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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gary Roberts Is The NHL Version Of Chuck Norris

Let me explain this. Before Game 3 I was talking to Gopher. During the intro of the NBC coverage they showed a group of Pens fans standing outside the igloo waving signs that simply read "WWGRD."

I immediately started cracking up. Gary Roberts is by far one of my favorite players on the team. How can you not get excited about a 42-year-old guy totally destroying opposing defenders? It got me to thinking about other older guys who can still bring the pain and the first guy that popped into mind was Chuck Norris. I made the comment to Gopher "Gary Roberts is the NHL version of Chuck Norris," at that time.

It seemed innocent enough and we shared a chuckle. Then it happened. There was a commercial featuring Mr. Norris during one of the commercial breaks. In my severely altered state of consciousness it started to make sense. As if I needed even further evidence of the above title, Roberts delivered.

In the third period with a 2-1 lead, Tyler Kennedy got smoked in the corner making an outlet pass. The Pens dump the puck into the corner and who else but Roberts comes flying into the play out of nowhere and absolutely kills Andreas Lilja. I start freaking out and yelling "GO CHUCK NORRIS!" Then, Adam Hall picks up the loose puck and banks it into the net from behind the goalline to give us a 3-1 lead. I went nuts and now I want one of those WWGRD signs for my basement collection of Penguins stuff.

For further proof of this idea taking off and becoming something bigger, go to youtube and search for "WWGRD," kick back and enjoy what you see. There's even one of a few Roberts fights with the "Walker Texas Ranger" theme playing in the background and a video description saying exactly the title of this post.

As for the game, who called Darryl Sydor being inserted into the lineup? Me. I wish Hal Gill was the one taken out of the lineup instead of Kris Letang, but I'll live for now. Once again Gill was atrocious, taking 2 stupid penalties and getting away with two other stupid ones.

For the most part I was happy with how we played. The first 15 minutes were nothing to write home about and i think both the Pens and the fans were very tentative to see how it would play out. Then Brad Stuart makes an awful turnover that led to Sid the Kid scoring the first Pens goal of the series and all of a sudden you could see something change. The Pens had life, the fans had life and they started to play their game.

Pucks got deep, we used our cycle to generate the best chances we've had all series. If it wasn't for the horrible sound of iron I wouldn't have had to chew my nails down to the cuticle in the third period. Now we have a chance on Saturday to tie this series up and make it a best of three. Detroit has blown a 2-0 lead once already in the playoffs against Nashville and almost blew a 3-0 lead against Dallas. It would not be surprising to see the Penguins head back to Detroit tied 2-2. The only way that happens is to play with confidence like they did in Game 3. If they come out hitting and playing their game, they will get their chances and have a shot to tie it up. If they allow Detroit to dictate the play and pace of the game as they did in Games 1 and 2, this series is all but over. Simple as that.

One final note: The only good thing that may have come out of Gill's stupidity is that it appeared as if Tomas Holmstrom re-aggravated a nagging back injury. He did not play another shift after the incident late in the third. Time will tell if he's good to go for Game 4. My guess is that he will suit up because the man is a warrior. I have a couple words of advice for Holmstrom should he come across this post. Ask yourself this Mr. Holmstrom, "What Would Gary Roberts Do?"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Could This Get Any Worse? I Don't Think So

I haven't felt up to posting anything on this series so far because there's not enough space on this entire site for me to write about everything that has annoyed me in this series.

Basically it boils down to this. The Wings are getting all the bounces and the Pens are simply not.

Let's go back to Game 1 in the first period. The Pens had 2 pucks lying in the crease behind Osgood and just couldn't slam it home. Another puck took a nice hop off the endboards, hit Crosby in the chest and bounced behind Osgood who had to reach back quickly to keep it out of the net. By my count, that would have made it 3-0 if we were catching bounces and there's no way we lose after that.

Plus, let me bring this back up again because I'm feeling vindictive. Back at the trade deadline I spoke out about the Hal Gill trade. For the most part he's actually been very good and a pleasant surprise. It seemed too good to be true and guess what? It was.

Have you seen how pathetic he's looked against the lightning quick Detroit forwards? It's sickening. Not to mention, how does he get rocked by Samuelsson which led to the Wings 2nd goal in Game 1?

Are you kidding me?

Big, bad, giant Hal Gill gets taken out of the play by a midget by comparison and the puck ends up in the net. I knew this was a bad deal and that it would come back to bite us eventually and it completely has. Here's what you do with him now. BENCH HIM. We have Darryl Sydor who we're paying a disgusting amount of money to be a professional bench warmer by my last check. Was he awful during the season for us? Yes, but can it possibly get any worse than Gill? At least Sydor has experience against these Wings and being in the Finals.

Let's also look at something so fundamental it's disgusting that I am sitting here typing this.


For the first 14 games of the playoffs the Pens had no trouble dumping and chasing and crashing the net. They also threw everything on net all the time. All of a sudden they get into the Finals and continually try to make cute and fancy passes through the neutral zone. I'm fairly certain you could count on one hand the number of times the Pens have dumped the puck in and gone in after it. Just like you can count on one hand how many shots on goal they've gotten while playing 5 on 5.

Did I expect Pittsburgh to win this series. Not really. Did I hope they would? Of course, so why am I so angered by how they've played thus far? Simple. I expected them to compete and at least give the Wings a run for it. They still could I suppose, but it's going to take a lot of changes and some bounces to start going our way for that to happen.

Side note: what was the NHL thinking having a 3 day gap between Games 3 and 4? Really? Why is Game 3 on Wednesday and not Thursday? Give the teams an extra travel day. Now if the Penguins do win Game 3, any momentum they generated will be dead by the time Game 4 gets underway. Way to go Gary Bettman, just another folly for a list that's already a mile long.

I haven't totally given up hope, but I'm on the brink. Like I have said before. I'm a Red Sox fan, so I've seen worse situations turn into glory. The only good thing is that we head home for the next two games. If we somehow win the next two games, I may have cause to start believing once again, but we need to put a puck in the net.

