Face Of The Nation

100 years is a damn long time. When someone turns 100 years old Smuckers puts their picture on a bottle of their world famous jam. 100 years is ten terms of ten years, or two terms of 50 years. But that’s enough for the math lessons.

The point that should be hammered home is that a lot can happen in 100 years, obviously. So when Patrick Kane was awarded the Hart trophy as NHL MVP it came as a surprise to some that he was the first American born player to ever receive it. Back in 1917 the NHL held its inaugural season, I’m sure they imagined at some point an American would have his day as MVP. Well, it took a player of Kane’s caliber to get it done.

Aside from the fact that the league was shoving the expansion to Las Vegas down our throats at last nights NHL Awards it was also obvious that Kane also relished the moment.

America has produced plenty of notable players who have made it to the Hall of Fame. The first of which being Frank Brimsek in 1966. However, after him was a notable gap. 2009 saw Brett Hull and Brian Leetch get their names in Toronto, still that was a 46 year waiting period between players. Although it should be noted that since 2009 Americans have been honored almost annually. The fact remains is that Kane is unlike anything we’ve seen since Hull or Modano.

What separates Patrick Kane from the pack is the hardware. The former rookie of the year has won three Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015. He was named playoff MVP in 2013 and last night at the NHL awards he took home the Hart as league MVP, the Art Ross for leading the league in points and finally the Ted Lindsay for being the most outstanding player in the regular season as voted on by his peers. He trailed Alex Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard trophy by just four goals. While his Blackhawks failed to defend their title, at just 27 years old the core of Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook and Panarin (who won rookie of the year last night as well) have plenty of potential titles on the horizon.

Clutch is his middle name, after all he scored the Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime of game 6 in 2010. 2013 he scored a hat trick in game 7 against the Los Angeles Kings to advance to the Cup Final. In 2015 he single handedly dismantled the defensive structure of the Tampa Bay Lightning that was Tailor-made to stop the Blackhawks organized attack. In doing so propelled his team to their third title in five years.

Brett Hull had an uncanny ability to get the puck off his stick in the blink of an eye. As quickly as it was on his stick it was off and it was as hard as anyone in the league. Mike Modano could take the puck from behind his own net, dance around your entire team and flat out embarrass your goaltender. Patrick Kane? He can do both of those things.

International glory however has eluded Kane. In two Olympic appearances (2010, 2014) representing his country he has only a silver medal. Which infamously came after losing to Canada in the 2010 gold medal game.

Its difficult if not flat out impossible to argue that Patrick Kane as of right now is the best American Born player to ever live. Accompanied by Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews the ‘big three’ for team USA in the future is a formidable one to say the very least. That is if the NHL will even be allowed to loan players for the Olympics come 2018.

One thing that remains without question is the influx of American players into the hall of fame is a direct result of the games popularity increasing over the last 30 years. Men like Kane, Eichel and soon to be Maple Leaf Auston Matthews are a direct result of that.

Regardless Kane is making a strong argument for himself to be viewed as one of the all time greats, nationality aside. At this rate you’ll be foolish to believe otherwise.

June 15th 2011

Believe it or not, half  a decade has passed since Zdeno Chara hoisted Lord Stanley emphatically over his head, in doing so he launched sports greatest trophy to another stratosphere. The phrase “get the duck boats ready” reverberates through my ears promptly every June 15th.

Just look at the contrasts in emotion between the guys on the ice and the mix between grief stricken Canucks fans and that one Bruin fan smacking the glass.

Christ, I miss Mark Recchi.

On a realistic level it doesn’t seem like it was five years ago whatsoever. To me, it was just yesterday that an un-recallable amount of friends and I were jammed into my basement filled with nervous optimism.

For Bruins fans this unexpected victory was so much sweeter when you factor in the mud they had been involuntarily dragged through for years. History will tell you that Boston has appeared in 19 Stanley Cup finals, emerging victorious only 6 times.

Excluding the 2013 loss because, it obviously hadn’t happened prior to 2011.

Recent losses include the upstart Flyers in 74, back to back finals to the Canadians in 77 and 78 and twice to the Oilers in 88 and 90.

While to this day watching Ray Bourque lift the Cup with Colorado never fails to bring a tear to my eye. Seriously if you don’t get the chills watching this, I’m convinced you aren’t a human being or you’re incapable of basic emotions. Take your pick.

As fantastic as it was to witness it first hand, it should of happened in Boston. But no cigar, so watching his greatest triumph as a member of Colorado was like watching your best friend kiss you sister.

Hockey’s gods didn’t take pity on the Bruins after the Avalanche helped Ray win his one and only title. Entering the early 2000’s they were good, but not anywhere near good enough. In 2003-04 they lost to the underdog Canadians after establishing a 3-1 series lead and again losing to Montreal four years later in game 7. 2009 saw Boston sweep Montreal, then lose to Carolina in 7. 2010 ended on the opposite side of one of histories greatest comebacks as the Flyers rebounded after trailing 3 games to 0.

Changes were desperately needed.

Trading for Nathan Horton and Greg Campbell and drafting Tyler Seguin 2nd overall (TBT). Boston got their face lift, but needed a few more pieces. Chris Kelly, Tomas Kaberle and Rich Peverley were necessary trade deadline additions.

With the roster solidified it was now time to make use of the changes.

Staring you directly in the face was the organization whom for years took it upon themselves to ensure playoff success wasn’t the norm in Boston.

You guessed it, the Montreal Canadians.

Unfamiliar with how it typically goes? Allow history to tell its story. No other team in NHL history has played one another in the Cup finals than these two, which is bound to change eventually.

Initially they squared off on December 8th 1924 since that date they have exchanged “pleasantries” 910 times. Montreal holds the playoff edge with 106 victories to Boston’s 71, similar story in the regular season. Montreal comes on top with 358 victories to Boston’s 265.

