A victory to remember

Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup victory is one that many young fans will remember for the rest of their lives. It recalls two victories that are indelibly marked on my memory.

The first parallel victory is the Montreal Canadiens’ triumph over the Chicago Black Hawks in 1971. Chicago (like Detroit) had home ice advantage. Chicago (like Detroit) won the first two games at home. Montreal came back and forced a game seven — back in Chicago’s building.

That was the last time a team won game seven on the road, in the Stanley Cup finals. Thirty-eight years later, Pittsburgh has just duplicated Montreal’s feat.

The second parallel victory is the Edmonton Oilers’ 1984 triumph over the New York Islanders. The Islanders had won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1979-80 through 1982-83. They were the veterans and the Oilers were the young up-and-comers.

The Islanders and the Oilers met in the finals in two consecutive years. The Islanders won in 1983; in ’84, it was the Oilers who prevailed. The Oilers thus launched a dynasty of their own (four Stanley Cups in five years).

Similarly, Pittsburgh and Detroit these past two seasons.

Detroit hadn’t won four consecutive Stanley Cups, but they did win in 1996-97, 1997-98, 2001-02, and again last year (2007-08). This is a formidable, veteran team:  they have a dozen players who can break your heart with a timely goal, and they never get rattled in the face of adversity.

The Penguins are the young up-and-comers. Last year (like the 1983 Oilers), they lost to Detroit in the finals. This year (like the 1984 Oilers), the Penguins prevailed.

Check out this table, adapted from TSN’s Sportscentre:

Age Contract continues through
Marc-André Fleury 24 2014-15
Evgeni Malkin 22 2013-14
Sidney Crosby 21 2012-13
Jordan Staal 20 2012-13

Sidney Crosby just became the youngest team captain ever to win a Stanley Cup.

As for Jordan Staal:  it seems to me that his shorthanded goal in game four was the turning point of the series. With Detroit already leading 2-1, Detroit had two consecutive power plays. They might have taken a commanding lead in the game (and hence the series) ;  instead, Staal’s terrific shorthanded goal tied the score and Pittsburgh quickly seized command of the game.

Here’s another remarkable table, also adapted from TSN’s Sportscentre. Until now, only two players had managed to scored over 30 points in the playoffs when they were only 22 years old or younger. This year, the Penguins added two names to that short list:

Year Points
Wayne Gretzky 1983 38
Evgeni Malkin 2009 36
Barry Pederson 1983 32
Sidney Crosby 2009 31

Evgeni Malkin was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy, as the Most Valuable Player in this years’ playoffs. He is the first Russian ever to win that trophy. (Perhaps causing Don Cherry, who often disparages European players for their lack of intensity in the Stanley Cup playoffs, a little heartburn.)

Did this years’ playoffs mark the end of the Red Wings’ dynasty? I wouldn’t go that far — they will continue to be a formidable contender next season.

But this years’ playoffs almost certainly mark the beginning of the Penguins’ ascendancy. Pittsburgh ought to be among the favourites to win the cup every year through at least 2012-13.

Stanley Cup finals, game seven

I’m not exactly live-blogging, because I want to watch the game! So here we are in the first intermission — still tied 0-0.

That doesn’t mean it has been a boring game so far. Maybe you have to be a hard-core fan to appreciate the game in the absence of goals; but it seems to me there has been plenty of action.

I’m rooting for Pittsburgh — the underdog. It’s a real achievement just to keep Detroit off the scoreboard, at Joe Louis arena.

And in fact, Pittsburgh dominated for at least ten or twelve minutes, beginning around the six minute mark. They held off the initial flurry that you can typically expect from the home team, and then took the play to Detroit for an extended stretch.

Speaking of flurry — er, Fleury — the Pens’ goalie made a couple of big saves toward the end of the period.

So — so far, so good for Pittsburgh. Here comes period two!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Second intermission. You want goals? — You got ‘em. Pittsburgh 2, Detroit 0.

Both goals were scored by Maxime Talbot. No one scripted the game like this!

