Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Favourite Basketball Commercials

In my years of watching basketball commercials, I've come across a great many that stick in my head, so many years later.

#5: Mister Robinson's Neighbourhood: Charles Barkley

In the early 90s, David Robinson was one of a seemingly dying breed of great centers in the league. In 90/91 he began appearing in a series of commercials where he'd, "Teach you the life of a basketball player".

Anything from rookies, to coaches, to words of wisdom.

In this case, Charles Barkley shows up with the word of the day!



Why I Like This Commercial:

One of the things that great is it's Charles being Charles, candid and forthright. At least that is until he gets asked the question at the end!

Things I Noticed:

As they go through the montage of Charles fights, you see one against Bill Laimbeer, which I don't think should be held against Charles. Any one out here remember the night Bird fired the ball at him? Or when Parrish smacked him around THREE times (And DIDN'T get kicked out of the game!). Yeah, you get the idea, everyone wanted to kill Bill!

Facial Expressions Freeze Frame Fun:

Pretty much all the cuts to David as he looks on mystified!


What Else Could Have Been Done:

Have Barkley explain that one of the fights was against Bill Laimbeer, who probably deserved it!

#4: Jordan / Bird McDonald's Horse

In the early 90s as Jordan began to get comparisons to the other greats. Of one particular trait, all those game winning shots. So it was logical to pair him off with Larry Bird, who needless to say, hit his share. A good old friendly game of horse...

For a MacDonald's Meal!



Why I like this Commercia
l:

Okay, you got the two players who’d want I you’d bet your life on if the game was on the line. (Okay, so they also should have had West, Jabbar, LeBron, etc) who BOTH ironically shot less than 50 % from the field (So the commercial, technically is inaccurate by the time they make their SECOND shot @ 0:23. Yes I know 23 is Jordan's number! ).

A good old friendly game of HORSE, for a MacDonald's Meal!

So then it turns interesting, because, oh skip ahead to Facial Expression Freeze Frame Fun. But in the meantime,

What I Noticed (About Micheal And Larry):

1) Bird, in the ’87 three point shooting contest, before it began, turned to his opposition and said, “Who is finishing second?”

2) Jordan in game 1 of the ’92 NBA finals drained six three pointers to break Micheal Cooper’s record which was set in the ’87 finals against, you guessed it, Larry Bird.

3) Bird and Jordan had this video game, Jordan vs Bird: One on One, ONE of my favourite Pointless Video Games, ever!

4) The meal would have been cold by the end of the commercial

Facial Expressions Freeze Frame Fun:

Note Jordan’s expression when he is told about the challenge THEN “No Dunks”. He gets it, Larry being Larry!

What else they should have done:

How about, at the very end, they both have to pass their toughest test. First, MJ has to score while being guarded by Gary Payton. Then Bird has to score by getting a basket against Cooper

They should have had either Hondo (Havlicek) or West “steal the meal”. After all, remember game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Final? Or game 3 of the 1962 NBA finals?

#3 Kareem / Bird / Lays

Kareem and Bird's teams played three times in the NBA finals and twice each season from 79/80 to 88/89. Oh, by the way, the Lakers won 5 NBA titles in this time, the Celtics, 3.



Why I Like This Commercial:

Okay, you have pair of 33s in this commercial, bringing back memories of about every NBA final from 1980 to 1989 (Either the Celtics or the Lakers played in every NBA finals from 80 til 89) .

The ending!


Things I noticed:

1) This two almost got into a fight in game 4 of the 1984 NBA finals. Bird was more a friend to Magic Johnson in later years. Still, you couldn't do what they did in this commercial with Magic!

2) Another bad product for Bird to endorse. You know you look at him now and just…I’ll leave it at that!

Facial Expression Freeze Frame Fun:

Kareem when he sees Bird falling right into the Trap! I've won the bet!

What Else They Could Have Done:

1) Have Kareem say, "I don't know if the NBA needs another bald 33 it might take away from the number"?
2) Have Bird say, "I'll bet that this was for the elbow back in '84"?
3) Retire the #33 league wise? I know that's not for here, but you gotta like the idea!

#2 NBA Legends Welcome Shaq (And Reebok) To The Court


Shaq O'Neal was the biggest thing in a long time that the NBA in quite a while. So, naturally, a commercial with all the big man in the past was inevitable



What I liked:

You have Kareem and Wilt, so you know the tension is high! Plus you have Russell, who Wilt (at the time) wasn't to fond of either.
This is probably the first time that they had all gotten together (sans Walton) since game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals.


Things I Noticed:


Obviously, there was something in the contract of everyone to do one significant thing each in this commercial. Russell takes him in (Under his wing?), Walton waiting to be impressed (Foreshadowing his life as an announcer), Kareem giving the disapproval, Wilt handing Shaq his final test!


Facial Expression Freeze Frame Fun:


1) Shaq pretty much all the time in this commercial. He's a kid in a candy store until...
2) The end where Shaq notes what else
3) Kareem when he points out what else
4) The four impatient centers


What Else Could Have Been Done:

Actually, it was done. I would have liked another commercial of this ilk with other centers. And it was. Russell and Wilt were back, along with Willis Reed, with Bill and Wilt actually better in this honorable mention. And so is the great Johnny Wooden. So odd to see him in a commercial like this:



Kareem / Wilt 7 Feet Or Taller TWA!

Kareem said in his book Giant Steps that he hadn't spoken to Wilt in years prior to this commercial. And already they were firing insults at each other in both their biographies. This commercial and Kareem's later breaking of the Dipper's all time scoring mark seemed to put those feelings away.

But, of course, Wilt's jealousy oozed out more often then not later in the decade before Kareem fired back, all guns blazing in his 1990 book Kareem.



Why I liked This Commercial:

I think I just said it above. The real life tension between the two! And also, why are you promoting 7 footers as you average joe on a plane. A 7 footer sticks out like a sore thumb on a bus. Can you imagine on a plane? I mean, it's not as if they are at that higher of an altitude then they already are standing on the ground!
Kareem has had a lot of media exposure on flying. More on that.


Things I Noticed:

1) Kareem really knows how to get into the act in these situations. Anyone else here seen Airplane?
2) Wilt as usual, is proud of his height. I think that's one of reasons he didn't like being upstaged.


Facial Expression Freeze Frame Fun:

1) Wilt, of course, and NOT acting out of character when Kareem said, "Taller?"
2) Wilt when he says, "Even if your 7 feet tall!"
3) Kareem taking a seat


What Else Could Have Been Done:

Wilt should have turned to the camera and said, "Too bad I can't get 20, 000 on this!"
Kareem should have turned to the camera and said, "I'm used to the sky with a hook!"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Everything You Need To Know About Pat Quinn's Hit On Bobby Orr

You've all seen it...Pat Quinn of the Leafs nailing Bobby Orr close to the boards in the old Boston Garden, April 2, 1969. But here's what you didn't know about it!

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins had some REAL bad blood between them in the previous two seasons! So as the 1969 playoffs opened between them, somehow, you just knew there was going to be something happening. But never would anyone have imagined that it was something like an apocalypse.

The Leafs finished fourth that year (35 wins 26 losses and 15 ties). But Boston, thanks to Phil Esposito’s record breaking 126 points (shattering Stan Mikita’s record of 98 points) and Bobby Orr’s new-record-for-defenceman-64 points, loomed larger than any tough opponent with 42 wins, just 18 losses and 16 ties.

Not only did the Bruins beat you on the ice, they beat INTO you on the ice that year. Indeed, this was probably the year the Bruins became known as the Big Bad Bruins. Or perhaps it was the previous year. Trips to the penalty box were an all too familiar thing to witness in a Bruins game in both 67-68 and 68-69: 1043 penalty minutes and 1297 penalty minutes. No other teams in either season accumulated as many as 1000 penalty minutes.

