Monthly Archives: May 2010

Chicago And Philly Look To End Cup Droughts

Can the Hawks run continue?

Think of the names for a second. Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Clement… think of where those men stand in the annals of folklore of hockey history. The popularity of those faces and their playing style made them who they are and how respected they are today.

We know about the Broad Street Bullies, The Golden Jet… we know about how these two hockey crazy towns embraced them for their style of play, we also know that ever since these men took the ice, that was the last time that the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup. Philly in 1972, Chi town in 61’ the longest current drought in the sport.

Since then there has been hope on both sides of the ice. The Blackhawks had the Chris Chellos and Jeremy Roenick combo in the 90’s while the Flyers put faith in The Legion of Doom in the late 90’s.

Both teams made appearances, both teams ran into the steamrollers known as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings respectively, both teams haven’t smelled championship success since then,

The Blackhawks have been in shambles under the ownership of Bill Wirtz, the Flyers couldn’t get over the hump with the conservativism of GM Clarke. The Hawks traded Roenick and Chellos and went into a 15-year slump where the city of Chicago fell out of love with the Hawks. The Flyers saw Mikael Renberg come and go, as did Rod Brind’Amour, the Hatcher twins and watched injuries ravage fan faves like Keith Jones, Keith Primeau and Lindros.

They’ve watched their divisions become controlled by dynasties in the making in Detroit and the New Jersey Devils. In essence, both sets of fans, huge hockey fans, seemed to fade away with the occurrences in their cities and were swayed by their newly minted baseball champions in the White Sox and Phillies (except for the Cubs, their fans are still bitterly holding on for a hope that seems so far away its Katt Williams funny).

Yet here we are, May 29, 2010, two championship starved franchise on the verge of ending their droughts in resurgent markets in a resurgent league.

The teams mirror themselves in so many ways: Young Captains who lead by example with a calm but furious demeanor (The Hawks Jonathan Toews and Philly’s Mike Richards). Playmaking wings who are dreams to watch (Patrick Kane and Jeff Carter) absolutely bruising backliners who are great both offensively and defensively (Duncan Keith and Chris Pronger) and goaltenders, who three months ago you couldn’t pick out of a police lineup (Antti Nieme and Michael Leighton). The similarities are endless.

Flyers fans are just as starved for a championship.

Their playoff fortunes have been formed by star-making performances by mere role players. Dustin Byfuglien’s breakout has been chronicled over and over, but the Flyers Claude Giroux has been just as big, if not bigger. Giroux was dominant in the Montreal series including a two-goal performance in game 4 which all but sealed the series. As for Byfuglien, well lets just say if not for his two game winning goals in games 3 & 4 against San Jose, or his hat trick against Vancouver in Game 3 or his great work as a defenseman in the Nashville series (he’s a winger just to let you know)… you get the idea.

Then there have been stories of perseverance that have transcended certain individuals. Look at Simon Gagne of the Flyers. Earlier in the decade he was a deadly goal scorer that helped Canada win gold in the 2002 Salt Lake City games. He then suffered a rash of injuries that damaged his career and made him an afterthought in Philly. In this postseason he has returned to form of sorts. He’s scored seven goals including 2 in the historic game 7 clincher versus Boston and he had a great series against Montreal scoring a goal in each of the first three games of the series.

So how can you tell these teams apart this series to decipher a winner? Well you can’t. All you can do is look at certain aspects of each team to see where each side has an advantage:

  1. The Byfuglien factor. Vancouver couldn’t figure it out, nor could San Jose. Byfuglien as you’ve seen is a monster. He’s 6’4” 260 and has quick hands. His presence around the net gave Evgeni Nabakov fits last week and lead to multiple power plays for The Chi in both series. However, the Flyers have a big monster in Pronger who at 6’6” can help shift Byfuglien out of Leighton’s way.
  2. The Briere factor. I hate Daniel Briere. I hate his facial hair, his size (5’6”) and his style of play. However, dude’s a baler. His play against the Bruins was the reason the Flyers came back to win that series and why Montreal couldn’t keep up with them. It’ll be interesting to see how the Hawks can maintain what he does when he’s on the ice.
  3. Who’s going to contain Kane and Toews or Richards and Carter? Both backlines have challenges in containing the high scoring lines that have been killing teams all postseason.
  4. Who’s got the better x-factors? What are Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd, Ville Leino and James Van Riemsdyk going to do? Each of those aforementioned men has at one point or another come through with big plays for each teams. Ladd is out with an injury this evening yet the role players for each side could have as much to do with the factoring of the Stanley Cup than the big guns.
  5. Goaltending. Remember when Chicago’s main issue was between the pipes? Yes it was an ongoing story all season but Antti Niemi has done everything to stop those fears with a 2.33 GAA and a .921 save percentage. The Flyers are no strangers to goaltending problems; they haven’t a steady goaltender since Ron Hextall in the 80’s and early 90’s! Yet no one knew what to expect out of Leighton who has been huge for the Flyers. He’s only allowed 11 goals in 9 games including 4 shutouts. Both men weren’t even on the roster at the start of the season and could have their names on the Cup at the end of next week.

