Friday, February 26, 2010

OLYMPIC HOCKEY SEMIFINAL PREVIEW*

The final four. Kind of surprising. No Russia, no Sweden, no Czech Republic. That's what's so great about this tournament and about the game of hockey. It's played on ice, not paper.

3pm - NBC: USA vs. Finland

OK, now I'm actually pissed about what time these games are on. In earlier rounds, I tolerated the 3pm starts, because what else would you do with 3 or 4 games on a day. But now with only two games, they easily could have put this game on at 5pm, or even 6. Give US fans on the East Coast and Midwest (where most American hockey fans reside) a chance to see the semifinals. And give potential fans of the game a chance to watch it on TV, instead of inevitably ignoring it while they work.

Anyway, to the game. Finland won't blow you away with too many star-studded names, but they are ranked 4th in the world. They did win Silver in '06. They're deep and they're solid. Mikka Kiprusoff in net is outstanding. He's 4th in the NHL with a 2.18 GAA (only 0.02 higher than Miller's), and he's 6th in the League in SV%.

The Finns are also just as hungry as the US. After losing to Sweden in '06, veterans like Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne are starving for that Gold in what could be their last Olympics.

I think the Finn's experience helps them win a close, tight-checking game. I see a 3-2 win for the Finnish (now do you get the "Finish Him" pic?)

9:30pm - CNBC: Canada vs. Slovakia

Both teams had to fight through an extra round. Both teams have beat the Russians. If Slovakian goalie Jaroslav Halak beats the Canadians, will he ever be cheered by Canadien fans again?

The Slovaks feature players from 4 different Leagues (NHL, Russia's KHL, Swedish Elitserien, and the Slovak Extraliga). But don't let that fool you. Some of those European league guys are NHL veterans like Richard Zednick, Zigmund Palffy and Jozef Stumpel. The Slovaks also have firepower from Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa, and Pavol Demitra.

The Canadians have depth. But they've been inconsistent. So has Slovakian goalie Halak. If both teams decide to show up at 100%, Canada will win decisively. But if Martin Brodeur goes crazy playing the puck, and Halak is on, this game could get very interesting.

I'm rooting hard for the Slovaks, because screw Canada. It'd also be nice to be able to make Canadiens fans weep at the Bruins/Habs game I'm going to on Tuesday. Especially whenever Chara touches the puck.

I have to pick Canada, though. 4-1 to Johnny Canuck.

CANADA WINS WOMEN'S HOCKEY GOLD, THEN DRINKS BEER AND GETS IN TROUBLE


The International Olympic Committee is going to "investigate" the postgame celebration of the Canadian women's hockey team. After beating the US 2-0 and winning the Gold Medal, some members of the team celebrated on the ice by drinking beer and smoking cigars.

Who cares? How sensitive are we in sports today? If you're up by too many points, you're supposed to ease off. If you win, there are restrictions on how you can celebrate.

The Canadians did nothing to disrespect their opponent or the game. They were happy to win, and in their exuberance and jubilation, somebody opened up some beers. Do we expect these girls to say "No, I don't want free beer right now. It'd be inappropriate."

There weren't even any fans left in the arena. Just a few photographers and bitter Olympic officials who wanted to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Had they burnt the American flag, then I'd say their celebration went too far. But this is utter nonsense. They're kids, having the time of their life, let them have a beer and a cigar.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

OLYMPIC HOCKEY ROUNDUP: DAY 9

Very interesting day/night of hockey. One game surprisingly close, another surprisingly distant, and a third a surprise result.

USA 2, SWITZERLAND 0

The Swiss held on for 42 minutes and 8 seconds, staving off a relentless US attack. Jonas Hiller was on his game, so were the posts and crossbar. But Zach Parise broke the deadlock on the 3rd, essentially ending the game. The Swiss just weren't going to score. Parise added an emptynetter to make it 2-0. The US outshot the Swiss 44 to 19.

CANADA 7, RUSSIA 3

The scoring started 141 seconds in, and didn't slow down until halfway thru the 2nd. Russia's weakness was their defense. I thought guys like Ovechkin and Datsyuk could keep the puck in Canada's end enough to limit the exposure of that weakness. Incorrect. Corey Perry scored 2 goals, Ryan Getzlaf had a goal and 2 assists, as did Dan Boyle.

FINLAND 2, CZECH REPUBLIC 0

This was a duel between Mikka Kiprusoff and Tomas Vokoun. But the Finns were able to slip one by Vokoun 53 minutes into the game. Kiprusoff's teammate with the Calgary Flames - Niklas Hagmen, scored the goal. Valtteri Filppula added the emptynetter.

SLOVAKIA 4, SWEDEN 3

A shocking result. The Slovaks barely got by lowly Norway. Then they defeat the '06 Gold Medal winners. Sweden never even had a lead in this game, and twice found themselves down by 2 goals. Captain Zdeno Chara had an assist. Marian Hossa had 3 assists. Pavol Demitra scored a goal and had 2 assists. The Slovakians have now beaten Sweden AND Russia. They started slow but not they're rolling.

Semifinals are Friday. The US plays Finland at 3. Canada plays Slovakia at 9:30.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

OLYMPIC HOCKEY QUARTERFINAL PREVIEW*

Four excellent games to watch today and tonight:

3pm - NBC: U.S.A. vs. Switzerland

I'd intended to pick Switzerland for an upset here, but they really looked inconsistent last night against Belarus. Jonas Hiller's been shaky in this tournament, as opposed to Ryan Miller, who's been a wall. These teams met in the group stages with the US eking out a 3-1 win. This should be quite similar. 4-1, USA.

