Monthly Archives: June 2011

Stumbling around a playing surface that could only loosely be called “ice,” the Vancouver Canucks saw their series lead evaporate Wednesday night in Boston, thanks to a 4-0 Bruins victory in Game 4.
The pucks didn’t want to lay flat and glide for either team, but the newly sprayed rink seemed to particularly frustrate the Canucks, who repeatedly had pucks jump their sticks at the wrong moments.  It was already a hot day in Boston, as the temperature peaked in the mid-90s.  On top of that, apparently there was a Glee concert Tuesday night at TD Garden, and therefore the playing surface had to be remade entirely in the heat.  CBC’s Jeff Marek predicted that the result would be a playing surface that would slow the game down and hinder creativity, and he turned out to be spot on.

But both teams had to play on the crappy rink, so why did Boston seem to handle it so much better than Vancouver?  There’s the typical argument that the Bruins are much more physical, and that the finesse game of the Canucks couldn’t flourish on top of a slightly chilled swimming pool.  But I’m not sure that’s what we actually saw, as Vancouver outshot Boston in every period.  Sure, often times the shots on goal statistic gets skewed once the score gets out of hand, but why then did Vancouver outshoot the B’s in the first period, when the game was still very much in doubt?  To be honest, I thought Vancouver played a pretty decent first 25 minutes.
A better explanation of this game could be that Tim Thomas was simply great again, and that Vancouver made clear mistakes on every goal.  Thomas scored another shutout — his third in the last nine games.  Add to that stretch three games in which Thomas allowed only one goal, and the soon-to-be two-time Vezina Trophy winner might be in what the cool kids call “the zone.”  This is an issue that Vancouver must solve soon, because while you can expect players to play great at home, hot goalies are perhaps the best ingredient for a road victory, which is something that Vancouver cannot afford to concede in Friday night’s Game 5.
Speaking of conceding, each of the first three goals saw a specific mistake by a mid-to-low end Canuck skater.  I hate to cite college football, or as it should properly be called, “semi-pro legalized prostitution,” but Raffi Torres reminded me of that University of Texas safety that just jogged out of bounds to let Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree walk in for the game-winner a few years ago.  Instead of trying to defend a flying Rich Peverley, the Canuck third-liner got caught not moving his feet around the boards on the blue line, and let Peverley make him look more like a football punter than an NHL tough guy.
Boston’s second goal was that snipe by Michael Ryder from the left wing, but the time and space to shoot was due to Canucks D man Sami Salo never wanting to stop the puck or impede Ryder’s progress.  To make matters worse, Salo did that thing where you throw your stick six inches in front of the shot, which effectively gives your goaltender two things to worry about: the initial shot, and the potential deflection.  Salo only needed to lean and reach because he wasn’t moving his feet, and it cost the Canucks on that one.
The third goal for the Bruins led me to eat some crow.  I’ve been calling for Keith Ballard’s insertion into the lineup since stud defenseman Dan Hamhuis went down with an injury in Game 1 of the finals.  Instead, Andrew Alberts got the call, and played just fine.  Then Aaron Rome got suspended, and it was finally time to throw in Ballard, the $4.2 million healthy scratch.  At first it seemed Ballard was doing fine.  He was advancing the puck and sending it away when it fell in a vulnerable position for the Canucks.  But then in the middle of the second period, Ballard fell down behind his own net, albeit after a little chop by Bruins forward Brad Marchand.  After laying there for a couple seconds, Ballard got up and shifted over to try to cancel out Patrice Bergeron, who was at the left post.  Ballard kicked and swatted, but couldn’t make contact with the puck, which Bergeron chipped right out in front to Marchand, who fired a backhand off Luongo’s glove and in.  The play caused a bit of a stir for Canucks fans, who point to this as an example of why Ballard cannot regularly crack the lineup on this team.  But at least it’s not like Ballard is on the books for $4.2 million for each of the next four years, while blue liners like Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Alberts and Salo are unrestricted free agents in less than a month.  What’s that you say?  Oh, that’s right, it is like that.  It’s actually exactly like that.
Roberto Luongo was pulled from the game after allowing the fourth goal, and Cory Schneider came in and saved all nine shots he faced in just under 16 minutes of play.  I don’t think there’s another goalie controversy, and I think it’s probably a waste of time to talk about it.  But, we all remember the circus surrounding the latter half of the Chicago series.
One potentially notable statistic is that while Vancouver won its home games by a combined score of 4-2 (which was 2-2 through the first 59.5 minutes of each game), Boston smashed Vancouver to the tune of 12-1 in its home games.  Doesn’t make you feel comfortable if you’re a Canuck fan.
To close, this is now the third year in a row in which the first four games of the Stanley Cup finals have been won by the home team.  Vancouver will be looking to channel 2010, when Chicago rebounded for wins in Games 5 and 6 to win the Cup over Philadelphia.  Boston, meanwhile, needs only to look to its black and yellow brethren in Pittsburgh, who prevailed over Detroit by winning Games 6 and 7.
Vancouver has been outscored by five goals in the 2011 playoffs, which is alarming considering where they are.  Much of that is explained by their two stinkers each against Chicago and Boston, however.
Game 5 is Friday night at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT live from Vancouver on NBC, CBC and RDS.
Yesterday, Tram’s Table gave scientific evidence that Game 3 should belong to Boston.  After that scary injury to Nathan Horton just five minutes into the game, the Bruins made good on my nonsensical trend argument by running the record of post-lockout home teams to 6-0 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals.  What’s more of a talking point seems to be the manner in which they did it: by pounding Vancouver 8-1.
Last night’s game was one in which momentum seemed to play a big role, as Boston not only scored twice on the power play, but also twice on Vancouver’s power plays.  One would have to think that momentum played a part in those shorties, as Boston got the snowball rolling immediately after the first intermission.