Speaking of the cup, who wins and why? I said Chicago would get there and lose at the start of the season I said they were too young and needed one more year. Yet I didn’t know that they would be playing a Flyers team that just two years ago was the worst team in the league and had no real help in net. Yet I can’t change now, I like Philadelphia in six. Why? I mean they came back from 3-0 down against Boston; they made the playoffs on the last day of the season and have been unstoppable with a backup goalie in net. They’re a team of destiny and there is no stopping right now. I know Chicago has the more well-known and respected team, but you can’t go against the hottest team in the league.

So there you have it. In a match up of two teams that haven’t seen a title in a combined 88 years, the legends of the Broad Street Bullies will come through. Whatever happens it’s going to be a great series and someone will join the legends whose shadows they skate in front of every game.

The Blackhawks Turnaround Is Complete

Chicago is a hockey town once again.

As bad as it sounds to say, but after the Blackhawks defeated the San Jose Sharks to go to their first Stanley Cup finals since 1992 I couldn’t help but wonder how bad of shape that the Blackhawks would be in if Bill Wirtz were still alive.

If you remember, once upon a time long ago the Chicago Blackhawks were not that good and nobody cared about the Hawks at all, namely because of the actions of one William Wirtz. He cut corners to save money, turned down plans to help Chicago contend for titles for years, never paid players, and the most unforgiveable sin of all, he blacked out all home games so you couldn’t watch them at home.

All of this made Chicago, an original six city, the home of the Golden Jet, Stan Mikita, and the spin-o-rama forget about hockey and the men that wore the Indian headed sweaters.

Fast forward to yesterday where in front of another sell-out crowd at the United Center and you wouldn’t even believe that The Chi was a dormant hockey town just three years ago. The Fratellis “Chelsea Dagger” blared over the entire arena as Jonathan Toews accepted the Clarence Campbell trophy for the Western Conference Champions. Fans waved red towels like rabid wolverines screaming at the top of their lungs with nearly everyone still in attendance. Hockey in Chi town was back.

It started five years ago after the NHL lockout and the league searching for any positives. The Hawks took Toews in the draft to begin a rebuilding process and hope that the team would pull itself out of oblivion. The next year they drafted Patrick Kane, the perfect attention grabbing compliment to Toews’s laid back demeanor. Together they began to draw attention due to their skill and age. The city slowly began becoming re-engaged to the Blackhawks though they were still a ways away from being anything significant.

Then came the death of the elder Wirtz and the turnaround officially began. Rocky Wirtz for years pleaded with his father to change his ways but it always fell on deaf ears. Now in charge, Rocky did things his way and began a transformation that is more and more impressive to fathom.

He held a fan convention in February of 2008, the first in the team’s history, possibly to rejuvenate the significance of the team to the city. Four months later, it was announced that the team would be hosting the newly implements, and annual Winter Classic from the historic Wrigley Field. After the success of the event at Orchard Park in Buffalo, a crazed hockey town in itself, it was a shoe in to be a great event.

Though they lost it, the Winter Classic was a huge part of Chicago's revival.

Next was the hiring of successful coach Joel Quenneville, who guided long playoff runs for the St. Louis Blues in the early 2000’s. His hiring gave great leadership to a young rising team in the league and it came with immediate returns. His first order of business, and the team’s for that matter, was to award the Captain’s “C” to Toews to officially make him the face of the team as well as Kane.

The Winter Classic was the beginning of on ice success though it was in defeat. The Wrigley experience of their 6-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings made the Classic a huge event for a national audience and it let people outside of Chicago know who these boys were. Then came the playoffs and great showings from Kane, Duncan Keith and guys like Kris Versteeg and Brent Seabrook.

It all culminated into this season.  A turn around four years in the making that led to pressure that these young men, or the city hadn’t seen since the days of Jordan and the Bulls. ESPN the magazine had Kane, Toews, Keith and newly acquired winger Marian Hossa on the cover chronicling the pressure that they would face and the troubling offseason that accompanied the success (Hossa’s injury and Kane’s run-ins with the law). Critics were quick to place the young untested core at the top of their yearly predictions over more proven teams like Detroit, Vancouver and San Jose. You wondered whether this team was ready for such exposure, if they play larger than their age and let their talents take over for a full 82 game season.

It was funny because Dave Bolland said in an interview after the game yesterday that the celebrations that came with wins last year had been replaced with a cooler temperament this year and more focus, and it showed.

Despite lingering questions about the subpar goaltending, the Blackhawks finished second in the West, first in the Central division (the first champion this decade not named Detroit) had 6 20-goal scorers and became the talk of the town. These playoffs added to their luster with break out performances by Dustin Byfuglien, Antii Niemi and Bolland in addition to the stars on the team. Every night a new Hawk steps up and takes over while Kane and Toews calmly and spectacularly guide the ship.

