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by Heath Price-Khan / Arizona Coyotes

“The Playoff Blog” by Heath Price-Khan is “Hockey Headquarters” for continuing thoughts and insights throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This page is all about emerging stars, unsung heroes, clutch performances, and overtime battles that go deep into the night. Check this page often for the latest news and commentary on all things hockey!
(All entry times Pacific)

Updated June 5 at 3:16pm

Final Thoughts

Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom might be best conditioned athletes in the world. These guys never ran out of gas at any point in the playoffs. Did they ever even have a bad shift?

They always say you can ride a hot goalie to the Stanley Cup and this year that guy was Chris Osgood.  He was getting splinters from the bench when the playoffs started and now he is once again a champion.

Evgeni Malkin did not look like an MVP candidate for most of the finals, but he was Pittsburgh’s best player in Game 6. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. They needed him to make an impact much earlier in this series.

Ryan Malone is going to be a very rich man when he signs his next contract. This unrestricted free agent did everything one could possibly do to raise his stock. His agent’s phone will be ringing off the hook.

Pittsburgh proved you can turn a franchise around quickly if you make the right draft picks. They were built with strength up the middle by drafting Crosby, Malkin, and Staal at the center position over a 3 year period.

The Phoenix Coyotes have taken Hanzal, Mueller, and Turris in the last 3 drafts and although the players are different, the thought process is the same. Can these three guys be the building block for three strong lines?

Depth wins championships. The Red Wings proved that.

Updated June 4 at 4:40pm


The NHL and NBC have big time momentum when it comes to ratings for this series. Tonight should get the best rating yet for the series and the sky is the limit if we get a game seven. Drawing in the casual viewer is what the NHL needs. People need to buy into what a tremendous series this is becoming.

Remember when Detroit hammered Pittsburgh by a combined score of 7-0 in the first two games? That was not captivating a nation with interest. If the Penguins can win game six, the real winner will be the NHL and NBC.

While we are talking momentum, the Penguins have two guys that should have plenty.

Marc-Andre Fleury played the game of his life and I expect more of the same from him. That masterpiece he delivered in the last game should make him a very confident player.

Evgeni Malkin delivered a perfect pass to set up Petr Sykora's game winner. Who would have thought he would have to wait until the third overtime in the fifth game to finally record a point? Could this be the moment that Malkin returns to being a dominating force on the ice? If his battery is recharged the Penguins will be a different team.

Pay close attention to the way Malkin looks in the first 10 minutes. Detroit is in deep trouble if he comes out jumping!

Updated June 3 at 9:44am

NBC’s hit show “Heroes” is done for the season, but there are a cast of Penguins that are picking up the slack!

What a miraculous win for the Pittsburgh Penguins and maybe an even bigger win for the NHL. You can bet all the water cooler talk around America is going to center on last night’s three overtime thriller at Joe Louis Arena. The NHL needs this kind of buzz and it took a lot of heroes for the Penguins to force a Game 6 Wednesday Night at Mellon Arena.

Marc-Andre Fleury could have been labeled the goat after letting in a soft goal that cost the Penguins Game 5 and put them in a 3-1 series hole, but last night he flipped the script and turned in a legendary performance. His 55 saves were timely, acrobatic, and more often than not game saving. In the first overtime period Detroit dominated play outshooting Pittsburgh 13-2, but every time they came knocking, Fluery shut the door. After last night no one can question why this guy was taken 1st overall in the 2003 draft.

Next in a long line of heroes was Maxime Talbot. Most would have been shocked that he was on the ice when Pittsburgh pulled the goalie with under a minute to go in regulation, but Head Coach Michel Therrien had a hunch, and that hunch paid off. Talbot’s relentless effort resulted in the game tying goal and extended the Penguins season.

How about Petr Sykora going “Babe Ruth” and calling his shot for heroics? Pierre McGuire told everyone listening on NBC that Sykora had announced that he was going to score the game winner and send this series back to Pittsburgh. At 9:57 of the 3rd overtime, he delivered on his promise and rifled a shot top shelf while his team was on a four minute power play. This is nothing new for Sykora, who has scored his share of late night playoff overtime goals including one in the 5th overtime of a 2003 playoff game when he was with Anaheim.

Ryan Malone also has to be mentioned for taking a puck to the face and then returning to the ice in a lot of pain. This is the time of year when warriors battle through the type of pain that most of us will never understand.

Sergei Gonchar crashed into the boards and took what seemed to be a crippling blow that shelved him for the first two overtime periods, but somehow he battled back to be on the ice for the game winning goal and even picked up an assist.

Evgeni Malkin had not scored a point in the series until he set up Sykora for the game winner. He looked much more focused in the overtime periods, so maybe he has regained his "mojo". It is bad news for the Red Wings if this ignites Malkin and gives him a second wind. If Malkin can continue his strong play in Game 6, we may be headed back to Detroit for a Game 7.