So what about the hard feelings between these two teams? It started out innocently enough. A November 5, 1967 game at Maple Leaf Gardens saw Brian Conacher of the Leafs high-stick Orr (right across the nose) during a penalty kill (at 5:28 of the second period). An accident? That’s what Conacher claims.

The Bruins thought otherwise, and Orr and his mates unleashed a violent assault on Conacher. First Orr, then John McKenzie, Orr again and finally, Ken Hodge. The game ended in a 2-2 tie. Still, Bobby and his teammates were beginning to form a reputation from taking nothing from no one. Even Leaf coach Punch Imlach seemed to think Toronto was pushed around by Boston in that game. By the end of the 67/68 seasons, the Boston Bruins were involved in 48 fights to the Leafs' 16.

When the teams' played again on the 15th, however, it was Toronto's turn to do the pushing. Nothing really violent, but the Leafs drove Gerry Cheevers from the net and won 4-2. Would things calm down?

Boston won the next contest no problem despite Conacher scoring his sixth goal of the campaign. Things did appear to calm down between the two teams, but during an entertaining 3-3 tie on a Saturday, January 6th game in Toronto, Boston and Toronto woke up to some extracurricular activities.

The Leafs were pressing the Bruins' end during the second period. After Cheevers made the save on a point shot from Tim Horton, a scrum ensued. Pete Stemkowski and John McKenzie went at it. Earlier in the affair, Eddie Shack, the ex-Leaf, had gotten into some rough stuff (Though not as serious) with Horton. The game ended in a 3-3 tie as Toronto tied it with just three seconds left. But that sort of got the Big, Bad Bruins wanting more from the Leafs!

Enough that during a 4-1 Boston win on the 29th of February, it was Wayne Carleton and Kenny Hodge squaring off. That, for the mercy of both teams involved, was the last bit of that for 1967/68 from these two teams. At least against each other.

The Leafs missed the playoffs that year, so they were determined not to do that again in 1968/69. They beat the Bruins 2-0 on October 26th at home as Johnny Bower rolled back the clock. But what Toronto could not do was stop the Bruins from doing their thing. Eddie Shack fought new Leaf Jim Dorey. Before that happened, Derek Sanderson fought Tim Horton. Before the night was over, Sanderson delivered a cheap shot on Paul Henderson, who Toronto had acquired late the previous season. Dorey and Shack had another fight on November 24th in Boston. The rest of the game was fairly tame. But how long until...

The next big blowup saw the two teams go at it on January 9, 1969 (in Boston). Just 8:11 into the opening stanza, Glen Sather of the Bruins and Mike Walton of the Leafs decided “Why not?” and squared off. Then, just 39 seconds later at at 8:50 of the first period, a wild brawl broke out in which:

1) Jim Dorey (Leafs) fought off both Dallas Smith and goalie Gerry Cheevers

2) Pierre Pilot of the Leafs fought John McKenzie

3) Orr fought Leaf goalie Bruce Gamble

The Bruins, if it matters, won this game 3-2. Most of the games in Boston that year resulted in BAD losses for the Leafs. And while this wasn’t one of them, the fact that the two teams were slowing building up a lot of animosity towards each other, it was just a matter of time before the sparks really started to fly. Oh, they sort of already had. There was no love lost at this point. Would it escalate any further? Pat Quinn and Bobby Orr hadn't really come face-to-face yet!

The very next game between Toronto and Boston. During a 5-5 tie between the Buds and the Cubs, January 15th, Quinn hit Orr with a cheap shot, and this time the Bruins had someone who they felt they could really take their frustrations out on. At 5:26 of the second period, Jim Harrison (5’11, 185 lbs…Hey! That’s my tale of the tape!) of the Bruins fought Quinn to persuade him from any further attempt. Pat was undeterred. Quinn was not about to let Boston win the fight.

Mike Walton and Johnny McKenzie fought when Toronto came to a visit to Boston four days later. And everyone saw it, too, as it was a Sunday game televised on CBS. But other than that, the most noteworthy even in that game was Bruce Gamble getting some stitches to start the third period. Johnny Bower came in to play eight minutes of the third, but few knew it was him. Bower debuted his new face mask.

In Toronto for a March 15, 1969 game which ended in a 7-4 Leafs win, Quinn incurred the wrath of the Boston Bruins players, coaches and fans when he rammed Bobby Orr into the Toronto net. Orr hit the crossbar…hard!

Why? I guess Patty was protecting his goalie. But Orr took exception to this! And this wasn't the only fight as Rick Ley (An assistant coach years later when Quinn was coaching Toronto) had Wayne Cashman to deal with. I can't believe Ley had a chance.

But soon, Orr and Quinn were going toe to toe in a dandy. Alas, this all came at a cost. Quinn perhaps pushed himself too hard this game to stand up on behalf of Toronto. And an injury did not help. Toronto may have won the game 7-3, but it was Boston who took the next day's game in a laugher, 11-3. McKenzie fought Brit Selby and Forbes Kennedy, who you will read about later, trust me, fought Ted Green. Forbie had just come to Toronto. He would help, believe me. Especially in the never-ending war.

Quinn didn't have too many kind words for Boston in the papers after the win, though. And that was just adding fuel to the fire, Pat! Fight fire with fire, I guess. But with words? Not sure if that is gonna stop 'em!

So how would the Leafs fare against the Bruins in that year’s playoff? The Leafs had played well against the Bruins at home that year, but what about in Boston? Not good. And home ice DISADVANTAGE in that year’s playoffs, it meant the dubious task of playing back-to-back games right there in Boston. Hadn't the Leafs been hammered there enough. Two more times would soon follow.

In no time at all it was apparent that it was another Boston nightmare for the Buds. Led by a Phil Esposito onslaught, the Bruins stormed ahead by a sizable margin. The first period ended with the Bruins up 3-0. Seventeen seconds into the second period, Quinn took a minor penalty along with Ken Hodge of the Bruins. This did nothing to stem the tide. Nor did a fight between Derek Sanderson and Tim Horton, as the Bruins continued the onslaught:

4-0,

5-0,

6-0.

The game was now hopelessly out of reach by the Leafs, but before its conclusion, two historic events took place which Leaf fans never grow tired of telling!

And given the game's final score, it’s a wonder anyone in Toronto wants to remember this game.

It had been pretty tame so far with Quinn and Orr. Maybe they would get through this game without blemish.

“Orr” maybe not.

With a minute and fifty seven seconds left in the second period, Orr grabbed the puck behind is own net and started out quickly on the right side. Bobby Pulford of the Leafs made an attempt to bring his stick down on the puck (and on Orr too?). Orr weaved around and started up quickly along the right side as Brit Selby tried to catch him. Selby angled Orr off perfectly towards the boards. Pat Quinn waited at the blue line. He had Orr dead centre in his sights. Quinn would never have a better chance!

Orr was trapped. And he didn’t know it. AND he put his head down!

BOOM!

Launching all of his six feet and three inches (not to mention 215 pounds) into Orr, Quinn caught him with his elbow (or was it shoulder?). All this time Orr’s head is down, so when his head hit the ice, Bobby was out cold. And Quinn? He just earned himself five minutes in the penalty box for elbowing. But that would soon be the least of Quinn's (And Toronto's) problems.

Ken Hodge did the smart thing, placing his glove under Orr’s head and probably saying a few prayers. After a minute (it must have seemed like forever) Orr came around, his strength returned and took a skate. Concussion! Still very dazed, two of the Bruins supported him as he left the ice. The Bruins advised him to head to the locker room. But he'd be back for game two. And Bobby was excellent when the series shifted to Toronto.