Write this down. If the Pens get a quick goal in the first period tomorrow and lead after the first, we're at least going back to Detroit for a Game 5.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Stanley Cup Finals Analysis

The day of reckoning is upon us. It's time for one team to become immortalized in silver and for the other team to go home wondering what might have been.

That thought alone is what kept me up most of the evening last night and why I'm sitting here typing through bloodshot eyes.

I would have gotten this up sooner, but I was trying to fully wrap my head around what the Penguins have done this season. I still haven't done it fully, but Game 1 starts in a few hours so I need to get this done.

I've read a lot of trash talking from Red Wings fans on various message boards about how this is going to be a four or five game series and that the Cup is all but won already. I chuckle at this and wonder how these people are allowed outside their homes legally. In most cases ignorance is not bliss.

Let's take a closer look at this series shall we?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have proven throughout the playoffs that they can win tight, low scoring, one goal games. They're also shown they can win in shootouts like Game 1 against the Rangers. (Sorry Gopher...keep razzing me about rooting for Detroit and this is what you get.)

When I look at Detroit, I see a team that looks to be virtually impenetrable, but since I saw Indiana Jones last night I have a keen eye and notice the two small chinks in the armor.

First, aside from Game 5 against Dallas in which they played scared and lost as a result, the other three losses have one thing in common. The opposition got out and skated and took the game to Detroit.

The Predators' wins in Game 3 and 4 on home ice are where the Penguins need to look for how to beat this team. Those two games were some of the most exciting hockey I'd seen all season. The pace was ridiculous and Detroit's older d-men couldn't keep up and were caught out of position leaving their even older (not counting Chelios here) goaltender to try and make insane saves.

Pittsburgh can easily take advantage of this and has a much better defensive system than the Preds did.

Flaw number two is simply this. Osgood has been good, he hasn't had to be great. Don't get me wrong, he's played well in these playoffs and may have swung the tide in one or two games, but for the most part he has not been tested. Was he tested in Games 5 and 6 against Nashville? No. Was he tested at all against Colorado? No. His first test was Game 4 and 5 against Dallas, both losses.

The Penguins will need to play how they did in Game 5 against Philly to take advantage of this. Game 5 was the first time I was actually not yelling at the screen for them to put the puck on net. You have to get pucks to the net at this time of year. Pretty plays don't work often as is and certainly the success rate drops even more in the playoffs. Guys are going to need to crash the net like crazy, get in Osgood's face, rattle him.

I'm not saying Pittsburgh is the perfect machine here at all, just pointing out what they need to do to win.

What sticks out in my mind that could hurt them is if Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi are paired up together. Compound that with the realistic possibility that they will at some point be on the ice against the Zetterberg/Datsyuk line and it could pose a very serious problem for Pittsburgh.

The stars are going to have to step up in this series as they have during this run, but the guy who's probably been the most underappreciated guy this postseason is Jordan Staal. This kid continues to impress me every day. It's not often that you see someone this young and know he's going to be an elite two-way player in a couple years.

Staal does everything and never takes a shift off.

Now I'm not going to make a prediction as to who is going to win this and here's why. If you go back and check out the full predictions I made before the playoffs started, I said the Pens would lose to the Sharks in the Finals. I was half right in that Pittsburgh would make it this far. However, every time I've picked against Detroit they've won and I don't want to jinx this thing because I'm already shaking and there's six hours to puck drop.

Here's what I will predict. This series is going seven games and should be a showcase of just how good hockey can be. These are two highly talented teams and should be a lot of fun to watch for those of you who aren't a fan of either side. For me, this is going to be torture and if it goes seven games check your local newspapers or online for the headline "24-year-old Pens Fans Dies From Heart Attack During Game 7."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pens Head To The Cup Finals

OK, let me explain why there was no immediate post yesterday after we blew out Philly 6-0 and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1991-92.

It's pretty simple really. I nearly broke down in disbelief. That's about it. I was sitting at my desk at work watching the final seconds tick down when the enormity of the situation hit me. All of the suffering over the last few years has finally culminated in a Stanley Cup berth. Several hours after the game when I got into the car with my girlfriend to drive home, I was still shaking and laughing like an idiot.

She must have asked me about 30 times on the ride home about what I was laughing at. No I'm not joking.

I was forced to listen to the first period in the car on the ride into work and was able to hear the first goal scored by Ryan Malone on a slap pass from Sidney Crosby. I should seriously get in my car and drive around while the Pens are playing more often. At last count, the Pens had scored seven goals in the three or four periods I've been in the car during these playoffs.

As we were entering a tunnel we lost the radio feed for about 10 minutes. Gotta love traffic, but her mother called and didn't even ask to speak to her. Instead she wanted to update me that Malkin had just stuffed one behind Martin Biron and we had a 2-0 lead. I went nuts. The walk up to work is a blur and everything since the final horn went off and the players met at center ice to shake hands is a blur.

I still cannot believe how well the Penguins are playing right now and just how excited I am about seeing them back in the Finals. I was about 8 years old the last time the Pens made it this far. I was still too young to fully comprehend anything that was going on or get this into the playoffs. Ahh the innocence of youth.

I remember going to bed not knowing the results of the games, waking up and putting on SportsCenter to find out if the Pens won or not. Do you seriously think I could do that ever again? I sure don't. I have a hard enough time trying to fall asleep without the thought of a Penguins game being played.

I know I'm rambling and it's with good reason I think. When I woke up this morning I checked the usual suspects online to just confirm that the Penguins had actually won the Eastern Conference. I still don't really believe it, but I'm very pumped to get this thing going and take a shot at the Stanley Cup. Heard a rumor that Game 1 is on Saturday and if that's the case, I'm going to be home for it. I'll actually get to see Game 1 of a series for the first time in these playoffs and I'll be at home for the entire game. This is turning out to be a good Spring. Let's just hope the success continues.