Malkin got an assist on the first goal.

Osgoode made a mistake on the second. It was a two-on-one; Osgoode was too far to his right, giving Talbot (the puck carrier) a little extra room on the glove side. And Talbot fired the puck perfectly, into the top corner of the net.

Crosby, who has only a few points in the finals, may be out for the rest of the game. He was pinned against the boards by Franzen, and Crosby couldn’t put any weight on his left leg afterwards.

That was at the mid-point of the second period. Crosby hasn’t returned to the ice since then.

I’m at MacLaren’s, a sports bar on Elgin Street in Ottawa. The place is hoppin’. They have plenty of beer, but they’re running short of glasses and pitchers to put the beer in.

I’m here because it’s sort of like being at the game. Whenever there’s a goal, or a good scoring chance, the crowd lets out a roar.

Welcome to Canada. In a post-Christian era, hockey is the closest thing we have to a state religion.

Bring on period three! Pitts-burgh, Pitts-burgh, Pitts-burgh!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2-1, Pittsburgh. Crosby and Malkin will be drinking champagne from the Stanley Cup tonight!

The crowd at MacLarens booed lustily when Gary Bettman (NHL commissioner) appeared on camera. But they cheered when Pittsburgh hoisted the silverware.

Marian Hossa, who failed to score a single goal for Detroit in this series, was on the ice during the last seconds of the game. He used to play for Pittsburgh; he moved to Detroit because he expected them to win the Stanley Cup. I guess it didn’t work out for him.

Hossa used to play for the Ottawa Senators, and he never failed during the playoffs. Never failed to disappoint, that is.

Pittsburgh played good defence in the third period. But Detroit finally scored with 6:00 minutes left in the game.

Then they hit the crossbar with about 2:00 minutes left in the game.

Then — with 1.2 seconds left in the game — Marc-Andre Fleury made the biggest save of his career.

The puck squirted over to Lidstrom, with no one between the Detroit defenceman and the net. Except Fleury, who had to dive across to make the save.

Crucially, Fleury didn’t go down to the ice. He threw his whole body across, upright, and Lidstrom’s shot went off Fleury’s chest protector.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What great playoffs we had this year! And what a great finals!

Decided by a single game, and a single goal in that final, seventh game.

This is the sort of event sports fans long for. But a finish like this happens only a handful of times in a fan’s lifetime.

Live blogging game five of the Stanley Cup finals

The last time we checked in on the Pittsburgh Penguins, they were winning an easy victory in game seven of their tough series against the Washington Capitals.

After that, the Penguins dispatched the Carolina Hurricanes in a four-game sweep.

Pittsburgh then lost the first two games of the finals (in which they are playing the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Detroit Red Wings). Then they won the next two games, making tonight’s game a pivotal match-up. Which team will seize the advantage, three games to two, and put the other team on the brink of elimination?

Pittsburgh has the momentum, but the Red Wings are a superior team on home ice. I’ll be shocked if the Red Wings don’t dominate Pittsburgh for long stretches this evening. Pittsburgh’s goaltender, Marc-André Fleury, will have to perform at the top of his game tonight.

But Detroit looked tired in game four — particularly Henrik Zetterberg, who has the unenviable task of shadowing Sidney Crosby and trying to keep him off the score sheet. Zetterberg was extremely effective during the two games in Detroit, but Crosby got a goal and an assist in game four (in Pittsburgh). Whichever player wins that game within the game tonight, it could determine which team is victorious.

first 10 minutes of period 1

The first big shift of the night went to Malkin’s line. No goal, but the Red Wings were pinned in their own end for an extended period of time, and there were two good scoring chances. I’m surprised; I expected the home team to put Pittsburgh on the defensive early.

Play is intense, as you might have assumed. Fleury just made a fine save off an attempted tip-in. Then Detroit’s Kronwall took the first penalty of the game, in the neutral zone.

