Tag Archives: vancouver canucks

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


Random Thoughts Vol. 3

OH GOD THERE'S MORE?!?!

Beginning of the month, been watching a lot of sports… yep, it’s time for another round of random thoughts.

Fernando Torres has scored one goal since being acquired by Chelsea in January… one. I always pick the best teams to follow don’t I?

The Yankees wouldn’t trade for Ubaldo Jimenez due to concerns about his velocity. In a possible trade the Rockies would’ve wanted Ivan Nova as part of the deal… Jimenez hasn’t made it past the 5th inning in 3 of his 7 starts with the Indians, Nova hasn’t lost since June… I think Cashman got that one right.

Losing to a FCS school should be like relegation in soccer shouldn’t it? Hi Oregon State.

Me at 8:30 pm last Saturday of the Boise State-Georgia game: “those Georgia uniforms are hideous.”

Me 48 hours  while watching the Maryland-Miami game: “those are the worst uniforms I have ever seen.”

Nyjer Morgan called Albert Pujols “Alberta,” does he realize Pujols is 4 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than him?

Oregon State should probably leave this out of the recruiting package.

Baylor is mad that Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12 and possibly breaking up the conference leaving them in football limbo. Somewhere Rice, TCU and SMU are uttering to themselves karma is a mother.

Wait a minute, Kevin Durant has tattoos?

At least David Garrard and Byron Leftwich have something in common to be mad about.

The way that analysts were criticizing his QB skills you would’ve swore Tim Tebow was black.

Appalachian wants to join the FBS… after getting drubbed 66-13 by Virginia Tech they should reconsider.

Tom Brady said he would welcome back Randy Moss with open arms. I’m not saying that’s in some way related to Chad Ochocinco… but I’m saying.

So if John Isner wins the U.S. Open is his career a bigger success than Andy Roddick’s?

Utah State almost beat Auburn, BYU beat Ole Miss, and Utah beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl years ago… maybe the SEC should stop playing teams from Utah.

Stephen Strasburg’s back, and he looks good.

(honestly it didn’t matter if the Nats lost that game or not, all that mattered was if Strasburg looked like he was the same pitcher he was before he left or not and he was. His movement and velocity were pretty darn good, he made everything look effortless and dominated a decent Dodgers lineup. If I’m the Nats and I look at a rotation with Strasburg, a rejuvenated Chien-Ming Wang, Jordan Zimmerman and John Lannon at bats like Ryan Zimmerman and Mike Morse then I’m feeling good about next year. that is if Jayson Werth can hit with that $18 million per year salary on his back.)

That Carlos Beltran deal isn’t working out so well for the Giants… shocker.

Who’s the next program to get stung by the NCAA? I’ll take South Carolina.

I’m still blinded by Maryland’s uniforms.

TIki Barber is shocked that no one threw him a bone this offseason. I mean who wouldn’t want a 36 year-old running back that hasn’t played in 5 years with tons of public baggage?

Ndamukong Suh is not dirty, he’s just playing football the way Deacon Jones would like.

It might be time for Tiger Woods to consider new career options.

This hasn't gone exactly as planned.

I will not talk about A.J. Burnett, I will not talk about A.J. Burnett, I will not talk about A.J. Burnett.

Aaron Rodgers called out Mark Sanchez for his GQ pictures. What can Sanchez respond with? Rodgers just won a Super Bowl he can say what he wants.

I think we might actually have a season without Brett Favre.

I have a feeling Luke Fickell might be more conservative than Jim Tressel.

By the way, how does Tressel get a six game suspension from the NFL for his NCAA violations?

(Goodell needs to keep college problems in college. Their penalties don’t transfer to the NFL. Tressel quit/ got fired by the Ohio State University so his 5 game suspension is pretty much obliterated. The fact that Tressel and Terrelle Pryor for that matter have carry over suspensions from college shows that maybe Goodell has too much power when it come to these disciplinary actions and should some of that power stripped. And it will be… in ten years with a new CBA. Good job NFLPA.)

Doesn’t it seem like Lance Briggs and the Bears have been beefing since 2006?

Apparently the NBA is making strides to getting a CBA done real soon. How does Wilson Chandler feel about that?

