Tag Archives: Ryan miller

Thank God Hockey’s Back (NHL Preview)

It's been an offseason to forget in the NHL

If you thought the NBA offseason has been hell then you don’t have the slightest idea about rough. The NHL’s offseason has been a public relations nightmare. The summer was supposed to be about the celebration of the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup after 40 years of futility. Instead every other day there was a tragedy on the ice.

Rick Rypien, Wade Belak and the KHL Lokomotiv franchise’s plane crash that killed all passengers aboard including former NHL-ers Ruslan Salei, Pavol Demitra and Brad McCrimmon to name a few cast a shadow of the sport and brought sadness to everyone over the sport.

Add that to the fact that Rangers bruiser Derek Boogaard died towards the end of last season and you understand the somber mood that the NHL might seem to be in.

When looking at ESPN fashion guru Paul Lukas’s annual uniform design review there were less designs for jerseys and more decals and patches for fallen players. It’s like the NHL has become a graveyard instead the coolest game on earth.

If any sport needs to start their season and get back to the brilliant play on the playing surface it’s this league. Ever since the lockout 0f 2004-05 the NHL has been on a roll. The talent on the ice is the highest that it’s been since the mid to late 90’s with the emergence of the Paul Kariya’s, Keith Tkachuk’s and Mike Modano’s of the world.

The NHL has so many great players playing at a high level that it’s becoming hard to keep up with all of them. At first it was the hype of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf. Then came Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Patrick Kane and Ryan Kesler. Now we have kids like Ryan Nugent- Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Tyler Myers and others who are crowding the ice and making noise.

The Bruins are ready to repeat.

It’s not like the NBA in terms of star power but it’s a beautiful thing to watch when the games are flowing. There are great players on every team in the league and most are under the age of 27.  Every night in every city there is a reason to watch a game just to catch one of these young studs whether it’s Drew Doughty in Los Angeles or Jeff Skinner in Carolina. Even with the sports brightest star status still in doubt (Sidney Crosby is still having post-concussion issues) the league is as strong as it’s ever been and is staring one of its most competitive season in decades in the face.

This year there is no real clear cut favorite. Gone are the days of Detroit being the front runner in the league every year, nowadays they’re not even the favorites in their own division. There are 10 to 14 teams that have a realistic chance at winning the Stanley Cup this year whether it is because of their goaltending, offensive prowess or just the fact they have all of the right pieces in place to make a run at the cup.

The right pieces meaning the right balance of youth and experience. In the modern NHL the young teams win championships as seen with the Penguins, Blackhawks and Bruins in the last three years. Yes I know Tim Thomas is old as dirt and Zdeno Chara is no spring chicken, but the work put in by guys like Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand helped this team win the Stanley Cup last year. Unlike in other sports where the older teams win the titles the young ones take the crown in the NHL.

So who has the best shot at winning the crown this year? Well in order…

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Now I know what you’re thinking… who the hell will score goals for them? Their leader in goals had 23 and their points leader scored 50. The Predators are the NHL version of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2000’s, they can’t score to save their lives, but no one can score on them. The backline led by Shea Weber along with Vezina finalist Pekka RInne were in the top 5 in goals allowed per game and the teams tough defensive play gave teams fits. If they get two goals a game they could win another 44 games and find themselves fighting for the crown.

BUFFALO SABRES

They can score in bunches thanks to Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford. Tyler Myers heads a steady backline and Ryan Miller is one the game’s best goalies. They failed to take care of the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs last year but if Miller stays on top of his game they can go very far.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Team Teemu and the Ducks have a shot at the crown.

 

Once upon a time the Habs had more titles than the New York Yankees after raising their 24th Cup in 1993. Ever since they’ve been one big roller coaster, which has included numerous changes in net and on the bench and they haven’t had a real identity for a long time. Now they seem settled on Carey Price who came through big for them last year shaking off an up and down 2009-20 season that had him on the bench in the playoffs. This team isn’t too loaded with playmakers but it gets the job done with guys like Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri as well as dark horse Norris candidate P.K. Subban patrolling the blue line. They can make a run as long as they can hold onto a lead unlike how they did last year against the Bruins.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

I don’t care what they do in the regular season anymore. I don’t care if they win the Pacific division, if Joe Thornton scores 200 points and Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture score 90 goals. This team should’ve won a Cup by now and their time is running out. If they don’t get it done this year then they never will.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Is Ilya Bryzgalov finally the answer in net for the Flyers? He better be. The Flyers let go of fan favorites and team leaders Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to clear space for Bryzgalov. Sure they acquired L.A. Kings power forward Wayne Simmonds (who Flyer fans will love) and Brandon Schenn  (who from preseason reports looks like a beast) but you don’t replace Richards toughness and Carter’s skill overnight. I’m still not a fan of either trade but if the Flyers get back to the finals then it proves that maybe I really don’t know anything about hockey.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

I probably jumped the gun last year in making them Stanley Cup favorites, but they are close. Acquiring Richards from the Flyers gives them a much needed veteran presence in the locker room and they have Doughty, Jack Johnson and Anze Kopitar flying around and making things happen. The only question is will Jonathan Quick be their full time net minder or will it be Jonathan Bernier?