2011 was just another footnote in the novel that is one of sports greatest rivalry. For a truly jaw dropping 33rd time two of hockey’s most historically rich teams would battle for bragging rights.

Boston, statistically was the favorite. They won more games, had more points, were the higher seed and owned home ice. Which, in return didn’t phase Montreal whatsoever. The Habs took games one and two in Boston forcing the Bruins to accomplish the near impossible. Go to Montreal and win.

Make no mistake next to the “Mad house on Madison” home of the Blackhawks, the Bell Centre is the hardest building for the opposition to win in. Unlike in games one and two, games three and four were rumpus affairs. Trading goal for goal, punch for punch, the type of hockey that makes your heart skip a beat.

Legendary performances from Nathan Horton, Michael Ryder and obviously Tim Thomas sent Boston back home for game five with the series knotted at two games a piece.

Boston would win the double overtime nail bitter that was game 5. A new objective had arose, win the series in Montreal. It didn’t happen, Montreal took the potential elimination opportunity away from Boston, winning the affair 2-1.

Game 7; its often echoed in sports, no series is worth while unless it goes seven games. What makes a game 7 so special is the fact that there truly is nothing left to play for in the series beyond it. So, in the hours that led to puck drop the unavoidable notion that it could all go horribly wrong for Boston was steadfast.

Behind goals from Johnny Boychuk and Mark Recchi, Boston opened the final chapter of the series with a 2-0 lead. Only to see it evaporate, Chris Kelly put Boston up 3-2 late in the third period only to have PK Subban re-tie the game in the dying moments. She would need extra time.

While certain retellings of the play as it materialized do little to send chills down particular fans spines, some men are masters of it. Milan Lucic wins a 50/50 puck battle against Subban, buys time and space, finds Horton in the high slot and his slap shot flies pas the glove of Price.

Philadelphia anxiously awaited on the horizon. Had you fancied yourself to the notion of omens and if you were a reporter at the time, this series was gold for you. History tells its own rendition of the season prior, not that Boston had won the first three games. Quite the opposite indeed, the story was how Philadelphia battled back. Winning four games in a row and winning the series.

Three games later it was a similar story line. Boston held once again a commanding three games to none series lead.

Headlines littered with slogans like “Choking hazard, will Boston pull through”. Game four was an anxious time for Boston but just as they did in game 3, game four ended in a 5-1 victory for Boston.

Until this particular point, Boston had not faced an opponent quite like Tampa Bay.

Offensively Tampa was one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs. In complete contrast to how Boston typically played their games. Speed was Tampa’s greatest weapon.

Defensively Tampa introduced the 1-3-1 trap style in the neutral zone. Basically one man would patrol the blue line, behind him three of his teammates stood guard at center ice, finally the last man positioned himself in the far blue line. It turned out to get the better of Boston, who lost game one at home 5-2.

Game one also featured the coming out party for Tyler Seguin who recorded a goal and an assist in his first playoff game.

The series reached its boiling point after game two. Various narratives such as Shawn Thornton being a healthy scratch by virtue of Tyler Seguin. The goal tending battle between Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson. Stars on both sides losing their cool repeatedly, often times engaging in fisticuffs. Steven Stamkos getting hit in the face with a slap shot in game 7 and of course Nathan Horton’s famous game 7 goal.

height:0;padding:64.478114% 0 0 0;width:100%;”>

</div><p style=”margin:0;”></p></div>

However, the series will always be remembered for the now famous game 7 at the TD Garden. Many hockey savvy people will tell you its one of the best playoff games in recent history. Regardless of the fact that there wasn’t a single goal recorded until just under 8 minutes remaining in regulation.

Nathan Horton deflected Krejci’s beautiful saucer pass by a prone Roloson and that was all Boston needed to advance to the Cup Final.

For Milan Lucic being able to participate in the Stanley Cup Final was an opportunity he would cherish for life. Not simply because its every hockey players dream, but he was a die hard Canuck fan growing up in suburban Vancouver.

Quite the homecoming.

Games one and two of the series were pedestrian affairs. Now, that being said Alex Burrows was so hungry for a victory in game one he couldn’t help but chomp down on Patrice Bergerons hand. Promoting the league to institute a no bitting rule.

Vancouver took both games by differing scenarios. In game one Raffi Torres’ back door goal with 18 seconds remaining in the third sent the hometown crowd off with a smile.

Game two needed extra time, but not a lot of it. Just 11 seconds into overtime Alex Burrows maneuvered his way around Zdeno Chara, wrapped around the net and tucked it by Tim Thomas.

Roberto Luongo criticized Thomas’ aggressive tendencies in net “when you play like that you have to expect those goals”.

The theoretical pot was boiling.

Boston was desperate for answers after under performing thus far in the Finals. Hopefully the change in scenery would do them good.

Unfortunately just five minutes into game three Aaron Rome’s shoulder side swiped Nathan Horton’s upper body. Hortons body slammed to the ice laying motionless for several minutes, it was quite obvious he had received a serious concussion. The injury would keep Horton from returning to the series at all.

Boos rained down from the Garden hopeful as Rome was escorted off the ice after receiving a 5 minute major penalty for his hit. Subsequently the league suspended Rome for the rest of the Finals.

In the minutes that followed Thomas stood tall, conquering a dangerous press from the Canucks. Boston appeared lost for a moment, the health and well being of their teammate weighing heavy on their conscious.

After the mourning period had passed, they used their teammates revenge as motivation. By the time the final buzzer sounded on game three Boston totaled 8 goals, two of them short handed. Thomas stopped 40 of 41 shots and remained perfect until the third period. The series complexion had completely shifted.

Roberto had no comments on Thomas’ ability to perform in net post game.