If the Philadelphia Phillies don’t win the World Series it would be a Greek tragedy.

I have a few choice words for how the Baltimore Orioles handled the makeup games with the New York Yankees and the results of those games. I can’t say them on this blog but I’ll let your mind wander.

After all of the controversy surrounding Ohio State this year how do three more players get suspended for taking benefits? I should’ve went to Ohio University.

I expected more from the Winnipeg Jets jerseys.

Mike Fisher you lucky son of a gun.

At least they weren’t Maryland’s.

(you know what’s even scarier than what we witnessed on Monday night? There are more than 12 color combinations that Under Armour has in store for this year. Under Armour is based in Baltimore, Maryland and I guess they are doing to the Terps what Nike did to the Oregon Ducks… except Oregon’s outfits look extremely cool. Oregon’s designs have flair and eye popping designs, Maryland’s are a horror show. There was way too much of the Maryland flag for any human being to take. A message to UA: emulation is the sincerest form of flattery but leave the flashy stuff to Oregon. By the way Maryland’s football team is going to make some noise this year and you should pay more attention to Danny O’Brian than his jersey.)

What Ana Ivonivic could’ve been.

Derek Jeter and Minka Kelly broke up… hide your girlfriends New York.

NHL training camps start this week…

That mean we’re a month a away from Rachel McAdams shots at Vancouver games and Carrie Underwood at Predators games.

God I love hockey.


The Bruins Own The City Of Champions

The Bruins win completes a great ten year run for the city of Boston.

It started in 2002 with the Patriots upset of St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl, then in 2004 the Red Sox ended 86 years of torture by winning the World Series, the Celtics followed in 2008 with their record 17th NBA Championship and finally last night after 40 years the Boston Bruins finished off one hell of a decade with a Stanley Cup.

 

Boston is truly the city of champions, as a New Yorker that’s a painful thing to say.

 

Funny thing about it is this; more so than the C’s, Pats, or Sox titles this Bruins championship is truly a work of wonders. The Bruins 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks was the culmination of a rebuilding process that was years in the making and was done without the glamour guys that make the Pats, Sox and C’s so regarded in sports.

 

Their most popular player and Conn Smythe winner was a goalie that bounced around the hockey world from places like Birmingham, Alabama to Helsinki, Finland before making his debut in the NHL at age 31 6 years ago.

 

Their captain is a 6’9” behemoth whose coaches told him that because of his height he’d be better suited to play basketball.

 

Their number one scorer is a rookie who was the biggest pest in the Stanley Cup Finals since Esa Tikkanen.

 

But it goes deeper than just the players; there were the ownership issues that drove Boston fans away from this once proud franchise. For ten plus years the Bruins became a punching bag for critics because of Jeremy Jacobs cheap ways that cost Boston its fan base and its respect.

 

Zdeno Chara's signing 5 years ago was a big step in the Bruins rebuilding process.

The Bruins were hardly a player in the Eastern Conference in the last 15 years, missing the playoffs 5 times and only making it out of the first round of the playoffs 4 times. They traded away perennial all-star and the face of the franchise Joe Thornton, they ran through coaches, they had no direction.

 

The turnaround started with Peter Chiarelli who did an amazing job in drafting and trusting the future of his team in his young players like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Milan Lucic. His boldest move was keeping journeyman goaltender Tim Thomas over younger and more talented net minders like Hannu Toivonen and Andrew Raycroft. Thomas though seemingly too old and too aggressive in net became the new face of the franchise as he helped guide the Bruins back to the playoffs four years ago and helped turn the Bruins into a player for the Stanley Cup.

 

Slowly Bruins fans came back and the hockey hotbed was ablaze once again as the Bruins were winning division titles and last year were one win away from making their first East Conference final in 18 years.

 

We all know the rest of that story.

 

The B’s could’ve folded and let the bitterness of last season’s historic collapse carry over into this season but it didn’t.  Thomas, Zdeno Chara (who both should win the Vezina and Norris trophies for outstanding goaltender and defenseman this year) and company guided the Bruins to another division title and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

 

Yet once again this team found itself against the wall down 2-0 to bitter rival Montréal heading to French-Canadian territory with history past and present not on their side. The Bruins fought back to beat the Habs thanks to their physical play and Thomas’s brilliance in net and the series win catapulted them to a mini run in the playoffs that featured a vengeful sweep of the Flyers where the Bruins looked as dominant as Bobby Orr led teams and a tough seven game series win over up and coming Tampa Bay.