Yesterday’s win more than anything showed the grit, toughness and talent that has followed the team all year. Niemi shook off two early goals to deny any other San Jose advances, the Seabrook and Keith led defense held the Sharks to 3 third period shots, Keith also lost 4 teeth on a puck deflection yet stayed in the game for a fierce 20 plus minutes on the ice (he’s a hockey player come on). A Toews blocked shot led to Bolland’s game tying goal and then “Big Poppa” (Byfuglien) came through with another clutch goal as he parked his wide-bodied frame in front of Evgeni Nabokov to put the Hawks up for good. Just another jaw dropping game from the most talented team in the league that knows how to use their talents to their advantages instead of playing lackluster in big games and expecting to turn in on whenever (ahem Geno Malkin, Alex Semin and Milan Lucic).

The end result was an amazing scene in the United Center; fans going crazy in anticipation of ending a 50 year Cup drought, with Stan Mikita in attendance funny enough. A young Captain refusing to touch the Clarence Campbell trophy because of the bigger prize that waits in the wings. Rocky Wirtz jumping around like a kid in a candy store as the final horn sounded. A far different scene from what the town has been used to for the years leading up to yesterday. No more Eric Daze disappointments, no cutting corners, no selling out the fans, just sellout crowds and a large sea of red jerseys with that infamous Indian chief on the front and a range of names from Kane to Toews to Keith on back. Just like it should’ve always been in a hockey crazed town, hockey is back in Chicago and its return has been welcomed arms, open hearts and Champion starved fans. Even Bill Wirtz has to smiling at this scene.

The Bruins Make History… The Worst Kind

Boston and New York again have something in common.

So Boston… how does it feel? You know, to be so sure things are going your way only to see them crash down in a flaming heap? It ruined a sure fire ratings, and historical hockey dream of a matchup, the Bruins vs. the Canadiens. A matchup I was waiting for and hoping for just to feel the hate between two rivals and to see if it was anything like the much over played Yankees-Red Sox matchups. But that’s over.

Losing happens, just not like this. Besides the Yankees only the Red Wings and Penguins had lost a 3-0 series lead in the history of 7 game series in three of the four major sports, they have one new member in their hall of shame. The Bruins collapse was weird, not just that they lost, but because of everything within the series that lead to it. At the end of Friday night’s game 7 I stood and could only utter this, um, wow, that was depressing. So depressing that it brought back memories of 2004 when it happened to the Yankees. The Boston Bruins 3-0 series collapse however, is worse than the Yankees because there were so many eerie things that led to the collapse.

First off, the David Krejci injury at the end of game three when the B’s went up three games to none. For an offensively challenged team like the Bruins, Krejci was undoubtedly their best forward in the playoffs up until he went down scoring 8 points and logging close to 22 minutes a game in the series. Up until game four with Krecji in the lineup the Bruins dominated the action and beat up the Flyers. Once Krejci went down, the tables turned. The B’s gave up nine goals in the next two games and well… you saw what happened in game 7 (more on that later).

Secondly, Tuukka Rask, you know, the guy who took Tim Thomas’s job with an amazing regular season where he finished up with a 1.98 Goals against average, was terrible in net in the final four games. He went from allowing seven goals in the first three games to fifteen in the final four. The first goal the Flyers scored last night by James Vanriemsdike was horrendous. His shot was deflected by Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman, yet Rask somehow allowed it to trickle under his right pad and into the net. In comparison with Flyers net minder Michael Leighton, Rask looked like the guy that had been thrown into the fire and couldn’t handle the pressure.

Tuukka Rask's great playoff run came to a stunning hault.

Leighton on the other hand was and has been outstanding in net. Since replacing the injured Brian Boucher, Leighton has allowed only four goals in two and a half games, three in last night’s first period and nothing more. At some point I wondered why Claude Julien didn’t go back to Tim Thomas. Thomas has been in these situations before, including last year’s game seven loss to Carolina. He could’ve been a better option than Rask who was undoubtedly shaky.

Third was funny enough, the Celtics epic win in that same arena the previous night. The C’s set up what was bound to be an epic two night period by ousting the Cleveland Cavaliers the previous night with spirited performances and a rowdy crowd. It seemed like the perfect ending to both series. The teams from Boston, who, no one expected much out of at the beginning of the playoffs, now would be two teams in the Eastern Conference Finals in rivalry matchups. It certainly seemed that way as the B’s followed up the C’s win last night with a spirited first period. Milan Lucic came out of hiding with two goals and the Bruins were ahead 3-0. Then the air came out of the Bruins and everything began to crumble.

The Vanriemsdyk goal was the beginning of the end as the Bruins play gradually slowed and slowed while the Flyers, especially Daniel Briere and Mike Richards, flew around the ice creating havoc and swinging the momentum towards the Philly side at the end of the second period.