But Pittsburgh couldn’t muster any significant threats on the power play.

last 10 minutes of period 1

And we have the first goal of the game. Detroit’s Dan Cleary got off a quick shot which flicked off a defenceman’s stick, between the defenceman’s feet, and past a surprised Fleury. 6:28 remains in the first period.

Pavel Datsyuk got an assist. He is just returning to the lineup after missing seven games with a foot injury.

Now we’re seeing the Red Wings we expected. Pittsburgh is back on their heels, fighting to prevent a second goal.

A couple of good chances at the end of the period; one at each end. Pittsburgh’s chance led to a questionable penalty — called against Pittsburgh. Kunitz gave Detroit’s goalie, Chris Osgoode, a slight bump, and he was called for goaltender interference. It looked to me like Osgoode embellished it because he saw a chance to fall backward and knock the net off its moorings (thus ending the play).

Regardless, Detroit will begin period 2 with a powerplay.

first intermission

The main observation at this point is this:  Detroit’s goal changed the tenor of the game.

Actually, there was a nice bit of symmetry with game three. Detroit was dominating game three until they had two consecutive, ineffectual power plays. It was Pittsburgh who scored, shorthanded. Detroit quickly gave up two more goals, and the outcome of the game was determined by those five minutes.

Likewise, Pittsburgh’s ineffectual powerplay was followed by a Detroit goal tonight. Pittsburgh dominated play prior to that point; Detroit dominated the rest of the period.

first 10 minutes of period 2

Pittsburgh’s in deep trouble. The penalty had just expired when, at the 1:44 mark, Filppula scored for Detroit.

The play began when Osgoode got control of the puck and saw that the Penguins were changing “on the fly.” Osgoode passed the puck to Hossa, all the way down at the Pittsburgh blue line. Hossa made a sweet saucer pass to Filppula. Filppula protected the puck, pulled it aggressively to his right and, as Fleury was shifting across the front of the net, Filppula slipped the puck between his legs and in. Good plays by all three Red Wings; Osgoode earned an assist.

Another penalty on Pittsburgh. Another Detroit goal, by Kronwall. He carried the puck out from behind the Pittsburgh goal line. Three defenders stood by, seemingly mesmerized.

And now, another Pittsburgh penalty. And another Detroit goal. This time by Rafalski, through a screen by Holmstrom.

The game hasn’t reached the halfway mark, and it’s 4-0. Whenever I live-blog a game, it’s a rout!

last 10 minutes of period 2

According to the CBC, Detroit scored those three goals in 6:44. It really is a mirror image of game three.

second intermission

5-0 at the end of two periods.

final thoughts

Remember the Zetterberg/Crosby matchup I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Zetterberg scored the Red Wings’ fifth goal, after an assist on an earlier goal. Crosby was a -2 on the night, meaning he was on the ice for two Detroit goals, and no Pittsburgh goals.

Henrik ZetterbergHenrik Zetterberg

As for the goalies:  Chris Osgoode earned a shutout, and Fleury was replaced by the Penguins’ backup goalie after Detroit’s fifth goal.

But never mind Crosby and Osgoode. When you get right down to it, there weren’t any Penguins who made a positive impression tonight.

Live blogging Caps/Pens game 7

I’m sitting in the Georgetown, a local sports pub, watching the game.

Sydney Crosby scored the first goal of the game a couple of minutes ago:  it’s 1-0, Penguins. A typical Crosby goal:  i.e., from the side of the net.

Sid the Kid Crosby

On the very next shift, the Pens won the faceoff at centre ice, carried the puck into the Capitals’ zone, and scored again to make it 2-0. We’re about two thirds of the way through the first (20 minute) period.

About one minute later, Varlamov (the Washington goalie) made a terrific pad save — otherwise, this game might be all sewn up.

The Penguins carried the play through the rest of the first period. Varlamov is doing his job:  i.e., he has kept the Pens from scoring a goal that would almost certainly put the game out of reach.

You never know what you’re going to get in a game 7. The series has gone to overtime in three games out of six, and two other games were also decided by a single goal. By rights, this ought to be a close game. But sometimes one team is just out of gas, and you end up with a blowout.