All you need to know about how valuable Ryan Whitney was last night is this he played 50:46 and was a +2. When Gonchar went down with an injury, it seemed like he never left the ice. This guy is my unsung hero for the night and he was even on the ice for Sykora’s game winner.

Hal Gill, Brooks Orpik, and Rob Scuderi all played over 40 minutes so hats off to them as well.

The countdown to Game 6 is on! You can bet “The Steel City” will be rocking on Wednesday!

Updated June 2 at 12:04pm

Evgeni Malkin is still scoreless after 4 games in the Finals and that is a major reason his Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves down 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings. If they are going to avoid elimination and send this series back to Mellon Arena for Game 6, Malkin is going to have to be an impact player tonight. I am not saying he needs to score a hat trick, but he needs to at least be the second best player on the ice for Pittsburgh.

Marc Andre-Fluery cannot another allow a soft goal like Saturday Night’s game winner to Jiri Hudler. Detroit is way too good to get any gifts in this series and Chris Osgood does not seem to be willing to return the favor.

Speaking of Osgood, if Detroit ends the series tonight he is going to get a lot of votes for the Conn Smythe Trophy. It is hard to come up with a more deserving candidate after his back to back shutouts in the first two games of this series. Osgood is now 13-3 with a 1.45 GAA in the postseason which is going to make him the frontrunner to take home the hardware.

Other candidates on the Wings that are in contention for MVP honors include:

Johan Franzen leads everyone with 13 goals and has been the surprise star of the playoffs. If he pumps in a couple goals tonight he will get a lot of votes.

Henrik Zetterberg trails Sidney Crosby by one point for the playoff lead in scoring with 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) and has a +16 rating to lead the NHL. While Zetterberg’s scoring makes the headlines, it is his massive amount of ice time and sound defensive play that could earn him the trophy.

Nicklas Lidstrom (NHL’s leader in average ice time 25:48) and Pavel Datsyuk (20 points) are so good that you have to mention them in the Conn Smythe race.

Updated May 30 at 10:48am

Saturday Showdown in Primetime

Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals will have a very interesting opponent on Network TV on Saturday Night when CBS debuts a mixed martial arts program called “EliteXC Saturday Night Fights”. On the West Coast the NHL will not go head to head because of the time difference, but in markets like New York City, people will have to choose whether to watch “Sid The Kid” or “Kimbo Slice”, who is the marquee name on the MMA telecast. If anyone thinks hockey is too violent, they should watch a couple minutes of barbaric mixed martial arts action.

Let’s hope the NHL wins this ratings war, because anyone that watched the brilliant end-to-end action in Game 3’s third period should be pumped to pull up a chair for Saturday’s crucial Game 4.

The stage is set for an epic game because the skill level on these teams is so much better than the last few Finals.

Anaheim vs. Ottawa (2007 Finalists) and Edmonton vs. Carolina (2006 Finalists) did not have anything resembling Crosby, Malkin, Hossa, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Franzen. These guys are dynamic highlight machines that can make game changing plays in the blink of an eye.

The only thing more exciting than the game on Saturday will be the anticipation about what outfit Don Cherry will be wearing on SportsCenter after the game. He will have to dig deep into his time warped wardrobe closet to top the rainbow coat he sported on Wednesday. That was a legendary piece of gear!

Updated May 28 at 9:28am

Matching Lines

Tonight, Pittsburgh Head Coach Michel Therrien gets to make the final line change and that will certainly be something to keep an eye on. Look for him to do everything he can to get Sidney Crosby’s line on the ice anytime Nicklas Lidstrom is taking a breather……too bad it seems like Lidstrom is always on the ice. Regardless, this is going to be an interesting chess match tonight between Therrien and Wings Coach Mike Babcock.

Perfect timing for the NHL on NBC! Tonight’s game is the first Primetime NHL game on NBC this season and since every show seems to have already had its season finale we should see some good ratings. Just think if this game was on last Tuesday it would have ran up against the American Idol finale.

When you have the NHL matched up against new episodes of “So You Think You Can Dance”, “Wife Swap”, and “Farmer Wants a Wife”, you would hope even casual fans will tune in for a little Stanley Cup action.

All I can say is I hope the Penguins score a goal before the “Farmer Finds a Wife”!

Updated May 27 at 1:15pm

Don’t Turn Off Your TV’s Yet!

The Red Wings may have steamrolled the Penguins at Joe Louis Arena with back to back shutouts, but this series is a long way from being over.

The Penguins have been unbeatable at home during the postseason as they cruised past the best the Eastern Conference had to offer. The Senators, Rangers, and Flyers have all come up empty at Mellon Arena, so Detroit has their work cut out for them in Games 3 & 4.

