A Carolina Hurricanes blog with occasional news about the rest of the NHL.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

fun with game photos

I already used the below photo (taken from hurricanes.com) once, but I was looking at it, and I noticed something strange. The photo was taken in game four just after Rod Brind'Amour scored the go-ahead (and game-winning) goal at 5:54 of the third period. Check out the expressions/body language of the Montréal fans. Take a good look, and formulate your own ideas, then scroll down for my take.

First, there's the guy with the white sweater on in the front row. He's somewhat obstructed from view, but you can clearly see that he's clutching his head, looking more stunned than anything else. He's probably screaming something like "No! No! Oh no!". There's the girl(?) in the extreme upper left corner with her left hand on her mouth, looking more dejected than anything else. She's probably thinking something like "I can feel the momentum shifting, and I have a bad feeling we're going to lose this game". My favorite is the guy beside her. He's asleep. Asleep! Game four of a heated playoff series. A tie game to that point. He's got a seat that most people would probably exchange their only son for, and he's taken the opportunity to catch a little shut-eye.

Mark Recchi, your 411 operator

Everybody knows about the Justin Williams/Saku Koivu incident in game three of the Habs/Canes series. One of the many side stories there is that Mark Recchi has been a great guy through it all. He visited Koivu in the hospital. He gave Koivu's cellphone number to Williams, which allowed Williams to send his apologies and best wishes.

According to this article about Erik Cole's injury, Mark Recchi was involved in a potential cellphone number exchange there. Recchi was still with the Penguins when Cole got hurt after being boarded by Brooks Orpik. Many Canes fans have ostracized Orpik for making no attempt to contact Colesy, and for his initial comments, which ranged from "he helped himself into the boards" to "you hit guys to hurt guys". As the linked article states, Orpik did actually try to contact Cole. Nearly a month after the incident, Orpik asked Recchi for Cole's cellphone number, but Cole forbade it. I haven't agreed with Cole 100% on his remarks on the incident, and I don't really know how I feel about this one:
"I told Mark to tell him not to bother. I wasn't interested in his call," Cole said. "At that point, I felt a call was more for his benefit than for mine, of him trying to clear his conscience."

I sort of understand where Cole is coming from. A month after the fact is a little too late to express concern, and it certainly isn't going to do Cole any good. However, I think it's a bit bullheaded to reject Orpik's ill-timed efforts at reconciliation.
Where I have been completely in dissent with Cole is when he repeatedly says "I definitely look forward to next year, when we get to play Pittsburgh.", which is a thinly veiled 'eye for an eye' (sorry for the unfortunate pun) threat. I have said, and I will continue to say that I hope there will never be an on-ice retaliation for the Cole injury, or the Koivu injury, or any injury. I have always had this outlook, and it hasn't wavered when one of my favorite players is involved. I was happy that the Avalanche never gooned it up against the Nucks after the Bertuzzi/Moore thing, and I hope that Cole doesn't do anything stupid if and when he takes the ice against the Penguins next season.

So,anyway, the initial point is that it seems like if you need to get in touch with an NHL player, Mark Recchi is your man. He's got all the digits.

Somewhere, there's probably a good nickname in there.
"Di-Recch-tory Assistance"? There's gotta be something better.

What say you?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

OLN to change names, piss me off

Here's something that's been somewhat under the radar, but I heard about thanks to The Puck Stops Here: OLN will undergo another name change. Starting in September, The Outdoor Life Network, err... the Lance Armstrong Network, err... OLN will be called "Versus". Cue the speech where the OLN executive explains that the network is shifting away from the huntin' and fishin' and more into the team sports thing, and they need a name that reflects that.

So just years after it re-invented itself as the Lance Armstrong/Tour De France Network, and just months after it re-invented itself as the NHL's home, it is going through much more than just an image change.

I'm not that happy about it, and I can think of four people who probably have more of a vested interest in not being happy about it. See, in the mid-nineties there was this really kick ass indie rock band (pictured at right) from NYC named Versus. They're only semi-defunct. They're not putting out records anymore, and they don't tour together, but they still play an occasional show. They've mostly moved on to side projects such as +/-, Whysall Lane, and The Fontaine Toups.

One of my favorite things about that band was the fact that the frontman, Richard Baluyut, smoked like a chimney onstage. With both hands furiously busy on the guitar, he'd just puff away while the ash end of the cigarette got impossibly long.
Aside from the spectacle of that, their shows were loud, energetic, and fun. They were, and still are one of my favorite bands from the nineties.

So anyway, I don't like the OLN name change because of that. I can think of a few other reasons I don't like it, but that's the chief reason. If the shoes were on the other feet, the band would get sued into the stone age, but obviously the band won't be suing the network.

There are several articles from real news sources about the impending name change. This one is just as good as any.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Canes win, restore home ice

On Friday night, the Canes won a nail-biter 3-2 in Montréal. With the win, the series is evened at two games apiece and Carolina has restored home ice.

The Canes took the lead early and looked to be off and running. Public enemy #1 Justin "Viva" Williams got a goal at 10:22 of the first, assisted by Staalsy and Dougie. It was Viva's first goal of the playoffs, Staal's fifth assist, and Weight's second.

Barely a minute later, AWard increased the lead to two goals. His tally was assisted by Viva and Cory Stillman. That was the second assist for each guy.

Nobody likes a two goal lead, but the Canes made it stand up through the end of one. In the first 20 minutes, there were no penalties called, and the Habs were outshot 12-6.

As expected, the two goal lead wouldn't hold up. Alexander Perezhogin cut the lead in half at 5:01. From the mid-point on, there were some strange things going on.

At 10:55, CrAdams was sent to the box for tripping, then at 11:45, Bret Hedican was found guilty of a high-sticking double minor. The Habs had 70 seconds of five-on-three. Somehow, they found a way to nearly piss it away. Carolina had two different scoring chances while at a two man disadvantage, including a breakaway by Brindy. "Crystal Ball" Huet made a sensational save on what was tantamount to a penalty shot, then made a dandy save on the rebound attempt. A few seconds later, he was forced to make yet another amazing save. They didn't convert on the five-on-three, but still had nearly three minutes of power play left.
Sheldon Souray got the equalizer just three seconds after the expiration of CrAdams' penalty, but they remained on the power play because Hedican's was a double minor.

That would be all of the official scoring in the period.

At 18:38 of the second, Brindy had what he thought was the go-ahead goal. There was a mad frenzy in front of Huet's crease, and the puck was loose. Brindy kept hacking at it and knocked the puck in. However, the goal was disallowed for contact with the goaltender. There was a slew of red shirts, and only Rod Brind'Amour in white. Contact certainly was made, it looked like the contact was the result of Craig Rivet and Sheldon Souray attempting to remove Brindy from the crease. They both pushed Brindy, who made contact with Huet as the puck crossed the line. The refs have a lot of discretion in that case. They can allow the goal, saying that the contact was incidental; they can wave off the goal without calling an interference penalty; or they can wave the goal and call a penalty. I thought they should have gone with option A, but they went with B. For the record, it was Tim Peel, who made the call from all the way at center ice.

The third was full of tension, and fortunately, the Canes didn't let the controversy get the best of them. They had a good period, and Brindy eventually got the game winner at 5:54.

I could write a lengthy piece about Rod Brind'Amour's play in game four. He did a spectacular job of doing everything right. He created a breakaway situation while down two men. If not for a dazzling save by Huet, he would have put the Canes up 3-1, and taken the slowly shifting momentum away from the Habs. He pitched in defensively on several occasions, perfectly demonstrating why he will win the Selke. He earned third star accolades for his performance, and I can't disagree with giving the first star to Viva, but I think Brindy was the story tonight. And I think he'll be one of the big stories of this series.

Once again, Cam Ward was great. He didn't have to stand on his head as much as he did in game three, but he was pretty great. Again, he did a fantastic job of controlling his rebounds, and was just seeing the puck really well. He lived up to his reputation of being cool and collected. While many players will say that the key to success in the playoffs is to maintain one's heartbeat, to keep it low. All the Canes players say that Cam Ward doesn't have a pulse at all. I don't know where he gets that collectedness, but I see no reason to question it.

For his one goal/one assist night, the public enemy #1 was given the first star, and I can't imagine that went over with the fans in the MolsonBell Center. As I suspected, he was greeted with boos and chants of "Asshole", but was not targeted by any of the Habs players. The players know and respect that Williams didn't intend to injure Koivu. They've also got better things to worry about than trying to knock his head off.

So the series will return to Raleigh on Sunday night, with a special 7:30 puck drop time. Since neither team has won a home game, it kind of makes things interesting.

I have a lot of confidence in my boys, though. With every game, the defense is getting better. Truth be told, it would be impossible for there to not be an improvement over game one, but I seriously have seen improvement in each game. One area that still needs A LOT of improvement though, is clearing the zone on the PK. Carolina can't seem to get the puck out. On the other side, Montréal is doing a textbook job of doing the same. Every chance they get, they clear it all the way out.

Anyway, we've got a brand new series. Best of three. It should be a doozy.

new addition to the blogroll

It was brought to my attention that the inimitable Ron Francis is writing a blog for WRAL. It naturally covers the Hurricanes through their Stanley Cup playoff run. Click the link above, or in the blogroll on the right to visit his blog.