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Without Crosby the Pens had 98 points last year and took the 4th spot in the East (without Malkin also) so once Crosby comes back how do you think this team will fare?

(This Crosby injury by the way is really bad in both a game play and P.R. sense for the NHL. The league needs Crosby on the ice because he is the NHL. Crosby is the league’s most recognizable face and its best player. The league needs him on the ice as much as it needs Ovechkin. When Crosby is on the ice the game changes. He is the best passer and best scorer in the league and can change a game at the drop of a hat. If the Pens had him healthy in the playoffs they may have hoisted their second cup in three years. Once healthy the Pens once again become the league’s scariest team and might be the best team in the league… once he comes back.

His injury is the reason why Brendan Shanahan has been so harsh when it comes to physical play. This isn’t like the NFL where Roger Goodell is turning the game into flag

40 and still going strong.

football, the suspensions that “Shanaban” is handing out are necessary in order to change the culture of the game and protect the players. After the injuries to Crosby as well as Nathan Horton and Marc Savard it has become clear that the league needs to crack down on these types of hits. Hopefully it discourages this type of play and quick. Because if Steven Stamkos gets a Crosby type of injury then the game will really be in trouble.)

DETROIT RED WINGS

I mean when are they not a player for the Cup?

Also let’s pay homage to Nicklas Lidstrom. This is probably his last season in the league and it looks like he can play another five. At age 40 Lidstrom is still better than most of the defensemen in the league and is probably the front runner for his 8th Norris trophy. What he did in replacing the irreplaceable Steve Yzerman as captain in Detroit and leading them to another title in addition to all that he’s done in his career has to put him in the top 10 players all-time right?

NEW YORK RANGERS

I probably just jinxed my team putting them in the top 7 and I’m probably overvaluing the acquisition of Brad Richards (which will help immensely) but after watching this team play together for two years I think that they will contend for a title this year. The Rangers youth movement has been a huge success with Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal and Brandon Dubinsky leading the way. The Rangers are a tough team that is defense driven but can score goals when needed. They just needed more consistent scoring and a veteran to get them over the hump. Enter Richards. Richards was a member of John Tortorella’s 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning championship team and is one of the game’s best scorers. His presence will help Marian Gaborik get back to scoring a ton of goals, should push Cally and Dubz to the 30 goal mark and should keep the Rangers ship steady in those late months. I’m saying they’ll win it all, but they will be a serious contender.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Hey Bruce Boudreau, you don’t get it done this year then you may want to update your resume.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

The thought of Daniel Sedin taking four shots to the face and Roberto Luongo falling flat on his face in key situations is still fresh. If they didn’t get tougher this offseason then they’ll be done in a hurry.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

The trades after the title killed their chemistry for the first half of last year. Once they got it going they looked like a machine. The key is Corey Crawford in net. We know Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp will score, but the reason they were able to turn things around was because of Crawford’s play in net. He is primed for a breakout year and the Blackhawks are looking at a return to the Cup.

BOSTON BRUINS

With Richards the Rangers can contend.

 

Okay, your city won its 7th title in all four major sports in 10 years… now go away. That wasn’t really analysis more like I’m sick of Boston and its championship reign.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

No one, and I mean no one will stop them from scoring goals especially of Ryan Getzlaf stays healthy all season long. The Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan line is the scariest line that the NHL has seen in a while. They can all go for 50 goals and 100 points and they make it easy. It helps when your 40 year-old second line winger can still get you 30 goals and 80 points to help back you up. I don’t know what fountain of youth Teemu Selanne has been drinking from but he needs to share it with others. However it always comes back to goaltending and Jonas Hiller decides whether I’m right about this team making the Cup finals or not. With him in net last year they would’ve won the pacific division. In that period in between before Ray Emery almost saved them the Ducks could’ve scored 10 goals a game and it wouldn’t have mattered because they still would’ve lost. Hiller’s health means so much to this team because they have no real second option behind him. It also doesn’t help that he is one of the top 6 goalies in the league. This team’s title hopes hinge on him, if he’s healthy then put them down for a June reservation. If not, then it’s another first round exit.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Yep, I just picked the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. They have a 41 year-old goalie, I don’t know if their defense can stop the puck from going in the net and Vinny LeCavalier is still possible trade bait… and I don’t care. This team could’ve made the Stanley Cup Finals last year if not for a road game 7. This year I think Stamkos and company won’t fade late in the season like they did last year, which ultimately cost them home ice. They are settled in net and Roloson is a big game goalie who knows how to win also they can score with the best of them. Steve Yzerman put this team together in his image and if that’s the case then I have no doubts that they will be tough enough to get to and win the Stanley Cup.

The first puck is set to drop in a few hours and I’m more than excited. After a long offseason with so much tragedy and heartbreak it will be a welcome relief to see some of the best players in the world on the ice and making magic happen.

The league deserves some good news and good times after a few months of so many bad ones.

