My Two Cents for April 20th:
Sharks Are Making Things Interesting- With one week to go in the NHL's regular season, the San Jose Sharks who looked like they were all but done on March 23rd, have caught on fire. Team teal has gone from a team heading to a fire sale to a team heading for a decent seeding in the upcoming NHL Playoffs. The Sharks with a convincing 6-1 win over the playoff contending Minnesota Wild Thursday Night increased their point total to 55 in the Western Conference Standings, tying them with the Los Angeles Kings and with it looms the possibility of a first round match against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The Sharks also could face any number of other opponents in the first round, anywhere from St Louis, to Vancouver, to Minnesota, to perhaps even Columbus. The Sharks whomever they draw should they make the post season will just be very happy to be in the post season again. Right now nothing regarding the post season is clinched for San Jose however it appears the Sharks despite a horrible 23 game 6-11-6 stretch have found themselves in the nick of time to do more than just salvage the lockout shortened season.
What's even better is that the team as a whole is finding their stride. Players such as Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Martin Havlat are starting to find their scoring touches again. Brent Burns since being moved to forward has been nothing short of productive. Even newly acquired Raffi Torres has shown that he can get results and put pucks into the net. Antti Niemi has been arguably one of the more dependable goal tenders in the league. He will have the occasional off night as a goalie will have in this league, however more often than not Niemi has been there and has made the big saves. Niemi kept the Sharks in a good number of games during their midseason swoon and his play have probably salvaged at least 10 points in the conference standings out of the 55 the Sharks currently have. The Sharks are still one of the best penalty kill units in the NHL and if you are heading into the playoffs, the penalty kill needs to be at least as hot as the goalie because inevitably you are going to need it.
Got Smart- The Sharks are also as a whole making smarter decisions on the ice and keeping their head about them even in the chippiest of situations. The Sharks have made fewer trips to the penalty box during their hot streak. The Sharks have played three entire games without drawing a penalty and two where they have only drawn one (this does not count coinciding minor penalties where both teams end up skating four on four for two minutes). There is no single person to credit for this because every game has been a team effort. Certainly there was another clunker in Columbus April 9th, and that is a concern and not to be overlooked. Take away that game, and the Sharks by and large have held their own in the majority of the games they've played.
Qualify, Survive and Advance- One thing the Los Angeles Kings proved last year was that the main thing is just to get into the post season tournament, period. Seeding is only relevant if you allow it to be. The Kings were they 8th seed, which in as much as anything may have been the spark that lit the fire which burned all they way until the middle of June. The Sharks need to take that same exact attitude into the post season. A higher seeding, home ice may seem nice but in many ways it actually may not matter. The Sharks road record is not stellar this season. However come April 30th, that's really not going to matter. It will be a new season, and that season can last anywhere from four to seven games. It could last longer than four to seven games should they be fortunate enough to advance. The Sharks best plan for the post season aside from following the Kings' blueprint from last season is to also rip a page out of the late, great Jim Valvano's playbook. Valvano's plan if you remember the 1983 NCAA basketball tournament where he lead heavy underdog North Carolina State to the title was simple in statement, "Survive and Advance" That is the philosophy Sharks need to adopt do should they make the post season (and they should really start doing it with four games left in the regular season).
Wild Wild West- As of April 20th, here is what we have in the Western Conference Playoff Race. 1) Chicago Blackhawks= They are "in" and will along with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference will be amongst the favorites to bring home the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks are seeking their second title in four years and are a hard team to bet against. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa are playing at the top of their games and goalie Corey Crawford has developed into one of the league's most dependable net minders. 2) Anaheim Ducks- They are also in and should clinch the Pacific Division cementing the #2 seed. The Ducks as of late have come back to earth however once the post season starts they are a team with as much fire power as anyone and can inflict some serious damage. Should Chicago falter the Ducks could find themselves carrying the Western Conference's banner into the Stanley Cup Finals. The usual suspects of Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf lead a potent line up that has been together for awhile. Anaheim also has a one-two punch in net of Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth. 3) Vancouver Canucks= They are also in. They are likely the third seed in the Western Conference. The Canucks too have the usual suspects of the Sedin Twins, Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Mason Raymond and newly acquired Derek Roy. The Canucks had a shocking first round exit as the top seed from the post season last year however are still a very potent team once they get hot. Corey Schneider has been strong in goal. Should he for some odd reason not be able to get the job done, veteran Roberto Luongo is his back-up.