As far as I can tell, it really is Ronnie.

Ward to start game 4

Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward was the big story for the Canes in game three of the Habs-Canes series. His outstanding performance on Wednesday will be rewarded with another opportunity to start. He'll be the man in net tonight for the important game four of the series.

If the Canes can pull off another win on the road, they'll even the series at two games and restore home ice. Martin Gerber, who was suffering from a stomach virus, will watch the game from the bench. He hasn't been particularly good since before the Olympic break, and is perhaps in need of a rest. I wouldn't be surprised to see Gerber back in net at some point.

This goaltender scenario should ring a bell to Canes fans. During their '02 Cup run, they used a goaltender by committee approach with Kevin Weekes and Arturs Irbe.

Tonight's puck drop will be at 7:00.

In other games, the Stars have their back very much against the wall as they face elimination on the road in Denver. I'm guessing, though, that they'll live to see at least one more day.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Koivu out indefinitely

The news came early Thursday that Habs captain Saku Koivu will be out indefinitely with an eye injury suffered Wednesday night. He required a few stitches, and there was concern that the actual eye was damaged. Doctors cannot determine the severity of the injury until the swelling in that left eye subsides. Koivu cannot be replaced, just as Erik Cole cannot be replaced, but they will do their best to fill his void. In the meantime, Red and Black Hockey will extend their best wishes for a healthy recovery for Koivu.

Bob Gainey did not ask the league to suspend Justin Williams.

Clearly, a foul occurred. Clearly there should have been a penalty. Denis LaRue, who I have called out at least once this season, was there in perfect position, and missed the call. He should be benched for the remainder of the playoffs.

Both Mark Recchi and Justin Williams have phoned Koivu to leave messages, but neither was able to speak with him. The Recchin ball played in Montréal for four seasons where he and Koivu became good friends.

On Friday, I expect the fans, but not the Habs players, to lash out at Williams. Over on the Habs board, there isn't very much anti-Williams talk, but a lot of anti-ref talk. Mostly though, they are, as they should be, concerned for Koivu's well-being. If the damage is severe enough it could threaten his career. We certainly hope it isn't anything like that.

If there's a positive side to this, it is that Koivu is in good spirits. He has been quoted as saying that he's more concerned with the fact that the Habs lost game three than he is with the injury.

Details of the injury probably won't develop for another 36 hours or so.

puck fiction

I know this is an oldie, but it's a goodie, and I just saw it for the first time.

Staal lifts Canes, series 2-1.

On Wednesday night, Eric Staal scored 3:38 into overtime to give Carolina a 2-1 victory in the Bell Center. The series is now 2-1 in favor of Montréal, and we are guaranteed another home game. Unfortunately, the giveaway on Sunday will be "bang sticks", which I find to be only slightly more desirable than terminal cancer.

The story of Wednesday's game was Cam Ward. He was un freakin believable. He made a series of highlight reel saves in the second period. On most of those saves, he stopped it cleanly, with no rebound. Montréal continued to use their long bomb approach to shooting, which worked great against Martin Gerber. However, it would not work against the 22 year old rookie who was getting his first Stanley Cup start. He came on in relief of Gerber on Monday, and played well, but took the loss.

After a scoreless first, Richard Zednik gave the Habs the lead at 9:17 of the second with a power play goal. It was one of only three power play chances awarded the Habs, and the only one they would connect on.

Rod Brind'Amour tied it at 11:27 of the third after he hustled to get to a loose puck and squeezed it through the five hole of Huet.

With 3:38 gone in the fourth frame, and the Canes enjoying their seventh power play opportunity, Eric Staal lit the lamp with a shot from the point. The game-winner was his first Stanley Cup goal. He now has five points in three games of the second season.

One bit of controversy in the game was an injury to Habs captain Saku Koivu. Early in the first period, he caught a stick to the face from Carolina's Justin "Viva" Williams. Referee Denis LaRue was in perfect position to make a call, but didn't. Carolina gained control of the puck and was streaking down ice, but play was immediately whistled dead when LaRue noticed the injury. Koivu was rushed to a hospital and did not return. He needed a few stitches to close a cut near his left eye, and did not return. It isn't known yet whether Koivu, who wears a half shield, suffered an injury to the actual eye. Tomorrow he will visit with the team opthamologist for what has been called a "precautionary" visit. Koivu's head was very low to the ice at the time, but there still can and should have been a penalty. Obvoiusly it wasn't intentional, but the player still has to be responsible with his stick.

Canadiens players had two different takes on how that went down. While many complained that the referees were nit-picky in some cases, but missed that one, at least one wouldn't play the blame game.

Sheldon Souray:
"You can sit here and talk about the refereeing and whatever, but they're not going to see everything and there have been questionable calls probably all year long. It's black, white and gray this year, the refereeing. You can't blame them but is it frustrating? Yeah, sure it's frustrating. They certainly missed it, but stuff happens during the game. You don't want to blame the referees for anything."

The series will continue on Friday night in the Bell Center, and will return to the RBC Center on Sunday. Friday's puck drop will be again at 7:00. Again, no national TV.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Taking the bait

JP over at Japers' Rink has been busy over there. He's put up a nice video summary of the Caps season, added some worthwhile/worthless stat of the night posts, and even had time to make a music recommendation. Since he invited Carolina fans to "recommend their favorite Toby Keith record", I'll take the bait. So here's the non-hockey post.

I'll take time here to suggest a record that very few, if any of you are listening to -- Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever by Explosions in the Sky. This is one of my favorite records from the last five years, and is the one that blew me away more than any in my collection. The first time I listened, I was left breathless. Every single time I've listened since then, I still get completely struck with awe.

Explosions in the Sky is a four piece instrumental band from Austin Texas. Their brand of music is most commonly referred to as "post-rock", and their songs are more like overtures than traditional rock songs. They are typically between seven and twelve minutes in length, and each song usually has at least four different parts with a recurring theme. At some point in each song there is almost dead silence for several seconds, and at some point in each song there is a crescendo leading to a near deafening cacophony of guitar and drum. All the while, it feels much more like classical music than rock.

Those Who Tell the Truth... was released, depending on which account you believe, in late August 2001, September 4, or September 11, 2001. I bring this up because of the album's artwork and the inscription on the inside front cover "This plane will crash tomorrow".

You may be familiar with the band without knowing it. If you saw "Friday Night Lights", that was their music throughout the film.

Go somewhere where you can listen to the whole album (rather than the :30 bites you get from Amazon). Give it a twirl, and try to have patience. It requires a patient and thorough listen, but you probably won't regret it. If you don't want to take my word for it, see what Pitchfork Media has to say about it here.

Oh... Go Canes.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A lesson in history

Before anybody (including myself) starts to talk about how it's over for the Canes, they need to take a look at last night's game, to think about how Carolina adapted mid-game. They also need to look not very far back in the history books.

The last point first. Back in 2002, eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit was in the same position that Carolina in in right now. In the first round, they had lost games 1 and 2 to Vancouver at home and headed into enemy territory with a tough task. They regrouped, faced their challenge, and won four straight to win the series. Of course they also went on to win the Cup.

I think Carolina is capable of doing the same thing. Especially if they continue to play the way they did in periods two through five last night. I don't know what happened in the room between periods one and two, but they sure came out looking differently. The change in goaltender had something to do with it. Sure. But everything looked different.

Wednesday should be a good one.

Canes lose a heartbreaker, fall behind 2-0

On Monday, the Canes played a MUCH better game, but ended up on the losing end of a 6-5 double overtime thriller. They will head up to Montréal down two games. The Habs will have a chance to pull off a shocking sweep on home ice. I wouldn't bet on that, though.

For the first 20 minutes, things didn't look so good. The Habs were more aggressive than the Canes, they did a better job of completing their own passes and denying our passing lanes. Some poor officiating aside, the Habs absolutely had control of the first period. Martin Gerber was sent to the showers after surrendering three goals on 13 shots in only 14 minutes of play. After that, things started to turn around for the home team.

Early in the second, Matt Cullen got a bit of a fluky goal, which got the ball rolling for Carolina. Midway through the second, Brindy connected on a power play goal just seconds after a five-on-three had elapsed. They were awarded a great chance to make a lot of ground when Richard Zednik took a high-sticking double minor at 9:36, but they failed to score on either side of the penalty.

The mood was much better in the concourse and seating bowl during the second intermission. We had confidence in the boys and we had two penalties to the Habs on the board. There's not a better situation to ask for. Fresh sheet of ice, start of the period, two man advantage. Carolina struck twice to take the lead 4-3 at 1:15 of the third. Ray Whitney got the first one at 0:22 of the period, then Brindy got a wrap around to give us the lead early in the period. Needless to say, the mood had gotten even better.

The Habs would score the next two goals in quick succession to take a 5-4 lead. Kovalev at 5:22 and Zednik at 5:58. We still felt good, though.

At 18:30, with Cam Ward pulled for an extra attacker, Cory Stillman evened the score at 5, and we could breathe again.

First overtime was dominated by Carolina. They had loads of scoring chances, even shorthandedly, but Huet stood tall. In the end, it would be the Habs' Michael Ryder who got the game winner. Obviously, that made him the first star of the game. Second star went to Alex Kovalev, who had one goal and one assist. Third star went to Rod Brind'Amour with two goals. I don't understand why Eric Staal, who had four assists, wasn't one of the stars, but I guess that's how it goes.