The vengeful Bruins fans were pelting him with everything they had in their hands. Quinn swung his stick at the angry mob and somehow managed to break the pane of glass behind him. Although, what really broke it was all the Bruin fans who were trying to gain entry to Quinn’s dungeon. Before Tie Domi and Philly, there was Patty and Boston! No, that didn't quite happen! You might have expected it, however.

Quinn, as mentioned earlier, had received a major penalty for elbowing. The call had been made. This is still a point of argument by anyone who saw this game: Was it an elbow or a shoulder?

I guess it depends on who you are a fan of. Toronto, or(r) Boston.

On the ensuing power play, Esposito scored his fourth goal of the game with nine seconds left in the period to make it 7-0 Boston. That was it for Bruce Gamble. At the start of the third period, 44 year old Johhny Bower came in to play. And, as easy as 1,2,3 (at 1:23 of the third period), Johnny McKenzie made it 8-0 with another power play goal!

Quinn, the Leafs and the Bruins night was far from over. How did the Bruins respond to the hit? The minute Quinn stepped back on the ice, a few of the Bruins were still mad at him and made sure Pat knew it. How about on the scoresheet?

Sanderson scored his second goal, then Jim Dorey and ex-Leaf Eddie Shack went at it. Both "Got 5". How many times have these two fought? Soon, the Bruins added some more insurance to the total and it was 10-0, Boston. What more could happen?

If you are Leaf Forbes Kennedy (I forgot to mention once played for the Bruins), it’s your last game in the NHL. Remember when I told you you'd hear from him again? Now is the time!

But if you’re going to go, go with some records, right?

Punch Imlach realized that this series was going to be a painful one in more ways than one. He needed something to rally the troops, to get his club going. Game 2, remember, was just less than 24 hours away. This game was obviously a lost cause on the scoreboard. Message sending? There had already been one. Before this night was out, there would be another.

Kennedy, who was acquired on March 2, 1969 in a deal with the Flyers that involved four players, would be right in the middle of it all.

With everyone!

Earlier in the second period, before the Quinn hit, Forbes had gotten into a short melee with Johnny Mackenzie. Both had received minor penalties. They'd see more of each other later, believe me! Kennedy actually received a double minor. Five minutes into the final stanza, Kennedy added another minor penalty to his total. Now as the third period continued, and less than four minutes remained. Just when you think you've seen it all...Forbie was out on the ice, with a short fuse!

So Kennedy skated out to try and fire up the Leafs. What he ended up doing was...

...Start stiring the pot! But he had Gerry Cheevers, the majestic Bruin goalie to deal with first. That's who Forbes started for! But Kennedy didn't make it there at first. Forbie was a man on a mission. And by the time he got to Cheevers, he was not in one piece. No matter, for Kennedy had Cheevers dead center in his sights.

So the two squared off in a short fight. But the Bruins weren't about to let this wild man take down their goaltender. Soon, the Bruins were all around. But Kennedy was off towards Cheevers, again! Johnny Bucyk tried for a second or two, but here comes Forbie! Give Bucyk credit. He tried to stop Kennedy!

Kennedy reached Cheevers and the two squared off in a much better second round! But the fight didn't reach it's conclusion smoothly. See, our boy's actions had attracted considerable attention. There were now other Leafs involved, but who cares? As it turned out, it was more than just the players who were worried about the wild animal that was Kennedy now. It needed to be tamed. As it turned out, all the Bruin players were either a little scared or just plain smart! For a short time, of course!

And Kennedy wasn't going down. As you will soon see, he was lashing out at anyone who was in his path.

And suddenly, the other Leafs were involved as well. At first reluctant, perhaps! Mike Walton came in to get Bucyk off Kennedy and Bower came in to stop backup Eddie Johnston. Then the Leafs backup, Gamble, joined the frey. Fred Stanfield leaned on his hockey stick but stayed away. Ted Green mouthed a few words to either a Leaf player or linesman Matt Pavelich.

Then, the other linesman, George Ashley, decided that enough was enough. He boldly entered the frey, only to be clocked by Kennedy! Knocked him right on his, well, you know! The CBC crew calling the game where having a difficult time calling this one! What was happening here?

Ashley was knocked right over backwards to almost the feet of disbelieving referee Matt Pavelich, who was now trying to restore order between Kennedy and every Bruin who came his way.

But there was still more to come.

As the fight spread along the boards, Kennedy continued the onslaught. Him and Cheevers again! And the Bruins fans, sensing the team was being over-matched by a one man army, entered the scene, too. Forget about the Flyer fan that joined Domi in the penalty box some years ago! This was a million times worse!

About five Bruins fans smacked Kennedy. But that did little. Now in battle frenzy mode, any who dare enter, eat knuckle from Forbes!

Johnny McKenzie watched this all unfolding, and kept his distance.

Forbes, now surrounded by other Leafs and the men in black and white, seemed to calm down.

But then, as he skated by McKenzie, Kennedy heated up again, and the toe went toe to toe! Forbes was about to start really bleeding. McKenzie cut Kennedy below the left eye and got Forbes' jersey off and down to the elbows!


This finally got straightened out and Kennedy was banished from the game. But he had plenty of company in the penalty totals he had just accumulated.

8 penalties in a playoff game (NHL playoff record). 4 minors, 2 majors, a 10 minute misconduct and a game misconduct.

38 penalty minutes (setting a record that has since been eclipsed).

6 penalties in one period (a record).

34 penalty minutes in one period (a record).

Would the game end mercifully without another penalty? Nope. Who else but Pat Quinn took another penalty with less than three minutes to go and the night came to an end.

Flash forward 41 years later. A young man (who just happens to be the author of this very blog) is at his favourite bar late one summer night and Pat Quinn walks in and is recognized by many there. I stayed away from all this. But as he left, I got up and introduced myself! "Pat!", I said, "Tell me about the night you nailed Orr..."

He smiled and extended a hand!



The information used herein was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by The Hockey Summary Project. For more information about the Hockey Summary Project please visit:

http://hsp.flyershistory.com

or

http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/hockey_summary_project/


References


Berger, Howard. Maple Leaf Moments: A Thirty Year Reflection. Toronto: Warwick Pub., 1994.

Diamond, Dan. Total Hockey: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League. Kingston, NY: Total Sports Pub., 2003.

Diamond, Dan. Total Stanley Cup: An Official Publication of the National Hockey League. Toronto, Ont.: Published in Canada by Total Sports Canada, 2000. Print.

McFarlane, Brian. The Leafs. Toronto: Stoddart Pub., 1995. Print.

Podnieks, Andrew. The Essential Blue & White Book: A Toronto Maple Leafs Factbook. Vancouver: Greystone, 2001.

Monday, June 14, 2010

And Old Project On The Boston Red Sox

Some time back, I did a project for college on the Boston Red Sox. Looking through my hardrive, I was surprised to find it. I didn't remember transfering it. This is from 2002, if it matters.

Although the Boston Red Sox were one of the best teams in major league baseball in the first twenty years of the twentieth century, no Red Sox team has won a World Series championship since 1918. The downfall of the Boston Red Sox after 1918 can be blamed mainly on poor management, crucial injuries and bad luck .

Before 1920, Boston had one of the most dominating teams in baseball. In the 1890s, the team featured Cy Young, winner of 511 games, the most of any pitcher ever at the major league level. When Boston moved into Fenway Park in 1912, the team featured a dynamic pitching staff that no Red Sox team has had since. The team won the World Series that year, and again in 1914, 1916, and finally 1918.