Similarly, Thomas allowed the numbers to do the talking.

Before the first puck was dropped on game 4 a familiar figure made a significant impact on the game. Legendary Bruin, Bobby Orr emerged from the concourse waving a flag with Horton’s name and number. It proved to be a much needed shot in the arm for Boston. The atmosphere was set. Boston cruised to a 4-0 victory.

Boston felt confident with the series tied heading back to Vancouver for game 5.

An uneventful game 5 saw Vancouver down Boston 1-0, the only goal coming in the third period from Max Lapierre.

Back in Boston the trend remained in game 6, goals came in bunches from the Bruins, 5-2 was your final score.

June 15th 2011.

Game 7’s are as unique to the sporting world as anything else. Especially in the Stanley Cup Finals. A proverbial final act which culminates everything that has come before it. There’s a certain crispness in the air, such dramatic tension that, as eluded to earlier is unique to its situation. Unlike in theater nothing is scripted, there is no pre-planning, if there’s a plot twist it comes in the moment of the game. Simply put its pure spontanious bedlam. Men are made into heroes in game 7’s. More often than not its the 3rd or 4th line guys who make their mark here. Many have found themselves here in the past, even fewer have succeeded. Dreams are made and broken in game 7’s which is why its heralded as the pinnacle of sporting lore. Nothing is quite like game 7, besides itself.

Up until this point the home team had won every single game in the series. It goes without saying that the odds weren’t in Bostons favor.

Prior to game time Nathan Horton did something most people don’t know about. With the home ice advantage stat fresh in his mind, he took ice shavings from the TD Garden, preserving them in a Gatorade bottle. When the ice was cleared following the conclusion of warm ups Horton uncapped the water bottle spilling the melted Garden ice onto Rogers Arena surface.

“Its our home ice now” Horton boasted.

Thomas yet again was rock solid for Boston as wave after wave after wave of calculated Vancouver attack came unrelentingly.

14:36 into the first period Patrice Bergeron took a face off in Vancouver’s zone flanked by Marchand and Recchi. Marchand jumped the snap and won the 50/50 puck off the draw, circled back to the half wall and backhanded a pass in the direction of Bergeron.

Bergeron slapped home the games first goal, the pass was so pretty from Marchand that Luongo didn’t even react to the shot.

Whoever scored the games first goal has won every game in the series, the fans in Vancouver realized such a stat and sat on egg shells for remained of the period.

Vancouver brought the pace to start the second, Thomas yet again was up to the task. Boston, fed on the momentum their veteran goaltender was giving them. Half way through the second period Vancouver’s best opportunity to break the tie came when Chara’s pass was deflected off Sedin’s skate right to Burrow’s stick. Thomas was caught drastically out of position, scrambling to recover himself Chara leaped in front of the wide open net, blocking Burrow’s shot.

Just a few minutes later Marchand gave his team some breathing room, his wrap around backhander was saved by Luongo, but trickled in regardless.

2-0 Boston.

Under four minutes remained in the second period as Vancouver found themselves on the power play. This was their opportunity to claw back into the game, the leagues best special teams unit was on the ice and smelled blood.

Not according to Bergeron, who intercepted a pass, split the defense at his blue line and streaked towards Luongo. In full stride Bergeron was yanked to the ice, colliding with the Vancouver goaltender. Within the mad scramble the puck found its way into the net, despite the backlash from fans and players alike the goal would stand.

3-0 Boston.

Despite the less than opportune circumstances to start the third and final period Vancouver remained vigilant. They wanted a goal.

However, they had to solve Tim Thomas which is no small task.

As the minutes bled away, that collective inevitability began to soak in on Vancouver’s bench ‘we’re going to lose’. For Boston the grip didn’t loosen for them the mindset was ‘we’re going to win the Stanley Cup’.

2:45 was all that remained in game 7, Marchand hustling after a puck deep into Vancouver’s zone. If he wins the race he negates the icing, he did just that. Regardless of is efforts the puck managed to clear the zone, just to be intercepted by Bergeron who gave it back to Marchand. He made no mistake firing home his second of the game into the empty net.

4-0 Boston.

Doc Emerick said it best when describing the Boston Bruins as the final seconds of the game clicked away “despite that adversity they followed their coach to the high road, and the high road is the road to the Cup. No icing, for the first time in 39 years the Bruins have won the Stanley Cup”.

Confetti in the form of sticks, helmets and gloves fell from the sky. Rogers Arena was quiet aside from the cheers and screams from 23 grown men whose dreams were finally realized. Each and every single one of them were Stanley Cup Champions, nothing could take that away.

When the dust cleared both teams took part in what makes the sport so special. The hand shake line.

You can beat the ever living piss out of each other for seven straight games but when that final horn blows, its over. The game is over, but the respect prevails.

37 saves later and Tim Thomas was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner more than deservedly so. With all do respect he was far more interested in holding the next trophy to come out.

She gets the white glove treatment daily, over 100 years of history. The dynasty’s, legends, Cinderella stories, blood, sweat and tears were all accounted for. It weights 35 pounds but after what you go through to win it, that doesn’t matter. Men have separated shoulders and still lifted it well above their heads. Lord Stanley’s hardware has reduced men to tears.

And on June 15th 2011, the team that suffered the leagues most historic playoff defeat just one year prior had written their wrongs, exercised their demons against Montreal, weathered the storm against Tampa and capped it off with a game 7 nobody in Boston will ever forget.

Believe it or not, half  a decade has passed since Zdeno Chara hoisted Lord Stanley emphatically over his head, but it feels like yesterday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tremendous High Or Torturous Low

Back in mid April the NHL went from 30 teams competing for the Stanley Cup to just 16. By may 30th only Pittsburg and San Jose remained from the marginal 16 that qualified for the playoffs. Two weeks later Pittsburg captured their 4th Stanley Cup, ironically it came 7 years to the day from their last Cup in 2009.