 

Even with their impressive postseason run the Bruins were heavy underdogs to Vancouver who looked like a team on a mission after beating nemesis Chicago in the first round of the playoffs and then breezing through the next two rounds. Vancouver’s skill and speed led to an early 2-0 advantage in the series heading back to Boston with the B’s wondering if their bruising style of play could lead to a victory in the series.  Not only did their style of play lead to victories, it wasn’t even close.

 

Even before winger Nathan Horton went down thanks to a cheap shot from defenseman Aaron Rome the Bruins were beating up Vancouver in all areas on the ice. Brad Marchand became a wrecking ball, Shawn Thornton laid out Canucks with ease, Andy McQuaid and the other tough guys made each and every Canuck pay by delivering blow after blow on the ice and on the scoreboard. The Bruins became the unstoppable offensive force on the ice because their defense led to so many scoring chances.

 

They turned Roberto Luongo psyche to dog food and even though they lost game 5 in Vancouver they went back to Boston like it was nothing and forced a game 7. Their heart, determination and force got them through the Stanley Cup Finals and it also won it for them.

 

The Bruins had lost the previous three games in Vancouver by a total score of 5-2; they had wasted three dazzling performances by Thomas in net and were not about to do it again last night.

 

He might not be as big as Tom Brady, David Ortiz or Kevin Garnett, but Tim Thomas is just popular in the northeast.

With Thomas standing on his head Marchand and Bergeron lit the lamp twice each and Chara and the defense gave Vancouver nothing to work with. It was another slaughter.

 

Once the final horn sounded the journey was complete. Helmets and sticks littered the ice, Horton returned from his concussion to celebrate with his mates, Thomas took home the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP and Chara lifted the 35 pound silver chalice over his huge body to celebrate the Bruins triumph.

 

It was a wonderful sight for guys like Chara and Thomas who probably never would’ve had the chance to be here if not for their determination. Thanks to them and the other 20 plus misfits on that bench the Bruins wiped away 40 hard luck years from “too many men on the ice,” to the Oates, Bourque ad Neely years were they came so close but never succeeded, to the doldrums of the last 15 years.

 

This was sweeter than the Pats, Sox or Celtics victories because this was a real comeback story for a once proud franchise that can now properly hold its place in the city of champions.

 

The Bruins are now the big dogs in Boston right where they should be.


Game 7 Messages For The Bruins And Canucks

It ends tonight.

To Patrice Bergeron, win your faceoffs and keep the playoffs number one penalty kill on track.

To Zdeno Chara, use that big body to clear the front of the net so Tim Thomas can see thins clearly.

To Sami Salo, knock a few wings on their tail and keep the puck from going in too deep.

To Alex Burrows, agitate, aggravate, accelerate and get some Bruins fuming.

To Milan Lucic, we call you a mini Cam Neely; tonight you can prove it by taking over the game with your physicality and scoring a few goals.

To Brad Marchand, you have a napoleon complex; we know this, stay in third gear all game long and don’t let up.

To Ryan Kesler, get physical, cause some ruckus and be a leader.

To Daniel Sedin, score a goal, please, you’re overdue.

To Tyler Seguin, you’re not a rookie anymore, play like it.

To Andy McQuaid, be Chara’s right hand man get dirty and stop the Canucks from doing what they do.

To Henrik Sedin, thanks for waking up in game 6 and scoring a goal finally. The Canucks need more than that out of you tonight. If you are one of the top 5 players in the league then tonight is the perfect stage to show just why that is. Take over with your precise passing, set up Kesler and your brother and the other Canucks with chances to score goals. Show us why you were last season’s MVP.

Dont change a thing tonight TImmy.

To Kevin Bieksa, you’re the number one defenseman on your team; your unit has been up and down throughout this series. Make sure it doesn’t happen tonight.

To Cory Schneider, be ready just in case.

To Tomas Kaberle, the Bruins brought you here so you can boost the power play from the point and provide an offensive spark from the defense. You need to do that tonight.