If you want the answer to where things started to go wrong for the Penguins you can find that solution before the puck even dropped. When they made their way to the ice at Joe Louis Arena for Game 1 they were jacked up and ready to go, then the unthinkable happened. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury faceplanted as he was coming onto the ice and was almost trampled by his stampeding teammates in front of a sold out house……I cannot think of anything worse for a netminder’s confidence…can you? If you don’t believe me, you can go to YouTube and track down the video.

This is the type of traumatizing event that forces a guy to spend a year with a sports psychologist. Fleury was in the hunt for the Conn Smythe Trophy, but after this his confidence seems to be wavering and the results have been sub par.

Speaking of the Conn Smythe Trophy, I think they need to amend the rules a bit this year if the Red Wings win and give it to their European Scouts. These guys have been the best in the business for a long time. If you wonder why the Red Wings have been good for so long, it is because they grab the “low hanging fruit” from Europe in the later rounds of the draft.

Here’s the proof.

Pavel Datsyuk (6th round choice, 171st overall, in 1998) Sverdlovsk, Russia
Valtteri Filppula (3rd round choice, 95th overall, in 2002) Vantaa, Finland
Johan Franzen (3rd round choice, 97th overall, in 2004) Vetlanda, Sweden
Tomas Holmstrom (10th round choice, 257th overall, in 1994) Pieta, Sweden
Jiri Hudler (2nd round choice, 58th overall, in 2002) Olomouc, Czech Republic
Niklas Kronwall (1st round choice, 29th overall, in 2000) Stockholm, Sweden
Nicklas Lidstrom (3rd round choice, 53rd overall, in 1989) Vasteras, Sweden
Henrik Zetterberg (7th round choice, 210th overall, in 1999) Njurunda, Sweden

If it was easy to pluck this kind of talent in the late rounds from Europe everyone would be doing it. Their scouting staff has done a remarkable job of sniffing out talent from around the globe. Out of all the guys I listed, Kronwall was the only 1st round pick, and he was taken at the bottom of the 1st round.

The only team in pro sports that I can possibly compare this to is the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA. Their ability to spot International talent has been the best in the NBA and it has paid off with a dominant decade that has seen them win multiple NBA Championships. Tony Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), and Fabricio Oberto (Argentina) have been big reasons why you can pencil the Spurs in as a contender every year.

Updated May 20 at 4:30pm

On American Idol tonight we have a showdown featuring David (Cook) vs. David (Archuleta), but when the Stanley Cup Finals begin it will be Goliath vs. Goliath.

After watching the Conference Finals, it is very clear that the NHL’s two best teams will be facing off for the right to drink champagne out of the Stanley Cup. This will be a battle of heavyweights with no weaknesses and some of the most gifted hockey players in the world.

Who has a better one-two punch? Is it Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, or Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg?

How about the fact that Datsyuk was drafted 171st overall in 1998 and Zetterberg was taken 210th overall in 1999? Can you say late round value…..Wow!

This is going to be a good one!

Updated May 19 at 9:35am

On May 12th I wrote that Marty Turco has been good, but that being good was simply not going to be good enough against Detroit. He must have been reading because the last two games he has elevated his play to great, and suddenly we have a legitimate series. Saturday’s performance against Detroit at Turco’s “House of Horrors” (Joe Louis Arena) was heroic on many levels, and not just because of the 38 saves.

Turco’s amazing puck handling skills jump started the offense of both of Dallas’ goals. He was the quarterback that ignited the offense all day. For a goalie to go into a building that had been kryptonite during his entire career and finally get his first win in an elimination game was spectacular.

His career record is now 1-9-2 at Joe Louis Arena, and if Dallas can win at home tonight in Game 6, he will get a chance at making it two in a row.

Sidney Crosby has now led his team to the Stanley Cup Finals in just his 3rd season. To put that in perspective, it took Wayne Gretzky four seasons to get his Edmonton Oilers to the Finals. Not bad for a 20 year old.

Updated May 16 at 9:25am

Thank you to the Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars for extending their series and guaranteeing us a couple hockey games over the weekend!

The Flyers came out with a lot of fire in the first period last night and Dallas was the same way in their game 4, so you wonder why some teams need to be facing elimination to play with that type of desperation. In the Game 5’s, they will need to be even more desperate for this simple reason…….No one has beaten Detroit or Pittsburgh in their buildings during the playoffs.

Nashville, Colorado, and now Dallas have all found it is just about impossible to win at Joe Louis Arena.

The Senators, Rangers, and Flyers have all come up empty in the win column at The Igloo.

The law of averages would say that eventually one of these teams will lose at home. If it does not happen in this round, you can bet it will in the Stanley Cup Finals!