The third period saw the Bruins regain that intensity as they found scoring opportunities from veterans Mark Recchi and Marc Savard. The B’s controlled the action throughout most of the period and if not for some unlucky bounces (or lucky if you’re a Philly fan) they would be gearing up for a Finals matchup with their rivals the Montreal Canadiens. Then well…

Thing number four, the too many men on the ice penalty at 11:10 into the third period. If you’re a longtime Bruins fan the words “too many men on the ice” are painful to listen to. For those that don’t know what I’m referring to, in the 1979 Eastern Conference Finals the B’s and Habs played a classic overtime game that ended with a Guy Lafleur power play goal thanks to a too many men on the ice penalty by the Bruins. The Habs went on to win the Stanley Cup and the Bruins haven’t been the same since. Last night, history repeated itself.

With only 18 seconds remaining on the power play Simon Gagne, who hasn’t been the same goal scoring threat that he was at the beginning of the decade thanks to a rash of Eric Lindros-like concussions, found a wide open top corner of the net and beat a sprawling Rask. 4-3 Flyers. Somewhere Don Cherry probably did a combination of throw a chair, then chug a bottle of Crown Royal, then had a heart attack.

You knew the end result was coming; I just stopped watching and began taunting a Twins fan after A-rod hit a grand slam in the bottom of the seventh to give the Yankees a win last night (I mean it is May, so A-rod is clutch for these things). As the clock wound down and the Bruins tried their hardest to get a tying goal, they fell short. Flyers win the game and the series 4-3, down 3-0 in both instances. You can’t make this stuff up. As the Flyers swarmed Leighton, the Bruins and their fans were stunned. Yellow, “Go Bruins!” towels littered the ice. Wiseman and other players couldn’t lift their heads for the postgame handshake. As the fans stood in shock a smattering of Flyers fans cheered and ran to their entry way screaming for Gagne and other players. The scene was the epitome of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

The good part, if any, of the Yankees game seven loss was that they got killed. The drama was over by the third inning and the rest was just a slow alcohol induced death. For Bruins fans this was worse. They watched a team lose two 3-0 leads and lose thanks to a throwback penalty from yesteryear that haunted them up until this game. You tell me what’s worse.

The good news for the Bruins is that they have a top 2 pick in the draft thanks to dealing Phil Kessel to Toronto, yeah the Bruins get Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin while the Leafs 25 goals and underachievement. Brian Burke is probably beating himself with a stick right now. The bad news… well you’re seeing it. The playoff run hid a lot of questionable in this team such as age, lack of offense and consistent play from the wings (ahem, Lucic). It was a great run, but it was bound to end. However, I don’t think anyone could’ve seen it play out like this.

The Incredible Shrinking King

Instead of leading, Lebron just watched his team get pummeled.

There was a point Tuesday night where for a brief moment I had become a Cleveland Cavaliers fan.

I watched that pathetic performance all night without interest simply because I could care less about the Cavs. I cracked light-hearted jokes with my buddy Will about how Rajon Rondo had Mo Williams “on skates” as we say (even at one point calling him Movechkin, that has a better parallel than Will or I could have ever imagined). I held in a laugh as Cleveland fans sat mortified at the sight of their team tanking… wait a minute, not tanking… SH***** the bed… no wait… F***** up… yeah, that works. I watched my buddy Will go from into the game, to mad, to depressed, to just… just.

For a point I got a little salty towards coach Mike Brown (who coached absolutely the worst in a playoff scenario since Kevin Gilbride’s offensive play calling for the Giants last year against the Eagles) who absolutely refused to understand that his best lineup was Delonte West-Lebron James-Antawn Jamison-Anderson Varejao-JJ Hickson, who gave Danny Gibson minutes when he hasn’t made so much as a scratch on that team since he got Keishia Cole pregnant, and who overreacted to Rondo’s huge game and put Lebron on Rondo in game 5.

Then it happened, I got mad. Mad at a team that meant nothing to me, but more so towards a player that had “lived” up to all of his hype and had perched himself on top of the heap of the NBA as its best player. I got fed up with Lebron James.

I watched Lebron run and hide from the bullies that were the Boston Celtics like a first-grader running from a bully on a school yard. I watched him look dazed and confused like a punch-drunk prize fighter. He looked more like Roberto Duran than Muhammad Ali. I saw him pass up open threes to pass to Anthony Parker who chucked up ill-advised shots with Ray Allen in his face. The final straw was the look on his face on the bench. It was the same look I had on my face as freshman in college taking a psychology 101 exam. Lost.

The Celtics dominated all game long.

That performance was something I had never seen from a superstar of his caliber from Shaquille O’Neal in his prime, to Michael Jordan, to Tom Brady, to no one. The man that they call The King became a pauper. He wasn’t worthy of that title, not after that game or game 6. He wasn’t worthy of being of mentioned in the same breath of the greats in the NBA. The Jordan comparisons? Stop. Better than Kobe? Please. Kobe Bryant pretty much could drive up to the front of ESPN’s door and just park in front and just stare at everyone and say “who’s better?” get into his car a drive away to his fifth title. You know why? Because not one of those players, at this juncture of the season would in any way shape form or fashion would ever, EVER let their team just give up or play scared in such a big game in that scenario. Lebron however did the opposite.

