Saturday, May 29, 2010

This is the Stanley Cup Final

This is the Stanley Cup Final. The place where every stick-wielding boy from Canada dreams of going. The place where every hockey mom across North America dreams of eventually driving their hockey-smelling minivan full of hockey-playing kids to. The place where Bobby Orr, Bobby Clarke and Bobby Hull made dreams come true.

This is the Stanley Cup Final. Regular season statistics are irrelevant. You may have been through two or three (or seven) goalies to get to this point. It doesn't matter what number pick you had in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, what you did with it or who you drafted. It doesn't matter if you cruised into the playoffs or had to win the final game of your season in a shootout to get in.

This is the Stanley Cup Final. A place where will can triumph over skill. A place where desire can transcend size. A place where wanting it more can best needing it more. A place where the unknown and unheralded can beat the greatest of the great.

This is the Stanley Cup Final. Kate Smith lives here, the cheering lives here.There are no underdogs, there are no favorites. There are only two teams--the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers.

This is the Stanley Cup Final. We've heard the analysis, we've listened to the predictions. But when it all comes down to it, the only thing that matters in the end is who's hoisting that illustrious trophy, that be-all, end-all trophy. I want it to be the Flyers. I get goosebumps simply imagining it being the Flyers. But it's up to those wearing the Orange and Black to give the chills of exuberance or the chills of despair to the countless fans who, for whatever reason, love this team much more than they should. This is the Stanley Cup Final.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Conference Finals Predictions

It has been one hell of a postseason so far. I went 2/4 in the second round but could have just as easily gone 4/4 (or 0/4 for that matter). We have a No. 1 and a No. 2 seed in the west and a No. 7 and a No. 8 in the east. If what has happened so far is any indication, these two series should be anything but boring.

#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #2 Chicago Blackhawks
Season Series: 3-1 Chicago

The Sharks disposed of last year's Western Conference champions, the Detroit Red Wings, in five fairly easy games. They were getting scoring from both Joes (Pavelski and Thorton) and Evgeni Nabokov has been solid in net. They've had a long layoff between games and it remains to be seen if it will hurt them early in the series like it hurt the Flyers last round. The Sharks are running on all cylinders right now and look like a team different from the ones who have failed to live up to expectations in previous years.

The Hawks stumbled early in their second round match-up against Vancouver, but rebounded nicely and ended the Canucks season in six games. Chicago was one of the top teams in the west all year because of their balanced scoring--they had six players with at least 20 goals. And throughout the series against Vancouver, they had nine different forwards score their 23 goals. Antti Niemi and the defense in front of him had--with the exception of game 1--a very good series. The Sharks have never been to a Stanley Cup Final and the last time the Blackhawks were there was in 1992 where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games. Chicago hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1961 and are looking to end the longest Stanley Cup drought of all the Original Six teams, can they do it?
Prediction: San Jose wins the series in 7

#7 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens
Season Series: Tied 2-2

There's really not much more that can be said about the Flyers that hasn't been said already. They did something that only three other teams have ever done in professional sports history (twice in the NHL)--They came back from a three games to none series deficit. But not only did they do the impossible in that comeback, they came back from three goals down in a game seven to win (only two other teams have ever done that). What Philadelphia did was truly remarkable. The Flyers didn't lose a game to the Bruins after Simon Gagne returned to the lineup and they were getting huge contributions from their big boys. Danny Briere had 10 points (5G, 5A) against Boston and the Mike Richards line, although they were constantly playing against the Bruins' top D-men, was playing very well. Michael Leighton has come in to replace Brian Boucher and aside from a shaky first 15 minutes of game 7, has been solid.

This is the first ever match-up between a seventh and eighth seed in the conference finals. And the biggest reason the Montreal Canadiens are going to be at the Wachovia Center Sunday night is because of their goaltender Jaroslav Halak. He has been nothing but spectacular so far in the postseason. He has made the routine saves look like nothing and the great saves look routine. Mike Cammalleri has been the offensive MVP for the Habs with 12 goals and 18 points.

Hall Gill and Chris Pronger are both showing why they have Stanley Cup rings and have both been great veteran presences for their respective teams. Sadly, one of these two Cinderella stories will come to an end. Whose will it be?
Prediction: Philadelphia wins the series in 6

Friday, May 14, 2010

Game Seven, It's Here

The day has come.

The Flyers went down 3-0 to begin the series and are already the first team since the 1975 Islanders to force a game seven after being down 3-0. But that isn't enough; they're trying to be the first team since those same '75 Isles to win a series after being down three games to none.

The Bruins haven't scored a goal with Tuukka Rask in net since the 3:49 mark of the third period of game 4. That's 150 minutes and 51 seconds of game play that Boston hasn't scored without having the goalie pulled and the extra attacker.

The Flyers, on the other hand, haven't lost since Simon Gagne returned to the lineup. They're getting scoring from unlikely sources (Ville Lieno) and perennial playoff scoring machines (Danny Briere). Michael Leighton has played superbly in net having a 0.63 GAA with the only goal he allowed coming in the final minutes of game six.

The last time the Flyers won a game seven was in 2008 against the Washington Capitals (in Washington). The last time the Bruins played in a game seven was a year ago to the day, where they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Conference semi-finals.