7:30pm - CNBC: Canada vs. Russia

Two juggernauts meeting here. Russia is ranked #1 in the world by the IIHF, and Canada is #2. Oh, and it's also Ovechkin vs. Crosby. But it's also teammates Malkin vs. Crosby. This is more of an All-Star Game than the US/Canada match on Sunday. 7 of the top 10 NHL goal scorers will be on the ice.

I think Canada is a bit too excited. They've got more than enough talent, but they don't seem to be clicking as a team. Top to bottom, Canada is deeper. But the Russians have some lights out studs on their side. I think Nobokov stands on his head, Ovechkin overwhelms, and Datsyuk dazzles. Russia 5, Canada 3

10pm - CNBC: Czech Republic vs. Finland
Not as exciting as the Canadians and Russians, but still a game to watch. The Czechs struggled against Latvia, and haven't done much this tournament except beat the Slovakians. Finland is focused, primed, and good enough to master the Czechs. Finland 4, Czech Republic 2.

12am - CNBC: Slovakia vs. Sweden

For some reason, the Swedes have always been the superlate game. But remember, they had a perfect Group round, just like the US. Slovakia struggled against Norway. And even though the Swedes and Norwegians are geographical neighbors, they're not even on the same planet when it comes to hockey. Sweden rolls 5-1.

If my predictions come true, the semi-finals will be USA vs. Finland, and Sweden vs. Russia. Now who was in the final four of the 1980 Olympics? USA, Russia, Sweden, and Finland.

OLYMPIC HOCKEY ROUNDUP: DAY 8

No upsets in the Qualifying Round, but we were very very close to some. In fact, only one game was decided before the 3rd period.

SWITZERLAND 3, BELARUS 2 (SO)

Switzerland's best asset - their goalie - almost cost them this game. Less than a minute in, he horribly mishandled a routine softshot (my word for when the puck just drifts in on the goalie from like a deflection at the blue line), and Alexei Kaliuzhny hacked away until the puck went in. But the Swiss rebounded with a big power play goal, and eventually won in the shootout. If Jonas Hiller and the Swiss decide to show up, they could harass the US.

CANADA 8, GERMANY 2

Well, Canada might have impressed some people with this win, but I'm not sold... yet. Germany has been awful in this competition. Crushing them 8-2 doesn't mean much. But at least maybe the Canadians can take some confidence out of such a lopsided win. Iginla scored twice, so he now has 5 goals, but 0 in tight/meaningful games. Eric Staal had 3 assists, and Drew Doughty was +4. Canada vs. Russia in the quarterfinals.

CZECH REPUBLIC 3, LATVIA 2 (OT)
Another scare for a top team. Latvia finished 12th in the Preliminary Stage, so needing OT to beat them is pretty sad. David Krejci had the game winner in OT (why can't he do that for us once and awhile?) and an assist in regulation. The Czechs face Finland in the quarterfinals.

SLOVAKIA 4, NORWAY 3

I picked Norway to beat the Slovaks, and they put up a damn good fight. But Miroslav returned from injury and netted the game winner in the 3rd. Richard Zednick had 2 assists, and Zdeno Chara had 1 assist. The Slovaks face Sweden in the quarterfinals.

A comprehensive preview of the Quarterfinal Round shall be forthcoming a bit later today.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

OLYMPIC HOCKEY PREVIEW: QUALIFICATION ROUND*

So, we have seeds 5 thru 12 playing off against each other, with 4 teams advancing to the quarterfinals. I have no qualms with the way this tournament has been formatted, but they didn't do anything to make it easy to explain.

Here are the games Tuesday, and my little previews/predictions. In parenthesis, you'll see who the winner of each game will play in the quarterfinals.

3pm - USA Network: Belarus vs. Switzerland (winner vs. USA)

A pair of scrappy teams with only a few NHLers. This game provides the best matchup of Tuesday's action (not surprisingly, it's the 8th seed vs. the 9th seed). Switzerland has impressed me a great deal. Not only has Jonas Hiller been excellent, but the Swiss have executed a watertight defensive gameplan. They lost to the US 3-1, took Canada to a shootout before losing in 4 rounds, and then beat Norway.

Belarus fought hard against #2 seeded Sweden (say that 3 times fast), but I don't think they have the firepower to overcome Hiller or the Swiss' stifling defensive play.

Switzerland 3, Belarus 1

8pm - CNBC: Canada vs. Germany (winner vs. Russia)

Both teams have disappointed me, but the Canadians hockey team might be the biggest Olympic disappointment in the history of the Winter Games... so far.

I expected more from a German side with 7 NHL players. I remember in '98 when the Germans had 0 NHLers on their squad. But they've lost their identity. They're trying to be like Finland when they should play more like Switzerland. Will they figure this out? Yes. Will it matter? No.

Canada rolls over Germany as if it were curling, 7-0.

10pm - CNBC: Latvia vs. Czech Republic (winner vs. Finland)

The only team worse than Germany is Latvia. These teams met in group play, with the Czechs finishing on top 5-2. Latvia scored half their goals in that game. The Czechs will cruise in this one, 6-1.

12am - CNBC: Norway vs. Slovakia (winner vs. Sweden)

The Slovaks lost to the Czechs, then beat the mighty Russians, and crushed the lowly Latvians. It's hard to really gauge how they're playing.