To Dennis Seidenberg, keep harassing, keep hitting, keep the puck in front of you and keep the Sedins from getting behind you.

To Alain Vineault, remember when Montreal fired for your lack of success and didn’t think you were the type of coach to lead a team to the finals? Prove them wrong forever tonight.

To Claude Julien, remember how Lou Lamarillo fired you before the playoffs in 2006 and it probably cost you and the Devils a Cup? Remember that tonight when you make your decisions and think about winning the cup and flashing a finger at the trigger happy GM in New Jersey.

To Roberto Luongo, shut up and play. You trashed Tim Thomas then you got trashed. You’re the man at home but away from Rogers Arena you’re a joke. That doesn’t matter tonight however. This is your domain, you r house, defend it. Play like you’re playing in the goal medal game again. Stand on your head, let your game do your talking for you and when, if, you get down don’t get that lost look in your eyes and run to the bench. Man up and lead your team to victory. You used to be the captain of this team, those leadership skills would come in handy right now.

To Tim Thomas… just keep doing it how you’ve been doing it. That’s all.

Tonight is game 7; there are no more games this season once the last horn sounds. Leave everything on the ice, go hard and catch your breath when it’s over.

The cup is within your grasp, play like you want it.


Snakebitten In Vancouver

Maxim Lapierre nets the only goal in another heartbreaking loss for Boston in Vancouver.

You may understand the goal that won game 1, cool, Ryan Kesler made a great play to stay on side and a great pass that Tim Thomas had no shot on.

 

You sort of understand the goal that won game 2; Thomas was overly aggressive in handling the puck and Alex Burrows outmuscled Zdeno Chara for a wrap-around to win it in overtime. It was the good type of aggression by Burrows beating the bad type of aggression from Thomas. Fine whatever.

 

Yet after Maxim Lapierre netted the game winner that bounced off of Thomas when it looked like he got there in time, and it was the only tally in another classic 1-0 Vancouver victory, you have to wonder if maybe or not the Bruins are snake-bitten.

 

Consider this if you will; in games 1,2 & 5 the Bruins could’ve won them as easily as they lost. They out played Vancouver in game 1 had a 2-1 lead in the third period of game 2 and outshot the Canucks 31-24 in game 5. Yet lost all three games on goals that you could call either fluky or great effort.

 

In all three games Thomas has been as stellar as he was in the games in Boston. He made 3 or 4 saves that made you shake your head like he always does, yet unlike in Boston he’s been the victim of three pretty lame goals that were each the deciding tally in the game. Last night’s winner he was able to stop with his right arm before his momentum carried the puck into the night and set off frenzy at Rogers Arena. It’s hardly the way that Thomas should’ve envisioned losing a game on such a cheap goal.

 

However, its not like Bruins didn’t have their own share of chances. David Krejci had a shot at point blank range that Roberto Luongo was able to stop in the first period, as did Chris Kelly, Brad Marchand and other Bruins throughout the night. Luongo was simply amazing though. He shook of the harsh, yet deserved, criticism from the media after his two stinkers in Boston and played lights out in game 5. Luongo stood on his head and kept the Canucks in the contest when the Bruins were finding excellent scoring chances in front of him. He was back to being to being the one time best goalie in hockey and the guy that led team Canada to the gold medal last year.

The Bruins once again couldn't get a thing past Luongo.

 

We should also praise the Canucks as a team for finally taking it to the Bruins last night. For the last two games we watched Boston basically rape and pillage Vancouver without any retaliation, last night Burrows, Alex Edler and Chris Higgins were leading the charge in their physical assault of the Bruins as Vancouver outhit Boston 47-27. This time they were the aggressors and they put Boston in a bind with their physicality.

 

Which begs this question… What did happen to Boston last night?

 

Sure they could’ve won the game and they had their chances, but this didn’t look like the same Boston team that wreaked havoc in games 3 & 4. They were missing that next gear so to speak. At times in Boston the Bruins seemed like they had invented the 10th and 11th gear as they just kept taking it to Vancouver. Last night they looked stuck in the 3rd gear. They didn’t have the same spring in their step and it showed in the performances from Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand who went from agitators to innocent bystanders.