Starting in 1912, the team featured the arm of pitcher “Smokey” Joe Wood. That year he won 34 games, including 16 in a row. This leads to the first case of management failing. Thanks to Wood’s great drawing power and because he was the best pitcher in baseball that year, Red Sox management decided that they should continue pitching him, despite the fact that the pennant was already well in hand. Wood ended the season with 344 innings pitched, not counting the 26 innings he pitched in the World Series that year. One of the keys to having a long career as a pitcher is rest, especially a fast ball pitcher like Smokey Joe.

Complicating matters was that in a game against Detroit the following year, Wood fell awkwardly on his pitching hand, breaking it. He pitched for the Red Sox for three more years, but he never turned in another full season on the mound. Woods did, however, return as a outfielder from 1917-22 for the Cleveland Indians. While he was no star as a fielder, he could have helped the Red Sox, but they made no effort to sign him.

The Red Sox, however, had more stars than just Smokey Joe during this period. The best of these were pitchers George Herman (“Babe”) Ruth, Dutch Leonard and outfielder Tris Speaker.

Like Smokey Joe Wood, Babe Ruth was an outstanding pitcher, finishing his career with a record of 93 wins and 40 losses. The Red Sox wisely used him in the outfield when he wasn’t pitching. Legend has it that he copied the swing of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, and turned himself into the greatest player of all time. The more he played outfield, the better he hit. Home runs were rare back then, but the Babe turned them into his personal signature.

After winning the World Series in 1918, the Red Sox surprisingly sold the Babe to the New York Yankees. This was no doubt the worst Red Sox management move in this century. It was made because Sox owner Harry Frazee had many investments outside of baseball, among them theatrical productions, and at this time they weren’t attracting much of an audience.

Nor were the Red Sox much of a drawing power, at least in 1918. Their schedule (and every other baseball team’s) was shortened by 26 games because of the American entry into World War I. In the World Series that year, no game drew much of a crowd.

So the Babe left Boston, not to return for 16 years, then with the Boston Braves. Soon, all the Red Sox star players were gone, not because they were underachieving, but because the owner couldn’t afford them. Other than money, the Red Sox got few or no players in return. Certainly, there was no one in the game at any time who could have replaced Babe Ruth. The Sox, minus the nucleus that had made them so powerful, would tumble into oblivion in the 1920’s and the early 30s while Babe Ruth and the Yankees would become a dynasty, a tradition and the Sox’s bitter rival in the American League for the rest of the twentieth century.

In 1934 Joe Cronin took over as the Red Sox manager/shortstop and guided the team back to respectability, adding Hall of Famers Jimmy Foxx (500 home runs) and Lefty Grove (300 wins) to the lineup. Then in 1939, the Red Sox signed Ted Williams. While The Sox lost Babe Ruth, the greatest player ever, the Sox now had the greatest hitter who ever lived. Except for the years Williams spent in World War II and the Korean War, Ted would be a fixture in the Boston lineup for the next 21 years. However, around this time, Boston ownership failed to keep a Hall of Famer. When the Red Sox bought Louisville of the American Association, they had the rights to shortstop Pee Wee Reese. But Joe Cronin, who himself would one day be enshrined in the Hall, didn’t want to lose half of his job, so Pee Wee Reese became a Brooklyn Dodger. Reese helped the Dodgers to many World Series appearances in the late forties and fifties.

With Ted Williams guiding the way, Boston’s record in 1942 was 93 wins and 59 losses, second to the Yankees. If the Sox management could just acquire some more pitching and better catching, surely the Sox could win a pennant. In 1945 the Sox missed out on a grand opportunity to break the colour barrier . The Red Sox had three stars from the Negro League, Marv Williams, Sam Jethroe and Jackie Robinson, try out at Fenway Park. The three impressed scouts, but manager Joe Cronin said that the only opening for the three would be in Louisville and he didn’t think that it would be a good idea to send black players there. In any event, none of three players would ever hear from Red Sox management again. The Sox would be the last major league team to sign a black player, and it would not happen until 1959. Jackie Robinson, the first black ever to play in the major leagues, went on to the Hall Of Fame with a career .311 batting average with the Dodgers, where he played alongside Pee Wee Reese.

After Williams returned from the war in 1946, Boston did win the American League pennant, their first in 28 years. The start of the World Series was delayed because of a best two of three game playoff necessary to decide the National League pennant. With a few days off, the Red Sox management came up with an idea that would hurt their star player and their World Series chances. They assembled a team of all-stars from the American League to face the Sox in two games to keep them sharp for the Series. In game two, against the All-Stars, Williams was hit in his right elbow by a pitched ball. The elbow turned blue and swelled up. This was the last thing the Red Sox needed. Then, rumors began to spread that the Red Sox were going to trade Ted. Red Sox management made no effort to confirm or deny the report so Williams had to deal with a damaged arm, trade rumors and the Ted Williams’ shift in the World Series. All the Red Sox management had to do was tell Ted that he wasn’t going to be traded. Instead, they waited until after the Series to tell him

The National League winners, the St. Louis Cardinals, opposed the Sox in the Series. Boston was heavily favoured but the Cardinals had other ideas.

The Cardinals used the “Williams Shift”, where they bunched all four of their infielders between first base and a few feet left of second. Due to the shift’s effect on Williams’ hitting (the Boston star batted only .200 with no home runs and just one RBI) and some strong St. Louis pitching, the Series went to the seventh and deciding game. Although Williams had his best games of the series, he did not reach base. Boston Manager Joe Cronin made a poor decision in that deciding game that cost the Sox the Series. With the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, Cronin took out pitcher Joe Dobson and replaced him with Bob Klinger, who had not yet pitched in the Series. With two outs and Enos Slaughter on first, Harry Walker lined a ball into center field normally occupied by all-star Dom DiMaggio. However, DiMaggio had hurt his leg earlier in the game and had been replaced. Slaughter surprised the Sox by not stopping at third, and when shortstop Joe Pesky hesitated to throw, Slaughter scored the winning run.

Two years later, the Red Sox had a new manager, Joe McCarthy, whose resume included a pennant with the Cubs in 1929 and four straight World Series titles with the New York Yankees in the late 1930s. Pennant fever once again gripped Boston. But McCarthy might have been the wrong manager for the Red Sox. He didn’t get along with many of his players, and tended to manage too much on his hunches. McCarthy decided not to use Tex Hughson, the one time ace of the pitching staff, because of their differences. Hughson had been a great clutch pitcher, having been the winning pitcher in the pennant clinching game in 1946.

When the season came down to a one game playoff game between Boston and Cleveland, McCarthy chose Denny Galehouse to pitch for the Sox. Although Galehouse had a 4-1 record as a reliever and had pitched well for the St. Louis Browns in a key game against McCarthy’s Yankees two years earlier, more telling was his 4-6 record as a starter in 1946.

Galehouse lasted less than four innings, giving up a pair of home runs and leaving with game out of reach. McCarthy should have started one of the Sox aces (Hughson among them) and if he had tired or gotten in trouble, then Galehouse should have been brought in.

The next year the Red Sox season again came down to one game. Going into the last game of the season against the Yankees, Boston and New York were tied for first place. McCarthy and the Sox trailed 1-0 going into the top of the eighth when McCarthy decided to pinch hit for his starting pitcher, Ellis Kinder. Not only did the Sox fail to get a run in that inning but in the bottom of the inning, the Yankees finished off Boston with four runs against Hughson, who was a poor reliever. If McCarthy had left Kinder in, who knows what might have happened? Perhaps those three runs in the ninth would have meant a 3-1 Boston victory.