Once I stop shaking, I'll look at this series a little more in depth and come up with some predictions like I have for every other series so far. Until next time, GO PENS!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pens Put Flyers On Brink Of Elimination

When the game ended tonight, I was talking with Gopher and a very strange feeling came over me. I was happy and very excited obviously, but there was something very different about tonight and I'm not entirely sure why.

I was nervous as usual for the entire third period until Ryan Malone scored to put us up 3-1 and then I started to breathe just a little easier. I couldn't get too excited though since I was at work listening on a 2 minute delay over the web and was tied up with a bunch of stuff relating to the West Virginia Primary tonight.

As I was posting the story about the Penguins to our sites the feeling hit me. The nerves were mysteriously gone in quick fashion for the first time in months.

I was numb.

That's about as best I can describe it. As I wrote the headline "Pens Take Commanding 3-0 Lead Over Flyers" the magnitude of it all hit me.

We're one win away from being in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 91-92 when I was still parading around the house in my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pajamas. Yeah, I had them, what of it? You know you did too.

Now by no means am I saying this series is over, but for the third time in this postseason we have a 3-0 lead. I'll repeat that because even I don't believe I even just typed that and it's true.

The Penguins have a 3-0 lead for the third time this postseason.

I asked for a split and I've at least gotten it. I would much rather have won Game 3 to go up 3-0 like we did than give Philly fans an added edge to get riled up for Game 4 with a chance to tie the series on home ice. You could almost hear the air get sucked out of the building when Malone tucked the puck behind Martin Biron to put the Pens up 3-1. It was almost like when Marian Hossa skated up the middle of the ice and made about 3 guys look stupid and caught Biron off-guard to put us up 2-0 early in the first.

Of course like a little kid, I'm greedy and now want to see us break out the brooms and get rid of Philadelphia quickly. I never thought that I'd see the Pens ever go on a run like they are on right now.

This is like watching the results of my latest Stanley Cup run in NHL 2K8 coming to life. After tonight's game, we are now 11-1 in the playoffs. That doesn't even look right and my head is starting to hurt from trying to wrap my brain around that thought.

Also, Sid the Kid is now the league leader in points for the playoffs. Let's not forget how impressive that is seeing as how he's played in fewer games than any of the other guys near the top of the leader-board. If you'll also notice that Malkin is only one point behind Sid.

Pavel Datsyuk (17) and Henrik Zetterberg (18) are close to Sid who's got 19, but they have both played in 1 more game so far.

Like I said, I'm just numb right now. I don't want to get too excited about being one game from the Stanley Cup Finals since I've been on the good end of a 3-0 series lead being blown. (Thanks Yankees for giving us Sox fans the ultimate bragging rights for all eternity until you guys do the same to us.)

Game 4 is on Thursday and by then we may know who the Western Conference representative will be since Dallas has been awful against Detroit who also leads 3-0.

It's kind of funny how the best series of the playoffs were in the first round when the seeding was much more lopsided. We had three Game 7s in the first round and since then we've had one Game 6 and might not even see a Game 5 in the conference finals. Didn't think that would be the case, but yet here we are.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pens Lead 2-0, I Should Go Away More Often

Ok, the title bears a little explanation I know. This past weekend I was sunning it up in Cancun, Mexico. Jealous? I am and I was just there. As a result of the trip I missed all of Game 1 and most of Game 2. I returned home in time to see Evgeni Malkin make a terrible pass that got picked off by Mike Richards who then scored shorthanded.

My timing is impeccable.

Before you start saying "Oh poor baby. Missed two hockey games because he was in paradise," think about this. There was no way for me to even know the score of Game 1. None. We got ESPN in the room, but it was ESPN Latin America or something. I watched 90 minutes of SportsCenter in Spanish for nothing. Even the bottom line failed to show anything about the NHL, but I saw enough NBA highlights to think I was still in the States.

Anyway, I got the score of Game 1 from the girlfriend's brother who was able to check it on his phone. Gotta love technology.

I didn't think this whole thing through either. In my head when we planned this trip I was all pumped to go. Then I realized that it would be playoff time and the further the Penguins advanced the more I realized I screwed myself. If you go back and look at a recent post about how you know you love your team too much, you'll see why I was amped up and fidgety this entire weekend.

I must say, if you've never been to Cancun...GET ON A PLANE AND GO RIGHT NOW. You won't get many travel tips from me, but this was an amazing trip and I can't wait to go back someday.

Now back to hockey.

I can't really say much about Game 1 other than that I'm happy we won. All I saw of it were the highlights and I was laughing hysterically at Malkin's shorthanded breakaway goal. He pulled his best Zdeno Chara penalty shot impression and put the game away.

As for Game 2. There was some controversy in the first period when a shot by Gonchar deflected off a bunch of things and appeared to cross the goal-line with Sid hacking away on the doorstep. Video replay was inconclusive and the Pens remained up 1-0. In my humble opinion and since I played goalie for some time, that puck was in the net. No question. I'm just glad this didn't come back and bite us later in the game.

I was not impressed at all with how they played in this game. They were real sloppy and at times lacked focus, yet somehow we found a way to win with of all people but Max Talbot.

Here's what I'm hoping for. The Penguins need to lock Talbot up for a few years and I'll have a new jersey. We named our cat Max because of Talbot. (The girlfriend refuses to admit this, but while she was suggesting names for the cat I waited for her to pick one that had a Pens player's name. As soon as she called out Max, I pounced.) He's by far one of my favorite guys on the team because of his work ethic and the energy he brings to the lineup.

Let's not forget that this whole thing was set up because of a Philly turnover at their own blueline and somehow they couldn't get the puck away from Georges Laraque who dumped it down to Gary Roberts in the corner. Roberts then makes a brilliant no-look pass to a wide open Talbot in the slot who made me jump out of my chair and scare my own little Max.

From that moment on, the Pens looked like the team that has gotten to this point. They absolutely shut the Flyers down for the last 10 minutes of the game and only surrendered one good chance. This new weapon in their arsenal is something I haven't seen out of this team forever. The discipline this team has at this age is what frustrates the daylights out of me when I see stupid penalties being taken. We have the guys to shut a game down like we did in Game 2 and that alone has been a huge factor in their success to this point.