Despite being down two games, I don't feel that bad. They showed strength and will in Monday's game. Now they now that the pressure is on, it's time for them to show some character. I think if the Canes can take game 3, up in La Belle Province, they have a chance. Of course winning them both would be better, but we have to take game 3.

Puck drop on Wednesday will be 7:00.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Hockey Night in Carolina Canes vs Habs Game 2

First off, I want to apologize for my post of late Saturday night. The title "...outlook bleak", and the overall attitude of it is more embarrassing to me than the 6-1 undressing I had just witnessed.

My head wasn't in the right place. My comments were fueled in part by frustration, in part by fatigue and in part by a post-drunk haze. That post wasn't the only bad idea I had that night. Fortunately, I didn't have any ideas that were dumb enough to get me into any trouble. Yet.

In the drunkenness that preceded the "post-drunk haze" my friends and I hatched a plan for tonight's game that sounded like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect is a horrible idea. I won't get into the specific details of it, but it involved:
  • A grudge still held against Montréal fans for the way they treated Kevin Weekes (and the specific items they threw at him) years ago when the Canes were visiting Molson Center.
  • Small soft toys resembling a certain amphibious creature.
  • "Crystal Ball" Huet, who is French. Not La Belle Province French, but France French.

Get it? Of course we're not going to go through with our plan. And the truth of it is, there isn't a Leafs chance in the Cup Final of us being able to succeed anyway. We're too close to the ice and the netting is too high. Damn the netting.

So we'll go to the game tonight and behave ourselves and root our boys on.

We should see a different look to the boys tonight. They'll make some adjustments and we'll see more pucks in the net.

According to everything I've read, Peter Laviolette is going to "dance with the one who brung him" tonight. Despite a lot of talk about slotting rookie Cam Ward into net tonight, he'll be sticking with Martin Gerber.

I read that Ray Whitney is ready to go. I don't know if the doctors have cleared him, but he wants to play tonight and says he's ready. That will be a good sight indeed.

Yesterday, every series went to 1-1. I'm confident that the Canes can do the same. I'm also confident that we can go up to Montréal on Wednesday and Friday to at least take a split there, which would restore "home ice".

Puck drop at 7:00.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sabres take first game, set tone

Yeah. I know I'm a little late with this.

The Sabres took the first game of their series with Philly with a 3-2 double overtime victory on Friday night. They also set the tone with some very physical play. Most of it had to do with a very uncharacteristic hit by Brian "Soupy" Campbell on Philly's RJ Umberger. By now, you've all seen the clip of the hit, and I wouldn't point to it if the player was badly hurt, but in case you haven't seen it, here it is. Tip of the cap to Jes Golbez for making the clip short and simple. OLN replayed it ad nauseum, like the Joe Theismann leg breaking, and apparently the Jumbotron at HSBC showed it a few too many times.

Not just that hit, but the way the Sabres played in general was a statement that they won't be pushed around by a more physical team. I like to see that.

I also like to see this. Brian Campbell showed class in his post game quotes on the hit, like this one:
"It was just the situation," said Campbell. "It doesn't happen too often. I think he got a bad suicide pass and skated forward with his head down. It was a good, clean hit but it stinks that he got hurt. You never want to see that."

It was undoubtedly a clean hit, but you always worry about serious injury on a play like that. Although Umberger didn't return to the game after the hit, which occurred at 11:26 of the first overtime, he has been deemed "fine" and "good to go" for game two. It's almost impossible to not think of Paul Kariya when looking at the above photo, from the Buffalo News . You know exactly what I'm talking about, and you probably remember exactly where you were when you first saw Scott Stevens lay out Kariya. The two hits are similar in that they were open ice where the skater never saw it coming. In Stevens/Kariya though, the play was well off the puck. It went unpenalized, but was filed away with all the others as "spectacular, but questionable".

Although I didn't see a single minute of the Buffalo/Philly game, and I probably won't see a single minute of any of those games (I've got my own team to watch), I expect this one to go to seven, and I expect that whomever emerges from this matchup will be a little banged up. I initially picked Philly to win in seven. In my heart, I want the Sabres to win, but in my head, I'll stick with my initial pick.

Canes demolished by Habs; outlook bleak

On Saturday night, the Canes got off to an early start, scoring on their very first shot against Cristobal Huet and the Canadiens. Unfortunately, that would be the best the Canes could muster in a 6-1 loss to the visitors.

All over the ice, they looked bad. Bad passing, bad defensive adjustments, bad line changes. Somehow they managed to unleash 35 shots against the Frenchman in the first two periods, but only one of them was worth a crap.

Meanwhile, the Habs played a very solid game. They didn't make many mistakes, they capitalized on Canes miscues, and they were extremely efficient. They only took 21 shots, but that was still 19 more than was necessary to beat the downtrodden Canes.

It's easy to blame Martin Gerber. He looked bad on at least two of those. The shooter had a clear lane from well out, with no traffic. That should be an easy stop, but not on Saturday. Sure, a couple of times he was hung out to dry by sloppy defensive play or by neutral zone turnovers, but the bottom line is that he let 6 out of 21 shots get through. His save % for the 2006 postseason is a horrifying .714.

On Monday, I expect Gerber to be benched/rested in favor of Cam Ward. I don't think he could possibly fare any worse.

If Montréal continues to play with the kind of focus they had on Saturday, and if Carolina continues to play with the lack of same, this series will be swept by Montréal.

That would be completely unacceptable.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

CBC hockey bloggers roundtable

For some unknown reason, somebody somewhere decided that I have something worthwhile to say. I have been asked to be part of a four-member roundtable blogger "discussion" taking place over at CBC Sports Online. The same folks who bring you "Hockey Night in Canada".

The first segment of the roundtable is up and ready for viewing. Skate on over there for a visit.

The bloggers participating are:

So far we've been posed three questions, which we've answered via e-mail. I expect things to get busy at the roundtable as the playoffs progress.

Please keep checking back to the roundtable. I've added a handy, easy to use button over there at the top of the sidebar. Give it a click. It takes you right to the roundtable.

first games outstanding

Wow. Just wow!

I sat in front of OLN for most of the night and saw two terrific games. This is exactly what we love about hockey. Hopefully some casual fans will get hooked, and if the first day is any indicator, the rest of the playoffs should be sensational.

First the double overtime game between Detroit and the way overmatched Oilers. The Wings are clearly the more talented team, but Edmonton brought their A+ game tonight, and they didn't leave anything behind. I actually thought they might skate away with a regulation win, but Kirk Maltby's very lucky bounce late in the third gave the Wings new life. In the first overtime, the Wings were completely dominating, but it still had the feel of a game that the Oilers would steal away. That never came to pass either.

It really is a shame that Dwayne Roloson had to lose. He faced 58 shots, and was absolutely sensational, especially in the fourth frame, when he turned away 16 shots. On the other side of the rink, Manny "Emanuel" Legacy only faced 25 shots. If Edmonton wants to have any chance at all, they had better find a way to get more shots than that. They can't expect Roloson to carry the team like that.

It was a great game that was destined to end that way. It isn't fair, but nobody ever said the Stanley Cup playoffs were fair. Just ask the 1999 Buffalo Sabres. They'll tell you.

Then the Flames-Ducks game also went to overtime. What a great game that was! And Wings fans had to be at least a little happy that a former Wing, Darren McCarty got the game winner there.

I certainly hope the rest of the playoffs go the way those game ones went.

One question. Was it just me, or was the crowd in Detroit not dressed for the occasion? On most of the crowd shots I saw, there were people in standard issue pedestrian clothing. Not too many Wings sweaters to be seen. I don't get it.

Canes and Habs will drop at 7:00. Interestingly, it is the only series that has ZERO games scheduled to be broadcast on national tv. Still no love for the Canes.

Friday, April 21, 2006

series by series picks

I can't analyze these series in detail right now. The first puck drop is in 30 minutes. Instead, I'll simply provide my picks for the first round. For a deeper look at the Carolina-Montréal series, see the previous post.

That's all for now.

First round outlook

Jeez. I got called out by Eric McErlain for my failure to do this any sooner.
"Red and Black Hockey needs to get with the program. Wake up!"

Obviously, I'll start with the only series that matters. Canes versus Habs.
The Canes blistered the Habs in four meetings this season, outscoring them by a combined 25-9. There are two things, though that make this different. Okay. Three things.
    One. This is the playoffs. Everything that happened before this doesn't matter. We pretend that these two teams have never faced each other. I'll get back to this later.
    B. The Canes are having to go without the services of Erik "Hab Killa" Cole, who scored eight points (5/3) in only three games versus our French-Canadian opponent. He won't until at the very least, the Conference finals.
    III The Habs have jettisoned Jose "Captain Propecia" Theodore", against whom the Canes were shooting fish in a barrel.

Now. All the Cane haters are saying they won't enjoy any success against Huet, and they wrongly state that the Canes have never faced the glowing hot goaltender. This is just wrong. Indeed, in the New Year's Eve game, the Canes faced Theodore for the entire 60 minutes, and won 5-3. On January 23, however, the Canes chased Theodore, and faced Huet for 31:15. They scored two goals on 19 shots en route to a 7-3 victory. Then, on January 31 in an 8-2 win, the Canes again chased Theodore. That time, they saw Huet for 34:37 and scored three goals on 16 shots against him. Finally, on March 16, the Canes faced newly acquired David Aebischer for the entire 60 minutes, beating him 5-1.