 

Maybe it was the home ice advantage that boosted the B’s spirits. If that’s the case then maybe we should expect more of what we saw in games 3 & 4 on Monday night for game 6 as Boston looks to stave off elimination.

 

If they do win will they have what it takes to come back to Vancouver and close out the Canucks? We know that the home crowd can take a team to different heights in the playoffs but for Boston a possible game 7 would mean finding another gear without assistance and as of right now they seem to be a home crowd only kind of team.

 

That crowd will play a big part with the Bruins going back to Boston on the brink of losing the Stanley Cup. But if we see more of the same that we have in Boston, doesn’t mean the same for a possible game 7 in Vancouver?

 

If it does then look for another brilliant Tim Thomas performance to go to waste and another sad way for the Bruins to come up empty handed.


It’s Time For Vancouver To Man Up

For Vancouver, that has got to stop...

Vancouver… WHAT IN THE BLOODY HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?!?!?! THIS IS HOCKEY!!!!!

This isn’t basketball with its insistence on not allowing physicality of any type to occur, this isn’t soccer where you can flop around like a fish after taking a hit, this isn’t even football where you can’t breathe on the quarterback too much or you’ll get a flag.

Hockey has made it clear that it likes the physicality of its sport. It won’t get rid of fighting, coaches still defend players for hits to the head, if you want to rough someone up fine, go ahead.

However, for some reason you all have no want to get physical, in games 3 & 4 in Boston the Bruins punked you simple and plain. Zdeno Chara pushed your guys around, Brad Marchand was a wrecking ball stirring the pot and daring you to get in his face, Tim Thomas knocked down your best offensive player Henrik Sedin and knocked down your number one agitator Alex Burrows, and he’s the goaltender… THE GOALTENDER!!!

The last two games were absolutely disgraceful. Once Aaron Rome knocked out Nathan Horton it was as if you became as conservative as Sarah Palin. Game 3 was a total sleepwalk of an effort where Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi waved fingers in your face daring you to bite them (I don’t care how Claude Julien felt about that, that was one of the best moments in the NHL and NBA playoffs. Period.). The Bruins poured all of their hate from the first two games into game 3 and pushed you all over the ice.

...For Roberto Luongo so does that.

Cool. Fine. Whatever. It was only one game, come back, man up and take it to the Bruins in game 4 is what the mentality should’ve been. Instead the mockery grew Wednesday night.

Boston continued their assault on the Canucks and especially Roberto Luongo (we’ll get to him in a moment). When Marchand started pinballing Canucks all over the ice and Rich Peverly kept skating freely into their defensive zone I began thinking, “what I wouldn’t give for Scott Stevens to lay one of these guys out right now.”

Stevens or any old school defenseman would’ve laid Peverly or any other Bruin out just to get his guys going. Vancouver doesn’t have any one like that because the makeup of their team doesn’t call for it. It has been curse than gift in this series. Every time I watch the Sedin Twins get pushed around and skate away I get mad. Christianity teaches you to turn the other cheek… but this is hockey. You’re allowed to smack a guy around. As much as I respect the Sedin Twins they are way too soft for their own good, especially captain Henrik.

I question his skills as a captain because he sees what’s going on and hasn’t led his troops in a way of combating it. Jonny Toews would’ve chewed his boys out in the locker room and got them going, Mike Richards might’ve tried to take Looch’s head off, Alex Ovechkin would tried to hit anything that got in his way, even Nicklas Lidstrom who isn’t violent by nature would’ve gotten the Wings ears and told them to man up.

Why hasn’t Henrik been more vocal and told his teammates to step it up? Where’s his passion and fire? Both Sedins have had a horrible series and need a fire to light them up right now, but to me it looks like Henrik just isn’t interested in doing it.

Speaking of horrible series, oh Roberto Luongo…

As bad as the Sedins have looked there is not one person that would worry me more than Luongo. After the Chicago series where he suffered a few hiccups it looked like he had gotten himself back to his gold medal play especially in games 1 & 2 in this series where and Thomas were going toe-to-toe.

But man, the last two games were scary. In a four period stretch Luongo allowed 12 goals in 59 shots… that 20% of the shots he faced that went into the net. In lacrosse that’s fine, in hockey that gets you shot.