ATLANTIC- RANGERS

Stamkos is ready for a run at Lord Stanley.

NORTHEAST- BRUINS

SOUTHEAST- LIGHTNING

EC PLAYOFFS- CAPS, HABS, SABRES, FLYERS, PENS

ECF-  LIGHTNING- BRUINS

CENTRAL- BLACKHAWKS

NORTHWEST- CANUCKS

PACIFIC- DUCKS

WC PLAYOFFS- SHARKS, KINGS, PREDATORS, RED WINGS, BLUES

WCF- DUCKS- BLACKHAWKS

SCF- DUCKS- LIGHTNING

HART TROPHY- STEVEN STAMKOS

VEZINA- HENRIK LUNDQUIST

NORRIS- NICKLAS LIDSTROM

CALDER- RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS

SELKE- JONATHAN TOEWS

JACK ADAMS- JOHN TORTORELLA


And We’ve Only Just Begun

Alex Burrows series winner was one of the great moments from the first round of the NBA and NHL playoffs.

The first round of the playoffs are never interesting. There are your 1 versus 8 matchups that are usually over in a week, a slightly more interesting 2 vs. 7, a deceptively tough 3 vs. 6 matchup and the 4 vs. 5 is always the most evenly matched series but can swing either way.

All of the series normally run too long and in the past I’ve complained about how the playoffs need to be shortened. After the last two weeks, I’ve changed my mind at least for one year.

The NHL and NBA playoffs first round action was so compelling that it was hard to keep up with every series even though I tried my hardest. If Alex Semin wasn’t scoring in overtime to save the Capitals in game 1 versus the Rangers it was Derrick Rose carrying a sloth-like Bulls team to a come from behind victory against Indiana. If Chris Paul didn’t have a throwback game 1 against the Lakers, then Teemu Selanne looked a 24 year old instead of a 40 year old versus Nashville.

There were so many ridiculous occurrences that it made my head spin. Here I am at Eddie George’s trying to watch the Yankees-Orioles game and Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday are knocking down huge threes to keep the 76ers alive versus Miami, and as soon as I turn my head Daniel Briere and Ville Leino are forcing a game 7 versus Buffalo after scoring late goals to keep the Flyers alive.

It’s like the NHL and NBA are trying to one up each other… I like it.

Think about each series for a minute. Let’s subtract the Red Wings-Coyotes series and the Orlando-Atlanta series because Detroit dominated the Coyotes and no one cares about either Orlando or Atlanta.

After this first round exit, Dwight Howard's future in Orlando is now in question.

(Actually I lied. There is an interesting dynamic from the Orlando series; Dwight Howard won’t be playing for the Magic much longer. I can’t envision him staying with a team with no backup big man; a roster of shook players and no real consistent shooters around him. This series loss was almost the last draw for Dwight because when he played well he lost and when he played terrible the magic won, which I can’t understand at all. Dwight is probably sick of being in Orlando and hearing Stan Van Gundy in ear every two seconds and being ripped by everyone for not exceeding his talent level. Picture Dwight in L.A. or New York or maybe even Boston in a year or two. Yikes.)

Starting in both Eastern Conference matchups, The Bulls-Indiana series should’ve been a washout. Instead Darren Collison and company put heavy pressure on the Bulls for 4 of the 5 games and could’ve easily won the series as they lost it.

Why didn’t they? Derrick Rose.

To hell with PER rating and things like that, Rose was the best player on the floor at all times and packed the Bulls on his back leading them to victory in the first three games of the series. His acrobatics and constant driving to the hole was amazing. He was undaunted, vicious and would not lose. If you had doubts on the MVP then you didn’t after this series.

Miami versus Philly was mostly a wash except for game 4 when Philly had one last gasp and the Wells Fargo Arena went nuts thanks to Williams and Holiday’s heroics… and LeBron’s inability to close again.

LeBron James could’ve easily beaten the 76ers with a drive to the rim late in the game, but he stopped short, threw up a bad shot and Philly escaped. Thanks for the new material LeBron. We’ll be watching you closely throughout the playoffs again. And I have a feeling that you might be screwing up again.

The Celtics-Knicks series should’ve gone 7 games, if: Amar’e Stoudemire got the ball in the last 5 minutes of game 1, Carmelo Anthony got any help in game 2, and if the Knicks had any reliable players besides those two at all.

Truth be told the Celtics were only impressive in game 3 when they crushed the Knicks at The Garden. However, in the other 3 games they looked terrible. Sure the Big 4 lead them to victory by taking turns in handling the majority of the scoring, but they cant come out cold like they did in games 1 & 2 and they cant give up a huge lead like they did in game 4. If they do then Miami will eat them for lunch, unless LeBron has the ball late.

Derrick Rose's acrobatics put the Bulls in the second round of the playoffs.

In the NHL the Caps-Rangers series could’ve went both ways. The Rangers could’ve won games 1 & 4 if not for a late goal by Alex Ovechkin in a hard-fought game 1 and if they didn’t choke away game 4.