Anyway, the point is that the Canes have faced both Habs netminders and have fared well against both of them. Against Huet, they scored a total of five goals on a total of 35 shots. Against Aebi, they scored five goals on 41 shots.

Indeed it will be tough to do this without our beloved #26 in the lineup, but I still think it can be done. Although Doug Weight and Marc Recchi aren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard in Cole's stead, they're doing lots of other things that are really important to the success of the team.

Carolina has, like I said, owned the Habs this season, and have historically enjoyed success in the Molson Bell Center. Ask any Canes fan what his favorite moment in Canes history is, and they'll respond with one of two things. One would be the "Miracle at Molson", and the other would be Ronnie Franchise's game winner in game one of the 2002 SCF.

Okay. I suppose I should provide some analysis rather than the slanted "Canes will win because I like them" view.

The Canes have a lopsided advantage in this series as far as the forwards are concerned. Carolina had three guys other than Erik Cole finish with 30 or more goals (Staal 45, Justin Williams 31, Rod Brind'Amour 31). No other team in the league can boast that. They also have four guys with 70 or more points (Staal 100, Williams 76, Cory Stillman 76, Brind'Amour 71). Montréal, on the other hand, had just one player score exactly 30 goals (Michael Ryder), and nobody even close to Eric Staal's 100 points. Alexei Kovalev is tops with 65 points. Although the Canes have been banged up, and will still be without the services of Erik Cole, I expect them to be as close to full strength as they can get.

On the blue line, it may be an edge to the Habs. Sheldon Souray and Andre Markov are much more offensively threatening than Carolina's top two of Frantisek Kaberle and Bret Hedican. They are also a little more imposing defensively.

In goal, I'll again give the edge to the Canes. There's no doubt that Cristobal Huet has been on fire lately and that Martin Gerber has been a little off, but the three days rest will do a lot of good for Gerbs. Huet has no experience in Stanley Cup play, and has an abysmal 1-3-1 record in Olympic play for his native France in two olympiads. David Aebischer, on the other hand, has quite a bit of NHL playoffs experience and played fairly well for Switzerland in the 2006 Torino games. He does not, though, have the hot hand. There is a bit of controversy over whether to go with the experienced veteran or the hot newcomer. Carolina doesn't quite have that controversy. The rookie Cam Ward is a good backup, but Gerber is the clear #1 guy. He hasn't been great lately, but he shone for most of the season, and played well in Torino, shutting Canada out while facing 49 shots. I'll give a slight edge to the Canes here. Gerber has really shown up when it matters, and this matters.

The league has said that it wants the games to be called tightly, which will benefit the Canes. They have been one of the most well-disciplined teams in the league all season long, and should do a good job of staying out of the box. Less time in the box means fresher legs on the ice. Fresh legs are good. A healthy Canes team is much more skilled than a healthy Habs team. Even a Canes team playing at 90% is more skilled than an Habs team. I say the Canes take this in five. If Ray Whitney is able to return to the Canes lineup for game 1, the Canes will take it in 4.

More on the other series later.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Quinn canned

On Thursday, the Maple Leafs fired head coach Pat Quinn. For the first time in seven years, the Leafs failed to qualify for postseason play, and that's enough to lose your job.

He has had a great coaching career, leading the Flyers, Kings, Canucks and Leafs for a total of 19 seasons. Only one other time has Quinn failed to lead a team into the postseason. That was the dreadful '85-'86 Kings, who went 23-49-8. Despite a successful career, Quinn never coached a team to a Stanley Cup win.

Quinn had one year left on his contract, so the Leafs will have to buy that out. I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in LA, as the Kings have just fired their coach.

There will be no promotion from within on the Leafs. Quinn's longtime assistant and Hurricanes family member Rick Ley was also sacked. Ley spent two seasons coaching the Whalers, going 69-71-10 during the '89-'90 and '90-'91 seasons.

There is some speculation that there will be a promotion from deep within the ranks. One prognosticator is suggesting that the Leafs will call Paul "One Eye" Maurice up from the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. Maurice, of course, was the loooooooooong time coach for the Whaler/Canes, leading the Canes to the Cup final in 2002. My first reaction was NO WAY, but it actually might pan out.

For now, the leafs will be hitting the links. Andrew Peters of the Sabres is still willing to give them some pointers on their swing. By now, we've all seen that priceless clip. Just in case, here it is.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Buffalo crushes Carolina

Carolina got completely and thoroughly beaten by the visiting Sabres on Tuesday night. The final was 4-0, but in all fairness, it should have been at least 11-0.

There were only brief bursts of energy by the Canes on the offensive side of things. Maybe for seven minutes in the second period, they looked good. Aside from that, the forwards were terrible. The game was characterized by sloppy passing, careless turnovers and unwillingness to pull the trigger on breakaway chances. Carolina spent the majority of the game in their own zone, and looked bad almost every time they managed to work the puck into the Buffalo zone. On the power play, they were completely awful. Obviously there were no conversions, and I don't even recall any decent scoring chances.

Defensively, the Canes weren't much better. The Sabres outhustled the Canes blueliners all night long and had odd-man-rush after odd-man-rush. On several occasions Carolina was caught in a position with no d-men in defensive position. I certainly don't mean to discredit Buffalo, but on at least two of the goals, Martin Gerber was simply left out to dry by his teammates.

Hopefully this kind of play not be seen in the playoffs.

Carolina played themselves out of the top spot in the East, but it's not that bad. Thanks to some other results, Montréal will be the #7 seed, and our first opponent. Granted, much of it was against Jose Theodore, but the Canes have enjoyed enormous success against the Habs this season. On paper, Carolina should win the series 4-0. However, the playoffs are a different beast, and I'm thinking it will go to six, with Carolina winning.

For the rest of the East:

  • I'm guessing that Ottawa will have early trouble with Tampa, but will win in 6.

  • New Jersey, who is hotter than the surface of the sun, is looking like "the team" right now. I'm predicting that they'll slow down a bit and will go the distance in a seven game series with the Rangers. I think that the Rangers will actually win that series, which will be full of exciting games.

  • All season long, Buffalo has owned Philly, and I think they'll take that series in five.

    After re-seeding the second round in the East would have Ottawa "hosting" the Rangers and Carolina "hosting" the Sabres. At this point, I don't want to speculate about those series.

    Carolina's second season will begin on Saturday with a 7:00 puck drop agains the Habs.
  • Monday, April 17, 2006

    Atlanta out

    One piece of the puzzle has been thrown out.

    For the first and only time in my life, I was rooting for the Capitals, and they came through for me. They beat Atlanta 6-4 on Monday night, eliminating the Thrash from playoff contention.

    Back on March 22, I wrote that they were going to make a run at a playoff spot and would be dangerous if they got it. Atlanta needed to win out AND get help from the likes of Tampa and Montréal, so their hopes were slim. They had been on the brink of elimination for about a week, but kept going strong. Their miracle run finally, and thankfully came to and end with the loss.

    Now, Carolina will be rooting for a win by the Bolts AND a loss by the Habs on Tuesday. Coupled with a Carolina win, or any of six other combinations of outcomes involving Carolina and Ottawa, the Canes will have the #1 seed, and will face Montréal. Carolina has fared very well against the Habs this season, and want nothing to do with any of its division rivals in the playoffs.

    Of course we're happy to be in the playoffs at all after two straight miserable seasons. We weren't expected to do nearly as well as we've done this season. Of course the Caniac faithful expected it, but nobody outside the Cheerwine distribution area had us finishing any higher than 14th.

    It'll all be settled tomorrow. I imagine across the league, there'll be a lot of scoreboard watching.

    Canes and Sabres have a 7:00 puck drop on OLN. Check it out.

    Sunday, April 16, 2006

    scoring comparison 03-04 to 05-06

    I'm participating in some hockey bloggers roundtable for cbc.ca. We were just asked to analyze what's "wrong" with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and specifically what's caused their goal scoring to be stagnant.

    I got a little curious, so I looked at the league-wide numbers from last season and compared them to this season. Then I decided to get all fancy and lay them out in a handy spreadsheet comparison. Here's that sheet for your recreational enjoyment. Worth noting is that the Islanders are the only team in the league to score fewer goals this season than last. Yes, they have two games to play, but they will need to score 19 goals to surpass last season's total. It isn't going to happen.

    Also worth noting is that Carolina had the sharpest increase in total goals for. I attribute much of Carolina's improvement and most of Tampa's stagnancy to the fact that Cory Stillman changed teams.

    Anyway, have fun with the numbers. Click on the image for an easier-to-read enlargement.

    Please note that the "05-06" numbers are for games up to and including Saturday night. Most teams will still play one game, so it isn't perfect, but it's close. Please note also, that I didn't bother to break down situations like 4-on-4, 4-on-3, 3-on-4, 5-on-3, or 3-on-5.

    Canes lose in OT, but get important point

    The Hurricanes lost the back end of a home and home series with the Bolts 3-2 in overtime on Saturday night. Ottawa had already lost, and a win would have clinched the #1 seed, but getting the one point was very important.