More than the need for Vancouver to get physical, Luongo has to snap out of it. He can’t have that deer in the headlights look that he’s had in the last two games.  If Luongo can’t stay in net and match the brilliance of Tim Thomas on the other end then it won’t matter how many more hits they have in the series, they’ll lose.

Tonight’s game 5 is the most important game in Vancouver’s history. If they play like games 3 & 4 then Boston will return home with a chance to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The Sedins need to score, Luongo needs to stop shots, and most importantly the Vancouver Canucks have to stop getting bullied. Their hits have to be harder, they have to get in the B’s faces and get nasty. Game 5 hinges on whether or not the Canucks can stand up to the Beantown Bullies and go punch for punch. Either stand up to them or give them your milk money and run away Vancouver.

IT’S HOCKEY FOR CHRIST’S SAKE… COME OUT SWINGING!!!


The Bruins Fight Back

The Boston Bruins brought the pain last night.

The crowd was rocking, the players came out fired up, the aggression was on full display as the Boston Bruins came out in game 3 looking like a team hell bent on coming back in this series against The Vancouver Canucks…

 

Then Nathan Horton was knocked out of the game and the playoffs with a concussion thanks to a dirty hit by Aaron Rome… that’s when the Bruins went more than mad, they went ballistic.

 

The Bruins didn’t just beat The Canucks last night 8-1, they didn’t just bruise their ego, they beat Vancouver so badly and so viciously that Vancouver might doubt themselves for the rest of this series as to whether they can win it or not (and yes I know that Vancouver is up 2-1, but after what I saw last night that doesn’t matter.).

 

The Bruins dominated every single aspect of this game. They were ultra-aggressive, they got whatever shot they wanted and they got most of them off clean, they treated Vancouver as if they were rag dolls and The Canucks put up no fight.

 

About every two seconds there seemed to be another Canuck landing hard on the ice after getting nailed by Milan Lucic, Mark Recchi or Shawn Thornton, every time I looked up Alex Burrows was getting nailed by Zdeno Chara or having fingers stuck in his face by Lucic or Recchi (quite possibly the funniest taunt I have ever seen in response to Burrows infamous biting incident in game 1), there was an endless wave of Bruins heading straight for Roberto Luongo and neither he nor his defense could do a thing about it.

 

It was as swift of a beat down that I’ve seen in sports all year as Boston took it to Vancouver and never let up once.

 

It was especially telling on The Canuck power play… if you could call it that last night. Daniel Paille and Brad Marchand’s sick shorthanded goals came courtesy of a penalty kill that wasn’t concerned with clearing the puck and keeping Tim Thomas comfortable, it was more concerned with scoring and keeping Vancouver on its toes and boy did it.

 

Brad Marchand's Shorthanded goal was highlight reel material.

Speaking of Tim Thomas… how was that performance?

 

Thomas was an absolute monster in net. As badly as Vancouver was beaten they did have chances to get 3 or 4 goals past Thomas and they were robbed every single time.

 

It was the best Stanley Cup performance by a goalie since Cam Ward in 2005 for the Carolina Hurricanes. Thomas was a sliding wall that stuffed any and everything that came his way. There were about 5 saves that he made where I thought Mike Emrick was going to lose his voice because he screaming so loud they were that amazing. Thomas has had some gaffs in net this postseason that made some in Boston question if he could be consistent enough to carry this team through to a Stanley Cup Final. After three games he’s allowed only 5 goals and because of him the Bruins could easily be up 3-0 instead of down 2-1 in this series.

 

Which brings us to the Vancouver Canucks.

 

How would you feel as a Canuck fan right now?

 

You just got destroyed on the road without a fight, Luongo looked like he wanted no part of Boston after the shorthanded tally by Marchand to put them up by 3, Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin have been non-existent and Henrik Sedin hasn’t registered a shot all series… not one.

 

Yet here you are up 2-1 with a day off to lick your wounds.

 

I believe that Boston is in their heads right now and it’s going to affect Vancouver for the rest of this series. We all know Boston’s backs were against the wall and Vancouver had to be on its heels, but to come out and get bullied like that for three periods is embarrassing.

 

The Bruins are letting Alex Burrows live down his biting incident.