Unfortunately for San Jose and more specifically Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau this may have been the first and final time they get this close. “It sucks. That’s the bottom line. It sucks. We thought we had the team, going through the teams we did in the West. It’s just tough right now” a somber Thornton told reporters post game 6. Marleau was a man of fewer words, but made them count “it’s like being hit by a truck” via Kevin Kurz’s twitter account.

San Jose was surprised in the way Pittsburg elevated their game for the Finals. Overwhelming San Jose with their speed and drive to get sticks in the passing lanes. Simply not allowing the Sharks to get comfortable in their own game at any point in the Finals.

Had it not been for how spectacular Martin Jones performed, Pittsburg could have easy won this in five games. Jones, who capped off his Cinderella run with a superb individual performance last night. Remaining one of the most exciting players to watch throughout the playoffs. I’m still waiting for the San Jose Police Department to further investigate the larceny Jones performed on Kessel in the third period.

But I digress.

Despite the melancholy atmosphere in the Sharks locker room the overall consensus was unanimous, Pittsburg was the better team.

Whether you are a Penguins fan or not, you get chills anytime someone gets to raise the Stanley Cup.  A tremendous accomplishment for Crosby who now has two championships under his belt, a much needed boost to his super star status. While he won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP many firmly believe it deserved to be Matt Murray’s. Speaking of getting lost in nostalgia it was truly tear jerking witnessing Pascal Dupuis suit up to celebrate with his teammates after being forced into retirement with nagging injuries. Mario Lemieux, long since retired played a significant role in reshaping this team, he enjoyed the opportunity to raise his fourth Cup, two as a player, two as a manager.

So, congratulations to Pittsburg who proved to anyone who doubted them they still remain amongst the NHL elite.

What is impossible to ignore is the overwhelming contrast of narratives. In regards to the Stanley Cup Finals how will this be remembered? Was it San Jose’s inability to play their game? Or was Pittsburg so good that they just didn’t allow San Jose to feel comfortable in 6 complete games. Between Thornton and Marleau are they super stars with dwindling stardom or did we witness the rebirth for the next dynasty. Did a coaches relationship disrupt the flow of momentum for San Jose? I am of course referencing Peter Deboer’s relationship with Dainius Zubrus. Zubrus is a long time veteran of the league but he took two less than ideal penalties in two less than ideal moments of critical games against Pittsburg. Not only did it destroy positive momentum for San Jose but Pittsburg scored on the ensuing power plays further disrupting San Jose’s confidence to win.

Now, its not fair to blame a series loss on one player, but it definitely didn’t help.

One thing is for sure, we best keep a close eye on the Penguins who just a few months ago were flirting with the idea of trading Malkin. Its safe to say that is no longer an option.

Congratulations to the 2016 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburg Penguins, also great job to the fans at San Jose for showering Gary Bettman in boos during his presentation of the Cup.

Dumb But Not Dumbfounding 

Partially I feel somewhat moronic for coming so late to the party here, but at least I’m not late to my defensive spots on the ice. That was reserved specifically for Mr. Miller.

Let me get this out of the way, Kevan Miller comes directly as advertised.

What I mean by that is when you play him as a bottom 6 defensemen all season he’ll thrive.

Despite a statistical career high which included 5 goals and 13 assists for an obvious 18 points in 71 games. Kevan Miller was anything but spectacular in his own zone all season.

A plus 15 doesnt accurately reflect how topsie turvey he was. Similar to the entire team play, there was nights where Miller appeared Norris trophy worthy. While others had me questioning why he was suiting up for a professional hockey game.

I distinctly remember on multiple occasions he would have his back turned to the play unfolding behind him. Lone and behold a stellar offensive opportunity would formulate for the opposition that he was utterly oblivious to.

Only reasonable thing you could possibly do in this situation was pay the man 2.5 million dollars over the span of four years, right?

*sigh*

If you agree with that ideology, you wont agree with the next thing I’m going to say.

The man isn’t worth more than 1.5 over three years and even that is generous. Literally not a penny more.

Lets be fair though, the Bruins have completely mouse trapped themselves when it comes to defensemen, so they had to do it. Matt Irwin wasn’t given sufficient ice time before brass shipped him to Providence after he had, in my opinion an above average preseason. Colin Miller, remember him? The major prospect in the Lucic trade with LA? He actually had a clue out there but it apparently wasn’t enough and he, like Irwin was sent southbound down 95.

Allow me to interject here, I don’t hate Kevan Miller, even though up to this point it looks like I do.

Miller is a bottom 6 defensemen. He’ll kill penalties, crunch minutes and beat the sand out of guys if called on. We Bruins fans love that stuff. But, Claude wanted to make him something he’s not. Deep into the season Millers minutes drastically increased. I fear Claude imagines Miller as Johnny Boychuk 2.0, drawing the comparison is almost insulting. I’ll apologize to Mr. Boychuk for even bringing it up.

Sorry Johnny.

Makes you wonder what kind of payday Krug is going to receive, eh?

Personally the game plan should be “devise a locker room that allows for Chara to be off the ice as much as possible” not because I don’t believe he should play. But if you’re going have a chance at sniffing hockey in April next year that man needs unlimited rest.

Which, subsequently he wasn’t allowed because Claude didn’t trust a soul that sat to his right on the bench in 2016.

Miller fits the bill, but not for 20 minutes a night and certainly not for 2.5 million dollars a year.

Upside? Yes there actually is an upside here. At least we aren’t paying 9 million dollars to a guy who was a measly plus four this year. Dagger Montreal.

Keep a close eye on the horizon, free agency is going to tell us a lot on what to expect come October.

See you in the second wild card spot!