The Caps fans had to be thinking “here we go again” as the third period of game 4 started and they were down 3-0. Another Washington collapse after they had an early 2-0 series lead had to be in the back of their minds . Then Alex Semin and Marcus Johansson led a charge that sent the game into overtime where Jason Chimera effectively ended the series with a fluke goal that gave them a 4-3 win.

Instead of concerns of another early exit, the caps pulled it together and won the series in 5.

The Sabres and Flyers series was fun and head scratching at the same time. The Sabres chased a Flyers goalie in 3 of the games in the series, had a 3-1 lead in game 6 at home and had the series in their hand… and lost.

Philly’s goaltending has been bad since Bernie Parent retires it seems, but in this series it was a cluster****. If not for Daniel Briere’s timely offense and Ryan Miller’s ineffectiveness in net for Buffalo then the Flyers would’ve been toast. Instead they move on and Buffalo has another postseason horror story.

Speaking of fans saying “Oh no not again” how do you think Boston Bruins fans felt after losing the first two games of their series at home after the playoff collapse to the Flyers last year?

Boston showed incredible resilience by taking the next two games in Montreal before winning a pair of overtime games at home, including a raucous game 7, to win the series.

It was a classic rivalry that seesawed between both sides and was a thrill to watch (even though the Spurs were clinging to their lives versus Memphis. More on that later.)

Finally Tampa Bay continued its revival of a season by coming back from 3-1 down to Pittsburgh to win in 7 games.

First off this wasn’t a collapse. The fact that Pittsburgh was almost in the second round without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is a shock to me. What else was a shock was how dominant Tampa looked in games 5,6 & 7.

Nathan Horton and the B's finally got rid of the Habs.

They were a different team from the first 4 games. They were flying around without a care and just took it to the Penguins. Steven Stamkos and company looked like a Stanley Cup contender than a team in the middle of a grand rebuilding plan that took a huge leap this year. There 1-0 game 7 victory was even more impressive because of their defensive play that they hadn’t had all year.  Are they for real? Maybe, but it’ll be fun to watch it play out.

(Ok, halftime. I told you these playoffs were nuts. And we’re not even into the West yet. Ready and break.)

Now the Western Conference where arguably the best series in each sport took place.

The Thunder vs. Nuggets was interesting for one reason and one reason only, the possible alpha-dog fight between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

Let’s be clear about this… THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER ARE KEVIN DURANT’S TEAM PERIOD!

Yet in game 4 Westbrook took it upon himself to take every big shot when the game got down to the wire and he also made every big mistake. It was like watching a train wreck. Westbrook chucking up bad shot after bad shot while Durant just stood there calling for the ball and not getting it.

In the end the Thunder lost and Westbrook took 30 shots to Durant’s 18. Scott Brooks probably wanted to ether Westbrook on the spot.

Sad part is that it was in the process of happening again in game 5. Westbrook was making more bad plays late in the game and was putting the Thunder behind the eight ball again. Then Durant said enough.

With the Thunder down 9 with 4 minutes left, Durant hadn’t yet scored in the quarter. Once he got the ball that changed. In an instant the lead for Denver went from 9 to 7 to 5 to 3 to 1 and then OKC was up. Durant had a Jordan blackout moment. No one could stop him at all. He drove to the lane, hit from three, from 18 feet, hit floaters, right-handed and left-handed. He was unstoppable and led the Thunder to victory.

I run OKC... got it?

Hopefully Westbrook learned his lesson but I don’t know. This is going interesting to watch over the next few weeks.

Dallas had a message for everyone that picked Portland in their series, kick rocks, barefoot.

Despite Brandon Roy’s heroics in two wild games in Portland, Dirk Nowitzki guided Dallas to Victory in a series that no one had them picked to win. At this point in his tenure in Dallas the Mavs are more than ever Dirk Nowitzki and a bunch of parts. His 28 a game and 33 in the clincher paced the Mavs and his cool demeanor weathered any storm that Portland gathered up for Dallas and led them to an impressive series win.

The Lakers-Hornets series was a throwback series. We saw glimpses of the greatness of Chris Paul’s past with his 33/17 performance, we saw how Andrew Bynum can alter the play of any game when he’s healthy, and we saw Kobe go HAM with a dunk over Emeka Okafor that brought us back to when Kobe had all of his hops 5 years ago.

It also showed that the team to beat is still the L.A. Lakers. Despite the problems of game 1 the Lakers dominated 4 of the next 5 with their size and defense even without a dominant offensive output from Kobe or anyone. The West is still theirs especially now that…

…San Antonio is gone thanks to the 8th seeded Memphis Grizzlies. How great was this series as a fan?

Memphis didn’t even have Rudy Gay, arguably their best player, and still mashed on San Antonio like they were ants. Zach Randolph has gone from an NBA outcast to the leader of a team of young lions that are making lots of noise and looking for respect.

The Grizzlies were animals in this series. Tony Allen brought some of that Boston toughness out, Mike Conley looked like an all world point guard and Marc Gasol looked like the Gasol that plays in L.A. only a lot tougher.