    Carolina has 112 points and 52 wins. Ottawa has 111 points and 51 wins. Each team has one game to play. There are nine different ways things could pan out with respect to those two games. Seven of them would result in the Canes nabbing the #1 seed.
    • Ottawa reg. loss, Carolina reg. loss -- Carolina 112-Ottawa 111
    • Ottawa reg. loss, Carolina OT loss -- Carolina 113-Ottawa 111
    • Ottawa reg. loss, Carolina win -- Carolina 114-Ottawa 111
    • Ottawa OT loss, Carolina reg. loss -- Carolina 112-Ottawa 112¹
    • Ottawa OT loss, Carolina OT loss -- Carolina 113-Ottawa 112
    • Ottawa OT loss, Carolina win -- Carolina 114-Ottawa 112
    • Ottawa win, Carolina reg. loss -- Ottawa 113-Carolina 112
    • Ottawa win, Carolina OT loss -- Ottawa 113-Carolina 113²
    • Ottawa win, Carolina win -- Carolina 114-Ottawa 113

    At the bottom, things are a little mucky too. Montréal, Tampa and Atlanta are all fighting for two available spots. Montréal has 93 points with one game to play. Tampa has 92 with one game to play. Atlanta has 89 with two to play. Montréal needs only to earn one point OR watch Atlanta lose just one of their two games (regulation or OT). If they win, they will have the seventh spot. Tampa needs to win OR watch Atlanta lose one of their games.

    Atlanta needs to win both games (at Washington, at Florida) AND get a little help. If Tampa should lose to Washington in regulation, or Montréal lose to New Jersey in regulation, that will be the help they need. However, the bulk of the work will be theirs. They will have to win both remaining games.

    There are even further complications about who will be seventh and who will be eighth.

    Now, here's the rub. If things work out for Carolina, and they end up with the #1 seed, they will be most likely be playing Tampa. Or if Atlanta can finish their miracle run, they will face the Thrash. Neither is a very savory choice. The Canes would much rather face the Habs in the first round. There is a way for Carolina to be #1 and Montréal #8, but the only way is if Atlanta wins out AND Tampa and Montréal both lose.

    And to make things even crazier, Philly has a chance of overtaking the Rangers for the Atlantic Division title. They would swap third and fifth places in the seedings. Philly only trails the Rangers by one point, and they have a game in hand. For that matter, New Jersey could also overtake the Rangers. They trail by three, but have two games remaining to New York's one.

    My head is aching from all that. Only one thing is certain in the East. Buffalo will have the #4 seed. That can't change. Every other seed is up in the air. Two teams fighting for the 1 seed. Three fighting for the 3 seed and three fighting for the 7 and 8 seeds.

    Meanwhile, out west, things are pretty much set. The only issue in question is whether Anaheim or Colorado will be the six seed.

    ¹ In this scenario, the teams are tied with 112 points, but Carolina wins the tiebreaker by having more wins.
    ² In this scenario, the teams are tied with 113 points. Ottawa wins the tiebreaker by having a better cumulative goal differential.

    Saturday, April 15, 2006

    Lord Stanley pays a visit, Canes win.

    Friday was a very good day for me, and it was capped by the Canes defeating Tampa 5-4 in a thriller that went to shootout.

    I was already a bit giddy because my playoff tickets arrived via FedEx on Thursday. I always get a little giddy on hockey night, but this one was a little extra special. Although there's one more home game, this was the last weekend home game, so they used this as fan appreciation night. As part of the festivities, we received a visit from the Stanley Cup. It was on display throughout the game, and was made available for us to take pictures of and with it. For this reason, I left town much earlier than usual, and got to the arena about an hour before puck drop. The line was moving pretty briskly, and I only had to wait about 35 minutes for my moment alone with the Cup. The picture here is the best of the six I had taken with my camera. It's a touch blurry, but I'm pretty happy with it. I'm very lucky in that this was my second time having a chance to pose with the Cup, and I'm hoping that there'll be yet another in the summer.

    The game, which was the only NHL game on tap, went pretty much as expected. It was a barn burner. Tampa had more to play for than Carolina, but both teams played hard. That's not to say that there weren't mistakes. There were plenty by both teams, but they both played hard. Added to that, the near-capacity crowd was pretty loud, adding to the playoff-like atmosphere.

    One very encouraging thing is that Carolina was extremely successful on the power play. They converted three of their seven chances. If this can continue heading into the playoffs, they'll be hard to beat. They also held Tampa to one of six on their power plays. Unfortunately, they also allowed one shorthanded goal.

    In the shootout, Matt Cullen was the only player to "score". He didn't do anything fancy. He just skated right down the middle, waited till the very last second to make any move at all, and beat Sean Burke high on the blocker side.

    The win means that Carolina has earned its 111th point. Ottawa has the same, but Carolina would win the tiebreaker for top seed in the East.

    Meanwhile, the single point that Tampa gained will cushion its wah-fer theen lead for the eighth playoff spot in the East.

    The same two teams will square off on Saturday night at 7:30.

    EDIT as an added bonus, I was on teevee for a couple of seconds. Not like when we were in Washington, but we were on anyway.

    Friday, April 14, 2006

    Ottawa clinches division with overtime loss

    Ottawa lost 5-4 in overtime to the Panthers on Thursday night. They earned one standings point, which allowed them to clinch the Northeast division. Their 111 points will be good enough to withstand any rally mounted by second place Buffalo. Now, for Buffalo the waiting game is over. They will have the four seed in the East.

    Even though Ottawa got a point, the loss was big news for Carolina. It means that the Canes still have a very good chance of emerging with the #1 seed in the East. The only way Ottawa can get the #1 seed is if they win their remaining two games AND get some help from Carolina. If Carolina wins their remaining three games, however, they will not need any help from Ottawa.

    Both of the Sens remaining games are on the road. On Saturday, they will visit the Leafs, who are still clinging to wafer thin playoff hopes. Then, on Tuesday, they will play in Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.

    Meanwhile, Carolina will have two of its remaining three games in the robe-friendly RBC Center. On Friday, they will host the Bolts. Then the two teams will go down to Tampa for a rematch. Carolina closes the season at home against Buffalo. Should Carolina win all three games, they will clinch home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. A loss by Ottawa would sure help, but Carolina is in the position to control their own destiny.

    In other news, Atlanta and Toronto won on Thursday night, keeping their playoff hopes alive. Montréal also won, however, which makes things difficult. In the West, Los Angeles has been officially eliminated. They were shut out again, meaning that in their last eight games, they have only netted seven goals total. Vancouver has also been eliminated.

    Puck drop for Canes-Bolts will be 7:00. Atlanta will be watching the game closely.

    Thursday, April 13, 2006

    The Robe (photo from hurricanes.com)

    I've referred to Mike Commodore on this page as "Bathrobe" for a couple of weeks now. If you're in the Fox Sports South viewing area, you don't need an explanation. If you're not, you may need to watch this video clip (from hurricanes.com) to get an idea of what's going on with that.

    Commodore's been wearing his new robe in the locker room, and it's become a sensation here in Carolina. The team store is going to sell replicas as we head into the playoffs. The TV guys, and Mike Commodore, are envisioning a game where everyone in the stands is wearing a white bathrobe and a red carnival wig.
    In a story that appeared today on the Hurricanes website, Commy says:
    "That could make a mean combination - a robe and a wig," Commodore said. "I think it would look good with a lot of robes in the stands, especially in the playoffs. "When the whole arena's packed and one color, it's awesome," he said. "I'm not trying to tell the fans what to do, but it could look pretty good."

    I think it's hilarious, and if the price is right, I'll get one of the robes. I'm guessing, however, that they'll be a little too spendy. I don't think they'll be in the store tomorrow night, but I'll be on the lookout.

    I think Mikey's on the right track, even if he is delusional about us having a "robe-out". If the fans can all center around one thing, even if it's really silly, the team will be able to build off of that chemistry. I know there will be a bunch of people who customize their own robes, so we might see quite a bit of them even if they aren't officially licensed. I can't wait to see how that plays out.

    Woeful Kings to "move on without" idiot Sean Avery.

    It's official now. Sean Avery is a loser.

    After all of his highly publicized rants during the lockout and pre-season, after his highly publicized dirty hits during the season, after being fined for diving, then fined again for bitching about it, after having an argument with a broadcaster, after being generally regarded as a creep, even the Kings have tired of him.

    On Wednesday, Mr I Bang Elisha Cuthbert refused to participate in a drill during practice. He was sent off the ice and told that he would not be joining the team for the remainder of the season. The Kings have said that Avery isn't suspended, and they haven't released him, but they're "moving on without him". He will not play for the remainder of the season. If the Kings miraculously qualify for the playoffs, he will not join them then, either.

    This has been a nightmare of a season for the Kings. Their two biggest free agent acquisitions -- Valeri Bure and Jeremy Roenick -- haven't panned out. JR has played in only 55 games and has scored a paltry 19 points (9/10). It has been far and away, JR's worst season. Valeri Bure hasn't played a single minute because of a bad back.
    "Lucky" Luc Robitaille has had a bad season, as well. In 62 games, he has only produced 24 points (15/9), which is horrible considering he once tallied 125 points in an NHL season.