The Red Sox then went through several different managers to try to return them to glory. All failed until Dick Williams guided them to a pennant in 1967. The season had been a traumatic one for Boston. They won a tight pennant race on the last day of the season in a game decided by only two runs. The Sox had lost their promising outfielder, Tony Conigliaro, for the end of the ‘67 season and all of 1968 when he was struck down by a pitched ball in an August game. Essentially, the Sox had only two good starting pitchers, one of whom was Jim Lonborg, who had pitched the last game of the season and thus would not be able to start the first game of the World Series against St. Louis.

Lonborg kept the Sox alive in the Series, but the Sox other strong starting pitcher, Jose Santiago, injured his elbow in the fourth game and was not available for game seven. Dick Williams decided to go with Lonborg in the deciding game, but it would be on two days rest.

When Williams decided to leave Lonborg in with Boston trailing 4-1, the tired Sox hurler gave up a three run home run to once again end the Boston World Series dream.

Another management decision involving a pitching change in game seven of a World Series, this time against the Cincinnati Reds in 1975, might have cost the Sox another Series. Sox reliever Jim Willoughby was keeping the score tied. As with Ellis Kinder, it was his turn to bat in the eighth so Boston manager Darrell Johnson decided to hit for him, but the Sox failed to score. In the ninth, Sox reliever Jim Burton gave up the winning run.

Three years later the Sox management surprisingly decided to get rid of two very popular and valuable players, pinch hitter Bernie Carbo and pitcher Bill Lee. After Carbo was traded the Red Sox closed the season on a stretch where not one pinch hitter hommered or even knocked in a run. That same year, Bill Lee, a fairly good lefty, slumped early in the season and was not used down the stretch by manager Don Zimmer. Zimmer decided instead to use Bob Sprowl who was nowhere near Bill Lee’s status as a pitcher. At the end of the season, Lee was traded to the Montreal Expos, where he had an impressive 16 win, 10 loss record the next year. The loss of these two players removed the heart from the team. While neither Lee nor Carbo were Hall of Famers, they were two players who had made significant contributions for Boston.

But it has certainly been more than just bad management that has hurt the Sox. In many cases injuries to star players have damaged Boston’s chances for American League pennants and World Series crowns. Even with their loss to the Cardinals in 1946, the Red Sox looked like a team destined for at least a few more pennants. Their big weapon, aside from Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio and Vern Stephens, was their strong pitching staff. With Tex Hughson, Dave Ferriss, Joe Dobson and Mickey Harris, the Sox had tremendous depth.

Dobson had a great year in 1947, but almost every other pitcher got hurt. Ferriss hurt his arm and would retire prematurely in 1950. However, the worst injury to the Sox around this time was to Ted Williams who suffered an arm injury in the 1950 All-Star game. The Sox finished the season with a commendable 94-60 record but, had Williams not missed 64 games, it is a good bet Boston could have won the pennant.

Nearly two decades later, the Sox assembled another promising team with a very strong pitching staff. But as before, injuries interfered with the Sox’s chances as pitchers Dick Morehead, Jose Santiago, and Jim Lonborg were struck down in their primes.

Morehead, who tossed a no-hitter on September 15, 1965, hurt his arm the next season and never regained his old form. Santiago and Lonborg both were hurt within a season of each other. Lonborg had a 22 win season in 1967, but that winter he hurt his arm in a off season skiing accident. While he eventually recovered, it was not until a few years later that he made significant contributions, and by then he had been traded. Santiago had a few good years with the Sox, especially in 1968 when he had an excellent earned run average. Unfortunately, he became the victim of a sore arm and retired in 1970.

Boston had two injuries to deal with in the 1975 World Series that undoubtedly contributed to their loss to the Reds. Jim Rice their strong left fielder, missed the entire postseason. Then, in the World Series, Bill Lee was pitching very well in the seventh game. But going into the seventh inning with a 3-2 lead, Lee developed a blister and had to be taken out.

Three years later another valuable Sox player was lost at a key time in the season. With Boston neck and neck with the New York Yankees for the pennant, Dwight Evans, who was winning games with both his glove and his bat, was lost for the last 15 games of the regular season. Eventually Boston would lose a one game playoff to the Yankees by one run. Perhaps, had Evans been healthy, the Sox could have won the pennant that year.

The final insult to the Boston Red Sox has been their endless string of bad luck. Their teams in the 1940s had to go against the New York Yankees, who, except for the war years, pretty much dominated the American League from 1936-1964. During that time the Sox fielded some of their finest teams ever. In 1948 and ‘49 Boston won 96 games each year, usually enough to win a pennant. Williams or no Williams, their 1950 team was very good too; but only good enough for third that year.

It was a similar story after their pennant win in 1967. Again, the Sox fielded some good teams prior to their next pennant win in 1975 but that era was dominated by the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers.

Not only has the team had bad luck but also individual players have suffered bad luck as well. Boston was sent back three seasons (1943-1945) with Ted Williams off fighting for Uncle Sam in World War II. Then in the 1952 season, the Boston slugger volunteered for duty in the Korean War, never to play more than 136 games in a season for the rest of his career, which ended in 1960.

One of the greatest players ever to suit up for the Boston Red Sox was Jackie Jensen, who was the American League MVP in 1958. Jensen though, suffered from a fear of flying, and retired for good at the end of the 1961 season. He was only 34 years old.

The Red Sox biggest tragedy of the 1950s was Harry Agganis, the Golden Greek. In 1955 Agganis was in his second year with Boston when he suddenly died of a pulmonary embolism.

Another bad luck case around this time was Jimmy Piersall, a great fielder with a strong arm, who was the heir apparent to Dom DiMaggio. Piersall who was a schizophrenic suffered a nervous breakdown in 1952 when he was only 22. He recovered, but in 1954, he hurt his arm in a throwing contest. He would never throw the same again.

The Red Sox had further bad luck with one of the premier relief pitchers in the early sixties, Dick Radatz, nicknamed the monster because of his size. Unfortunately, Radatz was stuck on a bad Boston team and by the time the Sox became contenders, his overpowering fastball had lost its kick and he had been traded.

Incredible bad luck once again struck the Red Sox in 1972, when they finished second by a half a game because of a players’ strike. The rival Detroit Tigers played one more game and that made the difference.

Finally, probably topping every other instance of Red Sox futility was their loss to the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series. In game six, the Sox carried a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the tenth and were just one strike away from winning their first Series since 1918. However, a base hit, a wild pitch, and then an error by first baseman Bill Buckner who was known for his defense led to a 6-5 Mets victory. Then in game seven, New York rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win the Series.

Thus as the 2002 major league season begins, all Red Sox fans undoubtedly wish that poor management decisions, injuries to key players and their run of bad luck will end and Boston will after eighty four years again be the World Series champion.

Makes the 2004 and 2007 World Series that much more worth it, eh?


References


Anderson, D. (1994). Pennant races: Baseball at its best. New York: Doubleday.

Golenbock, Peter. Fenway: An Unexpurgated History of the Boston Red Sox. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1992.

Johnson, Dick, and Glenn Stout. Ted Williams: A Portrait in Words and Pictures. New York, NY: Walker, 1991.

Linn, Edward. Hitter: The Life and Turmoils of Ted Williams. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993.

Nemec, David. 20th Century Baseball Chronicle: A Year-by-year History of Major League Baseball. Montreal: Tormont, 1992.

Seaver, Tom, and Martin Appel. Great Moments in Baseball. New York, NY: Carol Pub. Group, 1992.

Total Baseball. 1994 Edition. CD-ROM. Chicago, Ill: Creative Media. 1994.

