My Two Cents: Bruins-Hawks Becoming Instant Classic; McLellan Gets Extended; Niemi Gets Snubbed Badly
My Two Cents for June 16th, 2013
When Goliaths Collide- The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins through the first two games of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals have given hockey fans everywhere many thrills and have provided (literally) hours of great hockey. In the first two games of the finals, both teams have won by one goal in overtime. Almost 10 periods of hockey have been played in the first two games as Game One required three overtimes, while Game Two went well into the first overtime period. There have been a total of 179 shots on goal with several more being blocked or hitting posts. Both goalies, Tuukka Rask for Boston and Corey Crawford for Chicago have been outstanding. In both games the winning teams had to come from behind to force the needed overtime periods to win. The game winning goal scored by Andrew Shaw to close out Game 1 happened right at the stroke of midnight local time in Chicago. NBC Sports even allowed Shaw to drop an inadvertent f-bomb in the post game interview with Pierre McGuire. The bottom line is that even if you don't have a strong allegiance to either team or a dog in this fight, it's because you are a hockey fan first and foremost that you are watching it. You have two "Original Six" teams completing in this years' final whereas a year ago you had two Cinderella's that though were a nice story had very limited fanbases and national interest (taking nothing away from the LA Kings and New Jersey Devils accomplishments last year).
Second City vs Beantown- With the Blackhawks and Bruins, not only are you getting the two best teams in the NHL for the 2012-13 season, you are also getting two of the previous four Stanley Cup winners and two teams that date back to when most of us weren't even born yet (and probably neither were your parents). The Blackhawks franchise which began in 1926 before 2010 had only won the Cup three times in their history, with the last being 1961. In fact, the '61 Cup was the only Championship the franchise had won between 1938 and 2010. Today, the Blackhawks led by Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews (tayz), Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Andrew Shaw and many others have the opportunity to bring home the franchise's 5th Cup in their history. This would also be their second in four years which really is a truly an amazing feat. The Chicago fan base which lives sometimes vicariously through their sports teams from the Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and ofcourse the Blackhawks have always known the pain of finishing second before finally tasting the success of a championship season (as for the Bulls, they won their first title with Michael Jordan in his seventh season). Because the Blackhawks went 49 years between Cups it's understandable that they can certainly appreciate it more than most fans. It's not something that's "the in thing to do" as it may be in a few (SoCal) cities. In Chicago the Blackhawks mean "Chicago". The Blackhawks "Are Chicago". Their fans did not show up in March or April, they've been there for several generations and will be their long after Kane and Toews are done and perhaps have their own sons playing professionally.
The Boston Bruins have much in common with the Blackhawks as do their fan bases. The Bruins franchise goes back as far as does the Blackhawks. The Bruins in their history have won six Stanley Cup Titles. They're title drought's have not been quite as extensive as Chicago's, but the Bruins Cup win over Vancouver two years ago was their first title in 39 years and only their third since before World War II. None the less the Bruins have always been able to fill their house both in good times and bad. Their franchise also has generations of a fanbase that will be their long after this season is a memory whether they win the Cup or not. These two franchises represent a rich tradition in the NHL that the players on each team see as a responsibility to uphold. This and the fact that both teams are truly the two best teams in the NHL this season are plenty of compelling reasons to tune in to this years finals. This is also what makes the NHL playoffs the best. In league's like the NBA where tradition has become largely irrelevant, the NHL respects it's tradition like no other league anywhere and value's it's history.
Fast forward to today, the Bruins have a powerful line up which will challenge the Chicago Blackhawks unlike any team from the west was able to challenge them. Players such as Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Nathan Horton and a host of others will make the Bruins a very tough team to beat. The way the Bruins could be looking at this Stanley Cup Finals is that they are playing with "house money". The reason for that is the Bruins miraculous comeback in Game 7 of the first round versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins were down 4-2 inside of 90 seconds to play and still found a way to get the game tied forcing an overtime period where they would ultimately win it. By many accounts the Bruins could have easily fallen and we would be seeing a different final (possibly Penguins vs Blackhawks). However the Bruins refused to go down without a fight and to the last man standing, and that's exactly what they did. Add on blow out playoff round wins over the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins, and you see why the Bruins are so loose. In many ways it may seem they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If this is their approach to these finals, Chicago will have a heck of a time going through them. Even I picked the Bruins in 7 for a reason, because they have galvanized as a team in the moments leading up to and even after their first round victory over Toronto.
Game Recaps: Game 1- The Bruins controlled the first period and carried enough momentum into the second period to build a 2-0 lead on two goals from Milan Lucic. Within a few minutes of building a two goal lead, Chicago got one back on a score from Brandon Saad. The 2-1 Boston lead would hold up into the third period. About five minutes into the final period the Bruins regained a two goal lead on a power play goal from Patrice Bergeron. However, Chicago was able to quicky pick themselves up and rally to tie the game on timely goals from Dave Bolland and Johnny Oduya. From there both goalies would shine and Tuukka Rask (Boston) and Corey Crawford (Chicago) did plenty to keep the puck out of their respective nets. The game would move through two overtimes as both teams had almost an equal amount of scoring opportunities. In the third overtime, it was more of the same as both teams held up strong again despite the fatigue of what had become a marathon event. At the 112:08 mark of the game, Andrew Shaw rang in Thursday morning Chicago time with the game winning goal.