Norway lost all their games, but they did take Switzerland to overtime. They're big, they don't have anything to lose. Canada and the US simply outclassed the Norwegians, but I don't think Slovakia has the talent to do the same thing. I'm picking an upset here, with the Norwegians winning 3-2 in OT.

So when I'm right, the quarterfinals will be:
USA vs. Switzerland
Canada vs. Russia (juicy)
Czech Republic vs. Finland
Norway vs. Sweden

You know what, the US's route to the Gold Medal Game could be Switzerland then Finland or Czech Republic. They won't have to face Sweden, Canada, or Russia unless it's for the Gold (which means a Silver when they lose). Not too shabby a bracket for the USA.

Monday, February 22, 2010

OLYMPIC HOCKEY ROUNDUP: DAY 6

What an excellent showcase day for the sport of hockey. The Czechs, Russians, Americans, Canadians, Finns, and Swedes all took the ice. All three games to determine Group winners and receivers of that coveted bye to the quarterfinals.

RUSSIA 4, CZECH REPUBLIC 2

If Crosby and Ovechkin are the Peyton Manning and Tom Brady of the NHL, Evgeni Malkin is the Drew Brees. He doesn't get as much hype, but he delivers almost as much on the ice. He scored twice, with an assist on the game-sealing emptynetter. Oh yeah, the Ruskies have Alexander Ovechkin who had two assists. And another slightly underappreciated quality player in Pavel Datsyuk, who had a goal and an assist. Evgeni Nabokov remains undefeated as Russia wins Group B.

U.S.A. 5, CANADA 3

Four words to describe this contest: Sixty minute highlight reel. Every second of this was sheer genius. This was as hard fought as the Norway/Switzerland match over the weekend, but only on a much higher stratosphere of talent.

Ryan Miller made 42 saves in this game. He stayed poised under blizzards of pressure, and looked chill even when in desperation mode. He's Team USA's biggest weapon, as he's arguably the best goalie in the tournament.

Brian Rafalski had the big night on the score sheet with 2 goals and an assist.

Sidney Crosby had a goal, but was -3 on the night. Too bad.



The US's goals were a bit on the "lucky" side, but in hockey, good luck tends to follow guys who put themselves in good positions. The US was smart with the puck, and strong without the puck. They fought for every millimeter of ice with a zealous determination. They had an underdog's attitude with a starving dog's tenacity, and emerged as top dogs, winning Group A and going undefeated in the preliminary round.



SWEDEN 3, FINLAND 0

Watch out for the Swedes, the other undefeated team in preliminary play. They started off a bit slow, but now they're really rolling. 25 year old Loui Eriksson of the Dallas Stars scored a pair of power play goals, and Nicklas Backstrom had a goal with 2 assists as the Swedes dominated their rematch of the '06 Gold Medal Game.



As an American, it's difficult not to be proudly optimistic this morning, but the watching utterly stacked teams like Sweden fills me with dread. Thankfully, the US can only meet Sweden in the Gold Medal Game.

Now on to the Elimination Stage.

The late goals the US netted against Norway, as well as Ryan Kesler's empty-netter helped give the US the #1 seed thanks to goal differential (+9, Sweden's was +7). The US won Group A, Russia won Group B, and Sweden won Group C. Finland finished with 6 points and a better GD (goal differential) than the Czechs, so Finland also earned a bye to the quarterfinals. Here are the full standings from the Group Stage:

1. USA
2. Sweden
3. Russia
4. Finland
----------------
5. Czech Republic
6. Canada
7. Slovakia
8. Switzerland
9. Belarus
10. Norway
11. Germany
12. Latvia

Here's the schedule for Tuesday (Eastern start time - network - game):

3pm - USA - Belarus vs. Switzerland (winner plays USA)
8pm - CNBC - Canada vs. Germany (winner plays Russia)
10pm - CNBC - Latvia vs. Czech Republic (winner plays Finland)
12am - CNBC - Norway vs. Slovakia (winner plays Sweden)

We'll have a preview of these games tomorrow.

Friday, February 19, 2010

CELTICS BEAT L.A.


I hate being cynical. That's a lie. I love being cynical. And while normally an 87-86 road win against the Lakers would be monumental, I'm not going to throw a parade for beating a Kobe-less Laker team.

Granted, LA was 4-0 without Kobe. The Patriots once went 11-5 without Tom Brady.

The Lakers aren't the real Lakers without Kobe. The Celtics played a solid defensive game, which is made easier without Kobe.

But wins are wins are wins. And those wins are at a premium right now. The Celtics, Hawks, and Magic are separated by 1.5 games. And the Celtics have lost many more games because of their injuries than they've won because of their opponents'.

Ray Allen led the C's in scoring with 24 (10/15 from the field, 4/6 for 3). KG had 14 with 8 boards. Kendrick Perkins had a great night, with 13 points and 14 rebounds. Rondo also had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

The bench only scored 12 points, which will hopefully change once Robinson arrives.

Celtics @ Portland tonight at 10:30.

Source:
ESPN

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Lori Shepler

OLYMPIC HOCKEY ROUNDUP: DAY 3

We're finally getting some exciting games...

USA 6, NORWAY 1

Don't let the final score fool you. The US didn't dominate this game. At least not as much as they should. You might think Norway is great at hockey, but they're not. One of their players is a carpenter. Yet this was a 3-1 game going into the 3rd.