Sports Reference LLC.  Baseball-Reference.com - Major League Statistics and Information. http://www.baseball-reference.com/. (Retrieved April 3, 2002)

"History Of The World Series-1946." http://www.sportingnews.com/archives/worldseries/1946,html (Retrieved March 7, 2002) (Broken link)

"History Of The World Series-1967." http://www.sportingnews.com/archives/worldseries/1967.html (Retrieved March 7, 2002) (Broken link)

Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns. Prod. Ken Burns. PBS. 1994. Television.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Stanley Cup Finals 2010

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Stanley Cup Finals:

Chicago vs Philadelphia

And now, there are two

Amazing...I've picked Chicago in every series and I've picked every team to beat Philly, except Montreal.

Chicago won in four straight over San Jose. But every game was close. Chicago showed tremendous fortitude. They will probably need that in this series. Philly just keeps doing things that have so rarely been done in, not only hockey, but pro sports.

For Chicago, boy, has Toews (pronounced "Tays" by the way) been getting it done. He has now 26 points, including 19 assists in just 16 games. He keeps this up and he might have the best single season playoff assist total ever by someone not named Gretzky or Lemieux. And then you have Patrick Kane (who is also all of 21 years old) with 20 points. Continuing the onslaught is Sharp (16 points), Hossa (11 points), Byfuglien (8 goals. Alright, I admit, I don't know how to pronounce his name, even though I've heard it said 100 times this playoff alone), Bolland and Keith.

Keith, Seabrook and the continuing surprising Hjalmarsson, are manning the fort on defence. Seabrook is an impressive plus 8 in 16 games. And then their is the unsung defencemen on this team: Brent Sopel and Brian Campbell.

Niemi was tested against the Sharks, twice facing over 40 shots a game. This will be his first Stanley Cup Finals. Previous trips to the finals for the Hawks, in goal, were the following goalies:

1961 Glenn Hall (407 wins)

1971 Tony Esposito (423 wins)

1973 Tony Esposito (again)

1992 Eddie Belfour (484 wins)

2010 Antti Niemi (27 wins)

Kinda looks out of place, don't you think? But, of course, Niemi is far from finished his career. It's just he's not far removed from the beginning. Funny though, Hall played in a Stanley Cup final in his first full year (earlier in 1956 forDetroit), Esposito and Belfour in their second full year. So Niemi isn't so alone, after all! And one way or another, this playoff experience will be a huge experience to build on.

Philly, meanwhile...I gotta say this: This has got to be one if not the most amazing run to the Stanley Cup final, ever. Two original six teams set aside plus and excellent New Jersey. Injuries have been shrugged off, odds have been laughed at, and history has been made.

Whose making it? Leighton, the team itself, but more on that later.

Mike Richards continues to get it done when his teams it needs it. Now he has 21 points in 17 games and is a plus 6. Briere also continues his strong play with 18 points. Then you have the surprising Claude Giroux. A point a game and a plus 10! Simon Gagne is playing like he is unfazed by his injury. After returning in game 4 vs Boston, he went on a seven game point scoring streak. He's been held scoreless for the last two games...but look out in the final. Leino and Carle (10 points and a plus 8 for the defence) might be overlooked, but Chicago better not do that in the finale. Jeff Carter, by the way, returned for Flyers after missing 11 games and scored 2 goals in the clinching fifth game against Montreal. Fan favourite (and opponent pest) Daniel Carcillo once again proved to be one of the games best aggitators in that series against the Habs, so expect that to continue in the finals.

Defence, or should I say, "Offence"? The defencemen on this team are getting it done at both ends. Pronger's overall game (+/- wise), statistically, might be overshadowed by Carle, but he's still got 14 points in 17 games. Also to pay attention to: Timonen. Like Carle, he's looking for his first goal of the playoffs, but he now has 8 points and a plus 6. Brandon Coburn is a plus 7.

As for goaltending, Leighton set a Flyers record for most shutouts in in one series with three against Montreal. Throw away game three of that series and he allowed 2 goals in 4 games! He seems to be getting better with every series and maybe every game. He will be tested severely by Chicago. Boucher is apparently going to be available for game 1 of this series, although it is quite likely he won't be playing, at least starting. He's been great, too. But the long layoff might hurt him. Hard to stay on a roll when you're injured.

Chicago in the finals has more guys comming in 100%. Gagne, Carter, Lapierriere (Boucher, too if he plays) are comming in less than that. But even with a fully healthy Flyers, I just feel it's Chicago, with their depth, and road play (they've won seven games on the road in this years playoffs) that make me feel they've got this series. They're going for their first Cup since 1961, and right now I can't see anyone stopping them.

Prediction: Chicago in six games.


References


"Official Site Of The National Hockey League." NHL.com. The National Hockey League, n.d. Web. 06 June. 2010. <http://www.nhl.com/>.

Sports Reference LLC. Hockey-Reference.com - Hockey Statistics and History. http://www.hockey-reference.com/. Web. 06 June. 2010.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Stanley Cup Final Four: Western Conference

Now we move West, a short distance to Chicago, and then a long way to San Jose!

Chicago vs San Jose

Chicago comes in after another tough series against Vancouver. Chicago is getting it done on the road, which they will need to do in this series as they are giving away home ice for the first time in this years playoffs.

How good on the road? They've won five straight games on the away, and have only lost one game overall outside from the United Center.

One again, Chicago pressed Vancouver in their own end with tenacious fore checking and got through Luongo. Can they do that against San Jose? I finished this up in MS Word after game one...and so far I think so.
Leading the way offensively was Jonathan Towes. He's red hot with now with 21 points in 13 games. Patrick Kane, ever dangerous, leads the team with 7 goals. Defenceman Patrick Keith and Duncan Keith have been getting it done at both ends for the Hawks.
As for some surprises, Dustin Byfuglien has scored 5 goals, but many of them have been clutch red lights. Marian Hossa is now in his third straight conference finals, and has been steady, although unspectacular. You never know what to expect from him. But right now, he leads the team in an unlikely category: penalty minutes (19). None of them have been at bad times...but that does show some grit, now doesn't it. That has always been something that I felt Hossa lacked in '08 and '09.
Among other defenceman, Brent Sopel and another surprise, Niklas Hjalmarss, have really been getting it done in their own end.
Goaltending? Antti Niemi is getting better with every series. Yeah, he got shelled some games against Vancouver, but is playing so well that Cristobal Huet has almost become and afterthought in goal. Having won game 1 against San Jose (44 saves, by the way), Niemi is making the most of his first ever season in the playoffs at the NHL level.
San Jose has been no less impressive then the Hawks as evident by their series against Detroit. For those who remember, the fierce fins won their first ever playoff series against Detroit back in 1994. And now, years later, they had to again weather the storm to beat them.

5 games? Yes, it was. But all four wins by San Jose were by 1 goal, and San Jose showed their poise by coming back to win that crucial game 3.

For San Jose, the offence is more spread out than Chicago. Pavelski, Thornton, Heatley, Boyle and Clowe ALL have more than 10 points. Right behind them is Devin Setoguchi and Patrick Marleau with eight points.

On the defence, in addition to Clowe is Douglas Murray and Jason Demers. Don't overlook their offence, either. Combined they have 11 points in 12 games. And lets not forget about the ageless Rob Blake. This is his forth decade of playing, and at age 40 years, he is providing a good veteran presence.

Evgeni Nabokov has stepped it up in the postseason, putting up numbers on par with Niemi. I'm not about to overlook his game one performance against Chicago: 38 saves in a narrow 2-1 loss.

But that loss may set the tone for the series. Statistically, it's close. But the reality is the Hawks come in with last years semi-finals experience and the hunger to go at least one step farther. San Jose, I think, is probably glad that they're appearing in their second conference finals in franchise history. That tells you something.