171177066

 

Classic Claude “I’m going to ungracefully brush off that comment” face to send you off on your Thursday commute.

 

Remembering May 13th 2013

When it comes to the sporting world the spring is often regarded as the “dark days”. Meaning if you aren’t a diehard baseball fan there isn’t much to quench your thirst.

By virtue of an abbreviated season due to a lockout, the first round of the 2013 NHL playoffs didn’t begin until early May. What is generally the Conference Finals is merely the Conference Semi Finals.

Where were you may 13th 2013? It goes without saying that attempting to recall a specific date from three years ago is difficult if not impossible. If you were traveling into Boston that night odds are you were making a trip to the Boston Garden, ringing any bells yet?

Game 7 between the Bruins and Maple Leafs.

On the surface it appeared as if the Bruins held a slight edge. They were after all more experienced, older, and had won a Stanley Cup after my dad graduated high school. But most importantly they were playing at home.

No brainer, right? It’s practically Boston’s game to lose, and they almost did.

For those who don’t remember Matt Bartkowski got the party rolling early, when his snap shot flew by a screened James Reimer. Then the wheels fell off.

1-1: Cody Franson slams home a rebound off a goal mouth scramble set up by James van Riemsdyk on the power play, tie game.

2-1: Toronto takes the lead when Clarke MacArthur found Cody Franson through traffic setting up his second of the game.

Now we enter the third period. Facing elimination the Garden crowd was sitting on their hands, anxiously quiet. Anticipating a reason to erupt. They didn’t get that, at least right away.

3-1: Toronto, James van Riemsdyk wins a puck battle in the corner, cuts to the high slot and riffles a shot up high on Rask. Phil Kessel corrals the rebound and makes no mistake. Toronto takes a commanding lead.

Things only got worse, temporarily.

4-1: 14:32 seconds remaining in the third, Kessel’s quick release deflects off Rask’s pad and lands right on the tape of Nazem Kadri and they don’t get easier than that. By now all of the oxygen is brutally forced out of the Garden.

Simultaneously between players and fan base the collective inevitability is temporarily realized, it appears to be all over.

BOSTON, MA - MAY 13 - Nazem Kadri scores and fans celebrate in third period action as the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Boston Bruins in game 7 in their first round NHL Stanley Cup playoffs series at TD Garden in Boston, May 13, 2013.

Roughly four minutes later…

4-2: Lucic muscles his way behind the net, forces a shot on goal, Nathan Horton collects the loose change and rifles it top shelf.

With the net empty and time becoming their biggest nemesis the Bruins were forced into pure desperation mode

4-3: Bergeron feeds Chara, his one timer careens into Reimer, Lucic punches home the rebound.

Momentum begins to turn as theoretically the ice begins to shift in favor of Boston. Following Lucic’s goal there was about 1:22 seconds remaining on the clock, by now those fans sitting on their hands were beginning to believe.

4-4: Krejci’s “d to d” pass finds Bergeron at the point, his wrist shot fly’s through a maze of Bruins and Maple leafs and kisses the top corner.

With 50 seconds left in regulation its bedlam in Boston.

To overtime we go, then this happened.

5-4: Game. Set. Match. Bergeron’s initial drive is blocked but sits flat in the slot seemingly waiting for him to collect his own rebound. A miscommunication between Gardner and Franson allowed Bergeron to collect his second, and most important goal of the game.

BOSTON, MA - MAY 13 - Leafs fans lament the loss in the stands in the first overtime period as the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Boston Bruins in game 7 in their first round NHL Stanley Cup playoffs series at TD Garden in Boston, May 13, 2013.

In the weeks that followed the Maple Leafs decided what they produced that season was an expectation of what is years to come. If we did it once we can certainly do it on a concisistant basis. They were wrong.

For Boston? They made it to the Stanley Cup Final, losing in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks. Later that summer they also dealt Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars. In doing so they derailed their chances at remaining a perennial power house, having missed the post season for two straight seasons.

Fast forward three years and the Maple Leafs are selecting first overall at this year’s draft with a franchise center, Auston Matthews awaiting the call. Future hall of fame coach Mike Babcock behind the bench, and a plethora of young talent waiting for the opportunity to shine.

So while Boston may have been on the winning side of one of the greatest come backs of this decade. The last laugh may remain north of the boarder.

No More Playoff ‘Blues’

524300344
Despite a fantastic statistical season from Patrick Kane, Chicago failed to find an equalizer in game 7.

They say “in order to be the best you have to beat the best”. For St. Louis, ousting the defending Cup Champions, who just so happen to double as their arch rival, it’s quite the accievement. As for the whole “being the best” thing you can be the determiner of that.

While Chicago beat St. Louis in 2014 four games to two, and came one goal shy of sending this years match up to overtime, in the end St. Louis was too much to handle.

Revenge is a sweet tasting drink.

Taking a commanding three games to one advantage early in the series Chicago, unsurprisingly battled back to force a game seven. Former Blackhawk Troy Brouwer put St. Louis up 3-2 late in the third period, and the score would stand. Despite a heart stopping double post opportunity from Brent Seabrook in the dying moments of the third period.

So, what now?

With both Chicago and Los Angeles planning their golf trips for the summer earlier than they’re use to. The playoffs have lost that familiar feeling. That’s not to say they wont be exciting none the less.

St. Louis will square up against Dallas, while San Jose faces Nashville.

Sometimes unfamiliar faces bring a breath of fresh air, refreshing. Perhaps a Blackhawk/Kings-less Stanley Cup final will be a good thing for the sport.

However, something interesting to sit on is this.. I ask you what do the 2009 Red Wings, 2011 Vancouver Canucks, 2012 Phoenix Coyotes, and the 2014 Los Angeles Kings all have in common? Aside from the 2012 Coyotes (Lost in the Conference Final to the Kings) all of them beat Chicago en route to the Stanley Cup Final appearance. While the 2014 Kings hoisted Lord Stanley.