The rest of the pack from seeds 4 through 8 are still being hotly contested and teams can fall anywhere amongst the final five playoff slots. Teams that should make the post season are Los Angeles, San Jose, St Louis. Teams that are on the bubble are Minnesota, Columbus, Dallas and believe it or not Detroit. Out of those four teams only two of them are making the playoffs. If the Red Wings fail to qualify, it will be the first time in 22 seasons that they would miss the post season. The Sharks were a first year expansion team entering the NHL 22 years ago just to give perspective on that. If I had to pick a sleeper out of those four teams it's hard to argue against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets maybe for the first time in their franchise history were not sellers on the trade deadline day. As a matter of fact, they reeled in Marion Gaborik who was having a difficult season with the New York Rangers in a deadline day deal. Ever since Gaborik has established himself with the Blue Jackets who are becoming that one team you may not want to see. If they finish either 7th or 8th, they would draw either Anaheim or Chicago. The Blue Jackets might not beat either team, however don't be surprised if Columbus takes either team deep into the opening round. The Blue Jackets are a good team that nobody is talking about and if they make the post season will be certainly playing with house money. Teams that are playing for 2013-14 are Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado and Nashville.
Eastern Conference Races- The Pittsburgh Penguins even with the recent loss of Sidney Crosby to a broken jaw should lock up the top seed in the Eastern Conference. With 66 points in the bank, the Penguins have comfortable leads over both Montreal and Boston. The third seed will be the best team to come out of the worst division in the NHL, the Southeast. The Washington Capitals have not had a stellar season but could get the number three seed in the east for winning their division. No other team in the Southeast Division is making the playoffs baring a Washington collapse. Should that happen, the Winnipeg Jets could steal the division. Montreal and Boston are battling neck and neck for the Northeast Division. The winner gets the conference's number two seeding, the loser still makes the post season and could finish as high as the number four seed.
As for the rest of the Eastern Conference, the seedings which are truly up for grabs are the 5 through 8 spots. As of the morning of April 20th, five points separate spots five through nine, with the ninth spot being basically the last team to be eliminated from the post season. Right now, the five team race for four spots in the East are Boston, Toronto, Ottawa, NY Islanders, NY Rangers and Winnipeg. Baring insanely unpredictable team collapses here's how this may play out. Boston is fighting Montreal for the Atlantic Division, the loser of the division will be the fourth seed. Toronto has been a very quietly hard working team who has played with reckless abandon. The Maple Leafs WILL make the post season (maybe kicking and screaming, but they still are getting in like it or not). Somehow I cannot envision just one New York team not making it. The Islanders have been the most underrated team in the NHL and have great balance in their line and a solid veteran goalie who's been there before in former Shark Evgeni Nabakov. The Islanders will make it. Between Ottawa, the NY Rangers and Winnipeg the Rangers will land at seed number seven. Recent trades have reloaded the Rangers with some fairly decent fire power. Ottawa somehow will out race Winnipeg for 8th. Winnipeg to me will only get in of they beat out the Washington Capitals which will be hard to do, but not impossible. Between Washington and Winnipeg it's a race for the third seed as the eight seed may be out of reach for the losing team.
Thoughts On Boston Marathon Tragedy (Non-Hockey Item)- Monday April 15th started out like any other day. April 15th this year meant a lot of things. It meant everything from Income Tax Day, to Jackie Robinson Day, to Patriots Day which is a huge thing in the New England area. The Boston Marathon had previously been run 116 times. The Boston Marathon to Boston is as big as almost any legal holiday on the calendar. Many people from around the world share in this event each year whether they are in the race to win it or in the race for fun or to promote a worth while cause, or perhaps to just do it because it was there. This years' marathon was supposed to be like any others. Except for it wasn't...
We all know the accounts of what happened by now. We've seen all the horrible images, some of the photos which are graphic way beyond any description. There are no words to really truly comprehend the events of that day. It was a worst nightmare scenario that had come to real life. Two explosions within 100 yards of one another that would change the lives of everyone who was there as well as anyone who is related to anyone who was there. The shock and horror of another senseless terror attack, the first since 9/11 hit American soil once again. In the end three people including an eight year old boy there to see his father finish the marathon were killed. 176 people were injured, many who have been scared or maimed. Many of these people are facing perhaps years of surgeries and rehabilitations just to do things we take for granted everyday, including just living.