Marc-Andre Fleury was great once again, as was Martin Biron. I was thinking about this earlier today. Biron hasn't played poorly in this series. Did anyone see the sprawling save he made on Crosby after a failed clearing attempt left him in no-man's land? I was half out of my chair dancing around when my jaw hit the floor to see Biron's glove snag that puck.

What has hurt Philly to this point is their turnovers. You can't turn the puck over against a team like Pittsburgh and expect to get away with it. The elite players the Pens have will kill you if you just cough it up to them. Look at Detroit for another example of this.

In any event, we head back to Philly up 2-0 with Game 3 tonight. Of course I'd love to sweep them out of the playoffs, who wouldn't? Again, I don't think we sweep this. All I'm really looking for out of these next two games is another split like we got against the Rangers in the last round. If we head back to Pittsburgh up 3-1 for Game 5 I'll feel pretty good about our chances.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Conferece Finals Predictions

The conference finals are upon us and we're left with 2 teams everyone expected to see and 2 teams that are raising eyebrows.

Most people expected the Red Wings and Penguins to reach the conference finals, while the Stars and Flyers were question marks to get this far.

I didn't expect to see either the Stars or Flyers make it this far. Philly has completely surprised me after how poorly they played with all the injuries they had. They had to fight just to make it into the playoffs and would have been the 8-seed had they not beaten Pittsburgh on the final day of the regular season to jump up to 6th.

The Dallas Stars were my post-trade deadline favorites to come out of the West after landing Brad Richards. Then they were one of the worst teams down the stretch and turned it on against the Ducks and Sharks and now sit one step away from the Stanley Cup Finals.

Let's do this shall we?

Let's start in the East.

Eastern Conference Finals

#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #6 Philadelphia Flyers

Well I said before the playoffs started that I was glad we didn't draw the Flyers in the first round because we finished the regular season with two games against them, which would have potentially set up for nine straight games against the same team. I don't care who you are, neither team would have made it out of the second round after playing nine straight games against each other in one of the most heated rivalries in all of hockey.

The Flyers do not get enough credit for how fast they are. When people think of the Flyers one of the first things that comes to mind is, dirty. Yes, they had a ton of suspensions this year and were even warned by the league office about it. Fine. That's never going to change while Bobby Clarke has anything to say about it.

They play a physical style that not many teams can compete with, but guys like Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere, Mike Richards and even R.J. Umberger can all skate pretty well. Umberger has been unbelievable during these playoffs and likes to play against his hometown Penguins.

Another big reason why the Flyers are in the conference finals is the play of goaltender Martin Biron. I can remember watching a couple games of the last series with Montreal and how Biron singlehandedly stole two games by standing on his head.

The big question mark for Philly is can they contain the big three from Pittsburgh in Marian Hossa, Evgeni Malkin and of course Sidney Crosby.

The Canadiens and Penguins are very similar. Both like to get out and skate and have exceptionally skilled players on offense. The biggest difference between the two teams is that the Penguins have Marc-Andre Fleury and not Carey Price.

I said before the playoffs even started that Price would be the reason the Habs would lose if they indeed did get knocked out. I'd like to see anyone try and argue with me that Price wasn't the reason the Habs lost in that series. Price got yanked twice, benched once and shelled in Game 5. He's going to be a great goalie in this league for many years to come and the lessons he learned from being abused in this series will go a long way. Have faith Montreal.

Now I'm not saying Fleury has a ton more experience than Price, but he's been in the league much longer and at least got a taste of playoff hockey last year so he knows what to expect. That experience alone and probably giving up his trademark yellow pads and gloves have carried the Penguins so far. With a 7-1 record with a 1.76 GAA and .936 save percentage are a big reason why the Flyers need to be concerned.

Montreal showed that Biron was capable of giving up goals and the Penguins have shown that they can win shootouts and tight games. Just look at the series against the Rangers as proof.

The Penguins defense has been unbelievable down the stretch and into the playoffs as well as the penalty kill. I hate to admit this, but the addition of Hal Gill has been a big (no pun intended) reason for this.

Two quick danger notes.

For the Penguins, watch out when Gill and Rob Scuderi are on the ice together. Both are great defensive defensemen who love to block shots. The problem is that they aren't exactly fast skaters. The Flyers could exploit this and force Michel Therrien to change it up a little.

For the Flyers, one of their best defensemen is most likely out for the playoffs after blood clots were discovered in his left foot. This is a HUGE loss for the Flyers. If there was one position besides in net that they could not afford to lose someone, it would be on defense.

Bottom Line This is going to get nasty and very quick. This could very well come down to who can keep their emotions in check. Special teams will be huge and the Penguins have the edge. Pittsburgh's PP is 4th in the playoffs clicking at 23.4%, while Philly is clicking at 24%.

The difference is that Philly is the most penalized team in the playoffs and has been shorthanded 57 times whereas Pittsburgh has only been shorthanded 38 and has killed off nearly 90% of them.

Penguins win in 6.

Western Conference

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #5 Dallas Stars

Can we say a classic battle of offense against defense? Let's throw another cliche out there. Defense wins championships.

I'm not saying that Detroit can't play defense, but their offense has been the story so far in these playoffs, especially Johan Franzen who has 15 goals in the playoffs including Game 1 against the Stars. (Yes, I'm aware this is a little late being posted, but if you knew the week I had, you'd understand.)

Marty Turco has been a big reason that one of the best defensive teams in the West has made it this far. They took out two of the most dominant teams in the conference in San Jose and Anaheim. I'm shocked really.

Brendan Morrow has been fantastic in these playoffs including ending the best game of the playoffs so far in Game 6 against San Jose to send the Stars into the finals. This team is coming together at just the right time and living up to the potential they have on paper to be one of the most suffocating teams in the entire league.

Detroit on the other hand, has cruised through the playoffs so far. The main reason for this is because they haven't played a team that has been able to force the issue and force them to skate.