With the series back to an interesting 2-1 count, everyone is inevitably going to refer to Game 4 as “pivotal.”  And while it is true that Wednesday’s game should go miles toward determining who will lift the Cup, each team has to approach the game fresh and without any lingering emotion of the first three games.
For Vancouver, it is important that they clear their minds of Game 3, and remember that the next one is always the biggest one.  In truth, they came to Boston seeking a split, and they are still in contention for just that.  It would be silly to try to preach about what a Game 4 win would mean for the Canucks, so we’ll just call it a BFD.
Boston must also forget about Game 3, because they don’t get to take any of those goals with them.  Last night’s game is done and dusted, and they still have 60+ minutes to go before they can feel content with their work at home.  This is an intense spot for the Bruins, as they must fight the urge to feel vindicated with their 10-5 series lead in goals.  Bruins backers were arguing that the B’s should feel good about themselves because they could have won either game in Vancouver, and last night’s annihilation will only add to that positive feeling surrounding the team.  But often times we have seen that positivity morph into complacency, and that is why the Bruins must play Game 4 as if they have three losses.  Because, while a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit is not impossible to overcome, it’s much more difficult a task than this team wants to force itself to accomplish.
Yesterday we looked at how every Stanley Cup final since the lockout has started in exactly the same way:  with the home team holding for a 2-0 lead, then hitting the road for a loss.  For those interested, Game 4 went to the road team from 2006 to ’08, with that team consolidating their newfound 3-1 series lead into the Stanley Cup championship all three times.  But in the past two playoffs, the home team held serve again in Game 4 to even the series.  Last year, it didn’t matter, as Philadelphia lost the next two games to Chicago, who won the series in six games.  But in 2009, the Penguins turned their 2-2 series into a title by winning Games 6 and 7.  In the five seasons since the lockout, the Pens are the only road seed to win the Cup.  Boston looks to join them on that list, and the next step on that journey is Wednesday, June 8, when the Bruins will host the Canucks again at 8 p.m. ET, live on Versus in the U.S.
Boston Bruins scoring winger Nathan Horton has enjoyed his first season with a good NHL team.  Horton was pegged as perhaps the acquisition that Boston needed to bolster its somewhat anemic offense enough to get over the eastern conference hump.  The Bruins already had a solid defensive system through and through, as well as a second-year starting goalie in Tuukka Rask, who unseated the former Vezina-winning Tim Thomas in 2009-10.  Rask did not provide much of an encore this season, but that was due to Thomas’ aggressive ripping back of the Vezina Trophy in surprising fashion.
As the offensive part of that bargain though, Horton lived up to his billing from the start. The Bruins began their season in Prague against the Phoenix Coyotes, and Horton wasted no time in showing that Boston was right to trade for him.  The former Panther boarded the team plane for the states with three goals and an assist in the two-game split against Phoenix.  From there, Horton has only continued to play an intricate role in Boston’s ascent to the eastern conference championship.  When the Bruins needed overtime goals in Games 5 and 7 at home against Montreal in the first round, it was Horton who lit the lamp both times.  And no Bruins goal in the last 20 seasons has been bigger than Horton’s two-handed stuff to clinch the Wales Trophy in Game 7’s 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay.