(first intermission)

Don Cherry is dressed downright sedately tonight! Sedately for him, that is, with a Boston Bruins tie and a gold suit jacket. (Cherry was the Boston Bruins coach, decades ago; the Bruins colours are black and gold; and the Bruins are in a game 7 of their own tomorrow night.)

On Saturday night, Cherry wore a white suit jacket, covered in very large, brightly-coloured flowers. Essentially a tacky slip cover for a couch (Canadians might say a chesterfield). I’m not exaggerating:  Cherry buys the cloth at Fabricland and has his suits tailor made.

The Georgetown is buzzing with hockey fans (and their girlfriends, although some of them may be hockey fans, too). I’m disappointed by the beer selection, though. On Saturday, the Georgetown had Old Speckled Hen (a British import) on tap. Tonight, I had to settle for Moosehead. A Canadian beer, which is nice, but I prefer ales to lagers.

(second period)

Oh, oh:  Pittsburgh opened the second period by stealing the puck at their own blue line, and racing down the ice to score a goal. Bill Guerin got it:  a veteran who is showing the poise and savvy his coach would hope for.

Varlamov probably should have made the save — and now he has let in a fourth goal. On a first look, Varlamov should have made the save on that fourth goal, too; but on the replay, it was a blazing slapshot to the top corner of the net.

Regardless, Washington’s coach has just switched goalies — a desperation ploy.

If we were in Montreal, the fans would be singing, “Nah nah nah nah /Nah nah nah nah / Hey hey hey / Goodbye.”
More

Basketball sucks

I know it’s déclassé to laugh at one’s own jokes, but this —

once you’ve seen fifty baskets, where’s the thrill in watching the second half?

— I’m going to be chuckling over that line all day!

Montreal Canadiens’ century ends with a whimper

The Montreal Canadiens franchise is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Unfortunately, it has been an annus horribilis, to borrow a phrase from the Queen.

The Canadiens are the most successful team in National Hockey League history. In fact, they won their first of twenty-four Stanley Cups before the NHL was founded in 1917. (Yes, the Stanley Cup was awarded before the NHL existed.)

Decade Stanley Cup victories
’10s 1915-16
’20s 1923-24; 1929-30
’30s 1930-31
’40s 1943-44; 1945-46
’50s 1952-53; 1955-56; 1956-57; 1957-58; 1958-59; 1959-60
’60s 1964-65; 1965-66; 1967-68; 1968-69
’70s 1970-71; 1972-73; 1975-76; 1976-77; 1977-78; 1978-79
’80s 1985-86
’90s 1992-93
2000s none

Note that the Canadiens had won at least one Stanley Cup in every decade — until this one. Actually, they still have one more chance in 2009-10. But a Stanley Cup victory is extremely unlikely:  after a disastrous season, the Canadiens are entering a rebuilding year.

For much of the year, the Canadiens were riding high in the standings. At one point, it seemed possible that they might even overtake the Boston Bruins for first place in the Eastern Conference. But then the team went into freefall. They lost so many games that it seemed they might ultimately fail to make the playoffs.

It was alleged, part way through the season, that underperforming Canadiens players were partying too hard, including drug use. It was also alleged that some Russians on the team were associating with organized crime figures. The rumours are unsubstantiated; but the negative press certainly constituted a major distraction to an already-struggling team.

The Canadiens had just begun to win again when their top two defencemen were both injured in the same game. At the end of the year they gained only one point out of a possible eight. They were lucky even to make the playoffs.

(In fact, the Canadiens were tied with Florida at 93 points each. Both teams had the same number of wins, but Montreal made the playoffs because they had beaten Florida in games played between those two teams.)

So the Canadiens barely limped into the playoffs — and were promptly eliminated, in a four-game series sweep, by the Boston Bruins.

It was, indeed, a horrible year. Here are the Canadiens in happier times (1968). Yvan Cournoyer, one of my all-time favourite players, is pictured celebrating a goal against the Chicago Black Hawks.

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