Zach Randolph and The Grizzlies are having a good time in these playoffs

They pounded the smaller and older Spurs and except for an aberration of game 5 where Gary Neal hit a game tying 3 with no time left, the Grizzlies were the better team all series long.

As great as the Grizzlies and their crowd were, you have to wonder about the future of the Spurs.

This has to be the end of a great run form one the leagues best franchises of the last 12 years. Tim Duncan is getting older, Manu Ginobli is breaking down and the Spurs have no real front line depth to battle with any team in the Western Conference. This might have been the last of the Spurs dynasty and if so then the shift of power in the Western Conference has already begun to shift.

As we shift to the NHL and the Nashville and Anaheim series there were three things about this series I hated. 1. I was thinking that these two would meet in the West Finals because no one team could stop the Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf line, 2. Because no one was going to score on Pekka Rinne and 3. Because they were the two hottest teams going into the playoffs.

And of course I loved the series, well, except Bobby Ryan trying cut someone’s foot in half with his skate.

It was a seesaw battle that showed the each team’s strength at its best form, and that every game was intriguing.

The MVP’s of the series were Jordin Tootoo for the Preds who was a monster by setting up the game-winning goals in games 5 & 6 and by just being a pest and getting under Anaheim’s skin all series long, and Teemu Selanne who scored 6 goals and kept Anaheim in each game if the series… and he’s 40.

(Side note: people think I’m crazy for picking Nashville to go to the Stanley Cup Finals but why not? They have arguably the best goaltender in the playoffs in Rinne, the best defense lead by Shea Weber, and even though they don’t score a lot of goals they score them when they need to. I’ve seen weirder things happen, but a hockey team from Nashville in the Stanley Cup Finals? It could happen.)

The Predators in the Finals... why not?

If you want another reason as to why I still will never pick the San Jose Sharks to win a Stanley Cup then look at their series versus the L.A. Kings:

Game 1: back and forth battle between two very good teams ending with Joe Pavelski winning the game for the Sharks in OT.

Game 2: L.A. embarrasses them 4-0. Unacceptable.

Game 3: L.A. jumps out to another 4-0 lead, Antti Niemi gets pulled, L.A. has the win in the bag and somehow San Jose ties it at 5 at the end of the second period and win 6-5 in OT. Gutsy but still, how do give up 8 straight goals in the playoffs?

Game 4: they dominate the Kings and roll 6-3. Impressive.

Game 5: Kings jump out to a 3-0 lead in the first period on the road and win 3-1. Terrible.

Game 6: The Sharks overcome a raucous crowd and another OT to win in L.A. and clinch the series.

You call them gutsy I call them soft. Until the Sharks consistently beat teams in the manner that they should I will not take them seriously as a Cup contender. Period.

But none of these series NHL or NBA matched the Vancouver Canucks-Chicago Blackhawks. Vancouver was the leagues best team in the regular season with the leagues top offense and was a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. However in the last two postseason’s the Blackhawks owned them in the playoffs.

This was Vancouver’s main nemesis, the number one roadblock to the Cup even though it was a first round matchup. The Canucks had to slay this dragon to reach its destination and through three games it looked like it was easy as 1,2,3.

Then game 4 happened, 7-2 Blackhawks. Ok no problem. They don’t want to lose at home, sort of a last gasp effort no biggie. Then game 5 happened, 5-0 Hawks… in Vancouver. Uh-oh.

Panic spread, Alain Vineault sat Roberto Luongo for game 6 in Chicago, which was the biggest knee jerk reaction I had ever seen a coach make to two bad losses. I mean the guy won you 38 games during the season, why pull him just because of two games?

Game 6 was played on pins and needled by the Canucks. Sure they led 2-1 and 3-2 but they looked tense all game long. It seemed like the pressure to close out was getting to them. Then when Cory Schneider injured his groin during Michael Frolik’s game-tying penalty shot things got real tense. Luongo came in and did a decent job in relief… until overtime when he allowed Ben Smith to grab a rebound off of a Marian Hossa shot to send the series to a game 7.

Put Vancouver on a suicide watch at that point.

Vancouver-Chicago might’ve been the greatest game 7 in the early stage of the playoffs ever. It was fast paced throughout with Luongo (hey! He’s starting again) and Blackhawks rookie Corey Crawford standing on their head throughout the game. The series looked like it was in the bag for Vancouver as Duncan Keith hooked Alex Burrows for a power play that was surely then end of Chicago’s season. Until Hossa had another shot at Luongo that just missed, but it came right to Jonathan Toews who had a Canuck on his back while he was falling down, and he still put it past Luongo to tie the game.

I still dont believe in San Jose, no matter how mentally tough Joe Thornton and company seem.

Rogers Arena was ghostly quiet. I mean like someone died quiet.

Another overtime, more anxiety and the possibility for more heartbreak. When Burrows took a penalty for holding Keith you could see the Canucks fans beside themselves. Could it really end like this? Could we really lose to this team again and in this manner? Burrows himself must’ve been losing his mind in the penalty box. When that penalty ended you could hear a collective sigh of relief from the 20,000 in attendance.