But Horton’s dream season was ended in the blink of an eye last night, courtesy of a gutless late hit by Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome early in Game 3 right at Vancouver’s blue line.  Horton had passed the puck to his left and turned up ice to look to start either a give and go or a charge to the net, when Rome dug his right skate in, lowered his shoulder and embarked on a flight that will forever change Horton’s career, and possibly his life.  By now we all know that concussions are plaguing our sport, and we don’t have to look far to find examples of a concussion destroying a playing career.
The most obvious example is of course that of Sidney Crosby, who still has not played a hockey game since January 5.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, Crosby was the league MVP in 2007, won the Stanley Cup in 2009, and scored the overtime goal in the gold medal game at the 2010 Olympic Games for Canada.  He is one of the few hockey players who had legitimate non-hockey fan buzz before he was ever drafted, and was labeled “The Next One” as a teenager.  Crosby had 66 points in 41 games this season, and is still two months away from his 24th birthday.  No matter what you think of his notoriety, there is no objective conclusion other than that he is an immense loss for the NHL, and if he never plays again, the league will be worse for it.
Another example hits a lot closer to home for the Bruins.  Marc Savard, previously a star center for the Bruins, was the most discussed concussion victim until Crosby trumped him around New Year’s.  On March 7, 2010, Savard took a trademarked elbow from Penguins goon Matt Cooke that turned the lights out.  According to reports, Savard still cannot tolerate bright lights, and has a hard time being around a commotion for extended periods of time.  Good luck playing hockey in front of 20,000 fans.  What’s scarier is that Savard said that for the first time in his life, he became apathetic about everything and fell into a deep depression.  Not depressed that he was injured and couldn’t play, but depressed.  There were alarming quotes saying things to the effect that Savard did not really care about his own life anymore.  He admitted that he did not even know why he felt this way, but he had a hard time shaking it.  Savard has played a couple brief periods of hockey since, but he too has not played a game since February 8 of this year.
And so now we lose another bright young man, who just a week ago joined me in the ranks of 26 year-old, right handed shots (that’s where the comparisons end, unfortunately for me).  Horton has been officially ruled out for the remainder of the series, but that was obvious before the man’s skull even hit the ice.
On a much more cheerful note, the NHL has continued its tolerant stance on shots to the head and late hits by assessing Rome a token four-game suspension, which just happens to be the exact amount of games left in the series, if necessary.  Rome’s suspension does not even necessarily hurt the Canucks, who are now free to activate the talented $4.2 million man, Keith Ballard.  That ought to be funny, as the Canucks are forced to replace one defenseman who has no respect for fellow players with one who nearly decapitated his own goaltender last year.
But really, we cannot blame Rome for his actions.  The man is just another in a long line of young players who play without respect for their fellow hockey colleagues.  There is no room for cowardly plays like the one Rome made last night, but the fact is that we are seeing it more and more in the financially growing world of hockey.  I am worried about this as a hockey guy.  That game was on worldwide television, and just five minutes into the game, every kid and his or her mother saw a man’s life altered.  I am not trying to dramatize what happened.  Plays like that are seen and talked about by everybody, and they have a negative impact on the number of kids who will take up the game and grow to make the sport and the league as good as it can be.  The NHL has done a good job to cultivate a landscape that has set hockey up for the rise that it is currently enjoying.  But all of that fertile ground can be blazed away by one or two unsupervised idiots playing with matches or dropping a cigarette.  We can’t stop all of the idiots from doing stupid things, but we sure as hell can create an environment that deters idiots from acting in a careless manner.  The only way to do this is to get serious about hits like last night’s, but the league has once again decided to put getting tough off until a later date.