Phil Kessel had a goal and an assist, as did Ryan Malone. Brian Raflaski had a pair of junktime goals in the last 3 minutes of the 3rd. Ryan Miller only had to stop 10 of the 11 shots he faced, but he did have an assist.

CANADA 3, SWITZERLAND 2 (SO)

Canada should not need a shootout to beat Switzerland. The Swiss have 2 NHL players. Goalie Jonas Hiller and defenseman Mark Streit. That's it. Nevertheless, they stymied an All-Star team from Canada, and stole a point from the tournament favorites.

The Swiss have been the surprise of the tournament, thus far. They only lost 3-1 to the US, and they forced Canada into a shootout in their second game. They should beat Norway to round out their group play. And their sound defensive play could pose a problem to future contenders.

In the round-robin stage, teams are given 3 points for regulation wins, 2 points for OT wins, and 1 point for OT losses. So Canada only having 5 points is a major surprise. And Switzerland could finish the stage with 4 points, which is a significant achievement for a country that didn't even qualify for The Games 12 years ago.

SLOVAKIA 2, RUSSIA 1 (SO)

What a great game. Once again, the best matchup of the night started at 12:30 AM Eastern Time, so many people missed this contest. Zdeno Chara and Alex Ovechkin battled all night long, and it was more physical than when the Caps play the Bruins. Alexei Morozov scored for the Russians in the 2nd, Marian Hossa scored for the Slovakians with about 10 minutes to go in the 3rd. The shootout went 7 rounds before Pavol Demitra beat Bryzgalov.

This was a huge win for the Slovakians, who had lost 3-1 to the Czech Republic the night before. Group B is now totally up for grabs.

Today's games:
3pm on MSNBC: Sweden vs. Belarus
8pm on CNBC: Czech Republic vs. Latvia
12am on MSNBC: Finland vs. Germany

Thursday, February 18, 2010

CELTICS ACQUIRE NATE ROBINSON


Why couldn't the C's make this move BEFORE the dunk contest?

The Celtics will send Eddie House, JR Giddens, and Bill Walker to the Knicks in exchange for Nate Robinson and rookie forward Marcus Landry.

I like this deal, but only a little. While it improves the Celtics by providing the bench with a legitimate PG, it doesn't do anything beyond that. It doesn't make KG or Pierce 2 years younger. It doesn't alleviate Ray Allen from his month long shooting slumps. And it doesn't make Rasheed Wallace stop taking threes.

The one position where the Celtics had both quality and youth was point guard. Now they have depth there. But they're still too ag├ęd and injury prone to go beyond the 2nd round.

Source:
NESN

OLYMPIC HOCKEY ROUNDUP: DAY 2

As much as I wish the NHL switched to European sized ice, thank God we still have North American style officiating. An automatic 10 minute misconduct just for knocking some guy in the head? And how soft did the refs call the Germany/Sweden game? Daniel Alfredsson draws a penalty by losing a shoving contest with a German. Lame.

FINLAND 5, BELARUS 1

The '06 Silver Medalists expectedly dominated Belarus, but compared to the other blowouts, this was one of the least impressive. But what does that matter? Only in goal differential (which is a tie-breaker). Finland went undefeated in the '06 Games until they met Sweden in the final, and their team is equally as "unimpressive" (in quotes, because it's relative compared to the other powerhouses in the tourney) as it was back then. Don't judge this team until they play Germany on Friday.

SWEDEN 2, GERMANY 0

Sweden won Gold in '06. Sweden is the #3 team. Germany was 10th in the '06 Olympics. Germany is ranked 12th in the world. As a German fan, I'm satisfied with a 2-0 loss. Especially since Sweden's first goal should have been waved off for a blatant goaltender's interference.

To be fair to the Swedes, they looked extremely rusty (except for Alfredsson). The number of offsides they had testified to this. They hardly ever put together the lengthy, pretty, passing plays they're capable of. This will probably be their worst performance of the tournament.

But look out for Germany. Finland, I'm talking to you. This team won't score much, but they can play defense. And it's not a boring, backfoot kind of defense like we saw from the Swiss, or from past German teams. It's a slightly more aggressive defense that could frustrate contending teams.

CZECH REPUBLIC 3, SLOVAKIA 1

Jaromir Jagr returned to North American ice with a goal and an assist, and Tomas Vokoun stopped 34 of 35 shots faced, propelling the Czechs to a victory in the first legitimately competetive matchup of the tournament. Marian Gaborik scored the lone Slovakian goal.

David Krejci was -1 for the Czechs, and Zdeno Chara registered 4 penalty minutes.

Today's games:
3pm on USA: USA vs. Norway
8pm on CNBC: Canada vs. Switzerland
12:30am on CNBC: Russia vs. Slovakia

Tough draw for the Slovakians, having to face the Czechs and Russians on back to back nights.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

OLYMPIC HOCKEY ROUNDUP: DAY 1

Some expected results yesterday, as three giants crushed three underdogs. I have to say that I miss the wider European ice surface typically seen in Olympic games. I don't know why, after spending billions to ready their city, Vancouver couldn't temporarily remove two or three rows of seats to make for a wider ice surface in the Canucks' rink.

U.S.A. 3, SWITZERLAND 1

I gave the Swiss a chance in this one, as the US players are either too inexperienced, or too old, with very few falling optimally in between. The Swiss also have Jonas Hiller, who helped propel the Ducks past the Sharks in last year's playoffs.