Two minutes later you could hear joy from those same fans. When Chicago’s Chris Campoli tried to clear the puck form his zone, Burrows pounced on it, moved in and fired a rocket past Crawford that gave Vancouver a 2-1 win and sent Rogers Arena into a frenzy.

The Canucks mobbed Burrows and it looked like they won the Stanley Cup. The demons were gone, the suicide watch was over, Vancouver had finally beaten Chicago.

What a series, what a first round. Can it get any better than this? Can Dallas-L.A., Miami-Boston, Boston-Philadelphia and Detroit-San Jose match the craziness of what we saw in the last two weeks of April?

Hopefully so. As great as round one was, I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the best that these playoffs have to offer just yet.


Ryan Miller Has To Step It Up For The Sabres

Ryan Miller's performance yesterday overshadowed Philadelphia's own goaltending problems.

Ok, so the Philadelphia Flyers goaltending has been terrible for the last 5 of the 6 games in this series versus the Buffalo Sabres (okay it’s been bad for the last 16 years. Sorry, but I was trying to think in terms of this series.). Whether it’s Sergei Bobrovski, Brian Boucher or Michael Leighton the Flyers have allowed the Sabres to score some ridiculously bad goals and because of that the series will enter a game 7 on Tuesday night.

However, as bad as the Flyers have been Ryan Miller has been the most disappointing goaltender in this series.

Now you’re probably saying um, Kevin… he has two shut outs in the series. Well to you I say I know and thank you for such an astute observation. However, have you also not seen him allow 4 goals in the series 3 times, almost give back game 5 after the Sabres jumped out to a 3-0 lead and watch him not control any of the rebounds that led to 3 of the Flyers goals last night?

In his defense, Tyler Myers and the Sabres defense did little to nothing to help clear the front of the net for Miller and it led to 2 goals that Miller just couldn’t see.

With that said, Miller’s performance in this series has not been indicative of who he is a goaltender and it’s the reason why the Sabres are going back to Philadelphia for game 7 instead of getting ready for the Capitals.

Miller has looked skittish at time in the series, even scared. There were times yesterday when he looked like he didn’t want to be on the ice at all. This is not the same goalie that carried Team USA to the Gold Medal Game last February, or the one that carried the Sabres to the playoffs at the end of the regular season.

Miller has allowed too many rebounds to get by him in this series.

One cause for his off and on play this series could be that he’s still feeling the effects of an injury that he suffered against the Maple Leafs in late March.

Miller took a puck off of his chest and mask and missed the rest of the regular season to recover from what may have been a concussion. Yet in game 1 he was ready to go and showed no effects… until these last 5 games.

He’s been in position for most of the Flyers goals but just hasn’t made the plays to stop them from scoring. Danny Briere has scored 4 goals in the series all off of rebounds that Miller couldn’t control. Guys like Claude Giroux have taken clear view shots that haven’t too hard to stop, but Miller has let them through.

As bad as the Sabres goals have been that the Flyers have allowed Miller has allowed some that have been just as questionable.

So would I pull Miller at this point? No I wouldn’t because he’s the guy that got you here and why put a little used backup like Jonas Enroth in net, which would put doubt in your starter (hi, Alain Vigneault)?

But I would be concerned. If Miller isn’t on his game for game 7 then the Sabres are done. Sure Myers and the defense have to play better and Thomas Vanek has to keep up his scoring output that he’s done over the course of this series, but this team falls if Miller isn’t the Vezina winning goalie that he has been.

So while the Flyers goaltending remains an issue going into tomorrow, don’t think that the Sabres shouldn’t be concerned about theirs either.


So Long 2010

The Blackhawks cup win was one of the many great moments in 2010.

So this is it for 2010. We watched the Blackhawks return Chicago to a hockey town, and the Bruins feeling the Yankees pain.

We saw the Giants of Baseball break long title spell since their days in New York, and the Giants of football have another meltdown against the Eagles.

We saw Peyton Manning and his legacy take a hit while Tom Brady rose up again.

We had the revival of Vick and the fall of Favre. The #2 at Auburn became everything the #2 at Columbus should have (though both have had their share of bumps in the road).

There were perfect games and imperfect calls (thank you Jim Joyce). There was Butler almost shocking the world, and Boise having there world shocked.

Then there was LeBron… pause.

Indeed 2010 was a year in sports that we haven’t seen in forever. The glamour in what makes sports great shone bright while the wolf in sheeps clothing  were revealed. The Favre’s and LeBron’s came out as snakes in the grass when all along they were made out to be deities and superheroes. The real heroes were the New Orleans Saints we revived a city and captured the heart of a nation, Sidney Crosby who lifted a country all the way back to the top of their, the Dustin Byfuglien’s and Duncan Keith’s who sacrificed their bodies and teeth to breathe life back into a once hockey crazed city. The angels spread their wings this year while the devils brought themselves down.

There were also some pretty interesting jesters and magicians that showed us how much fun sports can be and how silly we take the game. There is Derrick Rose cutting up point guards every which way, Steven Stamkos scoring at will welcoming all challengers, John Wall showing off his muscles on the dance floor and at the rim and Felix Hernandez crippling bats while his own team’s bats crippled him.

