Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Down to One

It is the final showdown for Washington/Boston, Ottawa/New York, and Florida/New Jersey. The Bruins and Caps hit the ice this evening, while the two other groupings get down to business on Thursday night.

In Boston and New York, having home ice advantage will be important. Both teams are expected to benefit from being backed by the cheering masses. In Florida, the Panthers could suffer from stage-fright, taking into account they weren't expected to get this far. New Jersey is a tough road opponent, with only one thought running through the entire team - defence.

It should be two nights of thrilling action.

Tuning on the tube and witnessing Braden Holtby work his magic in goal for Washington, results in a flashback to 1971 and Ken Dryden.

Holtby, who played in only seven regular season games for the Caps, is making a splash so far this post-season. In 1970-71, Ken Dryden got between the pipes in six regular season contests for the Montreal Canadiens.

In '71, Dryden and his teammates upset the Boston Bruins to proceed to the next round. In subsequent series, they defeated the Minnesota North Stars, then the Chicago Black Hawks to capture the Stanley Cup.

Leading all goalies in games played (20) and wins (12), Dryden's importance to Montreal's Cup run was evident when the time came to calculate the votes to determine who would win the Conn Smythe Trophy. It was no surprise when Dryden was named the winner.

Holtby and company are in a similar situation as Dryden in 1971. Tonight, they have the opportunity of upsetting Boston and advancing to the next round.

In the case of Raffi Torres vs. the National Hockey League, the punishment dished-out fits the crime. Torres, received a 25-game suspension for his vicious hit on Marian Hossa.

The short-team ramifications of Bredan Shanahan's ruling would come when another head shot incident took place. One would tend to believe the league and Shanahan would not want to lose the momentum of hitting a home run with their stiff, but fair judgement against Torres.

It was vital the NHL, when handling the next flare-up, didn't drop the ball, and give the impression that throwing the book at Torres was just a fluke. A precedent was established to deal with the aftermath of another head-hunting expedition. Any player stepping outside the boundaries would have to answer for his actions, and be prepared to sit for an extended period of time.

And no one could blame NHL for sticking to their guns next time around. Otherwise, the game would only be spinning their wheels, and as the radio promises, "the hits keep coming."

To sway in even the slightest direction, would result in the Torres verdict being looked upon as a decision to appeal to the masses. All flash and no substance, would be the refrain from those who observe the game.

How would it look if the NHL suddenly went soft and pulled a 360?

Well, the answer to the above question came on Saturday when the Rangers and Senators faced-off in game five of their playoff tilt. Chris Neil's head shot on New York's Brian Boyle, resulted in the big forward suffering a concussion.

Unfortunately, the National Hockey League imposed no penalty. Shanahan's court of justice falling silent, and the Torres sentence becoming a mere memory not to be spoken of again.

In this instance, silence isn't golden.

On and Off the Ice

Luongo or Thomas? This could be the question weighing heavily on the minds of several general managers in the coming months.

With Cory Schneider appearing to be the new flavour-of-the-month in Vancouver, incumbent Roberto Luongo could be up for grabs.

Tim Thomas could be made available by Boston, with GM Peter Chiarelli thinking now is the best time to part company with his Stanley Cup winning goalie. On July 1, 2012, Thomas no longer controls his destiny, as his no-movement clause expires. This opens the way for Boston to send him packing to the team who offers the best deal.

In addition to Luongo and Thomas, there could be a flood of goalie talent on the market, as GMs scramble to plug holes throughout their rosters. The list of padded warriors being exposed could include Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Vokoun and Jonathan Bernier. In each case, another netminder has emerged and displayed enough skills to wrestle away the number one job.

St. Louis goalie Halak is being pushed by Brian Elliott; Braden Holtby has jumped two spots in Washington's pecking order to displace Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth; Jonathan Quick in L.A. has solidified his hold as the Kings top-rated puck-stopper, thus turning Bernier into asset who could produce a nice return in any transaction.

As the clocked ticked down in Pittsburgh's disastrous first round series against Philly, I couldn't help but think of general manager Ray Shero. More precisely, what must he be thinking, witnessing his club getting the boot after six games?

The role of a general manager is to not only look after current happenings, but to have a plan for the future. As Shero gazes into his crystal ball, he cannot be impressed or comfortable with the way his team performed on both defence and offence.

In order to secure talent for the purpose of filling holes in his line-up, Shero knows he will have to give-up players with skills to get back players of equal talent. The Pens defence was struggling right out of the gate. For sure, this is one area Shero will have to concentrate on.

Now, here comes the big question Shero and Pittsburgh's entire front office, including ownership, will have to consider - do they trade Malkin or Crosby to obtain help on the blueline? The return on either player would be enormous, and provide dividends in more than one spot on the roster.

Malkin or Crosby? At this stage, my choice would be Crosby. A change of scenery for the future free agent would bring a renewal to his career. After a season of injuries and media speculation he wasn't happy in Pittsburgh, Crosby would benefit from a fresh start. Watching him become unravelled against Philadelphia was painful to watch. It was so out of character and an indication of how frustrated Crosby was with himself and everything going on around him.

From the outset, Crosby was unable to get his game on track. Instead of making the Flyers pay in his usual fashion, scoring goals and producing points, Crosby resorted to challenging the players in black and orange with physical play. This, however, didn't take the form of bone-crushing collisions. Crosby, took another path to release his pent-up frustrations. How many times did the camera catch him participating in extended scrums, which only distracted the superstar from what he should be doing - making the Flyers the frustrated party.

It should be an interesting summer for both Crosby and Shero.

I watched a documentary on Niagara Falls, with one segment featuring special music composed to reflect the ever changing flow and rhythm of the Falls.

Now, comes the Hockey Sweater Symphony composed by Abigail Richardson. The Hockey Sweater, as fans know, is a children's book written by Roch Carrier. In the story, a young Montreal Canadiens supporter ends-up with a Maple Leafs sweater, instead of the Habs jersey ordered by his mother from Eatons.

In the production, Carrier takes to the stage and brings his story to life.

As pointed out in an article in the Toronto Star, "Carrier wears the dreaded Leafs jersey on stage, breaks his hockey stick in two and even mimics praying throughout the performance, accompanied by composer Richarson's playful music."

The premiere takes place on May 12, 2012 in Toronto,

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