I'm going to the Wachovia Center tonight to watch game seven on the big screen with about 20,000 other Flyers fans. As the NHL has asked throughout the playoffs--Will history be made? That remains to be seen. But what we do know is that the big house will be rocking and the Flyers have the ability to lift the spirits or break the hearts of thousands of Flyers fans tonight.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mick Billmeyer - The Sign Thief

Most of my focus has been on the Flyers lately. As a matter of fact, all of my focus has been on the Flyers. I may be watching every Phillies game, but I'm thinking about the Flyers. Game seven of the Eastern Conference semi-finals is Friday and I'll be at the Wachovia Center watching it with about 20,000 other Flyers fans. But the Phillies are still playing and are being accused of doing it illegally.

The Phillies bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer, during the first game of their series against the Rockies, was seen with a pair of binoculars focusing on home plate. The Colorado Rockies filed a complaint with Major League Baseball accusing the Phils of stealing their catcher's signs and relaying them to the batter. Later on in the game, Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino was seen talking on the bullpen phone in the Phillies dugout (the MLB has reprimanded the Phillies for their apparent sign stealing).

Let's take a quick look at what sign stealing actually is. It has been done in baseball for decades. Usually there is a man on second who figures out the opposing catcher's pitch signs and quickly and discretely relays them to the hitter. But how is Shane Victorino supposed to get Mick Billmeyer's relayed signals all the way from center field?

All of this relaying has to be done very quickly. It's literally impossible for Billmeyer to have his binoculars on, see the catcher's sign, relay some sort of sign to the hitter, and have the hitter recognize it from 400+ feet away in center field. All of this needs to happen  in the matter of seconds between when the pitcher sees the catcher's pitch sign and when he throws the ball to home plate.

Why would the Rockies accuse the Phils of sign stealing if they didn't actually do it? Coach Charlie Manuel said, “Because we beat ‘em. That’s why.’

Monday, May 10, 2010

Winning the Fifth

It happened in the 1942 Stanley Cup Finals. It happened in the 1975 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals. The Maple Leafs did it to the Red Wings and the Islanders did it to the Penguins. It hasn't been done in the NHL in 35 years, but it has been done before.

Only two teams have ever come back to win a series after being in a three games to none series hole in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers are trying to be the third.

They won game four on a goal by Simon Gagne in overtime in a game that should have never made it to OT. But they won and extended the series at least one game, and that's all that matters at this point. But winning game four at home in front of your home crowd is much different than winning game five on the road in front of the opposing team's raucous fans.

Winning game five will be the toughest task of this series so far for the Flyers. Nothing is over until it's over, but if the Flyers get into a 2-0 hole early on in the game they might as well leave the ice and start prepping their golf clubs. The Flyers have to come out with a vengeance tonight and show the Bruins that they're not going to go quietly. They have to win ALL of the board battles and force Boston to make mistakes.

The Bruins are going to be fueled by their home crowd early on in the game, and if the Flyers want to win, they're going to have to not only match Boston's energy, but surpass it.

It has been said as long as the playoffs have existed, but anything can happen in the playoffs. If Philadelphia can find a way to win game five and bring this series back home for a game six, who knows? And if it gets so far, game sevens are an entirely different monster.

My prediction for game five? It will be like games one, two and three--it will be back and fourth the whole game and no team will have a lead of 2+ goals for very long. The team who takes advantage of powerplay opportunities and wins the important faceoffs will have a definite advantage.

My Prediction: I hope it's wrong but, the Bruins win 5-4 to clinch the series.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bean Town Blues

As I try to muddle the sounds of my tearful sobs from waking the dog after a second consecutive postseason defeat, I begin to ponder why it is that the Flyers are in a two games to none series hole.

Is it because they're being outworked by the Bruins? It can't be, right? I mean that's exactly how the Flyers beat New Jersey in the first round. They out worked, out hit, and eventually out won the Devils. They beat NJ to every loose puck by out-hustling them. Philadelphia was willing to take the hit to make the play; something the Devils didn't seem to be willing to do.

Well then how is it that Boston is up 2-0 with what seems like inferior offensive and defensive talent? Brian Boucher has played solidly in the first two games (except for the Bruins' second goal in game two--a definite softie) and Tuukka Rask surely hasn't been Jaroslav Halak in net.

Take a look at both of Boston's game-winning goals in this series...both can be considered quite lucky. Marc Savard's goal in game one was a puck bouncing on edge that somehow hit his blade at the right angle and shot up past Boucher on the short side. Milan Lucic's game-winner in game two was a puck that bounced high up in the air and Lucic happened to turn around and golf the puck past Boucher on the left post.

These may have been lucky outcomes, but what got the Bruins in the situation to score these lucky goals was anything but. In overtime of the first game, Boston was on a delayed penalty because the Flyers were forced to take a penalty due to the fact that Philadelphia couldn't get the puck out of their own zone. And the same thing happened in game two--the Flyers failed to clear the puck out of the defensive zone and the puck ended up on Lucic's stick and eventually in the back of the net.

If the Flyers want to have any chance of coming back in this series, they are going to need to win more one-on-one, one-on-two battles along the sideboards and work towards getting more pucks deep in the Bruins zone. They're going to need to stay out of the penalty box and show Boston that they're not going to ever give up on a play. And if they don't do this and they continue to let the Bruins control the pace of play, the Flyers are going to be doing more tee shots than slap shots.

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