Could you imagine Michael Jordan just running and hiding in the third quarter of a playoff game with his team down? HELL NO. he would’ve gone down swinging. Lebron went down whimpering. 0-5 in the first half, didn’t hit his first shot until 6 minutes left in the third quarter, never drove to the lane, which he can do at any time anyplace anywhere. His final line 15 points, 7 assists, 3-14 shooting, three turnovers, Boston 120 Cleveland 88. That was it.

Lebron supporters say that his elbow was still injured so its affecting his jumper, it looked pretty fine in games one, three and four. Besides, that elbow looked good enough to drive to into the lane a few times and slam home a few dunks. Some will say it’s a bad game that it happens… not this late in the season, in the postseason when your team needs you most. When your back is against the wall and your season is pretty much on the line you don’t have bad games. Kobe didn’t have one last year when he had an injured shooting finger, Jordan had the Flu… dropped 38 and won game 5 in Utah, Steve Nash could only see out of one eye 20 points 9 dimes and a Spurs killing game three win this year. If you truly want to win and it’s the most important thing to you as you say it is then nothing is an obstacle.

To me for Lebron to make up for that loss he would have had to score 50 points and carry the Cavs to a victory last night in Boston. He would’ve had to put the team on his back and carry them like his idols and the best in their respected games, instead he had a ho hum triple-double 27/19/10 and once again he settled for jumpers, deferred to teammates and only attacked with less than 3 minutes left and the Celtics up by double digits. The king wilted, and once again showed no emotion and seemed to care less.

After the game the speculation began about Lebron’s future, he was passive as usual, cliché in his words and walked off. Oh yes that lovely speculation that Lebron has deferred yet secretly is in love with.

First of all let’s make this clear, he aint coming back to Cleveland, not with that team. As much as a blame Lebron for this letdown for the second straight year, it aint all him. This is the most overhyped, overrated, terrible team in the league. They’re a fraud. 61 wins for a team that without Lebron doing everything for them would be a 35 win team. Don’t believe me? Here’s what I realized last night:

At one point there was a five of the floor of James-Williams-Varejao-Z-Parker, think about this for a minute; two spot up shooters, an energy guy with no offensive prowess and a 7 footer who is 15 foot jump shooter. Now think about the rest of the team, THAT’S THE TEAM!!! Nobody but Lebron can get their own shot, make their own offense or doing anything remotely well without Lebron holding their hand. When Dan Gilbert came out and said he’s done everything to make the Cavs better I can’t agree with that. It’s a team of cast-offs, third bananas and Superman. You can’t win a title with this team and that’s why you’re at home right now.

That’s why Lebron is leaving, and being a Knicks fan let be very clear when I say this, I DON’T WANT LEBRON ON MY TEAM! It was fun for months to joke with Cavs fans about how Lebron is going to New York and win tons of titles. That won’t happen. Not with Bron Bron. If Lebron played like he played in the last two games of this series, in New York, IN DECEMBER… he will get worse treatment than what he got in game 5. The media is more intense, the pressure is epic and Lebron James in my opinion can’t handle it.

He knew his team wasn’t that good but he never took initiative, never grabbed Mo by the throat and told him to get his head out of his rear, never took over the game when he needed to, and could. He’s not the player we all have think that we have “Witnessed.” He’s a highlight reel; he’s basketball’s Dan Marino. Keep in mind that Marino made a title run early in his career and never got back even though his numbers we’re Madden-esque. Sound Familiar?

Lebron can do whatever he wants, whenever, however he wants. There’s a reason Cavs announcer Austin Carr calls him the L-Train and not just because it sounds good. It’s because when he is rolling down the lane, all 6’9 265 of him, not even Iron Man can stop him. He’s a monster, he’s Donkey Kong, but in big game situations he plays like Diddy Kong. If you’re a team investing possibly 120 million dollars into a guy that you want to lead you to a title is that a characteristic that you want from someone you look towards to lead you to a title?

In 2007 he pulled off one of the greatest single-handed comebacks ever when he scored 25 consecutive points and beat Detroit on the floor and in their heads. That game in hindsight was nothing more than a tease as we’ve come to see. That’s not Lebron’s game. That killer instinct attempts to come out but it can’t. Lebron is a complementary star player, and these last 72 hours prove that.

The sad part about it is I actually feel bad for Cleveland fans. Cleveland fans can be blowhards but they’re not used to winning. They thought they found basketball’s Jesus in Akron and he would lead them to sports heaven out of their John Elway and Craig Counsell induced hell. They got the dunks, the sneak from behind blocks, every sportscenter worthy moment that they ever hoped and dreamed for… and it’s all a big glitzy mirage.