*** Alteration 6-9-11 at 7:19 a.m. ***

Upon thinking about it further, I feel the league handed out the correct suspension.  The hit was late and vicious, and Rome should feel embarrassed about that, but it wasn’t one of the dirtiest hits we’ve seen in recent memory.  There’s no real reason to suspend the guy for next season, so at this point, I feel the four-game suspension was the right move.  Anything less, and I would still be upset about it, but the league ensured that Rome will not be able to play this season, and that seems fair enough.
The Vancouver Canucks must play tonight’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals in Boston as if it was Game 7.  Yes, the Canucks have a 2-0 series lead, but since the NHL returned from the lockout in 2005, we have seen home teams go 12-0 in Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup finals.  So, why the need for urgency?  Because all of those teams have hit the road with their 2-0 series lead and promptly lost Game 3.

Here’s the breakdown:

Playoff Year
Road Team w/ 2-0 Lead
Home Team w/ 0-2 Deficit
Game 3 Result
Series Result
Oilers 2-1
Canes in 7
Senators 5-3
Ducks in 5
Penguins 3-2
Red Wings in 6
Penguins 4-2
Penguins in 7
Flyers 4-3
Blackhawks in 6

That series-shifting third game takes place tonight in Boston, where the Bruins will be looking to continue this annual trend of lower seeds cutting their series deficits in half in front of their rabid home crowds.

In order to do so, I don’t think the Bruins need to categorically change anything.  One thing everyone is talking about is the poor outing Saturday night by the big captain, Zdeno Chara, but the Slovakian defenseman is still a very important player for the Bruins, and one that I believe they can count on tonight.  Boston went on the road for two games against the team that everyone on the continent has anointed as the future Cup champs since the calendar turned, and the B’s made a good account of themselves.  They hung in there as far as shots on goal go: Boston was outshot only 67-66 over both games.  That means both teams are averaging a healthy 11 shots per period.
But just because the Bruins have recent history and desperation on their side doesn’t mean that tonight’s win is just going to fall into their laps.  Vancouver knows how to tighten the vice, as they have flown back home for Game 5 with a 3-1 lead in all three of their playoff series this year.  In truth, the 3-1 result is all Vancouver really wants; a split is all any road team ever wants coming in.  There’s no reason to fear three games for the Stanley Cup, especially with two being played in their own building.  But the easiest way to guarantee at least that 3-1 result is to win tonight, and be able to enter Game 4 on Wednesday with pretty much no pressure.  Sure, there would be the excitement of potentially winning the greatest prize in sports, but not pressure per se.  At least, not until they lose a game.
Both teams just need to keep doing what they’re doing, and whoever does that best will win Game 3.  Could this be the game where Vancouver’s power play dominates, or will Tim Thomas backstop Boston to another home win, as he has done in seven of the Bruins’ last eight home games?  Only time will tell, but Vancouver held up its end of the post-lockout trend-extending bargain by winning the opening two games at home.  Now it’s time for Boston to do its part in making home teams 6-0 in Game 3s of the finals since 2006, and give us a series to get excited about.  If the Bruins can do that, we can put words like “sweep” and “clinching” on ice for a while, and instead get amped up for a “pivotal” Game 4 on Wednesday.  Because, you know, all Game 4s in a 2-1 series are “pivotal,” if they’re anything at all.
While too many people are up in arms about why Vancouver Canucks winger Alex Burrows was allowed to play in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals last night after his overblown biting incident with Bruins center Patrice Bergeron in Game 1, the better question might be why any of us are surprised that Burrows has channeled his inner villain and fed off of the powers of the Sedin twins.