In no way shape or form does this mean St. Louis can punch their ticket to the big dance for the first time since 1970. But, if history is any indication of what is to come, its certainly makes for interesting water cooler talk.

Jake Allen is putting on his best Curtis Joseph impersonation and I’m not just talking about the mask. He was sensational against the Blackhawks. As it would appear right now the Blues have finally found the goaltender they need since prematurely dealing Jaroslav Halak.

One can argue the goalie was the only thing missing on their depth chart in years past. They clearly have the size on both ends of the ice. Certainly have the firepower to make it work and Ken Hitchcock has the respect of the locker room.

Before we get too carried away here, whats always haunted the Blues is the dreaded playoff collapses. As a sports town St. Louis has been plagued with sporting mishaps at the most inconvenient moments.

Who knows, this time next year we could be adding St. Louis to the previously stated list of teams that ran through Chicago on their way to the Finals. Or we could be questioning whose job is safe, that’s the glory of being a blogger. When I’m right I’m a hero, when I’m wrong? We’ll, nobody really cares that much.

Happy Playoffs.

Miracle Men 36 Years Later

Goaltender Jim Craig of United States Olympic Hockey team jump with jubilation after the United States beat the Soviet Union hockey team in the semi-finals hockey game February 22, 1980 during the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. The United States won the game 4-3. The game was dubbed The Miracle On Ice.

First and foremost hockey is a sport. Just like any of the other major sports in America. To some, sports may appear trivial and overrated. Today overpaid, egotistical athletes dominate American propaganda making us wonder, who is worth while to idolize in the sports world?

Leading up to the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid New York America was in the midst of a political gridlock. Tension following the Richard Nixon resignation, the capturing of the American embassy and the ever growing fear of communism in the states. Left the once proud American public, fragile and uneasy. In desperate need for hero’s they turned to their beloved Olympic athletes. However the desire to follow their hockey team was nonexistent.

Highlighted by their defeat at the hands of the heavily favored Soviet Union hockey team at Madison Square Garden 10-3 just a few days prior to the commencement of the games. Amidst speculation the Soviets wouldn’t even be allowed to participate in the games. It was firmly believed the Soviets would plow through the competition to take gold with almost no effort.

As for the underdogs whom were famously described in the 2004 Hollywood rendition as “a bunch of kids from Minnesota and Boston”. They opened the tournament with a thrilling 2-2 tie against team Sweden. Brooks famously pulled Jim Craig with well under a minute left in regulation, down one to tie the game, escaping with a valuable point.

Entering the medal round the Americans were 4-0-1. On the other side the Soviets sliced through the competition like a knife through warm butter. As faith would have it, the Americans would face off against the Soviets for the first time since Madison Square Garden, but more importantly for a spot at the gold medal. All of those who wouldn’t give the team of misfits the time of day were suddenly glued to their television sets.

Everyone and their grandma knows what happens next. Eruzione’s tie breaking goal in the third. Jim Craig standing on his head to keep the game manageable for his team. The iconic countdown from 10 to do you believe in miracles? Herb Brooks sprinting to the locker room to cry. If you don’t have chills, check for a pulse.

While only a select few members of that historical team made it to the pros and enjoyed worthwhile careers. They set the groundwork for this generations American stars. Names such as Parise, Suter, Kane, Kessel, Eichel, Oshie, Pacioretty, Kesler, Backes, Brown, Callahan, Shattenkirk, McDonagh, and finally Quick.

Kane, Eichel and soon to be drafted Auston Matthews are superstars on their respected teams. Kane a former resident of Buffalo New York, Jack Eichel from the state of Massachusetts, and Matthews from Arizona.

Similarly to the Gretzky trade, this moment redefined what it meant to be a hockey player in the United States.

First and foremost hockey is a sport. Just like any of the other major sports in America. To some, sports may appear trivial and overrated. However, every once in a while something happens, something monumental, something so important that it can unite an entire country. Even if its only for a couple of hours. So 36 years later, the sense of nationalism that was felt on that very evening in Lake Placid New York should still burn with the same warmth and intensity.

What happens when sports are seen as more than just a game? Well, miracles, if you believe in that kind of thing.

 

 

Fool Me Twice.. Shame On Me?

T.J. Oshie #77 of the Washington Capitals is congratulated by teammates on the bench after he scored a goal in the overtime shootout against the New Jersey Devils on February 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.The Washington Capitals defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in an overtime shootout.Washington has been the NHL’s most unorthodox enigma. Despite the firepower, highlighted by this generations most lethal lamp lighter Alex Ovechkin. They have always found a way to drop game 7’s in the playoffs.

I mean who could forget how dangerous the 2009-10 Caps were? But honestly how good were they when it mattered?

The President trophy winning Capitals ended the season first in their division, conference, and the entire league. Sporting a mind numbing 54-15-13 record, their goals for (315) nearly lapped their goals against (229). Unsurprisingly it was the Alex Ovechkin/Nicklas Backstrom show offensively. Ovi notched 109 points, and Backstrom tallied 68 helpers. Proven veteran Jose Theodore and up and coming youngster Semyon Varlamov split time between the pipes.

For all of the previous stated reasons the Capitals deserved to be the regular season champs. But back to my original point, how good were they when it mattered?

When did it matter exactly?

Specifically referencing the 2010 Playoffs. The heavily favored (and I cant emphasize heavily favored enough here) Washington Capitals faced off against the 8th seeded Montreal Canadians in the first round. At just 39-33-10 Montreal was lucky to squeak their way into the playoffs as the eight and final seed.