    Robitaille has announced his retirement, JR has refused to, and there's been no word on the groom of Candace Cameron.

    The Kings held first place in the Pacific Division for most of the first half of the season, but slowly started to unravel and have gone into a tailspin as the season wraps up. My estimation is that the wheels fell off on January 14, when the Kings were shelled 10-1 by the Sabres. Since then, the Kings haven't played with any urgency, and as a perfect example, they've only scored a grand total of seven goals in their last seven games. That doesn't look like a team trying to make the playoffs. On March 22, coach Andy Murray was fired.

    Anyway... back to the point.

    Sean Avery lead the league in almost every penalty category. His staggering 257 PIM are most in the league. Brendan Witt is next with 187. His 71 minors are most in the league, with Jarkku Ruutu following with 61. He only had 9 major penalties, which put him at 20th in the league. His 4 misconducts, though, were most, as were his 3 game misconduct penalties. These stats alone would make him a target for fan hatred, but his attitude and his mouth make it even worse.

    Avery will become an unrestricted free agent after this season. My guess is that Atlanta will pick him up. That's just a guess.

    Wednesday, April 12, 2006

    Red Wings clinch President's Trophy.

    Congratulations are in order for the Detroit Red Wings, who on Tuesday clinched the President's Trophy. This is the fifth time Detroit has won the trophy for best record in the league, and it is the 20th time the trophy has been awarded.

    Before Wings fans make plans to drink motor oil out of the Stanley Cup, they should be alerted to the fact that only six teams who have won the Presidents Trophy have gone on to win the Cup:

    • 1987 Edmonton Oilers
    • 1989 Calgary Flames
    • 1994 New York Rangers
    • 1999 Dallas Stars
    • 2001 Colorado Avalanche
    • 2002 Detroit Red Wings

    Clearly, at this point, they look like the team to beat, but we'll see what the playoffs have in store.

    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    Canes back in first -- four to play

    When the slumping Senators lost to the surging Habs last night, it pushed Carolina into the top spot in the East. Carolina and Ottawa both have 108 points, but Carolina has won 51 games while Ottawa has won 50. That breaks the tie.

    Both teams will be in action tonight, giving Carolina a chance to broaden their lead or Ottawa a chance to regain it. Carolina will be facing New Jersey at the RBC Center, while Ottawa will be hosting Boston.

    Carolina has had a couple of days to rest the most recent wave of injured players. Cory Stillman has an undisclosed injury, Frantisek Kaberle sat out the last game nursing a bad cut, Ray Whitney had another lower body issue. There is no word on their return.

    Here are some interesting numbers fitting tonight's home game following two days off and a road loss. Carolina is:
    • 14-4-2 after a loss
    • 12-4-1 in first game back at home
    • 39-9-5 on weekdays
    • 11-3-2 after having two days off

    I don't actually think that these numbers mean anything, but sometimes it's fun to look at things like that.

    Carolina has gone 2-1 versus the Devils this season. The loss came in the Meadowlands on Scott Stevens night. Like Scott Stevens night, the Devils have a lot to play for tonight. Although it is an inevitable conclusion, they haven't clinched a playoff spot yet. They still need to win. We might see an emotionally charged Devils team and a bit of a ho-hum Carolina team. I hope not, but that's what I fear.

    Puck drop at 7:00.

    Monday, April 10, 2006

    Preds dealt huge blow -- Vokoun done for the season.

    On Monday, the Nashville Predators got some very bad news. Goaltender Thomas Vokoun has been diagnosed with blood clots and will be required to miss the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.

    The specific diagnosis is "pelvic thrombophlebitis", which is exceptionally rare in men. It is an inflammation of a vein in the pelvis, resulting from a clot (thrombus). It is most commonly associated with giving childbirth, or other obstetric issues.

    Vokoun was diagnosed with "sore back" on April 1, and has not played since. Further exams found the clots. Traditionally, this is treated with blood-thinning agents , which pretty much preclude physical exertion. For the time being, he is hospitalized, but he'll be released in a couple of days. He'll be on blood-thinning medication for weeks or even months, and is expected to make a full recovery. Although he is in stable condition, the clots were referred to as "life threatening".

    Vokoun has been a rock for Nashville this season, posting a 36-18-7 record with a goals against average of 2.67 and a save percentage of .919. In most statistical categories, he is among the top ten in the league. He has been a major reason for the Preds success this season, and will be sorely missed.

    Vokoun's backup, Chris Mason isn't a slouch, but he's been used sparingly this season, and there is some doubt as to whether he can carry the load. On the bright side, he's won his last two games, giving up a total of one goal. However, he only faced a grand total of 42 shots, and said games were against the worst two teams in the West (Chicago and St. Louis).

    This development is the cause of much concern as the Preds head into the playoffs, where they are likely to face Anaheim in the first round. In the season series, the Ducks are leading 3-0-1. Mason appeared in one of those games, relieving Vokoun in the third period on March 24 in a 6-3 loss. He surrendered one goal on nine shots.

    Sunday, April 09, 2006

    Canes fall to Thrash 5-2

    On Saturday, the Canes missed a golden opportunity.

    Buffalo destroyed the limping Senators 6-2, and Carolina had a good chance to move into sole possession of first place in the East. However, they were very flat in the first period and Atlanta took advantage by scoring three early goals. The Hurricanes looked better in the second and third, but they were already in too deep of a hole. Each time the Canes scored, and it looked like they had life, the Thrash would answer right back, maintaining a three goal cushion.

    I don't have a lot to say about the game.
    Although Nic Wallin rejoined the lineup and AWard played despite being injured on Friday, we lost the services of Cory Stillman, who didn't even dress for the game. Frantisek Kaberle sat this one out after taking more than a dozen stitches to close cuts on his forehead and upper lip. Actually, the team couldn't leave Washington for several hours last night because they were waiting for Frankie to get sewed up. As a result, they got to Atlanta much later than expected and had no time for a morning skate.

    Despite giving up five goals, Martin Gerber actually looked great. He had absolutely no help in front of him in the first period. During that stanza, the blue line looked pretty slow and the team only managed three shots on Atlanta's net.

    There was some good that came out of the game despite losing. They were the better disciplined team, allowing Atlanta just four power plays. On the other side, the Canes were able to convert two of their five power plays. This is something that's been a little weak lately.

    Justin "Viva" Williams was again the star of the Canes show. He scored both goals (both power play), giving him a total of 30 for the season. With his 45 helpers, he has 75 points. This is far and away his best NHL season, and I think his star will continue to rise. I can't find the quote anywhere, but I swear I read a quote somewhere in the preseason where he said "This is the season that everyone will know my name". I think they do.

    By scoring his 30th goal, he joins Eric Staal (44), Erik Cole (30) and Rod Brind'Amour (30) in the 30-goal club. Not even Ottawa can boast four 30-goal scorers. In fact, most teams have only one, and just a few have two.

    Not only did the loss prevent the canes from moving into first place in the East, but they are now all but eliminated from the race for the President's Trophy. Their only hope is to run the table and to have Detroit lose their five remaining games while Ottawa loses at least one. This would result in a 116 point tie. Carolina would win the tiebreaker by virtue of their head-to-head win over Detroit. Actually, in the above scenario, Carolina would have more total wins anyway (55 to 54).

    So Atlanta kept their slim playoff hopes alive. They were helped a little bit when Montréal lost their game, but Tampa wouldn't play ball. They won their game. The Thrash are now six points out of eighth place with five games to play. They will need to be perfect, and they will need some help.

    Carolina has two days off, and has just four games remaining. Three of those four will be in the RBC Center.

    On Monday, we will be watching Ottawa-Montréal very closely. I can't decide what I want to happen, but it has huge playoff implications. The result will likely shake up both the top two and the bottom two seeds in the East.

    Tuesday night, the Canes will be hosting the Devils. Puck drop at 7:00.

    Friday, April 07, 2006

    Canes beat caps 4-3 thanks to THREE short-handed goals.

    On Friday night, the Hurricanes completed their mini-series against the Caps by winning 4-3 at the MCI... Verizon Center. It was the third time the teams played in a span of five days, and all were decided by one goal.

    This game had a different feel to it, but ended up being another breathtaking affair.

    The Caps got ahead 1-0 on a power play goal by Jeff Halpern at 13:48 of the first. The ever-pesky Dainius Zubrus had a helping hand, his 29th assist, on the play. AO got his 51st helper.

    For the rest of the night, however, the Caps would have preferred to have not had any more power plays. Carolina notched THREE shorties in the game, including two in a 19 second span of the same penalty.

    The first goal was credited to Kevyn Adams at 3:47 of the second, with assists to Frantisek Kaberle and AWard. It came from a blistering shot by Kaberle above the left circle which ricocheted around off at least two Caps players and past Kolzig. It is our opinion that Adams never made contact with it, but that's the official ruling for now.

    At 4:06, Viva turned a neutral zone turnover into a breakaway goal, going five-hole on Kolzig. That was his 27th goal of the season, and was unassisted.

    Baby FaceEric Staal made it 3-1 at 11:45 of the second when he took full advantage of a second whack at a point blank shot. Kolzig had stopped a Doug Weight shot and Staal's first rebound chance, but Staal kept with it for his 44th goal of the season. The power play goal was assisted by Weight and Cory Stillman. Incidentally, it was Stillman who was in the box when Carolina got the first two shorties.