Nashville did it for two games on home ice and won both. The problem was that their goaltending was suspect the rest of the time and Detroit pounced. The Stars might not have enough speed to be able to exploit this weakness, but if you look ahead to the Stanley Cup Finals, you can see where I'm going with this.

What the Stars should be able to do is clog up the ice and keep Detroit to the outsides and capitalize on turnovers. I still don't trust Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek with their AARP card memberships in the mail. Yes, Ozzie has played well so far while filling in for Hasek. I just don't trust his body holding up.

Bottom Line: If Dallas can stay out of the box and play the way they have against a high powered Anaheim team, they can pull off the upset here. Seriously. Marty Turco is finally playing like a playoff goalie coming off last season's great seven game series with the Canucks. That was not his fault at all, but he seems to have learned how to win in the playoffs. If the Stars align, it could be onto the Stanley Cup Finals.

Stars win in 7.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ways You Know You Love Your Team Too Much

OK, so after Game 5 of the Penguins/Rangers series I was talking to Gopher. I decided to wait a little bit to rub it in as he's a Rangers fan and I'm obviously not. About 2 hours after Marian Hossa scored, I still had some nervous breathing going on. You know how you get when you nearly get into a car accident and your hole body shakes and you think you might have a reversal of fortune of your meals that day? We concluded that still feeling that way that long after the game might be a little much. The rest of the conversation became about ways you know you might love your NHL team too much.

These are in no particular order mind you. This is just meant to be something fun for me to do and for you all to read and see just how nuts I actually am.

#1 You Grow Your Own Playoff Beard

Yep, doing it right now. I've been toying with the idea of growing out a beard for a while now anyway so I figured, why not make it for the playoffs? I normally sport the goatee, so this playoff beard is off to a bad start seeing as how the goatee has been groomed for years and this "thing" has only been around for a month.

My girlfriend looked at me like I was nuts when I said I was doing this. I got that head cocked to the side half rolling eyes look as she walked away saying "You never cease to amaze me."

The things I do for my team.

Don't think I'm the only one either. Gopher never even blinked when I told him I was doing this. Apparently he's done it in the past and I must say, he put most of the NHL guys to shame. Check It Out Here!

I don't care who you are, that's an awesome playoff beard.

#2 You Have Sacred Pre-Game Rituals

Again, I'm guilty. I won't even go into details on this because you might make a couple calls and have the men in white coats come pick me up. I always wanted padded walls in my room. Mainly because we used to have knee hockey wars and the only way it could possibly get better would be to institute checking.

Here's how this works and I'm sure you all have your own. When I say pre-game I don't mean from the time you sit in your favorite chair and turn on the tv. Not at all. What I'm talking about is this.

From the time the final buzzer sounds in the previous game until the puck drops in the next game, you do the same things the same way every time as if your life depended on it. You celebrate a win or get over a loss the same way. Your daily routine stays the same. You go all out walking on egg shells as if one minor slip up such as dropping a spoon en route to the sink doesn't throw the universe out of whack and thus rendering your team dead. (Yes this happened before Game 4 against the Rangers, that's all I'm going to say.)

In most cases this lasts for 24-48 hours and every minute that goes by is a painful mindgame that keeps you awake at night with the voice in your head combing over your every move that day and you don't sleep at all if you screwed something up.

#2a. You Have Sacred Rituals During The Game

This is obviously a continuation of the above, but it must be mentioned.

This is probably the most crucial time for you as a fan. It's funny how one little body movement that results in something negative happening to your team will change how you watch the game.

You'll end up looking like you're playing twister by the end of the game if you've got a cold or a rash or anything else that doesn't let your health be at 100%. What happens when you make the slightest movement and it results in a goal? You apologize to the team through the television as if you've got a microphone on and everyone on the team has an earpiece to hear you.

You will risk bodily harm by not making a bathroom break until intermission even if the call of nature comes with 19:59 on the clock in the period. In your mind you are the center of the universe and anything you say and or do during a game has a massive impact on how the game turns out. The things you do and more importantly, don't do during the game would make and OCD patient look completely normal.

#3 Anything Can Become A Projectile

This should be self explanatory, but it's true. You get soo wrapped up in the game and think you're the coach of General Manager and whatever happens to be within an arms length is at risk. One example of a massive flip out had nothing to do with hockey.

2003 ALCS Game 7. Aaron Boone walk-off homer sends the Red Sox packing after they blew a big lead. I walked back into my dorm room entirely infuriated and bumped into my dresser with my upper thigh. I forgot I stil had keys in my pocket and they jabbed me in the leg ever so slightly. I reached into my pocket grabbed the keys and chucked it at the wall faster than Tim Wakefield has ever thrown in his life. I'm surprised I didn't lose an eye with the flying shrapnel that came off the key ring as a couple key chains disintegrated upon contact. The holes in the wall were still there 3 years later when we moved out.

Normally the remote takes all the abuse. It's the serf of electronics really. It always serves and never asks for anything but new batteries so it can perform its duties efficiently and we end up throwing it against the floor, wall or in some cases not my own, the television. What did the remote ever do? Oh and forget it if the batteries die at the exact instant you want to change the channel due to being so disgusted with how your team is playing. Get the kids out of the room and hide the women as that sucker might break the sound barrier as it leaves your hand.

#4 You Construct A Shrine For Your Team Somewhere In Your House

My entire basement would fall into this category. Have no fear though, I got full approval from the girlfriend to construct this room. I had to concede that I wouldn't make it look tacky or go too nuts with it, so in order to make her happy I enlisted her help. It's reached a point where we are both happy with how it looks and I'm OK with it.

The walls have pictures of various Penguin greats as well as most of the young guns I've enjoyed watching over the past couple years. Some of it is autographed, some of it just looked cool so I bought it.

Here's the thing with the shrine. You are never quite done adding to it. You'll always find space for that new item no matter how big or small it is. I've still got about 3 more framed pictures to put up and I don't know where I'm going to put it. I just might have to annex the shrine to another room and slowly take over our whole place. If you read this dear, I need your help measuring out the walls in the bedroom.