Game 2 Recap- This game was dominated for a good while by the Blackhawks as Chicago controlled the entire first period in outshooting Boston 19-4. Patrick Sharp gave Chicago a 1-0 lead during the Blackhawks dominate stretch. However despite the dominance and Sharp's goal, the Blackhawks would not get another puck past Rask for the rest of the evening as the Boston goalie was playing as if the opponent had just gotten his undivided attention. Rask would go on to make 33 saves keeping the Bruins in the game. Chris Kelly tied the game at a goal apiece with just over five minutes remaining in the middle period. The Bruins would maintain a good deal of pressure on the Blackhawks and kept pushing the envelope into the overtime period. Daniel Pallie's goal 13:48 into the first overtime period culminated in an evening where Boston was able to hold things together despite a tough go in the opening frame.
This matchup looks as if it already has the makings of what could be a truly classic Stanley Cup Final. The earmarks are certainly there as both teams have played pretty well and have put on not only a good show for their fanbases, but also a good show to every type of hockey fan that there is. To me it really does not matter who wins the Stanley Cup Finals. What matters is that this turns into a classic series that will be talked about for many years after it is played and that we will all get to appreciate a truly classic seven game series ending on June 26th. Overtime optional.
Head Coach Todd McLellan Gets Extended- This past Wednesday the Sharks extended the contract of Head Coach Todd McLellan who had just completed his fifth season at the team teal helm. The San Jose Mercury News and TSN reported the extension for McLellan, who in five seasons with the Sharks has become their all time winningest coach with 220 wins, passing former Head Coach Ron Wilson (206) this past season. Per team policy the terms and length of the contract are not given out to the media or general public. One can argue whether or not McLellan should stay on as the Head Coach, however one must keep the following things in mind. First, despite what you see on TV or even at the game if you go to any of them is that McLellan is a man who for the most part will only speak when he needs to. When he does, he has the undivided attention of the team and the bench. Secondly, what has helped McLellan also is that he has a few very solid assistant coaches around him now in Larry Robinson, Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft. Thirdly, he has the support of the Sharks upper management who knows right now this is the man they need leading this team. While McLellan may not necessary be Herb Brooks, he certainly has been around enough rinks in his life and knows his way around the game. The players on this team know that too. One reason Larry Robinson isn't interested in becoming the Sharks next Head Coach is because he knows McLellan is about as steady of a coach as there is, and believe it or not runs a pretty tight ship.
Niemi Denied Vezina, Likely Never Even Had A Chance- Sharks goalie Antti Niemi came into Saturday as a candidate for the NHL's Vezina trophy for the league's best goalie during the season. By the end of Saturday, Niemi left as an empty handed possible answer to a future trivia question. Niemi finished third in the Vezina Trophy voting as Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky took home the big prize as top goalie. The New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist, who won the Vezina last season finished second ahead of Niemi. The vote for Niemi versus Bobrovsky in fact wasn't even close as most voters simply passed on the Sharks goalie overall.
It's the General Managers who vote on the Vezina. The fact he did not win the award does not in anyway cheapen or trivialize Niemi's accomplishments during the season. First off, Niemi was the Sharks team MVP this season. Simply stated, if it were not for Niemi, the Sharks very likely would have not even made the playoffs this past season. Niemi was the glue that held team teal together during their midseason 6-11-6 slide. Meanwhile Columbus, with all due respect to them and Bobrovsky, did not even make the post season. They were close, but they didn't make it. If the roles are reversed, Niemi most likely does not even get nominated.
Honestly what more could have Niemi done? Score a goal, get into a fight, get suspended one game for telling the referee to next time use a stronger deodorant? Get indicted for Tax Evasion? Sing the national anthem before the a Sharks game while playing an accordion? What more could have Antti Niemi have done? Really! The worst thing for Niemi, and really for the Sharks franchise as well are a couple of things. First, Niemi is not the first Sharks goalie to get snubbed. This happened to Evegeni Nabokov (aka Nabby) in the 2008-09 season. Second, the Sharks are on the West Coast which means a majority of their games, particularly at home start later than 10pm on the East Coast. There could be an east coast bias but that would be hard to prove.
What may have happened here is that the reason Niemi didn't win in part was because the Sharks in their history for all their on ice successes are the only California team today without a Stanley Cup. There are one of two teams on the entire west coast never to have won the title, the Sharks being one of them. The Sharks have never even made a finals appearance in their history and are a woeful 3-12 in all time in Western Conference Finals Games. This has nothing to do with Niemi except for he has the stigma of playing on a team that never made the finals. Even his title win in Chicago four years ago would not warrant some consideration. The Sharks would have not gotten to the playoffs this season without Niemi. The NHL Awards people see that as only a small contribution simply because the franchise's history of playoff failures. What the NHL Awards people are telling Niemi and the Sharks franchise is that until they make a serious post season and at least a Stanley Cup Finals appearance they are viewed as irrelevant. The reason for that again is because of their history in the post season. It's not right, and it's not fair. To the awards committee though it's serious business. The reason Columbus gets a pass is because they are closer to the east coast and don't have the history of Sharks post season failures.
Truthfully the only thing that Niemi and the Sharks can do about this is treat it the same way they are treating the recently completed season, and that is by moving on to next season and putting the rest in the past. That's it.
Other NHL Awards- Here's the list of award winners:
The next award to be given out is the Stanley Cup. For the fans, regardless of who wins the Cup, if it takes place in their arena they get one added bonus...the right to boo Commissioner Gary Bettman out of the rink. Again, that's a reward well worth the price of admission...
Special Note- Today's article is dedicated to the memory of Mary Johnson (1946-2013) who passed away this week after a series of illnesses. She was a family relative and friend who was very hospitable and gracious. She also made one heckofa turkey on Thanksgiving Day. She will be missed by myself and the family. I just felt she was worthy of the mention here. Thanks for being a part of our lives Mary, you're going to be missed.
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