There was Ron Artest partying all night in his uniform after winning a title, Luis Suarez pulling a Diego Maradona, and John Isner and Nicholas Mahut unable to decide a match in the span of three days (no really it took three days to decide).

We had the torch passing from Roger Federer to Rafael Nadal as tennis’s best player, the rise of Kobe Bryant in the all-time rankings and Tiger Woods falling from the number one ranking.

Madison Bumgartner and Kyle Brotzman became household names for different reasons; Bumgartner the 21 year-old left handed rookie pitched the game of his life in leading the Giants to their first world title in 56 years and becoming the game’s next great lefty. Brotzman cost the Broncos a game, a possible title and lots of money when he missed two chip-shot field goals that cost the Broncos a season that what was hyped since the end of the Fiesta Bowl in January and cost Kellen Moore the Heisman trophy (no seriously. When Moore heaved that ball downfield and Titus Young somehow got ahead of the coverage and leaped to haul in a 50 yard grab I yelled out at the bar HEISMAN! That was Moore’s moment. He had it all in front of him and it got yanked from his grasp like The Dude’s rug that tied the room together. Moore may never admit it but you know he contemplated going into Brotzman’s room and stabbing him MacBeth style. And I’m serious).

World meet Madison Bumgarner.

A nation fell in love with soccer (again) as Landon Donovan saved team USA time and time again, and I fell in love with Blake Griffin. Scratch that, Youtube, ESPN, you, me and highlight fanatics LOVE Blake Griffin. There is an app on my phone where I get ESPN scores and highlights and there is always a dunk of the night caption and I swear nine times out of ten that I’ve seen its been Blake. Its so silly now that the other day the caption read “Dunk of the night: Guess Who?”, yep Blake. This guy has no comparison for ridiculousness of athleticism and awe-factor. The Knicks game was the best (yeah I know what you’re thinking), he had 44 points, 15 rebounds, 7 blocks and 4 dunks where his genitals were planted squarely on some member of the Knicks forehead. The worst was Tim Mozgov who took the full on T-bag where even I had to laugh. The guy is a freak, please god if you’re out there make him last 15 years at least in the league please I’m begging you.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for this crazy year. Coming up with a top ten list is silly for this thing because there are is 12 months of craziness that I have to condense into ten moments that really stood out. There’s no way I can put this in any type of order except for number one which should be number one for all reasons necessary so without further ado here are my top ten moments of the year.

The John Isner- Nicolas Mahut tennis match

In particular the fifth set or should I say fifth set epic. Eight hours and thirty minutes, 138 games,  over 100 aces  and just absolute insanity. The match was already in its second day due to darkness concerns the night before and thanks to the third set barnburner it carried over into the fourth day of the tournament.

Besides the gaudy numbers and mind-numbing play on the court, the look of the players was just mesmerizing. Mahut and Isner played each point like it was their last. They ran down each ball until their legs were spaghetti and picked themselves up again and again. It was torture but neither player didn’t want to be the one to lose the longest match in Wimbledon history.

Unfortunately one person did have to lose and it was Mahut. When Mahut sent his return volley long Isner hit the floor like he just won a championship and held his head in disbelief. A roar from the crowd and a handshake between the titans brought a fitting end to an amazing match. Isner over Mahut 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68.

Even though he lost the no-no, The way Armando Galarraga handled the situation should not go un-noticed.

The year of the pitcher

7 no-hitters (and yes I still am and forever will count Armando Galarraga’s 1 –hitter as a no hitter because that’s what it was wrong call or not), and all of them were done in ways that range from impressive to stunning to dull.

Ubaldo Jimenez walked 6 batters versus the Braves while throwing 128 pitches and only 72 strikes in his 4-0 no-no in April. It’s cool but he walked 6 guys so that dulls it down. However it doesn’t take away from the start that he had.

Roy Halladay pitched perfect game in the regular season and a no-no in the postseason. Both Masterful, both breath-taking adding to his case for the best pitcher in the game.

Dallas Braden became the newest guy you never heard of to throw a no-no joining A.J. Burnett when he was in Florida. Was it a great performance ? Yes. Is he still a bum for calling out A-Rod? absolutely.

Edwin Jackson, eight walks, 149 pitches… that’s all I’ll say.

Matt Garza finally showed us what he’s capable of his in his gem. Maybe now he can step up his game and fulfill the potential we all think he has.

Then there was the no-no that wasn’t, Galarraga’s. In less than two hours Galarraga pitched the performance of the year unmatched of any of the other pitchers. For 86 pitches in an hour and 50 minutes Armando Galarraga looked like Greg Maddux. He worked efficiently and fast. Yet it was the call by Jim Joyce that we’ll always remember when he called the runner safe at first base when he was in fact out. But Galarraga’s demeanor and class ruled over the missed call. Instead of screaming in horror he simply smiled, went back to the mound and finished off his one-hitter. Bud Selig doesn’t have to correct the mistake, I will, it was a perfect game and will be forever in my eyes.