#5 You Will Risk Getting Some Disease For Your Team

I'm not talking something entirely disgusting here. Just simply wearing the same shirt or clothes for every game while your team is on a winning streak in the playoffs.

I haven't quite pulled this off during this year's playoffs as I've had to work for some of the games and that would just put off some people. That said, during last year's ALCS and first couple games of the World Series I refused to wash my Red Sox shirt I wore during Game 5 against Cleveland. We were on vacation in Florida at the time and wasted 4 evenings watching baseball, while the odor in the room grew with every pitch.

When we returned home from our trip I refused to wash the shirt until the series was over. My girlfriend tried to wash it without me knowing, but I caught her and got the rolled eye thing I noted above. It's the look I get when she knows I'm doing something crazy or beyond her understanding of how involved I get with a team.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Pens Advance On Hossa's Heroics

I can’t believe after all the suffering over the past few years might have actually been worth it. Here we are, back in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001 and look who it’s against. Our hated cross-state rivals from Philadelphia who we last saw in 2000.

The Flyers won that series 4-2 after the Pens went on the road and won Games 1 and 2. Am I a little bitter? Yes, but what gets me more annoyed is that there hasn’t been an overtime game in recent history that has knocked off the 5 overtime thriller in Game 3 of that series. Anyone remember Keith Primeau racing down the right side and somehow pulling up and firing a rocket over Ron Tugnut’s shoulder? No? I do. It haunts me in my sleep this time of year. Every year.

Anyway, why sit here and focus on the negative things of previous years? We just won another playoff series and are one step away from fighting for the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.

As with last Sunday I started watching the game at home and made it through the entire first period before having to leave for work. I listened to the 2nd period while in the car and nearly drove off the road twice when Malkin and Hossa scored to give us a 2-0 lead. In the time it took me to park my car and get settled at my desk the Rangers had tied it and I needed half a bottle of Tums to calm my stomach.

As much as I love Doc Emrick, listening to him today was torture. Not because he was calling it soo poorly, which he wasn’t, but because it was bad enough seeing the puck close to the goal line then I had to hear him and listen more intently for his patented “SCORE!”

The finally after 7:10 seconds of sudden death, Pascal Dupuis raced into the Rangers’ zone, made a short pass to Crosby that was deflected. Sid just hacked it into the slot, puck bounced off a player’s skate right to Hossa who was all of 5 feet from Henrik Lundqvist. Hossa made no mistake with the puck and tickled the twine to tickle me pink and propel the Pens into the East Finals.

I nearly tripped over my chair as I was dancing around and hooting and hollering. I can’t remember being this excited since Darius Kasperitis somehow beat Dominik Hasek from the red line in triple overtime. I remember that mainly because I nearly broke my hand when I jumped off my bed and punched the ceiling fan at 2:00am and highly annoyed my parents.

Anyway, we needed to win this game today especially when it went to overtime. I did not want to see this head back to New York anyway, but heading back losing two in a row with an overtime loss the day before had Game 7 written all over it. If Game 7 were to have happened I don’t think I would have lived through it regardless of the outcome.

Now at least the Pens get a few days to get healed up and ready for what will no doubt be a nasty series. It won’t take long for the bad blood to boil over and this could very easily come down to who can control their emotions better. I’ll have a full analysis once my blood pressure and nerves return to normal, until then sleep easy Pens fans, we’re halfway home.

Quick Thoughts On Kentucky Derby

What a race! OK I know I said Big Brown wasn't going to win due to post position, but obviously I was wrong. I can't believe he was 3 and 4 wide until the final turn and still was able to pull away from the field. Him pulling away shows he's got no problem getting the mile and a half at the Belmont should he win the Preakness in two weeks.

I was also saddened to see Eight Belles have a severe injury after the race and have to be euthanized immediately. There is always a sad part to any sport and this is obviously the saddest thing in horse racing. You have to feel for the owners and trainers and even the jockey who have developed a strong relationship with the horse. In horse racing, the horse becomes a family member and seeing this happen is a tragedy every time. It's hard to forget that just a short while back Barbaro captured the hearts of the world.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Sharks Survive Again...Plus DERBY DAY!

This is going to be really quick today as I'm too excited about the Kentucky Derby today.

The Sharks finally showed a backbone last night. After trailing 2-0 heading to the third period, they stopped trying to make all these fancy passes and just put the puck on net.

They started generating chances and opened up passing lanes to finally be able to move the puck for a high percentage shot. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Joe Thornton may be the most underrated passer in the league. He's not going to score 40 goals in a season, but every year he puts up 60+ assists and is always among the league leaders.

The pass he made to set up the first goal last night was jaw dropping. I don't know how his teammates even play with the guy, if he sees a small shred of daylight, he's putting the puck through it.

Plus, the goal Brian Campbell scored to tie it up in the third was an absolute laser beam. Marty Turco had no chance whatsoever to stop that puck.

The way you beat Turco is to get traffic in front of him. Get in his kitchen. Give him a whack after the whistle. Give him a little nudge when he comes out to play the puck. I'm not saying lay the guy out or do anything to take a penalty. He gets frustrated very quickly.

Take last night for example, one two occasions late in the 2nd and early in the 3rd periods, he got some contact and started screaming at the refs to make a call.

If you keep going to the net and crashing into him, he'll get mad and that's what you want if you're the Sharks. You need him thinking "I'm taking out the next guy who touches my paint."

That's how the Sharks will win the series. If they keep being passive, we won't even see a game 7.

Now, onto Derby Day.

I am going out on a limb today and making my own call. Cheech thinks this is a wide open field and with Big Brown being out the far outside post at No. 20. Write this down. BIG BROWN WILL NOT WIN. It's a sucker's bet today. Yeah he's the favorite, but no horse has ever won the Derby from the 20 post. EVER.

The only way he wins is if he gets down to the rail by the first turn. If he's on the outside heading into turn one, rip up your tickets.