While everyone taints our sport by arguing on national television that a game-winning player should have been suspended, all I could think of was how Burrows’ career is mimicking that of his doppleganger, Zachary Quinto, or Sylar from the NBC television show “Heroes.”

Since joining the Sedin twins, Burrows has constantly been in the middle of big plays.  He now has two memorable two-goal games at home to hang his hat on.  Before last night’s two-goal, one-assist effort in a 3-2 OT win in the Stanley Cup finals, Burrows was of course the one who had to score both goals in Vancouver’s 2-1 win over Chicago in Game 7 of the first round this April.

Sylar, meanwhile, figured out that he could point his finger at someone and cut their heads open, which would then allow him to see and understand how that now-deceased person’s superhuman powers worked.  It caused him to essentially bloat with power that he could no longer control, and he eventually suffered a setback at the hands of counterpart Peter Petrelli.  Then there was the writers’ strike, and the show came back pretty poorly, and nobody watched so there’s nothing really to discuss.  But that first season though…

Which leads me to ask the question, “Are we sure Alex Burrows isn’t Sylar?”  I mean, he clearly looks like him.  Meanwhile, all anyone can do is talk about how sporadic the results have been for the Sedin twins in the postseason.  I find this speculation ridiculous, as Henrik leads all players in playoff points with 21, and Daniel is tied with Burrows for third in goals (9), just one behind Marty St. Louis and Boston’s David Krejci.  But if we are to accept that the Swedish brothers should be doing more, then one easy explanation is that at some point while skating with Burrows, the Sylar look-alike bit, slashed or pointed at their heads, looked at their brains, and took their hockey powers.  How else can we explain not only scoring all the big goals and maybe leading the playoffs in them when all is said and done, but also not even trying to disguise his obvious physical parallels with the television villain?

Alex Burrows and Sylar, you tell me:

At some point Monday we’ll give a look at Game 3 as the series shifts to Boston, but for now, I just had to spread the word on this obvious diamond in the rough.  Game 3 is Monday night at 8 p.m. live on Versus in the U.S., and CBC and RDS in Canada.  NBC resumes coverage in the U.S. when the series shifts back to Vancouver for Game 5, assuming it does (and it will).

The puck drops shortly, but I wanted to write a little something about a couple of things to watch for in tonight’s Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals.

My previous post following Game 1 pretty much sums up my feeling about the early parts of this series, but there is something that I would suggest to each team to further its effort to win Saturday’s big one.

For the Bruins, please stop pretending that just being 6’9″ tall makes Zdeno Chara a regular Tomas Holmstrom.  He’s not.  Don Cherry talked about this on Coaches’ Corner in Game 1, but Chara’s form in front of the net is awful.  He does absolutely nothing to screen Roberto Luongo, but instead jumps out of the way of shots whilst trying to tip them all.  For one, he’s not used to tipping pucks in front of the net, you know, because he plays defense.  Two, the guy has won the hardest shot competition multiple times, so why take that aspect of his game away on every power play?  I hope for the Bruins’ sakes that they give up on this ill-concocted scheme and get back to playing the kind of hockey that got them here.  That kind of hockey starts with Chara and Dennis Seidenberg on the blue line, not fidgeting around like a pee wee team with a few supreme players that dominate at every position.  Hell, if we’re playing pee wee style, why not use backup goalie Tuukka Rask as a forward on the power play?  You know, because your best players can play every position at the highest level…