Lebron’s no show and show of disinterest and lack of caring put Cleveland back in their old neighborhood that they are so used to. They put the end of this series next to “The Fumble”, “The Drive”, Jose Mesa and every other bad thing that has happened to them since Jim Brown last lead them to a championship in 1964. If or when he leaves Cleveland basketball will once again be on the back burner, nothing like the pop culture smorgasbord it is right now. And Lebron killed it Starting Tuesday night and concluding Thursday night.

Wherever he goes Lebron will have a huge cloud hanging over his head. His crown now holds a handsome amount of rust from letting the pressure and stress hold him down. Lebron James will be coveted, but at a price. Chicago will tempt him as will New York, New Jersey and Miami. He will be touted as a savior, a deity and the key to a title. Do you really wasn’t the truth about Lebron James? Turn on games 5 and 6 and watch the king cower before his court and run from danger. 20,000 Ohioans at the Q and much more around bars and in homes did, we all were Witnesses.

A Letter To Marc-Andre Fluery

Marc-Andre Fluery needs to strp it up tonight.

Dear Marc-Andre Fleury,

Hi Marc, I’m Kevin Anthony Howard. I’m pretty sure you remember my letters to C.C. Sabathia and Lane Kiffin last year when they we’re facing tough situations and they did pretty well after we talked. So I figured after watching you get demolished by a weak scoring Canadians team last night, again, I figured you could use a little talk.

First off just to let you know I hate the Penguins, I’m a Rangers fan, it’s a rivalry you know? So I kind of actually want the Canadians to win tomorrow night at the igloo and send that place to ground in defeat and the fans home teary eyed. Yet not in the fashion that it seems like it’s going to happen in. that being with you being the goat for the eventual loss.

Yeah I know King Crosby just scored his first goal of the series last night, and I know Kris Letang sort of burned you the other night in Montreal and his mistake led to the Canadians knotting up the series, but last night was on you dude. You allowed some soft goals like the Mike Cammalleri back hander, ugly, and that Maxim Lapierre goal where he shook you out of your shoes, uglier.

This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this in you Marc. No one really paid attention in the Ottawa series, but on the low, you we’re terrible. Games 1 and 3 for you we’re rough to watch especially. I mean you got bailed out by Crosby and Malkin but dude, even you know that that’s not going to cut it especially this year with you all as defending champions and all.

Let’s be real for a minute. Crosby, Malkin and Staal aren’t the only top draft picks on this team. You were the number one pick in the draft in 2003 and the Pens envisioned you as being the best goalie that they had had since Tom Barasso. It was a rough transition to the league but you’ve done a decent job, you made the Canadian gold medal winning team this year, you’ve got a ring from last year and made the finals the year before. Yet Marc, you know as well as I do that you tend to disappoint more than amaze.

Your stats are average, the team actually played better with Ty Conklin in net in 2008 when you we’re injured, and you don’t exactly raise your game with stakes high late in the season or in the playoffs. In the six games you lost to the devils this year you allowed 3 or more goals in every game, against the Caps, 4 or more. That was the reason the pens weren’t a top 3 seed in the first place because of your poor play (which in hindsight doesn’t matter right now because look at where they all are).

With all of that said Marc tomorrow night is your shot. Possible last game in the Igloo, where Barasso won two cups and 300 games, where the Pens turned Pittsburgh into a raging hockey town once the Steelers closed up shop for the season, where Lemieux and Jagr were as synonymous as Jordan and Pippen, where the Pens face elimination and the possibility of being dethroned. This is your shot to come through and prove that that number one pick on you was a worthy one. You can be the best goalie on the ice and carry your team to victory much like your French-Canadian idols Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur.

The season is on your shoulders. You have to stop Cammalleri from continuing his amazing playoff run; you have to be better than Jaroslav Halak who has been putting on his best Mikka Kirprusoff in 2004 or J.S. Giguere from 2003 impression. The pressure is on you more than any other Penguin tomorrow night, much like an ace pitcher in a game 7 in baseball, you have to bring your best stuff in a do or die scenario tomorrow because your team needs you more than ever.

So remember that when the clock strikes seven and the puck is in your corner. You are the number one guy tomorrow night. The pressure is on you to get it done and you better live up to it, or else there are going to be some sour Pens fans come Thursday morning.

Good luck Marc, and remember the reason why you we’re picked number one in 03. Bring that game with you or the Pens are done


Kevin Anthony Howard

Numbers Dont Lie… The Hawks Are Terrible

Yeah Joe, it's that bad.

I would put up stats to show how bad the Atlanta Hawks have played. I could describe how Mike Bibby has faded into oblivion or how the bench is trapped in some black hole or vortex, I could tell you that Joe Johnson is potentially playing himself out of millions this offseason with his terrible play… but let’s be real; you can see that in the scores of the series:

114-71, 112-98, 105-75 all Orlando all the time. Sometimes simple numbers explain the story more so than in depth analysis and for this series you can tell just from the box scores how pitiful the Hawks are playing. The bench scoring besides Jamal Crawford? 6 points. The starting backcourt? 6-22, 15 points, 4 assists. Outrebounded 51-34, 35% from the field, 27% from three, IN OTHER WORDS THE ATLANTA HAWKS HAVE NO BUSINESS PLAYING ON THE SAME FLOOR WITH THE FLORIDA GATORS LET ALONE THE ORLANDO MAGIC!!! THIS ISNT A SERIES, IT’S A SLAUGHTERFEST!!