Now, here's what I'm going to play.

Since, Big Brown will spend a ton of energy early in this race I'm looking for a solid closer in this race. Keep your eyes on the No. 10 horse Colonel John. In the Santa Anita Derby John got boxed out big time coming around the final turn, had to change his line and still ran down four horses in the final straightaway to win it by 1/2 a length.

This horse will be stalking the pace the entire time and watch for Colonel John to make a big kick down the stretch. Colonel John will be your 2008 Kentucky Derby winner.

As a longer shot on the board and if you're looking for a value bet. Take a hard look at Smooth Air in the 12 post. This horse lost to Big Brown in the Florida Derby, but has a noticeable post advantage over Brown this time around and might be able to take Brown down.

Now as for the other favorite on the board, I'm not all that impressed. Pyro has a great name and my favorite number in 9, but finished 10th in his last race at the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. I didn't see the race, but for him to come in 10th in a decent sized field does not bode well for a race with 20 horses. I think he'll be a mid pack horse at best, but what do I know? I'm just a puckhead.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Pens Falter, Wings Dominate

Rather than look at the game in general let’s look at how this loss is actually a good thing for the Penguins shall we? Everyone will probably write something about the game and what happened in it to turn the tide. Let me just do that in one sentence.

Malkin missed the penalty shot in the second period.

That’s it. That’s what turned the tide in the game. Nothing more, nothing less. If he scores, the Pens win and I’m on here typing all in caps in celebration.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about this since we went up 3-0 on the Rangers are were 7-0 in the playoffs. No one is ever going to go 16-0. No one has even gone 8-0 since the Oilers did it in the 80’s. The longer this winning streak went on the more damage it could have potentially caused these young Pens.

How you ask?

Winning gives you a false sense of security. It makes you think that you don’t have to try as hard in order to win. It makes you expect to win rather than working and earning the wins. I’m not saying the Penguins quit in this game at all. The Rangers were the better team tonight, plain and simple.

This loss tonight should do a couple things for the Penguins. First off, the loss will remind them of the feelings they had last year when they were getting stomped by the Senators. It should remind them how it feels to lose and remind them of what they were doing in the first seven games in order to win. It should give them the bad taste in their mouth to go out and play harder just so they don’t have to see the opposition with smiles on their faces.

The loss tonight will shatter any sense of superiority that these young Pens might have developed during these playoffs. There was some tensions that boiled over at the end of the game tonight, but since the next game isn’t until Sunday, I’m not as worried about a momentum carry over. Expect the Penguins to come out absolutely flying in Game 5.

Henrik Lundqvist will have to be ready to face a barrage of shots and what will no doubt be a very hostile Mellon Arena crowd. Man I wish I was going to be there for this. At least I’ll be able to watch this one and not have to worry about listening to it on a severe delay and having Gopher ruin any suspense like tonight.

I’m also not totally upset about the loss tonight because if you’ll recall I only asked the Penguins to split in NY and head home up 3-1. As a Pens fan, I can’t really be that upset about getting what I asked for right? How often does something like that happen? I wish it were that simple about winning championships. If it were you’d only see the Red Sox, Patriots and Penguins winning everything every year. (Yes, I grew up near Boston. I became a Pens fan when the first game I ever saw when I was about 5 or 6 was a Bruins/Pens game and Mario Lemieux went nuts and the Penguins won easily. The love affair began that young and hasn’t ever faltered.)

At any rate, I hope we pull this off on Sunday and can get some time to rest up before the next round. I’d also just like to add that I’d love very much to see the Canadiens come back and at least force a Game 7. Main reason being that I want the Pens next opponent to be beaten and battered, especially since both of those teams went the full seven games in their opening series. This would mean that provided the Penguins win in Game 5, that they would have played nine total games in the playoffs and if Montreal forces Game 7 the winner would have played 14 games. That’s the only reason I want Montreal to come back.

Let’s just hope we take care of business on Sunday.

As for the Red Wings, there's not much to say about this one. Johan Franzen singehandedly beat the Colorado Avalanche. Franzen scored 9 goals in the series which was the combined total of what the Avs did in four games.

The Avs were terrible in every game in this series and didn't deserve to even be on the same ice surface as the Wings.

Jose Theodore finished the series with a GAA probably over 10. I don't have the patience to figure this out and nor do I care. Needless to say, he was awful. In game 4 he let up 3 on 15 shots in the first period and was pulled....again. The guy I really feel for in this series was Peter Budaj who came in and faced a shooting gallery already down by and insurmountable amount.

I wonder if anyone in the Avs organization made a call to Patrick Roy. I'm not saying he would have stepped in and won the series, but he at least would have skated down to the other end of the ice to kick the crap out of Chris Osgood and show his son how to really fight.

In case you haven't seen this by now, here you go.

Anyway, there's not much I can even say about this and my head is throbbing from trying to figure out what went wrong. Complain all you want about injuries and such, but this was beyond any of that. This was a pathetic showing from the 2001 Colorado Avalanche.

In other news, guess what this weekend is? THE KENTUCKY DERBY! Now I haven't had much chance to look over the field, but don't worry I'll have my pick before the race.

I'm merely stating that this is the greatest two minutes in sports. Horse racing doesn't get enough credit. I'll admit, I wasn't a huge fan until a few years ago when Cheech got me hooked in college. I didn't realize everything that went into picking winners and how to chart a race and such. I still don't get it. I understand the logic behind it and know what I need to happen in a race for my schmuck pick to actually come in though.

I never miss the Derby, even before I met Cheech. Anyone who misses the Derby should have their sports watching privileges revoked for 6 months. Yeah, it's that important and fun to watch. What's sad is that the only way horse racing will return to it's glory days and get any attention whatsoever is for there to be a Triple Crown winner. Right now ESPN pays less attention to horse racing than they do the NHL and that's pretty hard to beat. Even the WNBA gets more play on SportsCenter than the NHL. Maybe if the Stanley Cup Finals go seven games, it might make it into the first 15 minutes of the show. Of course it will be behind Game 1 of the NBA conference finals and game 37 of some random baseball game, but hey it's in the first segment of the show.