Burrows especially had no lift in his game. Burrows is known for his aggressive nature and ever since he bit Patrice Bergeron in game 1 you haven’t seen it. It’s almost as if Burrows and company are scared to retaliate. When Lucic and Recchi were throwing their fingers in the faces of the Canucks and daring them to bite them you just felt that Vancouver wasn’t going to take that for much longer, but they did. It got so bad that Thomas laid a check into Daniel Sedin in the third period when he was heading for the net.

 

If Vancouver wants to hold on to their lead and win their first Stanley Cup they have to man up. The physicality has to come back into their game. Some may see this game as an aberration, but anyone knows that when you sense a fear or tepidness from an opponent then you will get exposed and they will take advantage of you. Vancouver cannot let that happen. They have to get back to playing their style of hockey and land a few punches of their own.

 

What seemed like the biggest blow of the night came when Horton lay motionless on the ice thanks to a late hit by Rome. When the stretcher came out and the crowd sat silent after being as rowdy as ever in the first three minutes the Bruins could’ve packed it in.

 

Instead they channeled their desperation and their fallen teammate and laid into Vancouver with a flurry that has them back in the series and with momentum guiding them into game 4.

 

If they bring half of the intensity from game 3 then Vancouver might as well start heading back to British Columbia for game 5 now.


The Canucks And Bruins Bring It For Game 1

Raffi Torres celebrates after netting the winner for Vancouver in an incredible game 1.

Now that’s the way to start a Championship series. If you wondered just how much the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins wanted the Stanley Cup then last night’s super competitive game 1 provided one hell of an answer.

 

Both teams and cities are absolutely starving for a cup. Last night’s classic was a match of physicality, defense and a showcase of goaltending as Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo turned in legendary performances.

 

At every turn Thomas and Luongo stonewalled every attempt from Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Mark Recchi, Nathan Horton, Ryan Kesler and any other player that was knocking on opportunities door and were turned away. It’s not really like they had a choice to deal with so many chances early on however. In the first two periods there were 12 power plays and two five on threes, which had each goaltender on their toes from the get go.

 

They can thank some over aggression for that.

 

For all of the clean hitting and great play along the boards there was a lot of extra-curricular activities and Alex Burrows and Patrice Bergeron were knee deep in it at the end of the first period and it carried over into the second as well. Those penalties as well as some others including poor high stick minors against Daniel Sedin and Chris Kelly put both goaltenders at a disadvantage early. Fortunately for each side Thomas and Luongo were on top of their game and their defensive lines helped out to keep the game scoreless.

 

Once the game carried into the period it turned into a free-flowing match of skill and the rough stuff faded away as game took control of itself. The third period was filled with uninterrupted action, scoring chances and great saves. You couldn’t look away from the tube or you’d feel like you were going to miss something important even though the score was still 0-0. You were proven right when Thomas stopped Jannik Hansen’s breakaway and kept the puck over the goal line as he was sliding into the net and his momentum almost carried the puck in.

 

(Side note: with five minutes to go I was hoping for overtime. This was on of those playoff games that you didn’t want to see end before it should’ve. This was worthy of another 20 or 40 minutes and it would’ve added to how absolutely amazing the game was and how it kept you on the edge of your seat for all two and a half hours that it was on the air.)

Tim Thomas was excellent in net frustrating Daniel Sedin and the Canucks all night.

 

With less than 30 seconds left after a missed opportunity by David Krejci the Vancouver defense cleared the puck all the way to the opposing blue line when Kesler made a great play to dodge Zdeno Chara, play the puck off of the boards, stay on side (or not depending on you view) throw it across to Hansen who then found a streaking Raffi Torres who tipped the puck past Thomas for the only goal of the game.

 

It was heartbreaking for Boston, but Thomas had no chance to stop it. It was just a great play by Kesler and it caught the Boston defense by surprise.

 

1-0 Vancouver, both the game and the series.

How should Boston feel after game 1? Their power play looked great, the penalty kill was phenomenal and they kept the two hottest lines on the planet scoreless… and still lost.

 

There are no such things as moral victories but Claude Julien has something to build on. The Bruins out played the Canucks by far and should’ve won the game if anyone could’ve gotten the puck by Luongo. If this is the way that the series is going to go then Boston should be able to win it provided if there offense can get some added pressure around the net and rattle the Vancouver defense.