But the US's depth and talent was apparent in the 2nd period. The Swiss were in a defensive trapping style, which frustrated the Americans' attack (especially on NHL width ice, ironically giving an advantage to a European team). The Swiss had some nice chances, but lacked the skillset to properly aim the puck. They looked like a bunch of Michael Ryders, in other words.

The US will advance to the Elimination Round, but not much farther. They're simply not good enough to score or to prevent talented teams from scoring on them.

CANADA 8, NORWAY 0

The only surprise here is that the game was 0-0 after the 1st period. Jarome Iginla scored a hat-trick, Dany Heatley scored twice. Crosby had 3 assists, and the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron had an assist.

What I noticed most came after the game. While the Canadian fans celebrated a bit too much (Norway has 0 NHLers and hasn't even qualified for the Olympics since 1994), the Canadian players calmly and cooly congratulated each other. It was as if they were already past this 8-0 win and preparing for their meeting with Switzerland on Thursday. Pretty remarkable considering for 75% of the team, this is their first Olympics.

This is a team deadset on a mission.

RUSSIA 8, LATVIA 2

Ovechkin scored twice, as did KHLer Danis Zaripov. Kovalchuk had a goal and an assist, as did Malkin. This team is loaded with talent, perhaps a bit moreso than the Canadians. They too are on a mission. Canada may be the favorite on home ice, but Russia is the #1 ranked team in the world (IIHF), and hasn't won Gold since they were the "Unified Team" (just after breakup of the USSR) in '92. If Canada is hungry for Gold, Russia is starving for it.

Today's games:
3pm on MSNBC: Finland vs. Belarus
8pm on CNBC: Sweden vs. Germany
12:30am on CNBC: Czech Republic vs. Slovakia

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

OLYMPIC HOCKEY TV SCHEDULE

Here's the men's hockey TV schedule. This is all based on my cable provider, and all the times are Eastern, so some local adjustments might be necessary. The really good games are denoted with a star*

Date - Time - Channel - Game
Tue 2/16 - 3pm - USA - USA vs. Switzerland
Tue 2/16 - 8pm - CNBC - Canada vs. Norway

Wed 2/17 - 12:30am - CNBC - Russia vs. Latvia
Wed 2/17 - 3pm - MSNBC - Finland vs. Belarus
Wed 2/17 - 8pm - CNBC - Sweden vs. Germany

Thu 2/18 - 12:30am - CNBC - Czech Rep. vs. Slovakia*
Thu 2/18 - 3pm - USA - USA vs. Norway
Thu 2/18 - 8pm - CNBC - Canada vs. Norway

Fri 2/19 - 12:30am - CNBC - Russia vs. Slovakia*
Fri 2/19 - 3pm - MSNBC - Sweden vs. Belarus
Fri 2/19 - 8pm - CNBC - Czech Rep. vs. Latvia

Sat 2/20 - 12am - MSNBC - Finland vs. Germany
Sat 2/20 - 3pm - MSNBC - Norway vs. Switzerland
Sat 2/20 - 7:30pm - MSNBC - Slovakia vs. Latvia

Sun 2/21 - 12am - MSNBC - Belarus vs. Germany
Sun 2/21 - 3pm - NBC - Russia vs. Czech Rep.*
Sun 2/21 - 7pm - MSNBC - USA vs. Canada*

Mon 2/22 - 12am - MSNBC - Sweden vs. Finland*

The elimination round commences Thursday February 23rd.

Monday, February 15, 2010

BRUINS BRING STREAK INTO BREAK... BARELY


While I'm certainly satisfied with the way the Bruins finished their 4 game roadtrip, with a shootout win over Florida, I'm still a bit concerned. One might be tempted to call this victory "finding a way to win." I'm more cynically inclined.

I remember back in October and November. The Bruins would play 30 minutes of good hockey, 30 minutes of bad hockey, and somehow come out on top. That's what happened Saturday night. The team was utterly listless for long stretches of play, struggling with even basic things like moving the puck up the ice out of their own zone.

But Recchi deflected a puck to tie it in the 3rd, Krejci lost his handle on a shootout attempt and it found the 5-hole, then Recchi beat Vokoun for the win. There was as much luck as there was strong play.

I don't mind good luck, especially in a desperate playoff race (the Bruins went from 12th place to 7th in about a week). But it would be nice to see the Bruins remain emotionally balanced for more than 3 games in a row.

They've got time to work on it. About 2 weeks. Bruins host the Canadiens on March 2nd. They'll have 22 regular season games left, an extended sprint to the finish. And lapses like those in Florida cannot be afforded.

Source:
ESPN

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Alan Diaz

Friday, February 12, 2010

HIGH FIVES FOR BRUINS


The Bruins scored 5 goals on their way to their 3rd win in a row. That's the most goals they've scored since December 23rd. The B's are also on a 5 game point-streak, and haven't been trailing in any of those games.

But it wasn't as pretty as it should have been or could have been.

The first 30 minutes was sheer dominance. The best the Bruins have looked since Game 2 of the season when they crushed Carolina 7-2. They got 21 shots off in the 1st. After the first 7 minutes of play, Tampa Bay didn't get a single puck on net in the opening period.

But in the 2nd, the Bruins only got 5 shots on goal.

Remember Mighty Ducks 3? The Ducks get recruited to play JV hockey for some prep school. In their first game they score like 8 goals, and everyone's real impressed, then they allow 8 goals in the 3rd period. That's what this game reminded me of.

I actually felt worse about the game AFTER the B's scored the 5th goal. The Bruins play awful when they have leads. And the bigger the lead, the worse they play. They lose their focus and the fundamentals breakdown.