The Blackhawks Triumph

Big Buff, Tazer, Kaner, toothless Keith and the whole gang brought hockey back to the Chi. I’ve written on this enough this year so I’ll keep it short. This is what the NHL needs, the original six teams back at the top of the standings and playing well. Hopefully the Blackhawks triumph can lead to similar stories in New York and Boston.

Rafa’s Reign Begins

It’s his world now. I love Roger Federer and everything that he has done for the game of tennis, but this is Rafa’s time now.

After returning to glory at the French Open he showed how far his game has come and that his knees should be ready for the long haul in the next 4 or 5 years that he’ll be at the top of his game.

His wins at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open brought his game together and officially shed his moniker of being just a clay court player. He dominated the Open and left no doubt that there is no one close to him in the game. It guarantees that unlike at the beginning of the 2000’s where men’s tennis had no dominant figure it will still have a gold standard now that Federer is in decline. Well done Rafa, well done.

The Blake Show

WOW!!! Not LeBron, not Kobe, not Kevin Durant, not none of em (yeah incorrect English) have the awe factor that Blake Griffin has. Kobe has aged, LeBron is now evil and Durant while ready to replace Kobe in the That Dude category nobody can draw a crowd like Griffin.

It’s similar to the effect Vince Carter had on the league after the dunk contest except we haven’s seen Blake in that type of stage yet, and we don’t need to.

Sportscenter is his stage. The Knicks are his props, and other players are blocks in his way of another highlight. I’m looking at Youtube right now for another silly Griffin dunk,

(God please get him out of L.A. May I suggest Phoenix, Dallas or New Jersey)

Thomas Morstead executed the gutsiest call in Super Bowl history.

The Gutsiest Call Ever

With the Super Bowl hanging in the balance early in the second half Saints Head Coach Sean Payton did the dumbest silliest most brilliant thing ever… he went for an onside kick… and it worked.

He grabbed the momentum and never let it go as the Saints took control of the game en route to a 31-17 win and completing a comeback of epic proportions in New Orleans. It was a call you’ll always remember and gave you more respect for a head coach than you would ever think off of one play.

The Revival of Josh Hamilton

The turnaround was completed. Josh Hamilton is now officially vindicated from all of the wrongs that almost ended his career in the early 2000’s. His MVP and World Series run brought him full circle from the drug addiction and alcoholism that plagued him in his Tampa Years.

Hamilton is now a role model, hero and one of the best outfielders in the game like it always should’ve been.

The Death of THe Boss

The Greatest owner in the history of the sport. He cared about winning and only winning. He did things his way and never cared about what anyone thought.

His passing left baseball without one of its greatest figures and the Yankees with a little less PR to deal with.

His Monument in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium is fitting of who George was. It was bigger than other plaque and towered over them all. Kind of how George hovered over Yankee Stadium with that watchful eye and towered over other competition. Thanks George, I’ll miss you.

U.S. vs. Canada- Game Of The Year

The most important hockey game since the Miracle On Ice 30 years earlier. Two of the biggest hockey nations battle to bring their nation to the front of the fold again.

It was a physical game that showed the best each country had to offer. ROberto Luongo and Ryan Miller shined in net, Patrick Kane was a monster with the puck skating in open ice, Jonathan Toews showed the poise that has made him the league’s most respected captain at 22, Jack Johnson became my new favorite American player with his physical play, and Zach Parise saved a nation with his late tally to send the game into overtime.

Then the king responded. Sidney Crosby did what he’s done ever since he entered the league in after the NHL strike, he game up big and took the sport to new heights. His goal on a redirect from Jarome Iginla placed him on a plateau that not even he thought was possible, national hero. He saved Canada, won the gold and never has to pay for a drink again. It was a fitting end to what was the best game of the year, even if the result made me want to drown myself in the Olentangy River.

What if...

#1 Duke vs. Butler

Imagine if Gordon Haywood takes a little off of that shot.

Imagine if it went in. Imagine the chaos, the pandemonium.

Imagine the story of the new Hoosiers with Brad Stevens playing Gene Hackman and Butler as the little guy that pulled off the greatest upset in the history of the game.

Imagine if Butler Beat Duke. Imagine the shockwave of finally seeing that the little guys are just as good as the big guys.

Imagine if that shot were two inches lower, because if it was all of this would have happened. Butler would have ushered in a new era in the NCAA, recruiting might be a little different but more so teams like Northern Iowa, VCU, Dayton and others could be logical national title contenders. They could get fair seedings, their conferences could get more teams in the tournament while bubble teams like the Clemson’s and Notre Dame’s of the world go to the NIT.

Instead the shot missed. The NCAA breathed a sigh of relief and everything was status quo like it should be in there eyes. But man, what if  that happened?

That was 2010 one the most imaginative, honest and fun sports years that we’ve had in a longtime. So many memories that will stick in the eyes and hearts of fans, writers and spectators everywhere. Here’s to hoping that 2011 can come close to matching what we witnessed this past year.