Then, Washington bench boss Bruce Boudreu elected to go with his hot hand in net. Unproven youngster Semyon Varlamov. A bold strategy indeed considering Theodore who had played for the Montreal Canadians, appeared to be the obvious starter.

Nonetheless Montreal stole game 1 in Washington 3-2 in overtime.

The following three games would be outright dominated by Washington. Seemingly every facet of a hockey game was under control as the Capitals held a commanding 3 games to 1 series lead.

What happens next lives in infamy…

Montreal would win the next three straight games. Including a pivotal game 7 in Washington by a score of 2-1. Taking the series in come from behind fashion.

To this day it’s largely considered to be one of the biggest upsets in modern hockey history.

What’s most troubling is the fact that the high powered Capital offense was stymied by the underdog Habs. Dumb luck? Or is there more than meets the eye?

One year later, Washington was blitzed by the Tampa Bay Lightning on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals 4 games to 0.

2011-12 and 2012-2013 saw the Capitals fall to the Rangers in successive post season bouts. Both in game 7’s.

Following a years hiatus from the playoffs the Capitals returned last spring after winning 45 games in the regular season.

Falling yet again to a familiar foe, the New York Rangers in, you guessed it, game 7.

So what makes the 2015-16 Washington Capitals any different at all from the 2009-10 squad?

When held side by side, apart from the difference in years, it be nearly impossible to tell one from the other.

In fact this past week the Capitals became the first team in history to win 44 of their first 58 games to start the season. Believe it or not a ton of that success can be attributed to recently acquired forwards T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, whom replaced Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer. Oshie has found instant chemistry with Ovechkin and Backstrom, making them arguably the scariest trio in the league.

Mr. “game 7” Williams is no slouch either. His ability to kill penalties and produce on the power play clearly has made head coach Barry Trotz’s job a lot easier.

For the time being Mike Richards hasn’t seem to mess with the synergy of the locker room, since signing with the team a few weeks ago. If anything he only has an upside, I mean at least he’s won something.

Unlike in years past the Capitals have, at least up until this point, appeared to have patched their largest wound. Reliable defense. Both Karl Alzner and John Carlson have developed into more than capable defenders. Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen were fabulous additions last off season. Mike Weber whom was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres will fill out the bottom pair along side Dmitry Orlov. That’s pretty damn good.

No, I haven’t forgotten to give Holtby his recognition, because he’s been, dare I say it Broudeur like. 48 games to his name, 38 wins, and only 6 regulation loses. 2.17 GAA .924 SV% and two shutouts. Since his coming out party against the Bruins in the 2012 playoffs. Holtby has proven a ton of those who said he couldn’t keep it up very, very wrong.

But lets face it, the Capitals are that fancy sports car that you’ve always wanted. Every time you see it on the road you stop what you’re doing and stare at it. In the end however you realize its way more practical to go the way of the Honda Civic. So, for the time being you’ll idolize those who have fulfilled your dream, but as soon as something goes wrong you can say “I told you so”.

Remember how cool it was to watch the Kings win their first? Well, in case you forgot the Caps are chasing that elusive first championship. Not to mention they have the most tenacious captain in the NHL. So, it looks like the Eastern Conference is Washington’s to lose. Which they’ve done in the past.

I must admit for some reason this team feels different to me, but there’s also a reason I don’t bet either.

We’ll soon learn if this squad will crash and burn like its 2010 precursor. Until then I suggest tuning into a Capitals game the next time they’re in town. Its damn good hockey.

 

 

Hab-ulous Outcome

David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his third-period goal with teammates during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on January 19, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-1.

The last time the Boston Bruins wore their Winter Classic jerseys against Montreal they were routed in front of nearly 70,000 fans, and more watching across the country.

Stereotypically the Bruins play with a lack of confidence and appear lethargic when they play their heated rival in their house, but not last night. Last night in the Bell Centre Max Talbot snapped a wrist shot over Mike Condon’s left shoulder to give the Bruins a much needed early lead in a hostile building.

Mark Barberio would nail the equalizer on a beautiful passing play but that’s all Montreal would get past Rask. Which is good to see considering playing in Montreal has become Rask’s biggest bugaboo. 38 saves on 39 shots, Rask was lights out, he was seeing the puck through traffic, he looked relaxed and hot on his angles. His glove save stoned Torrey Mitchell who found himself in alone knifing between Krug and Seidenberg. Hopefully this is the beginning of a new trend.

Julien put Vatrano, Kemppainen and Hayes on a line and they were moving the puck with a purpose. I was thoroughly impressed with their desire to gain the offensive zone and hem the Canadians in. Peppering Condon with shot after shot. Although they never found the back of the net, this is a welcome sign as Julien has struggled to find offensive production from his bottom six forwards all season.

After battling to tie the game in the second period Montreal struggled to find constancy in the form of offensive pressure. Especially after Bergeron made it a 2-1 hockey game.

One has to think this is a direct result of not having Carey Price in net. With him healthy and playing like his usual self the Canadians are nearly impossible to beat in the Bell Centre. Fact of the matter is Montreal needs to score goals like they were to start this season but have seem to fall off ever since they were nailed with Price’s injury. Understandably so, but this also goes back to my biggest criticism of Montreal. They rely far too much on Price’s ability to make upwards of 50 saves a night to win hockey games 2-1. Now they are without that Luxury and the results, well they speak for themselves.

In the third period Pastrnak gave the Bruins a much needed offensive presence when he pounced on a 50/50 puck. He sped through Gretzky’s office and tucked it home for his fourth of the year.

While Marchand would add an empty net to put the game entirely out of reach, again I found myself shocked by the lack of push back from the Canadians at home. Both Bergeron and Pastrnak beat Condon on simple wrap around goals. Condon exhibited a lack of ability to move from his left to right with much enthusiasm. Where Talbot’s marker was the outcome of a bad turnover by Montreal, which obviously, ended up in the back of their net.