Tuukka Rask is not God. He's mortal (unlike Manny Fernandez) and he has flaws. Flaws which can eventually be polished, but they're still there. All the "Tuukka Time" jerks out there are quick as Mercury to point out Tim Thomas' foibles and miscues, so when I criticize Rask, just shutup and deal with it.



He closes up his 5-hole well enough, but he is slow to close it. That comes with being 6' 2". He's not anticipating things well enough. Again, that can improve with experience. He doesn't steer rebounds away as well as some goalies (Thomas). He's wretchedly indecisive handling the puck.

He's the hot goalie, and if a playoff series started tomorrow, I'd want Rask in net because he is the hot goalie. But he is human.

Had the Bruins blown this game, the season would've ended. No exaggeration here. To surrender a 5 goal lead against a playoff competitor, right before going into the Olympic Break. That's utterly devastating. And guys like Derek Morris did their best to sabotage this win.

I wish the Bruins would alter their breakaway strategy. When you're up by 2+ goals, you're going to force turnovers and get odd man rushes up ice. The Bruins fail to score about 99.9% of the time on these rushes. And what they often do is create a rush for the opponent.

It's simple math. You have a 2-on-1 edge going up the ice, that means your opponent has a 4-on-3 advantage behind you (or worse if you're changing lines). So puck possession is precious in these situations. Unless there's a good scoring chance with the goalie out of position, the B's should hang onto the puck and wait for everyone else. Try to set-up a sustained possession, keeping the puck 150 feet from your own net.

When up 3 or 4 goals, the Bruins need to summon their inner Bill Belichick and "run up the score." The best way to protect a lead is to add to it.

Despite the near tragedy, a win is a win is a win. Michael Ryder looked confident for the first time this season. I think going against Nittymaki, who he's owned in the past, was a good opportunity for him to once again find that scorer's mentality.

Oh, and fuck Steve Downie. Guys like this just piss me off. He tries to fight with Satan, who has been in 2 fights in his 14 year career (Thanks Hockeyfights.com!) Then he instigates Chara by punching him in the back of the head, then Chara turns his 6' 9" 250 pound body around, and suddenly Downie shrinks and turtles.



If you don't want to fight Chara, who is nearly a foot taller and has 50 pounds on you, then don't strike him in the back of the neck. Don't pull on Superman's cape.

Although the whole thing reminded me of this video...



Bruins end their Florida excursion Saturday night against the Panthers. Why does Florida have 2 teams and Wisconsin has 0?

Sources:
ESPN
HockeyFights.com

Photo Credits:
AP Photo/J. Meric

Thursday, February 11, 2010

SENIOR CITIZEN CELTICS SUSTAIN SAD STRUGGLES


The Celtics blew yet another double-digit lead last night, in what's becoming an increasingly disturbing trend. This time the C's fell to the barely .500 Hornets. And look out in the rear view mirror because the Raptors are only 4 games behind.

Why is this happening? This team was 23-5 on Christmas. They're 9-13 since then.

To be brutally honest, the Celtics are old. You can blame injuries, but shouldn't you expect injuries from 33 year old power forwards? Did we not see this coming? Pierce, Garnett, and now Ray Allen have all experienced injuries. Injuries that have kept them off the court, AND hindered their performance on it.

In order to have the chance of achieving anything this season, it's time to cash in Ray Allen, and get ANYTHING younger and healthier. Even when healthy, what does Ray Allen do? Shoot threes. And sometimes he hits them, sometimes he hits them. His cold streaks are insufferable, and somehow always seem to happen in the playoffs.

But even trading Allen won't change the destiny of this team. They're a group of ex-thoroughbreds that should be put out to stud. This is their last chance. If they can get healthy, maybe they can make a run. But I doubt it.

This team also needs to find its soul again. There's no more Ubuntu left. You've got Glen Davis worrying about his nickname, a 7 footer taking 3 point shots and harassing officials, then Rondo tries to show some leadership but it gets snuffed by KG. Get back to winning!

Celtics @ Kings next Tuesday.

Source:
ESPN

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Bill Haber

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A PIECE OF THE PAILLE


When the Bruins acquired Daniel Paille, I didn't like the move one bit. I've very much enjoyed regretting that.

Paille scored both of Boston's goals, his 8th and 9th of the season. That's not earth-shattering, but he's been a key part to the Bruins' penalty kill. If you remember, the PK unit struggled when the season began, and now it's 2nd in the League. Without Paille, the recent struggles of the Bruins would have been worse.

If not for the Vezinian quality goaltending from Ryan Miller, the Bruins would have won 4-2, maybe even 5-2. Miller is simply exquisite to watch. He's a spider and the goalmouth is a web that very rarely allows pucks to slip through.



Tuukka Rask had another good game. And I have no problem with him finishing out the roadtrip in net. But for those out there who would go so far as to trade Thomas, just look at the 2nd goal Rask allowed. He's inexperienced, and easily surprised. That's blood in the water for NHL piranhas.

I don't like to focus too much on the selection of shootout shooters, but why Michael Ryder. He doesn't have a good track record in shootouts, and he's colder than the ice he mishandles the puck on. Chara, Satan, Rechhi, Bergeron, HUNWICK, anyone.

Marco Sturm, who leads the Bruins with 18 goals, has been used in a shootout JUST ONCE THIS SEASON. And that was last night. Not surprisingly, he scored.

The less Michael Ryder, the better.