The days events were sickening and tragic to say the very least. However the City of Boston in the face of an unspeakable and cowardly act of terror became a city that would set the example and standard for how to respond to this horrible scenario. There were many heroes who swung into action almost immediately after the first bomb exploded. Many more swung into action upon the second blast just seconds later. These heroes were the first responders such as EMT's, any and all medical personnel, the Boston Police and Fire Departments, US Military on hand, many average everyday ordinary citizens and even Marathon runners who were just wrapping up their 26.2 miles.
Many people ran from the blast which would certainly be the right thing to do. However, there were an incredible amount of people who not only did not run from the blast and the ensuing chaos, but instead they ran towards the blast to help whomever they could whether it was a family member, a relative or a complete stranger. They did not think twice or had to be told what to do, they just did the first thing that came to mind in that very darkest of moments. These are acts of courage that are above and beyond the call of duty for any civilian. These selfless acts likely saved a number of lives that could have otherwise been lost.
Boston Police Department, MVP's- In the hours and days following the horrible tragedy at the marathon, the Boston Police Department went right to work and used every available resource at their disposal to catch the individuals responsible for this heinous act. Surveillance cameras along Boylston Street captured several images and along with the help of the citizens of Boston who were taking photos of what was supposed to be the conclusion of the 117th annual marathon. Eventually this lead to the identification of the suspects and allowed for an effective manhunt to begin. The main suspects however would not give in without a fight and late Thursday early Friday engaged the Boston PD into a shootout. The eldest suspect, 26 years old was gunned down while his 19 year old younger brother was able to somehow get away (As is the case with the Colorado Theater Massacre last July, I will not use the suspects names. They are disgusting human beings who's names are simply not worth mentioning).
The second suspect made his way to the Watertown area and found a boat in a backyard he thought he could hide in. The problem was that the law was hot in his trail and he would soon be surrounded by snipers who just needed a reason, yet at the same time were restrained since the objective is to take the suspect alive without firing a single shot. The wounded suspect finally surrendered to the Boston PD shortly before 9pm EDT Friday evening (6pm PDT here on the West Coast).
My only question to this sub-human who did what he allegedly did this past Monday is "Why?"
That's a question that I hope will be answered over time and that the Boston Police along with the FBI can get to the bottom of this terrible case. It is my hope that soon there will be answers as to what happened and if there is anyone else responsible alongside these two individuals. As for the wounded a lot of prays for a recovery that you can only hope is expedient. At the same time, a great deal of sorrow for fallen MIT Officer Sean Collier who gave his life in the line of duty in pursuit of these two terrorist.
As for the Boston Police Department, I have nothing but absolute admiration for how professionally they handled this matter. This was nothing that all the planning in the world will quite prepare you for, but they did one helluva job in taking care of business in a case where the clock was ticking and results had to come as quick as they could. I saw a tweet earlier today from someone living in the Los Angeles area which basically stated that the next time their local police department needed help in solving a case, they should ask for help from the Boston PD.
As for the sports world, obviously it takes a back seat in these scenarios. The Boston Bruins resumed play Wednesday Night versus the Buffalo Sabres after Monday's game against the Ottawa Senators had to be postponed. The most moving event and easily the NHL's moments of this season occurred before the beginning of the game and at the game's conclusion. Before the game a Boston institution, Rene Rancourt came out to lead the pregame singing of the Star Spangled Banner. However, after the first course it apparently became clear to Rancourt that the crowd was going the carry the National Anthem thoughout the song. In a classy move Rancourt just held the microphone up and the full house did the rest. The second classy move of the game when not only did the Boston Bruins salute the crowd with there sticks raised, but they were joined by the visiting Buffalo Sabres as well. Hockey allowed the City of Boston to begin a healing process that will take time. This is what is good about sports when placed in the right perspective, it gets you in a different place then where you normally are if only for three hours.
The City of Boston should and will stand proud. They are now the gold standard for all American Cities and really cities around the world.
#BostonStrong #PrayForBoston #LongLiveBoston
This week, we are all Bostonians...
…just my two cents…
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**Next My Two Cents: April 28th …