Prediction: Chicago in six games


References


"Official Site Of The National Hockey League." NHL.com. The National Hockey League, n.d. Web. 24 May. 2010. <http://www.nhl.com/>.

Sports Reference LLC. Hockey-Reference.com - Hockey Statistics and History. http://www.hockey-reference.com/. Web. 24 May. 2010.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Stanley Cup Final Four: Eastern Conference

And now we have two...unlikely teams in the East. The West was a little for expected.

Not since way back in '93 have the Habs (I should call then, "The Halaks") advanced so far. Now they've got back to back game seven wins, on the road, no less.

Can this continue. Hot goalies, even of the unexpected source, can carry you a long way.

Winning two series has come with a bit of a cost. Andre Markov got hurt in the Pens series and could be gone for the rest of the postseason. Also Hal Gill, who blocked many a shot, has been stitched up after all that rubber to his back leg. How well he plays in any one's guess. Ditto for Spacek, who has missed more than a few games. Subban has certainly picked up the slack, though.

But the real story here is Halak. Here's his story:

Czeck born and all of just-turned 25 years, he has been the story of the playoffs. No, he's not Ken Dryden (6 games played prior to an amazing playoff run in '71). Nor is he Roy (just one full season plus 20 minutes in a game the previous season, prior to going on a run in '86).

But, boy, has this guy been good! Let me throw you a few stats of his...

14 games played
8 wins
6 losses
464 shots against (An average of 33 shots against per game)
430 saves
2.63 goals against average
.927 save percentage

Probably more impressive is his performance in the clutch. Five difference times he has faced a do-or-die game situation. Down 3-1 to Washington and 3-2 against Pittsburgh. Here's what he has done in those five games:

5 Wins
0 Losses
210 shots against (That's an average of 42 shots against in important situations)
202 saves
1.60 goals against average
.962 save percentage

Now that's grand!

The Canadians have used the system of (team) shot blocking and clear the man in front. Although, I have felt that neither the Caps nor the Penguins got enough bodies in front of Halak. Still they got some timely scoring!

Providing that is Mike Camalerri. 12 goals and 18 points in 15 games. So many of those tallies have been important. Plus you have Brian Gionta with 7 goals. Now, other than that, their offence has not much this spring.

But with Halak...do they need it? I think against the Flyers, they will.

As for the Flyers, their path to the semi-finals has been nothing less remarkable than Montreal. And they, too have paid a price for their advance.

They've needed two goalies. First Brian Boucher, who was red hot. He got Philadelphia past the Devils and then got hurt helping Philly past the Bruins, after being down 3-0. He won game 4 in OT, no less, then had to be replaced by Micheal Leighton, who continued the shutout in game 5 and then proceeded to capture game six and seven. Game seven was also won on the road.

Leighton is more like Ken Dryden than Halak, he's played just 103 games since joining the NHL back in 2002/03. This is his first ever postseason at the NHL level. Lifetime, his regular season record is 34 wins, 40 losses and 20 ties/OT and SO losses. He was third on the Flyers this year in games played among goalies.

But with Ray Emery and now Boucher out for the rest of the season, Micheal has found his calling and stepped into the spotlight admirably. His numbers, including game one of this series against Montreal:

4 games played (one in relief)
3 wins
0 losses
1.12 goals against average
.959 save percentage

Very impressive. Can this continue? Maybe a better question is can all this magic by the Flyers continue?

Philadelphia's two centers, Danny Briere (8 goals) and Mike Richards each have 17 points in 13 games. Claude Giroux is averaging a point a game (13 points in 13 games). Chris Pronger has another gold medal earlier this year, another conference finals in the spring, and is getting it done at both ends (11 points in 13 games).

What about injuries? Lapierrier has been out since the New Jersey series, as has Brad Richards. There is a chance that both could return, but it will not be until later this series, at the earliest. Simon Gagne returned in the Bruins series, and has a point all five games since returning. He also has 5 goals in that stretch. So he's back near 100%

The deciding factor could be if the Flyers get done what the Caps and Pens didn't: getting bodies in front of the net. No matter how good the goalie is, if he can't see it, he can't stop it. I watched game one of this series (A 6-0 Philly win) and the Flyers did exactly that. They've got a team to do just that for seven games if needs be.

Prediction: Philadelphia in six games


References


"Official Site Of The National Hockey League." NHL.com. The National Hockey League, n.d. Web. 22 May. 2010. <http://www.nhl.com/>.

Sports Reference LLC. Hockey-Reference.com - Hockey Statistics and History. http://www.hockey-reference.com/. Web. 22 May. 2010.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Playoff Predictions Round 2: Western Conference

Now for the Western Conference, where all will not be quite.

Detroit vs San Jose

The Fierce Fish advanced thanks to Joe Pavalski (5 goals) and Ryan Clowe (8 points). Nabakov was great, with a 1.76 GAA and .926 S%.

The six game victory over Colorado will not erase some of their past postseason miss deeds, but here comes a chance for redemption for San Jose. They have the home ice advantage, plus Detroit might very well be tired after the length (7 games) and travel (game 7 was on the road) after their first round battle.

The key for San Jose will be the first two games at home. They have to try to stop Detroit from stealing one of the first two games, as winning in Detroit has been a tough go for the Sharks. In the event of a game seven, or even the crucial game 5, San Jose can look to the friendly confines for support.

Detroit won a back and forth series against Phoenix. And rookie goalie Howard deserves at least some credit as it was his first ever playoff series. Perhaps the play of Halak (Montreal) overshadowed his strong performance; but still, winning a game 7 on the road in your very first playoff series shows a lot of poise.

Can it continue? Perhaps. I've always been a believer in the, "Further you advance, tougher it gets" point of the playoffs. For a rookie goalie, this is no exception.

But the offence? Nine Detroit players registered 5 or more points in the seven game showdown. Goalie Nabakov can expect a strafe attack from game one on. Zetterberg and Datsyuk in particular were in their usual playoff best mode.

Even so, I'm going with San Jose to break the jinx.

Prediction: San Jose in seven games.

Vancouver vs Chicago
Prepare yourselves for what might be the most interesting series of the playoffs so far...and maybe of the entire postseason for that matter. There two teams DO have a history.

Immaterial, but I still get a laugh out of a playoff game played almost 30 years ago between the Hawks and the 'Nucks. Remember, bad refereeing against Vancouver in game 2 of the '82 Semifinals? What do you do...Why you surrender of course!






Ah, what it must have been like to see the above live.

More recently, the two teams met last year. At one point in the series, it was 2 games to 1 for Vancouver, plus they had a lead in game 4 with just three minutes left. Alas, the Hawks tied it and then won the game in overtime. All the games were fairly tight, but in the end, Chicago prevailed in six games, winning the finale 7-5.

I think the 2010 series can trump last years. For Vancouver, you have Luongo, who staggered a bit against the Kings, but was "on" when he had to be. That kind of a series where you're not at your best and still win anyway may help Roberto. As mentioned before in my first round prediction, his Olympic experience should shatter the myth that he's not a "money" goalie. A performance like that here, could turn even more doubters to believers.

I've already become a believer in this team. Beating a Kings team with over 100 points was no small feat. They did it with Daniel Sedin continuing his regular season pace (85 points in 63 games to 10 points in 6 games). Brother Henrik was a little off. But is 8 points (7 assists) that much off? In the playoffs, he's been there when needed. As has Mikael Samuelsson. This guy is on a tear! 7 goals and 11 points in just 6 games! Kesler and Demitra chipped in to balance the offensive attack.