    Viva got another short-handed goal at 0:44 of the third after Rod Brind'Amour created a turnover at center ice, leading to a two-on-one. Williams' shot from the left circle clanged off the right post and in. It was his 28th goal of the season, and his second shortie of the game. He already had two shorties and two short-handed assists on the season, so he now sits near the top of the league in that category with six short-handed points.

    As the clock wound down, it looked like Carolina would be able to walk away from this game easily. However, it started to get interesting down the stretch. As the Caps were starting to frantically apply pressure in the waning moments, Shaone Morrisonn scored his first goal of the season at 17:08. It was beautifully assisted by the pesky Zubrus (50th) and by Matt Pettinger (17th). Morrisonn crept into the high slot undetected and unabated to one-time the shot past Cam Ward.

    At 18:28 Brian Willsie made things really interesting by slapping one home right off the face off. It was his 17th, with yet another helper (31st) to the pesky Dainius Zubrus. Zubrus deserves a lot of credit for that. First, he won the draw cleanly against Rod Brind'Amour, who is the second best faceoff man in the league. He then got a tape-to-tape pass to Willsie, who made it look easy. Kolzig was already gone for the sixth attacker, and he remained gone for the duration.

    Justin Williams flirted with a hat trick, but just missed the empty net on a shot from about 80 feet out.

    Surprisingly, this isn't the first time a team has scored three shorties in the same game. It isn't even the first time it's happened this season. On February 2 of this year, the Ottawa Senators scored three shorties (including two during one penalty) in a 7-2 romp of Pittsburgh. For the record, though, New Jersey has only scored three shorties all season.

    Frantisek Kaberle and Aaron Ward both had to leave the game with injuries. AWard injured his knee after there was incidental knee-to-knee contact with Ivan Majesky. All we know at this point is the typically vague language offered at this point of the season. "Lower body injury". We know he hurt his knee, but we don't know how severely. We were told that it isn't expected to be serious, but we should expect him to sit out tomorrow at Atlanta. Kaberle came up empty trying to deliver a big check, and got a big gash on either his forehead or his nose. It happened very late in the game (just before Willsie's goal) and we never got an update. However, at first view, it looks like a stitch-em-up-and-send-em-back-out type of thing. I hope I'm not wrong.

    The win, coupled with Ottawa's loss last night means that the Canes are tied with the Sens with 108 points. The Sens have a game in hand, but they have a rough road ahead, so it might come to pass that Carolina gets the #1 seed in the East.

    Up next is a Saturday night tilt with Atlanta, who is still holding onto a slim playoff chance. Puck drop at 7:00.

    Thursday, April 06, 2006

    Canes have new AHL affiliate

    On Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes reached an agreement with a new AHL affiliate. It was not, however, what people were expecting. All bets were that the Canes would hook up with the Norfolk Admirals. However, they bucked geographic logic and have a new agreement with the Albany River Rats.
    The agreement is good for one season, and features a renewal option wherein either side can renew the partnership for the 2007-08 season.
    The Hurricanes announced further that Tom Rowe, who has been with Carolina as head coach of the Lowell Lock Monsters, will stay on board to coach the River Rats.

    The River Rats, who also just renewed their lease with the Pepsi Arena through the 2007 season, have been most recently affiliated with the New Jersey Devils. Although they are in last place, the team has been a consistent draw over their 12 year existence. Of course next season, the roster will be filled by Carolina's prospects, so there will be a fresh start. The good news for Albany fans is that they won't have to change the team's colors: they'll still be red and black. There will only be a slight modification to the logo and the uniform.

    Carolina has the option, as they did with Lowell, of sharing the team with another NHL club. At the moment, Carolina is sharing Lowell with Colorado. I don't know what their plans are.

    Canes escape with shootout win versus Caps

    On Wednesday night, the Canes again had to go to the extra session to defeat the pesky Washington Capitals. This one actually had to go to a shootout, where Matt Cullen was the only successful shooter.
    On Friday night, the Canes will again be in Washington for what will thankfully be the last game against the Caps this season. After easily winning the first two matchups this season, the Canes have struggled against the Caps since. In some instances they've been flat out beaten. In some, they failed to bring their "A game". Either way, the Caps have given the Canes fits for most of the season.

    Early in the first frame, the Canes were off to a 2-0 lead. Eric Staal (who JP at Japers' Rink calls "Baby Face") broke his seven game goal drought with a tip-in at 2:52, just as a penalty to Jamie Heward had elapsed. It was his 43rd goal of the season. Cory Stillman and Andrew "hot dog with cheese" Hutchinson got assists. Hutchinson earned his eighth assist, while Stillman got his 50th.

    Later in the first, Matt Cullen got his 24th goal of the season at 5:28. Cory Stillman and Eric Staal each got their 51st assist of the season on the goal.

    The second period was all Caps. In a span of 49 seconds, they got both goals back to knot it at two. Jeff Halpern at 7:30 and Dainius Zubrus at 8:19. At first glance, the first goal looked to be Ovechkin's, but replays proved that it glanced off Halpern's stick for a power play goal.

    Before that goal was even announced, "Alexander the Gr8" and Zubrus connected on a really pretty piece of passing to easily beat Martin Gerber (who the good folks at Japers' Rink are playfully calling "Baby Food"). It was the 20th goal for Zubrus and the 49th helper for AO.

    While the Caps were enjoying a five-on-three, Zubrus got his second of the game at 7:11 of the third. It was a really sloppy play where Gerber made a stop, but failed to control the rebound. The Caps nearly missed not one but two shots on an open net when Gerber was out of position. Halpern had the first crack at the empty net, and Zubrus didn't miss on his chance. AO picked up another assist, his 50th of the season.

    With the Caps' Chris Clark gone for tripping, the Canes were able to tie it up at 13:25 with a goal by the Recchin' ball near the left faceoff dot. He one-timed a no-look pass from Dougie Weight that just barely got through Brent Johnson.

    In the overtime period, Carolina had a very brief power play when Zubrus was sent off for holding at 4:47. Carolina won the ensuing faceoff and got two quality shots off before the final horn sounded.

    Things looked kind of rough for Carolina because Ray Whitney got injured in the first period, and was unavailable for the shootout. He and Erik Cole have been the go-to guys in that situation. However, the Canes made the best of it when another hot hand in shootout situations came through. Matt Cullen got the only goal in the shootout session, giving the Canes their second nail-biting win over the Caps in three days. Cullen shook it up a bit on his shot. He normally goes high on the blocker side, but this time, he went five hole to become the only shooter out of nine to beat Brent Johnson in shootouts this season.

    Once more on Friday night, and the Canes are done with the Caps until next October.

    In other games, the Sabres have really turned things around by winning their second straight game. They defeated Ottawa 5-4 in overtime. This, of course, was good news to the Canes. It means we pick up one point against the Sens. Ottawa now has 108 points with seven games to play, while Carolina has 106 points with six to play. It's possible that Carolina could overtake the Senators for first place in the East, but it's somewhat unlikely. Moreover, I'm not entirely sure that the Canes would even want the #1 seed in the East. It would likely mean that they would face Tampa in the first round, which isn't exactly a favorable matchup. Montréal, on the other hand (currently residing in the #7 slot), is a much more attractive matchup for the Canes.

    Friday night will be the last of the three-game series with the Caps. More important, it will thankfully be the last meeting of the season for the two teams. Have I mentioned that already? Puck drop will be 7:00.

    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    Lindy Ruff has "seen enough"

    Remember what I said the other day about how the Sabres would have Jochen Hecht healthy for the start of the playoffs?. In case you missed it, here's my statement, which now looks like a bit of an inadvertent jinx:
    The bad news is that they'll start the "real season" without any momentum. The good news is that by then, they will have Teppo Numminen and Jochen Hecht back in action. The even better news is that their first round opponent is likely to be Philly, who they have beaten all three times they have played thus far this season.

    That all changed on Monday night. It appears now that Hecht will go back on the injured list with another strain to the MCL in his left knee. He already sat out nine games with a strain to that same MCL.

    The injury came as a result of a controversial hit from Darcy Tucker. There's a little backstory to it as well. Midway through the third period of the Leafs-Sabres game on Monday, Mike Griere (intentional misspelling with a tip of the ole ballcap to Sabre Rattling for that one) absolutely crushed Tucker with an aggressive, legal hit. Tucker got up, and went after the wrong guy. He went right at Hecht, making knee-to-knee contact while simultaneously grazing Hecht's head with his forearm. Hecht took offense and went for a retaliatory hit on Tucker. In the process of doing so, he picked up a high sticking penalty. Hecht did not have to be helped off the ice,but has re-sprained the ligament and will miss the remainder of the regular season.

    Lindy Ruff was in an outrage after the game. He repeatedly called the lack of a kneeing or intent to injure penalty against Tucker a "joke". He also threatened to put Colin Campbell on speed dial.
    "I haven't called the league once. I'll call them ten times tomorrow."

    I don't know how many times Lindy called, but the answer he got was that there would be no disciplinary action taken.

    I've seen the replay a dozen times maybe and I actually have to say that the knee-to-knee contact might not have been intentional. Clearly, though, he intended for the blow to Hecht's head to be more than a graze. In my opinion, he was absolutely going for the head there. Had he actually connected, I'm sure there would have been disciplinary action taken. But then again, maybe not.