“A tough, ugly loss,” Hawks guard Joe Johnson said. “Embarrassing.” Which loss? The 40 point beat down, the fourth quarter fade away or this horrific performance?

“It’s just not there,” Al Horford said. “The guys know what we have to do. It’s just frustrating when the effort isn’t there.” That might be the biggest understatement of the year. The Hawks left it all in the Milwaukee series where honestly the Bucks would’ve been a better opponent for the Magic. How does a team that wins 53 games in the regular season, 34 at home, and had a realistic shot at the Southeastern title look like a JV team compared to the magic.

It has to start with Mike Woodson. If Johnson is playing himself out of money then Woodson is coaching himself out of a job. This is the second consecutive postseason that Woodson’s Hawks were taken to the brink in a first round series against an inferior opponent and were blasted in the second round by a far superior opponent. If you want to consider yourself a player in the league and a contender every year, performances like these are more than unacceptable, they’re irreprehensible.

“I thought in Game 2 we really came out ready to play and competed, and lost it at the nine-minute mark of the fourth quarter,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “But tonight was just unacceptable, and I have to take responsibility for that as coach. I’m not happy with our play, it wasn’t called for, and I don’t think anybody saw it coming.” We should have. The Hawks have always been inconsistent and lackadaisical on the floor, but most time their talent gets them out of trouble. Um, not this time. The Hawks have dug themselves such a hole they might as well face plant themselves in the dirt and take a five month nap.

As for the above mentioned Joe Johnson? “It’s basically on me. I just tanked on being aggressive and was just taking the shot when it was there,” Johnson said. “Them getting off to great starts and sustaining it for 48 minutes, somehow, someway we’ve got to come out with a burst and try to sustain that the whole game.” It has to start with Johnson. Not to compare anyone to Lebron James, but Johnson should’ve taken a look at James game three performance as a blueprint on how to rebound your team from back to back lackluster games in the series.

James came out like a house of fire looking for his shot and facilitating the action for his teammates. The Celtics didn’t have a chance with a fully motivated James at the helm. Johnson was the exact opposite. He shied away from contact and settled for shots as he stated. For a guy that is supposed to be a max level player come free agency time, he has certainly played like a second banana, a poor man’s Lamar Odom if you will.

You can blame Johnson, Woodson, the backcourt, and lack of rebounding or whatever. Blame it all on everyone involved. The Hawks are about to get bounced from the playoffs again, in embarrassing fashion again. If you want any more proof of how bad things are for the Hawks are right now, look no further than this analysis from Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Watching the Magic run their offense and then watching the Hawks try to do the same is like seeing two teams who play in different leagues.” You see. You don’t need stats to tell you how bad they are, heck two lines might have been too long as well.

Toews And The Blackhawks Keep Their Cool

For all of the attention that Patrick Kane receives in Chicago, and rightfully so, don’t forget that other young guy that just so happens to the captain of the Blackhawks and is an offensive threat as well. That being Olympic gold medalist Jonathan Toews.

Jonny Toews lead the Hawks over an overly aggressive Canucks squad.

Toews put on a show last night in Vancouver as the Blackhawks ran the Canucks out of their own building 7-4 behind Toews hat trick and two assists. All three of his goals came on a power play that went 4 of 8 last night and lambasted Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo all night long.

“The power play had a heck of a night,” said Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp, who chipped in with a goal and three assists last night. The power play was effective due to the lack of discipline on the part of Vancouver as they were whistled for seemingly infantile penalties such as Daniel Sedin cracking his stick across Kris Versteeg’s leg, Alex Burrows cross-checking Dustin Byfuglien in the neck during a scrum and Shane O’ Brien going to the penalty box for cross-checking Byfuglien in the first period, twice.

“We didn’t react well to what was going on and they made us pay for it,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “I really believe that this group is ready for this moment, but obviously our actions right now are proving me wrong.” It also doesn’t help that the Blackhawks are taking advantage of every opportunity that the Canucks are giving them. The Hawks are 7 of 24 on the power in the series and have dismantled Luongo who was facing questions about his leadership and production long before the postseason began. Now with their playoff lives hanging by a thread, the talk has been raised again.

“He’s the second-best goaltender on the ice,” Vigneault said after the Blackhawks scored 6 goals on 33 shots against Luongo in game four. They’ve scored thirteen goals in the two games at General Motors Place. Meanwhile his counterpart Antti Niemi has been better since his game one meltdown only allowing 8 goals in the last 3 contests and finally bringing some stability to a goaltending situation that was becoming dire in Chicago.