On a positive note, Milan Lucic showed a bit of fierceness last night. I've been close to criticizing Lucic for his invisibility on the ice, but his injuries and my murderous hatred of Dennis Wideman have shielded him. He got his first fighting major in 8 games. And he won the fight.

Bruins visit the Lightning Thursday night. Tampa Bay is only 2 points ahead of the Bruins, so it's a big game.

Sources:
ESPN
NHL

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/David Duprey

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

AT LEAST PEYTON MANNING IS STILL THE CLASSIEST QB EVER... WAIT...


Remember the shitstorm after Bill Belichick congratulated Tom Coughlin with 0:01 on the clock at the end of Super Bowl XLII? Belichick was vilified by some (particular in the midwest) for not congratulating Coughling TWICE after the Giants won the game (there was some clock error, it went down to 0:00, everyone took the field, then it was fixed to 0:01, and Belichick didn't come out to greet Coughlin again).



The best criticism of Belichick's miscue came from the Anderson Tribune, in Anderson, Indiana. Anderson=40 miles from Indianapolis...

"Leave it to the most classless organization in all of professional sports to swing a steel wrecking ball into four decades of Super Bowl tradition...

"By running off the field with time remaining on the clock during New England’s 17-14 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, Belichick, whether he intended to or not, swiped a large portion of the winning team’s thunder...

"Go wrap a heartfelt bearhug on New York defensive end Michael Strahan, a future Hall of Fame inductee who in his 15th season finally earned a taste of a Super Bowl championship. Tell him how happy you are for him even if, deep down, you’re not...

"Millions of impressionable teens and preteens, many of them athletes themselves, were watching at home. Nice example, coach. The ball was on the tee. All Belichick had to do was swing. He refused and now looks more moronic than ever, which is saying something."


So I wonder what the Anderson Tribune had to say about Peyton Manning NOT congratulating the Saints on their win. Probably nothing.

Nobody will have anything to say.

Peyton Manning, once thought to be the Greatest Quarterback ever, not only exposed his shortcomings in that department, he also showed the world his true colors in the Classiness department.

What would King Class Tony Dungy have to say, Peyton?



Just to recap, the game ends, and Peyton runs direct from sideline to locker room.



This was his justification for vacating the field so quick and quiet like:

"I certainly know how it was three years ago when we won. There's not much consolation for the guys who didn't win. There's the stage being set up and the celebration. It's time for the Saints to celebrate. It's their field."

Wow! So he's like classier then EVERY OTHER PLAYER IN SUPER BOWL HISTORY who has stayed on the field to offer token congratulations to his victorious opponents. But unlike those assholes, Peyton wanted to give the Saints the field. Why not? He'd already given Tracy Porter the football.



Peyton's taking some flak, even from Indiana. But he's already got his adoring public in line to defend him.

"Walking off the field without congratulating Drew Brees(notes) may go against our misguided notion of what sportsmanship should be, but it wasn't at all disrespectful or bitter. It shows how much Peyton Manning wanted to win the game. And who can argue about that?"

Now maybe this guy stuck up for Belichick too. And maybe I don't care.

Peyton fled the field in a huff, like a whiny, 8 year old child in the midst of a temper tantrum. 'I'm taking the ball and going home!' The cornfed, cleancut, suit and tie wearing, gosh, golly, gee, daggumit, cut that meat, Oreo splitting, polite and polished Peyton Manning exposed himself to be human. To be a shallow, envious, and borderline classless human.

BC WINS BEANPOT


Well I was right about the score (4-3), just wrong about the victor. The BC Eagles rode a 3 goal 2nd period, and sustained a valiant 3rd period comeback bid on their way to the 15th Beanpot title in program history.

BC was simply too fast and too accurate with the puck for BU. It's really that simple. The Eagles' depth, and the fact that they put 5 forwards out on power plays really gives them unbelievable quick-strike capability. That's probably why they're 3rd in goals per game in the country at 3.8. That's why they've scored 22 goals in their last 4 games.

As Jack Parker quips, the Beanpot ushers in "Trophy Season." It kicks off the stretch run of the season with a bang. And in the last two years, it's catapulted two eventual National Champions.

For BU, their season is now a salvage operation. Tied for 5th in Hockey East, and below .500 they have little hope of making the NCAAs (they'd need to win the HE Conference Tournament).

For BC, they're riding a 4 game win streak. They're scoring goals, and getting solid goaltending from John Muse (who won Beanpot MVP, and is now 5-1 in the competition). If they matchup with the right teams, they could be Frozen Four candidates.

This goal was sick:

Monday, February 08, 2010

BEANPOT PREVIEW


For the 20th time in 58 years, it's BC vs. BU in the Beanpot Final. BU is looking for their 30th title, and BC their 15th.

This is the 4th meeting of the season between BC and BU. Funnily enough, it's also the 4th different venue. They met at Agganis Arena in December, Fenway Park in January, then Conte Forum just a few weeks ago.

On paper, BC is the better team. They're faster, and are more skilled at putting the puck in the back of the net. But BU matches up against them extremely well, and they've won 2 of 3 matches this season.

The Terriers' 11-11-3 record disguises how well they've played good teams this year. They beat #19 Michigan, #18 UMass-Lowell twice, #15 UMass twice, #14 Boston College twice, and tied #5 Cornell in Madison Square.

And although the game's at the Garden, which is technically "neutral ice," this is BU's tournament. It's hard to argue with history (46th time for BU in the finals, that's 46 out of 58 or 79.3% and 29 wins).