Regardless the win knocks Montreal, for the time being, out of contention for the final wildcard spot. Fun fact, all seven Canadian franchises are currently out of the playoff picture. On top of it all Michel Therrien sits in hot water with management and it was rumored last nights game against Boston would be used as a measuring stick to whether or not Montreal would be in need of his services.

Now I don’t want to see anyone lose their job. However, you have to imagine with the circumstances I laid out that the Bruins were using it as extra motivation to go out and get the job done, and they did. Don’t look now but that’s three wins in a row for Boston with both Vancouver and Columbus on tap to finish off the week.

We have officially passed into the point of the season where ever point counts, and with every win you give management a reason to believe you’re worth investing in on deadline day. I’m sure the Bruins will welcome back their 2011 Stanley Cup Finals opponent with arms wide open, especially with the opportunity to win 4 games in a row.

 

Its Broken, So Its Time To Fix It

Fans of the Calgary Flames celebrate after Johnny Gaudreau #13 (not pictured) scored the game winning goal against Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 4, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara spoons a puck out of his own net following a loss to the Calgary Flames.

January 1st marks more than just the start of the new year, it also marks the two season anniversary of  Boston Bruins titanic captain Zdeno Chara as a finalist for the Norris Trophy. However time hasn’t been Chara’s best friend.

While he remains reliable on the blue line his ability to keep up with the leagues culture change has many fans questioning his moxie.

When the Bruins entered training camp the questions came by the truck load, reporters wondered if Chara could really do it again staring down his 39th birthday.

It didn’t help that Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski packed their bags and moved to western Canada early last summer. Chara remained optimistic that not only could he preform but the rest of his team as well.

Following a solid November and a stellar December it appeared that his prediction would hold. Until 2016 rolled around.

An embarrassing performance at the Winter Classic coupled with a frustrating month of January has left even the most adamant Chara supporters questioning his ability to compete.

Last night in Philadelphia Chara was on the ice for all three goals by the Flyers. Including the two that were scored in the third period, which sank the ship. To be honest Chara looked, well, old out there and we can’t be all that surprised.

Since coming to Boston Chara has played a ton of meaningful hockey, deep into the spring and sometimes early summer. After missing the playoffs last season Chara made it known he believed he was still a top tier defensemen in this league.

Truth be told Chara’s fall in performance could be attributed to the lack of support around him. Seidenberg, his long time partner, was absent for the bulk of the early portion of the season. Johnny Boychuk’s trade continues to be a thorn in their side. Dougie Hamilton’s early departure and Adam McQuaid out with injury has forced Chara to play upwards of 25 minutes a game… in the regular season. That’s ludicrous.

The other side of the coin, both Kevin Miller and Zach Trotman have painfully struggled to find consistency in their defensive games. While I’ve been impressed with Colin Miller’s all around game he’s still only 23 and exhibited plenty of growing pains as he learns to transition, but his upside may be worth the time.

The old saying if it ain’t broke don’t fix it? Well, its time the Bruins begin the process of fixing their blue line. Luckily there are plenty of notable names on this years trade deadline watch list.

First is Keith Yandle. The Boston boy has been linked by rumors to the Bruins for years, dating back to his time in Arizona. Largely speculated he would in fact land in Boston when he was being shopped around a few years back. Inevitably he would land with the Rangers, but similarly to Jimmy Hayes there is no doubt he would love the opportunity to suit up for his childhood team. Lucky for the Bruins the Rangers have found themselves in a unique situation regarding Mr. Yandle, he has stated he wants a new contract or he wants out of town. Perhaps a team on his list would be the Bruins? Considering his contract expires at seasons end he could potentially only be a rental player and the asking price may be too large for just a couple of months.

Travis Hamonic has been the main attraction for many teams since requesting a trade from the Islanders. However, he only wants to leave due to health issues regarding his mother. Also he wants to be traded to a team in the Western Conference so he could be closer to his family in Alberta. Hamonic is the youngest and most prosperous name on my list but its more of a pipe dream than a reality.

Dustin Byfuglien. He’s a unique character to say the least. Since winning the Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 he was deemed expendable by management and was dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers, who then became the Winnipeg Jets. Byfuglien is big, mean, and can move the puck with ease. Naturally he’s a Bruin, correct? Well he’s a free agent at years end and could demand all star numbers after lugging the Jets into the Playoffs last season. While he would be a pretty piece to have I question his desire to stay put after this season if the Bruins were to make a move for him. The idealism at that point would be why not wait until the summer when he’s a free agent?

While he may not be a defensemen Kyle Okposo would be an excellent complementary goal scorer to the Krejci line. Immediately replacing Lucic’s big body presence and ability to drive hard to the net which in turn would open up lanes for Krejci and Pastrnak to use their skill and speed to create offense. Such is the trend thus far that Okposo is as well, a free agent at seasons end. Depending on what is done with Hamonic the Islanders could be seeking significant compensation for either player due to the talent they would lose.

All of these factors leave Bruins management in a uncomfortable situation. Do you pay high prices for players who could help you make the playoffs at a high seed? Or do you sit where you are and grind out the rest of the season and rebuild through free agency with another high draft pick in hand?

Interesting thought that may change or solidify your mind set would be this. The Los Angeles Kings spent a first round pick at last years deadline to acquire defensemen Andrej Sekera’s talents. Not only did Los Angeles fail to make the post season, Sekera signed a deal with Edmonton in the off season. So the Kings spent a first round pick for a player who would suit up for 16 games.

Chara needs help, and I’m not entirely sure if management believes enough in this team to spend what it would take to bring in a big name listed above. As much as I would love to see the Bruins do what it takes to see Chara off as a champion. It seems like they’re content to rebuild through the draft and we know the result of that.