Chicago? Shaky at times against Nashville. They too, were tested. Six games later, they were rewarded with a well earned victory. Lets start with the most important position, goalie

Niemi symbolized the Blackhawks. Brilliant at times, erratic at others. Nevertheless, his two shutouts cannot be overlooked, and neither can his supporting cast. And while were on the subject of goaltending, lets not forget about the other goalie, ready and willing to step in. Maybe I should have said, "Goalies"!

Cristobal Huet once played goal for the Montreal Canadians. Yes, in the playoffs. Now that alone should point to "knowing what it's like", come playoffs. His regular season play was not that far off Niemi's. And should Annti Niemi and Huet both fail, the is still Corey Crawford, who was called up recently. Here's a goalie who grew up in the Quebec Major Junior League, and has some playoff experience at AHL level. The Hawks will probably not use him, but he's still another goalie who can develop as a possible backup.

Chicago's offence in the playoffs was spread out, as was it during the regular season. You have Jonathan Toews with 8 points, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa all with with 7 points.

Niklas Hjalmarsson had a strong series against the Preds on defence for the Hawks, as did Brent Sopel.

The offensive depth of this team is something that may prove to be a little too much for the Canucks to overcome.

Prediction: Chicago in six games.


References



"Official Site Of The National Hockey League." NHL.com. The National Hockey League, n.d. Web. 11 May. 2010. <http://www.nhl.com/>.

Sports Reference LLC. Hockey-Reference.com - Hockey Statistics and History. http://www.hockey-reference.com/. Web. 11 May. 2010.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Playoff Predictions, Round 2: Eastern Conference

So the first round is over, with some surprises, and the second round promises to entertain! Lets Start with the Eastern Conference, as two match ups promise a lot of catching up to do in terms of, "When we last met!"

Boston vs Philadelphia

I'll start of by saying that the two teams have not met in the postseason since 1978. Don Cherry was the Bruins coach and still very far from the entertainer that he now is.

Boston advanced thanks to some goaltending from Tuukka Rask. He thwarted the Sabers in many crucial situations, while even getting an assist at the other end! This is still his first ever playoff and it will be interesting to see if he can continue. If he does, this series is as good as Boston's!

The veterans Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan displayed the presence that the Bruins were no doubt hopping for. Each got 5 points in the six games against Buffalo. But they didn't do it all alone. The offence was spread out nicely, and it remains to be seen if this will continue. In any event, in order to win this series, the Bruins will need others to kick in.

The others are the youngsters. Namely, David Krejic and Patrice Berguion. They too had 5 points, proving that the offence is spread out.


The big question is the status of Marc Savard, who has been out since March. He had 33 points in 41 games, but a hit by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke has sidelined him since. He practiced with the team last Tuesday and is looking to return, but the Bruins might want to be cautious as to when he should return. Remember the same situation with Eric Lindros in 2000?

Dennis Wideman (4 pts), Matt Hunwick (4 pts) and Zdeno Chara (2 goals) were all good two way defenceman in the previous series.

They may not need to do as much this series, as the Flyers are battling injuries, but they will be tested in their own end.
Speaking of Philly, their advance was as shocking as Montreal's. The reason for advancing? A goalie without a last name that starts with "H", Brian Boucher. He wasn't good when he had to be, Brian was good all the time! 1.59 GAA, .940 S%, both lead the playoffs. See now, Flyers? Why'd you get rid of this guy, oh say, a decade ago. He's back like he never left!

He wasn't the only player who stepped up against New Jersey. I would remiss not to mention Daniel Carcillo. Oh...the pest? The child? The rattler? And also, the player, we are forgetting! He scored only two goals, but one of them was an overtime winner, another put game four out of reach. I'm not sure if he can continue the hot hand, but if Carcy does, the Flyers might get off on the right foot.

But the right foot injuries have hit both Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, who will in all probability miss the entire series with injuries. They will be missed, as Carter lead the team in regular season goals and Gagne had 40 point in only 58 games. Also Ian Lapierre is out for the rest of the playoffs with a brain contusion.

Still, Mike Richards with 8 points, Claude Giroux with 4 goals, and Danny Brier are ready to go. The veteran Chris Pronger will man the defence. I feel, however, that they are the underdogs and two straight surprises are "two" much.

Prediction: Boston in six games.

Montreal vs Pittsburgh

This has been a while, too. Last time these two teams met was back in '98, when I was still in highschool.


Somewhere on the streets of Montreal lie the names of great goalies past. Vezina, Hainsworth, Duran, Plante, Worsley, Dryden, Roy...how about Halak?

Needless to say, his performance...can words describe it? Without underrating it? I'll say this: If that wasn't like Dryden in '71 or Roy in '86 and '93 than I hope I can see something, someday that tops that!


Montreal comes in having pulled off an upset. Can they do it again? They'll need their goaltending and their defence again.

Halak stopped all but three in as many games as the Canadians rallied from three games to one down. They are going to be tired. How about Halak seeing a lot of rubber again? That's definitely a strong possibility. He faced 134 in his last three games and could expect to see shots at about the same pace in this series. With a seventh game road victory under his belt, he has the poise and the confidence to have a chance.

Helping out in front of Halak were three very good defencman: Andrei Markov (4 pts), Marc-Andre Bergeron (3 pts), and Roman Hamrlik. But also stepping up to block shots were ex-Penguin Hal Gill, Josh Gorges and the other Jaroslav, Spacek (2 points in 3 games). Spacek's status is a bit unsure as he is battling a virus that has felled him since game 3 against Washington. Montreal would like to have him back, soon. Also on board for this series is P.K. Subban with two points in two games.

As for the offence, the Canadians turn to their three twenty goal scorers: Plekanec, Cammalleri, Gionta. They contributed with some very opportunistic scoring against Washington. Facing Pittsburgh, they will have to continue.

As for the Pens, it was quite the offensive display against the Sens, and where better to start then with Sidney Crosby?

He was everywhere in this series, even throwing a body check that knocked down the Sens Daniel Alfredsson. He dove across the goal line to stop a goal, he shook of countless defenders for goals and passes. He worked, worked, worked. 14 points in 6 games.

And he had help! Evgeni Malkin, who can be really great in the playoffs (like last year), added 8 points, four of them goals. Agile, long reach, the Habs will have their hands full with him, too. And another problem could big Jordan Staal, who is the third center on the team. Older veterans like Bill Gurein, Chris Kunitz and Sergi Gonchar added a point a game (6) in that series.

Their defence wasn't that impressive outside of Mr Gonchar. But it didn't really need to be in the Ottawa series, and it may not need to be here. I've always found the Penguins defence to be underrated. They have a defence that blocks shots, takes the body, and goes into the corners. Montreal can expect a tough physical series from Pittsburgh.

Mark-Andre Fleury didn't overly impress me in the Ottawa series, but watching a talk show the other day, one of the callers was Pens announcer Phil Bourque. He brought up and interesting point about Fleury: Yes, his stats aren't great so far in the playoffs, but he is concerned about one stat: The "W" next to result. I look for him to step it up playing against the Habs

Injury wise, the Pens are missing defenceman Jordan Leopold and winger Tyler Kennedy. Both will probably return to the Penguins sometime in this series. The Pens might not miss them, as they looked pretty strong against Ottawa, but the more healthy bodies in the playoffs, the better.

Prediction: Pittsburgh in six games.



References


"Official Site Of The National Hockey League." NHL.com. The National Hockey League, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2010. <http://www.nhl.com/>.

Sports Reference LLC. Hockey-Reference.com - Hockey Statistics and History. http://www.hockey-reference.com/. Web. 30 April. 2010.