I need to stop writing for tonight before I get really annoyed. Besides, it's my weekend and I intend on having a lot of fun.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Top 5 Surprises Of Playoffs So Far

Now that it looks as if the second round of the NHL playoffs will be over by the end of the weekend, I suppose I should do the follow up to the biggest disappointments post from the other day. Also to go along with yesterday's thoughts on something else other than hockey, read on and see what I'm commenting on for today.

#5 Colorado Avalanche Round 1 Style

Yeah, this post is meant to be a look at isolated incidents in the playoffs. The Avs from round one were mighty impressive. I didn't think they had it in them to actually knock off the Wild, but they proved me wrong.

Jose Theodore was fantastic in that series and actually looked like his old self. If I remember right in my overall predictions blog I said in order for the Avs to move on to the next round it would have to be because of Theodore.

Now let's look ahead to where they are now on this second round against Detroit while I still have a couple hours where that is actually true. This series ends tonight. The Avs have been terrible in this entire series. Maybe not the whole team, just one guy in particular.

Jose Theodore.

The only reasoning we've been given for Theodore's unfathomable suckfest in this series is he supposedly has the "flu." Really? That's the best we could come up with? If he had the flu that bad, why put him in net to begin with? You have a capable guy in Peter Budaj who could have at least stopped a puck in the first two games while Theodore rested up. Get out the brooms Red Wings fans, cause this one is over tonight.

#4 Boston Bruins Push Montreal To 7 Games

I don't think even the most rabid Bruins fans thought that they were going to win this series, much less come back from 3-1 down and force a Game 7. What was even more mindblowing was the stat that kept flashing during every game that said the Bruins have NEVER beaten the Canadiens in a playoff series.

Really? Two original six teams that played each other practically every year and Boston NEVER beat them once? That's worse than the Red Sox ineptitude against the hated Yankees until they came back from 0-3 down in 2004.

This was a great series and embodied what playoff hockey is all about.

Once this series was 3-1 in favor of Montreal, I could not believe that they lost Game 5 on home ice and then proceeded to lose Game 6 back in Boston. What then happened in Game 7 was basically like watching a sick animal be put to sleep. The Bruins had absolutely nothing left in the tank. Yeah they lost 5-0, but it wasn't a 5-0 game.

They, like any other team in that situation, started taking chances and got burned while fighting to live another day. This was at best a 2-0 or 3-0 game. The Bruins have nothing to be ashamed of or disappointed by. This was a team that many didn't think would even make the playoffs and they pushed the number one seed to the brink. That's gotta count for something doesn't it?

#3 How Much Does Philly Love Briere and Biron?

For as much as I have a deep hatred of the Flyers as a Pens fan, I can't overlook the fact that this team was the worst team in the league last year and now they sit just one win away from the Eastern Conference finals.

I'm chalking almost all of this up to the play of Daniel Briere and Martin Biron. Briere currently leads the NHL in points in the playoffs. (Make the argument all you want about how some teams like the Penguins have played almost half as many games. I'll back you up.)

His leadership skills along with the resurgence of Mike Knuble have carried this team this far along with Biron in goal. Biron has been disgusting in this postseason and especially in this series with Montreal where they've been outshot 1651574145 - 30. (yes I know that's a really big exaggeration, but ask Biron how much rubber he's faced and I bet he probably throws out a number close to that.)

This team has gotten healthy at the right time of year and it's showing. Imagine how much scarier this team would be if Simon Gagne would have not suffered three concussions this season. Baring a meltdown this team is moving on to the Eastern Conference finals.

#2 Dallas Stars Break Out Of Funk

Are you kidding me? Right after the trade deadline I was hanging out with Cheech and we were discussion who we thought had the best chance to win the Stanley Cup. At the time we both agreed that the Dallas Stars were probably the most complete team after getting Brad Richards.

Then for one reason or another this team just couldn't mesh together. A couple injuries to key players like Sergei Zubov and all of a sudden this team is dropping like a rock and they end up holding out thanks to an earlier lead in points and drew the Ducks in the opening round.

Then all of a sudden everyone wakes up and collectively says "OK Let's do this thing." They go on to completely dominate the Ducks and have smoked the Sharks for the most part and have Dallas fans once again looking ahead to a Wings/Stars playoff series.

If they continue to play like they have been and Marty Turco plays like he has, this team WILL beat Detroit in the Western Conference Finals. Write it down. If you don't give me a few days once everything is official and I'll write it down on here for you.

#1 Pittsburgh Penguins Are 7-0

This is self explanatory and I refuse to even talk about it for fear of jinxing this run we're on. The only thing I will say is that they are the first team since the 1994 Rangers and we all know how that turned out.

So instead of wasting my time on writing about this which will inevitably come back and bite me in the ass, let's move onto something else shall we?

Why Sports Are Great

Before I even start commenting on this subject, Read This!

I'll give you a few minutes to get through that.

Go ahead.

I'll still be here.

(Jeopardy Theme)

OK, now that you have read that this should be real easy to comment on.

Every once in a while a sports story comes along that makes you forget about how everyone on your favorite team makes more money per game than any of us probably make in a year. Something like that story makes you remember why you fell in love with sports in the first place.

Of course sports is all about who wins and who loses, or at least that's what we're taught to believe. Sport was based on the honor of competition and respecting the field of battle no matter what it might be.

I wish I would have been at this game just so I could gather those three young women together and shake their hands. These girls deserve more recognition than what they are getting. Maybe in the coming days more people will pick up on this and everyone will feel good about themselves for a minute or two, but not get the big picture.

The big picture here is that none of those girls on the field has a big dollar contract awaiting them. This was about making someone's dream come true. This was about a moment bigger than any individual person or even the game itself. Where else would you see anyone pick up an "enemy" and carry them to safety? This was more than just sportsmanship and is one of the most overlooked storylines and this is just my way of paying tribute to three remarkable women.