Yet the man in the spotlight tonight was Toews who at times seems like a forgotten man on a team that had six 20-goal scorers this year and Toews 25 seemed pretty pedestrian. Yet Toews doesn’t laud for attention that he should rightfully receive. He’s not really an outgoing guy like Kane and is way more reserved. Hence the reason the Blackhawks decided to give him the captains “C” at the age of 20. His poise has rubbed off on his teammates and it showed last night as they held their composure while Vancouver crumbled around them.

Toews production has also increased throughout the series as he has taken advantage of a lackluster Luongo and has 10 points in 4 games and now leads the NHL in postseason scoring with 18 points. Not bad for a guy that finished third on the team in scoring in the regular season behind Kane and defenseman Duncan Keith.

Now Toews and the team’s collective cool heads have put the Canucks on the brink of elimination and have the Blackhawks one step closer to achieving a goal that every analyst in the NHL has had the pegged for since the beginning of the season, that being the Stanley Cup. “It’s nice to get up in the series, but it’s far from over,” Toews said. “We’ll be happy when it’s over.” If the Toews and the Blackhawks play like they’ve played in the last two games than it should be over on Sunday Night

The King Crowns Boston

Lebron had his way with the C's all night.

Things went south in Boston really fast night. Josh Beckett let his fastball fly around Fenway Park last night and got rocked because of it, the Bruins, who were looking to get a head start on the Eastern Conference Finals, instead found themselves down by two goals to the Flyers in the first period… but none of that compared to the carnage in the TD Bank Garden last night.

The Celtics left their swagger, attitude or whatever in Cleveland, or maybe Lebron James just slapped it out of their mouths.

That Monday meltdown that Cleveland had seemed like it was ages ago as the Cavaliers came into Boston and landed an early knockout in a 124-95 beat down last night, and it wasn’t even that close.

All five Cavaliers starters scored in double figures and Delonte West added 14 off of that bench. Meanwhile for Boston all they could muster was another great performance by Rajon Rondo, great considering the circumstances, and Kevin Garnett. Other than that, they were dead as you could get. Paul Pierce shot 4-15 and Ray Allen was 2-9 and the bench was just as ineffective. “Big Baby” Davis and Rasheed Wallace played 15 uninspired minutes as they committed lazy fouls and were beat to every rebound and loose ball as the Cavs controlled the tempo for the entire game.

Most importantly though it was King James leading the way from beginning to end as the King jumped on the C’s early with 28 first half points, ten more than his entire total from game two. There’s been a lot of talk about Lebron’s elbow and whether or not the pain in the elbow was causing some problems and limiting the way he plays the game… Friday night ended all of that talk.

“I know I’m going to hear a lot about the elbow, but I’m here to play basketball and give our team a chance to win,” James said. “We knew how important it was to come out and play aggressively after giving away Game 2.” Not just game two but almost game one as well. The Cavaliers were as unimpressive in the first two games of a series as you can get. They trailed at the half in both games at home and if not for a Mo Williams spark in game one the Cavs could easily be down 2-1 as they are up.

Yet all of that seemed irrelevant as the Cavs shot 67% in the opening half of game three and scored 65 points, 36 in the first quarter all while getting back to what makes them what they are; good defense and letting Lebron work his magic.

“It was great to see LeBron set the tone from the jump,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “And the rest of the team followed.” they sure did. Lebron’s performance in this game from the jump was all about aggression. He had three first half assists as the greedy side of Bron Bron took over, although it should be noted he finished with seven assists in addition to his 38 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Lebron’s entire demeanor had changed for this game. He barked orders at teammates, snarled at referees and was nothing like the playful, exuberant superstar that we’ve come to know. Dare I say that he got some Jordan in him and the killer instinct took over. My buddy Will put it plain and simple after game two, “he’s gotta start being like Jordan. He’s gotta get mad at people when the (bleep) up. That’s the one thing about Bron, he doesn’t get abrasive with his teammates when he has to, cuz you know Kobe is quick to yell at his boys when they (bleep) up.” Maybe Lebron got the message. Maybe he got tired of the elbow, and the lackluster play of his teammates and decided to get everything in gear and start becoming aggressive towards everything in sight. That’s what the Cavs need honestly. They need Lebron to get in their tails and get them to work harder and not be lackadaisical on the floor. It worked in game three and should continue throughout the rest of the series.

As for the Celtics? Well, the worst is over for now anyway. It’s becoming clear that Paul Pierce is a shell of his former self and their bench is all but worthless at this point. If they have any shot at beating Cleveland they need Rondo to continue to play at his current level and hope everything falls into place.

That seems farfetched at this point however. With Lebron feeling better and the Cavs rolling it’s looking like an early exit for the C’s and questions will start up about the future of this team. They got a kick start last night once their beat down ended. Good thing for them they weren’t they only bad show in town last night. They have a little company in Josh Beckett and Tuukka Rask in the Boston doghouse.