For Vancouver, I don’t have suggestions so much as questions.  It appears that center Manny Malhotra is finally ready to come back, which should be a huge boost for the Canucks in the faceoff circle.  Malhotra typically is right there with Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews amongst the league leaders in faceoffs won.  Additionally, Malhotra should only add to Vancouver’s defensive prowess, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his addition results in the Canucks outshooting the Bruins tonight, unlike in Game 1.

The second question mark for the Canucks revolves around stud defenseman Dan Hamhuis.  He is being reported as a game-time decision, but it appears that Vancouver is making plans to play Game 2 without him.  There are a few options for the Canucks, but the obvious one is the $4.2 million healthy scratch, Keith Ballard.  It’s been certainly a down year for Ballard, his first with the Canucks, but the guy sounds like a player who is dying to get another chance.  Here is a good article on Ballard by The Hockey Writers.  Obviously, the Canucks have a great back end no matter who fills the void left by Hamhuis’ injury.  But Keith Ballard is the only one that has proven, known upside from the last time he’s been seen for the squad.

The rest of the Canucks’ top four, Bieksa, Edler and Ehrhoff, are good enough to step up and play a few extra minutes each as well.  Sami Salo and Aaron Rome have been playing as the team’s third pair of defensemen, and now it will be interesting to see if one of them gets moved up, or if that spot on the top four gets filled by Ballard.  One would have to assume the idea of rotating lines in-game is a possibility, but if I had to guess I would say the minutes will shake out on the bottom of Vancouver’s D according to the way the refs call the game.  Salo plays a lot of special teams, while Rome usually plays his hockey at even strength.  Vancouver is probably going to want an opportunity to use a lot of Salo, because the Canucks need to get that power play back up and running after Game 1’s doughnut on six opportunities.  Either way, I would advocate using Bieksa, Ehrhoff, Edler, Rome, Salo and Ballard.

*** I am now finding out that the 6th D man will be Andrew Alberts, and not Ballard. ***

Tonight’s Game 2 between Boston and Vancouver is on NBC, CBC and RDS live at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT in the United States.  I hope you all enjoy it.
Na Li found herself in a second consecutive grand slam final.  Francesca Schiavone found herself in a second consecutive French Open final.  On Saturday, the consistent, deep-hitting player from China made sure that each player received a different fate than the last time around.

Li, the 2011 Australian Open runner-up, was nothing short of trophy-worthy in unseating Schiavone as French Open champion by a score of 6-4, 7-6(0).  Schiavone had trouble finding her top level of consistency, which is a common result for Li’s opponents these days.  Li spent her afternoon stroking the back quarter of the court and keeping the pressure on Schiavone, and the result is a much deserved first career grand slam championship, as well as the #4 world ranking come Monday.

Many are citing the fact that Li is the first Chinese tennis player to ever win a grand slam.  I feel that is important, but too many times we Americans, by default, paint portraits of eastern athletes upon the canvas of their nationality.  Perhaps it is because we need to try to add something to the story, but in Li’s case I would like to see the tennis press really get to know her as a person and player, because she has the personality to be more than just “the first Chinese grand slam champion ever.”  She is one of the best players in a time period where women’s tennis is changing.  Li can be a poster child for not quitting on your dreams of being the best in the world, despite conventional wisdom telling you that if you have not yet ascended to the shortlist by the time you approach your upper twenties, you should probably forget about ever being truly great.

Schiavone did well to get back to the finals, but today Li was too good.  Credit to Na Li for making sure that her very goodness doesn’t go forever unnoticed.  Now it’s time to get ready for Federer v. Nadal.