    You may recall a game on December 27 when Tucker ripped the helmet off of New Jersey's Cam Janssen and proceeded to bludgeon Janssen with it. Tucker somehow avoided any meaningful punishment, getting away with a $2,500 fine. That's something akin to a $10 parking ticket to you and me.

    What I don't get is how in the world Tucker mistook Hecht for Grier. Maybe it's just me, but I tend to think that Grier is unmistakable.

    I haven't heard Ruff's response to the ruling, but I'm sure he'll have some more choice words.

    Monday, April 03, 2006

    JoVa has huge night, Canes finally solve Caps

    There were a lot of story lines in Monday night's Southeast matchup between first place Carolina and last place Washington. Probably the biggest among them was that Josef Vasicek, playing for the first time in five months, had a very big night en route to a Hurricanes 6-5 overtime victory.

    In early November, Vasicek went down with a torn ACL in his left knee. He was operated upon in early December and shelved for an indefinite period of time. Almost five months after being injured, the Czech Condor made his return on Monday night. It was supposed to be a night for him to ease back into things. He was supposed to play around 13 minutes of five-on-five play. Instead, he had the first four point night of his career (2/2), led the team in hits, and played on both special teams units. For this, he was deservedly named the game's first star. Carolina swept the stars of the game. Second star to Viva, who had a goal and three assists. Third star to Ray Whitney, who got two goals, including the game winner. That goal came at 3:35 of the overtime period and Carolina enjoying a four-on-three power play.

    There was too much scoring to go into detail on each goal, but Carolina fell behind early, then built a 4-2 lead. Then they watched that two goal lead evaporate quickly on goals by Rico Fata and Jeff Halpern. Later, Fata would tie the game at 5 late in the third. Fata, as you may recall, was dead last in the +/- category among all skaters in the NHL for the 2003-04 season with a -46. Tonight, he was a +2, and he is -8 on the year. I actually thought he deserved the third star, but I'm okay with the fact that he didn't get it.

    Another key story line in this game was that there were four fights, 88 minutes in penalties, one ejection, and a lot of frayed nerves. Among the pugilists were some folks who are definitely not part of the "usual suspects". Jeff Halpern was involved in two (TWO!!) fights. One with Eric Staal, and one with Doug Weight. Those three are not guys you expect to fight, but for whatever reason, that's what happened.
    Incidentally, with all the scoring and all the fighting, nobody was able to complete the Gordie Howe hat trick. Viva, Rico Fata, Rod Brind'Amour, Jo-Va all had the goal and the assist, but no fight. Dougie Weight had a fight and an assist, but no goal. Jeff Halpern had a goal and a fight, but no assist.

    Anyway, tensions were running high. The two teams will meet again on Wednesday and again on Friday, both in the Verizon Center. I hope there isn't much carry-over of tensions. We can't afford to lose anyone to injury.

    I couldn't be happier about Big Joe's triumphant return to the lineup. I'm hoping he can keep that mojo going as we head into the playoffs.

    Elsewhere in the league, Ottawa maintained their cushion over Carolina by winning their game against Atlanta. The Atlanta loss would have been enough for Buffalo to clinch a playoff spot. The Sabres, however, went ahead and won their game against the Leafs, just for good measure. Also, Tampa won their game, creating some distance between themselves and ninth place Atlanta. Atlanta's playoff hopes are fading fast.

    Carolina will travel up 95 North for a three-day stay in our nation's capital. Wednesday and Friday each have a 7:00 puck drop.

    Jo-Va back in a big way

    Tonight's game with the Caps is currently in the second intermission with the Canes leading 4-2.

    I would use two two word phrases to describe this game so far.




    After missing five months with a torn ACL, the Czech Condor is playing his first game back. He has tallied one goal and two assists thus far.

    There have been 68 minutes in penalties so far including six fighting majors, a "third man in" game misconduct and another ten minute misconduct penalty.

    Things could remain chippy as the two teams will play two more times this week.

    When the game is over, a full post.

    EDIT -- 9:16 pm. Josef Vasicek has just scored his second goal of the night. 5-4 Canes midway through the third.

    EDIT -- 9:42 pm. After blowing the late lead, then battling through a two man disadvantage in the final two minutes, the Canes "forced" overtime. Ray Whitney got the winner, ending this crazy game.

    I'll have a proper post in a few minutes.

    Sabres looking bad, but not that bad.

    After winning eight games in a row to begin March, the Sabres have gone 1-7-1 in their last nine. During that span, they've been outscored 39-19. Granted, they've been dealing with a bit of an injury bug and an iffy suspension to Daniel Briere, but this is not the kind of play Sabres fans are excited about.

    In mid-March, there was hope that the Sabres would finish tops in the Northeast division with a top two spot in the playoffs. Now, however, they are in danger of slipping into a fifth seed in the playoffs. If things go horrifically wrong, they could slip as far down as the sixth spot.

    I already outlined the remaining games for Ottawa and for Carolina. After posting that, I realized that Buffalo's road is extremely rough down the stretch.

    Here again is that table, with the addition of Buffalo's nightmarish stretch:

    I think Buffalo would be doing well to win four of their remaining eight games. That would be enough to hold on to the fourth seed and home ice in a first round matchup against what will most likely be Philly.

    The bad news is that they'll start the "real season" without any momentum. The good news is that by then, they will have Teppo Numminen and Jochen Hecht back in action. The even better news is that their first round opponent is likely to be Philly, who they have beaten all three times they have played thus far this season.

    After all that, the point is that the Sabres don't really have anything to worry about. Yes, their current losing streak sucks, and yes the road ahead looks more like a dark tunnel with no light at the end. However, things should be just fine for the first round of the playoffs.

    Sunday, April 02, 2006

    playoff possibilities

    Looking at the Eastern Conference standings, there is a two-way tie for sixth place. This is of great interest to the Carolina Hurricanes, who are likely to finish second. Despite Ottawa's loss last night, Carolina couldn't help their own cause, because they also lost. Carolina is currently three points back of first place Ottawa, and the Sens are holding a game in hand. They are eight points in front of third place Rangers.

    Ottawa actually has a tough road to hoe in April while Carolina has a considerably less difficult path. Although it is still unlikely, I shouldn't rule out the possibility of a first place finish for Carolina.

    Here's a glance at the upcoming games for both teams:

    If the season ended today, Carolina would be in the second seed and would face Montréal. They are presently in a tie with New Jersey, and have the exact same record, but the Devils would win the tiebreaker because of their 2-0 head-to-head matchups. The two teams have two more meetings, both in Montréal.

    Technically, New Jersey is in the midst of losing a game, so they would slip into the seventh spot just won in overtime, so they would have the six spot if the season ended today.

    However, the season doesn't end today. It ends on April 18. And how's this for a great bunch of matchups? On the final day of the season the East's top four teams will beat each other up, and two of the West's top four will be doing the same.

    Buffalo(4) @ Carolina(2) on national TV (OLN).
    Ottawa(1) @ Rangers(4)

    Meanwhile in the West:
    Detroit(1) @ Nashville(4).

    Saturday, April 01, 2006

    Carolina earns 102nd point, clinches division,

    On Friday night, the Hurricanes took care of their own business by defeating the pesky Florida Panthers in the final game of a four game home stand. Carolina now has 102 standings points, and have clinched the Southeast division with nine games to go.

    Immediately following the game, t-shirts were on sale. My first inclination was to skip the t-shirt, but I eventually gave in, selecting the shirt pictured at right. There were identical red ones and a different red one that I wasn't crazy about.

    Although it wasn't a perfectly played game, the boys looked good for most of it. Most of them did anyway. In the first period, Carolina was awarded many power play chances, and at least two five-on-three situations. They couldn't cash in on the five on three, but they got their first goal, a power play tally, at 19:19 of the first. It came just after one of two penalized players came back on the ice. It was pretty much all Ray Whitney, but Eric Staal picked up an assist on the play, giving him 50 helpers for the year. Added to his 42 goals, he's got 92 points.

    At 3:31 of the second, the Recchin' ball made it 2-1 with a redirection of a blue line blast from Frantisek Kaberle. Justin Williams also got an assist on the goal.

    After AWard made a big mistake which resulted in a Florida goal, the game was tied at two at the 8:36 mark. Mike Van Ryn was given credit for the goal, but it went in off AWard's stick.

    While Sharpie was in the box feeling shame, the Canes were able to notch a shorthanded tally to surge ahead 3-2. Kevyn Adams cleared the puck out of the zone with a three-demensional pass. CrAdams raced in on an attempted breakaway, but Luongo was able to get to the puck first by coming way out of his crease. Unfortunately for Luongo and the Panthers, he whiffed on his clearing attempt, CrAdams picked up the loose puck and fired it into the mainly empty net. The shorthander proved to be the game winner, and it earned first star honors for CrAdams.

    Worth noting is that Mikey "Bathrobe" Commodore is playing brilliantly. He was far and away the best defensive player on Friday. His hair looks great too. He's already well on his way to a playoff afro. I can't wait to see his playoff beard in person.

    Saturday night, the Canes will be in action on the road against the Thrashers. Puck drop at 7:00.


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