I'm picking the Terriers in an exciting 4-3 tussle.

SUPER BOWL RECAP


What a game, much closer and more exciting than the final score suggests. In fact, the last three Super Bowls have all been instant classics.

Coming into the game, the primary storyline and general consensus was that this would be Peyton Manning's coronation as King of QBs. And while the Saints had a more compelling backstory, their mere presence in the Big Game was victory enough for the City of New Orleans. The Saints were definitely David against Goliath.

During the postgame malarkey, the media kept talking about the Saints' "comeback." But they only fell behind 10-0. Their offense struggled to get going, but give credit to their defense for keeping it a 10-0 deficit.

The Saints adjusted their passing routes, and took advantage of the ample time Drew Brees had in the pocket. Apart from Freeney's one-handed sack, Brees was hardly ever rushed, always had a clear line of sight, and had excellent passing lanes. A Saints field goal, combined with the Colts going 3 and out, was the turning point of the game. And it came 7 minutes into the 2nd quarter.



The Saints were a 4th & goal at the 1, off tackle rushing play away from tying the game as early as the 2nd quarter. But even after that failed, the Saints' defense stopped Manning in the 2 minute drill, giving Garrett Hartley another chance at a long field goal.

Garrett Hartley is a bit of an unsung hero in this game. Not only was he a clutch in the NFC Championship, but he all three of his field goals, all over 44 yards. Kickers have really struggled this postseason, but Hartley was 5/5, with all of his kicks 40+ yarders.

The Saints were super aggressive to start the 2nd half. They were also extremely confident in their defense, which had adapted to Manning and the Colts.

Going for it on 4th and Goal, trying a random onside kick, I was reminded of Bill Belichick. In 2005, the Patriots tried an onside kick in the 3rd quarter of an eventual loss to the Colts. And we all remember 4th & 2. It's amazing how much execution can make a coach look good.

The onside kick set up a Saints touchdown, which was good because the Colts' offense woke up on the next drive with a touchdown of their own.



The Saints answered with a field goal to retake the lead at 17-16. It was starting to look like this would be an offensive slugfest, with the last team with the ball winning. But it wasn't. The Colts were shutout in the 4th quarter.

The New Orleans defense, unsung heroes for the 2 weeks leading up to the Super Bowl (for the whole season really), and still unsung heroes, stopped the Colts, and forced a long field goal attempt, that was short and to the left. The game was over, even though nobody yet knew it.

Brees engineered a 58 yard touchdown drive that consisted of 2 runs and 7 short passing plays. Only one play of the drive was longer than 10 yards, and that was a Reggie Bush run. The Saints' offensive adjustments were complete, they took advantage of the time Brees had in the pocket to send their big receivers on complicated and involved patterns. This left players open underneath or on comeback routes, and with room to advance once they caught the ball.

But the outcome was still in doubt, down by 7 with 5:42 left is supposedly when Peyton "Best QB Ever" Manning shines. And he did advance the ball into Saints territory. But as I've mentioned, the Saints had adjusted. Tracy Porter smelled the ball, and picked off Manning. It was vintage Ty Law.



To put an exclamation point on the 31-17 win, the Saints defense came up with a goal-line stand as the clock ticked away.

The Saints deserved this win, as a team, not just because of Katrina or anything. They played well, and actually wanted to go undefeated, unlike the Colts.

Brees was the MVP of the game, but the Saints won as a team. From Hartley to Bush, to Colston, Henderson, Shockey, and the entire defense. And Sean Payton, too, who wasn't afraid of being second guessed. He knew that winners are aggressive, losers are passive. He went for the win and his players executed.



Fuck Tony Dungee

Photo Credits:
AP Photo
NFL Photo

B'S BE BACK IN BUSINESS, BABY


Last Monday I was cautiously optimistic after an 0-1-1 weekend. So as you can imagine, I'm thrilled after a 1-1-0 weekend. With an OT loss Saturday and a shutout win Sunday, the Bruins have collected 4 points in 4 games. The sun isn't high in the sky just yet, but it's starting to peak over the horizon.

I'll focus more on Sunday's 3-0 shutout win over Montreal because it's much more pleasant to write about.

It was a game of firsts. The first Bruins victory since January 14th. Adam McQuaid scored his first NHL goal. And Blake Wheeler got into his first NHL fight.



It wasn't an epic debut for Wheeler into the world of fighter, but just the fact that he felt scrappy enough to drop the gloves, and was actually the only one in the fight who threw a punch, is a good sign.

Tuukka Rask is the hot goalie, and you have to ride him while he's hot. I'm still not completely sold on him, but the results don't lie. Besides, goaltending isn't this team's biggest concern, so why not let Rask play until he starts losing?



David Krejci left the game early with an undisclosed injury. The good news is that the Olympic Break commences soon. And honestly, I'm not going to miss Krejci's ghostlike presence on the ice, or lack of presence. He might be available for Tuesday's game in Buffalo.

To be perfectly frank, I was hoping Krejci would be out for a few weeks. Ryder too. I'd much rather have a forceful line with Sobotka and Bitz out there. Krejci's looked fine his last few games, but he's been lacking in every department all season long.

The Bruins bring their roadtrip to Buffalo Tuesday, then Tampa Bay Thursday and Florida Saturday. Then it's Olympic time. Hopefully a strong series of games will give the B's some positives to reinforce over the break.

Source:
ESPN

Photo Credits:
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes