, Brandon Prust: ďI am still in shock.  It keeps hitting me off and on all day as I'm driving home.  Though he was a fighter on the ice, he was definitely a gentle giant off the ice.  He was just a real good guy, a team guy all the way.  I've been looking at some of the silly pictures I have from when we were roommates and it just hits me what a good guy he was.  I still can't believe I am referring to him in the past tense.Ē

R.I.P., Derek.  I didnít always agree with you trying to decapitate Ales Hemsky on more than one occasion, but I understand if you didnít, you may not have had another chance to live the NHL dream.  You will be missed.

Now, here in Ottawa, the mourning continues for young Eric Leighton, who died after a freak accident in his shop class at Mother Teresa High School just last Friday.  The class was learning how to make a barbeque out of a large 55-gallon drum, when something sparked an explosion.  It was later reported the drum held traces of peppermint oil, a very volatile and flammable substance.  So while the investigation continues, class mates and a community alike mourn the loss of a very well-liked and popular kid who seemed destined for greatness in the NHL.  The talented young defenseman was already a star of the Almonte Junior B hockey club and was drafted by the Central Junior Hockey Leagueís Gloucester Rangers in 2010.  Itís been reported he was also a pretty good lacrosse player.  Leighton was only 18 years old.

Painful reminders of how short our lives are.  So get out there and enjoy, while you still can.

 

WINNIPEG?  WINNING!!!

Since I like ending things on somewhat of a positive note, Iíd like to send a huge Welcome Back to the NHL to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  On the eve of the Stanley Cup Final it was announced True North Sports and Entertainment, led by former Jets owner Mark Chipman, had entered into an agreement in principle with Atlanta Spirit, the owner of the NBAís Atlanta Hawks and the NHLís Atlanta Thrashers.  Itís expected the Thrashers will move to the MTS Centre next season, pending NHL approval, a mere formality at this point.

The Thrashers, despite their best efforts, never panned out in Atlanta.  In the dying hours, a few local players came up to bat, but no real credible attempts to save the team from moving out of southern Georgia ever came to fruition.  It would appear Mighty Casey has indeed, struck out.

The real shame is this is now Atlantaís second failed attempt at the NHL.  Calgary was and still remains the beneficiary of their first incarnation.  Now, Winnipeg, who in my opinion never should have lost their team in the first place (and probably wouldnít have if the present CBA was in place back in 1996), will become the new home of the Thrashers, or whatever they decide to call them.  Details on a name and logo have yet to be determined.  I know people will want the team to be called the Jets, but letís be fair here Ė the Jets and their legacy live on in Phoenix (for now).  Better to do like Minnesota, and come up with something different.  Hell, even keep the Thrashers name, why not pay homage to the minor league team?  At this stage itís even up in the air which conference theyíll play in.  Iíve heard everything from them staying in the Southeast for one season (which makes the most sense given the little bit of time the NHL has to make up a schedule for next season), to them moving into either the Central or Northwest Division.  Realistically, the NHL has no time to even consider or debate the merits of realignment until after next season.  And then thereís the AHLís Manitoba Moose.  Where do they go?  Will the relocated NHL team take their name?  The fans in Winnipeg wonít care.  The NHL is back, and hopefully back for good.

--------------------

So, one more series for all the marbles is about to start, and Iím about to do something Iíve never done Ė take a vacation during the Stanley Cup Final.  Iím going to get to see Game 1 and possibly Game 2.  Whether or not Iíll see any of the rest of the series will depend on TV availability on the ship.  More than likely, there will be more than a few Bruins fans on board, and I know where Iím going there are more than a few.  What I do know is this Ė I need this vacation in the worst way.  Whether I watch it live or download it when I get back and watch it on my computer (technology, ainít it great?), itís going to be a great series.  If it goes as predicted, Iíll be back in time for Game 7.  Enjoy, and Iíll talk to you in a couple of weeks to wrap up the season.  Another one and done.  Can you believe it?

 

More Puckin' Around...