 

For Vancouver you have to say that they got lucky in this one. Their offense had chances early on in the first two minutes and could’ve put Boston to sleep early on but they couldn’t capitalize. The Sedin Twins have to have a better game two and their offense needs to match their defensive intensity throughout the rest of the series if the Canucks want to raise the Stanley Cup.

 

One thing that I hope doesn’t change is the stellar goaltending of game 1. Thomas and Luongo looked like MVP’s after the first 60 minutes of the series and were certainly game 1’s number 1 stars. I don’t care how many goals aren’t scored in this series, as long as they play like this then it wont matter because each game will be entertaining as hell.

 

We have to wait until Saturday night for game 2 to commence. It’s a weird two-day layoff that should give each team time to heal after a rough first game, and the Bruins time to stew over the late goal, and Burrows biting incident.

 

If game 1 is a preview of how this series will play out then there’s no question that we have a classic on our hands. One city that hasn’t raised the cup in 40 years and another that hasn’t raised it at all. Both teams playing like it and not giving an inch. You don’t want to miss any of this.


Sharks Need To Match Eager

Ben Eager's antics were part of the reason the Sharks lost last night. But his ferocity needs to matched by his teammates.

Ben Eager was a maniac last night. He ran Daniel Sedin head first into the boards, he took more bad penalties than I can count on one hand, his yelled at the Vancouver Canucks bench, scored a goal and cursed out Roberto Luongo (by the way the Sharks were down 7-2 at that point) and start a brawl at the end of the game.

Overall Eager tallied 5 minor penalties, a game misconduct, did more harm than good for his team and for the most part looked like an idiot doing it…

And the rest of the San Jose Sharks need to get mean and angry like Eager if they want to come close to winning this series.

True, I didn’t like Eager’s antics one bit, however at least he showed some sort of caring on the ice last night while the rest of his teammates let the Canucks tap dance on their heads without any recourse. After a dead even first period Vancouver mauled San Jose over the last two periods.

The Canucks out shot them 25-18 outscored them 5-0 and forced six penalties that led to two power play goals and kept the Sharks on their heels for the rest of the night. What was worse was how the Sharks defense played. They were routinely out of position and the let Canuck forwards do whatever they wanted.

On Daniel Sedin’s goal that made it 5-2, he, brother Henrik and Alex Edler basically skated untouched in a 3-man weave behind the net while the Sharks defenders stood there and watched until Daniel Sedin knocked home a rebound from Henrik. The last two goals were virtual untested one-timers where Aaron Rome and Mason Raymond got open and had clear shots while San Jose’s defense was either shielding Antti Niemi or four feet away from the puck. It was embarrassing.

Antti Niemi would love some help right now.

In essence the Sharks are playing right into Vancouver’s hands with their style of play. The Canucks are a finesse team that relies on their forwards to handle the bulk of the work and always push the puck. The Sharks are the way except I think that it’s safe to say that Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture are not the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler.

What the Sharks have to do is get physical. They have to disrupt the Canucks offensive flow and knock around their top two lines. Ryan Clowe and Eager have to bruise these guys up if the Sharks want to advance to the Cup finals. As good as their offense is they cannot keep up with the Canucks and have to slow them down. That also means Dan Boyle, Ian White and company have to play better in front of Antti Niemi and keep pucks from going by them.

If not then the Sharks will be going home in four again just like last year.

(Not that it would surprise me at all. I told you that I never have and never will trust the Sharks in the playoffs until they actual win in a convincing and emphatic manner in the way that this team is built. It makes no sense that a team with this much offense, a good defense and good goaltending gets killed in the playoffs year after year.

Is it Todd McClellan? Do they need different pieces? Maybe they need to get tougher, add more physical pieces, more mentally tough players… something, anything, because I think I speak for most of the hockey fans in Northern California that this is starting to get old and something has to change and change quickly.)

Even though I think Ben Eager’s antics last night went beyond the antics of the average NHL goon, I think that the San Jose Sharks need to channel some of that anger and get tough to find a way back into this series. The Sharks are facing another disappointing ending to their season and with the way things are going it will end very soon.

Maybe that’s why Eager was so volatile, he sees it coming and wants to stop it at all costs.


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.