Updated May 14 at 12:15pm

How about the job Ray Shero has done as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins!!

One move he made at the trade deadline did not get a ton of publicity, but it has really paid off in the postseason. Hal Gill stands 6’7” and weighs 250 pounds which is a huge road block for attacking forwards to get by. He may only have one assist in 12 playoff games, but his team is 11-1 in those games and he is logging a ton of ice time.

To get Gill, Shero only had to part with a 2nd round pick and a 5th round pick…….what a steal that has turned out to be.

The big move Shero made was getting Marian Hossa who came in with the stigma as a guy that disappears in the playoffs. Hossa has put all that to rest with 15 points (8 goals, 7 assists) in just 12 games.

It looks like we are headed for a Penguins-Red Wings battle to see who will raise the cup. If that happens, Ray Shero deserves as a much credit as anyone for making that a reality.

Updated May 13 at 12:25pm

It is pretty amazing to think that a couple weeks ago Detroit was locked up in a 2-2 series battle with the Nashville Predators and the way they were struggling it looked like they might make an early exit. Then in Game 5 Head Coach Mike Babcock turned to Chris Osgood and now they have won 9 straight games in a convincing fashion.

Osgood is now 9-0 with a stingy 1.47 goals against average…..not much you can say about that other than wow!

Counter attack….no one does it better than Detroit because Datsyuk and Zetterberg are so sound defensively. One mistake and they are gone the other way for a goal. Zetterberg’s shorthanded goal last night was a scary solo effort. He broke Brad Richards down and then abused Marty Turco. It almost appeared like he was toying with them.

Dallas was 0-6 on the power play last night. Now they are 1-15 in the series and that is not even close to good enough when you are playing the Red Wings.

That series is officially over at 3-0 with the way Detroit is playing.

As for the other series, the Flyers are in deep trouble. First they lost Kimmo Timonen to injury and now Braydon Coburn has joined him in the training room on the shelf. Stopping Crosby and Malkin with your best defenders is tough enough….try doing it without your two top guys and you have no chance.

Unless Philly can pull off a miracle this may be a sweep as well.

Paging Danny Briere and R.J. Umberger…..your team needs you to resurface tonight!

Updated May 12 at 12:55pm

If the Dallas Stars and Philadelphia Flyers are looking for something to give them hope after losing the first two games of their series, they might want to take a look at what is going on in the NBA’s Western Conference Semifinals right now.

The Utah Jazz looked like they were going to get steamrolled by the LA Lakers after two rough outings at Staples Center in LA, but they got a big boost from the raucous home crowd in Utah and evened up their series at 2 a piece after Sunday’s overtime win.

The San Antonio Spurs faced the same challenge when they returned home down 2-0 to the New Orleans Hornets, but Head Coach Greg Popovich made some adjustments and his team responded with back to back wins. That series is now knotted at 2 games, and momentum has swung to the Spurs.

So what does this mean for the Stars and Flyers? Can they hold serve at home and turn these series into a best of 3?

Dallas will not have to face “The Mule” Johan Franzen tonight as he is still battling a concussion so this is a golden opportunity to slow down the high powered Wings. The crowds in Dallas have been electric so they will need to come out flying and get that building rocking early.

Marty Turco has been good in this series, but that is not going to get it done against Detroit. He needs to be great in these next two games.

I would be shocked if we do not see a special effort from Brenden Morrow tonight. He will be hitting everything that moves!

We all know about what Philadelphia crowds can be like so expect that packed house to be all over Malkin and Crosby every time they touch the puck.

Danny Briere has to step up and become more of a factor if they are going to get back in this series. He was a dynamic player in the first two rounds and he needs to elevate his play in Game 3.

Mike Richards has shown why he will one day wear the “C” on his chest, but this team needs balance to overcome Pittsburgh’s Big 2!

Where is R.J. Umberger? He needs to start scoring goals again for Philly like he did in round two with 8 against Montreal.

Don’t turn your sets off yet. Playoff series don’t really start until a team wins a game on the road.

Updated May 9 at 2:35pm

Here are a couple quick thoughts about last night’s Stars-Wings game.

Dallas needs to either stay out of the penalty box or tighten up the defense when they are shorthanded. Allowing Detroit to go 3 for 7 on the power play will have this series ending in a hurry. Oddly enough, in the four regular season games these teams played, Dallas only gave up 15 power play opportunities which is less than 4 a game. The Red Wings only converted once in those 15 chances. I would bet that the Stars coaching staff will be cuing up some video to remind their team how to get the job done.

Marty Turco still has never won at Joe Louis Arena during his NHL career so he needs to figure out how to snap that curse, or get the golf clubs ready.

As for the Penguins-Flyers series, I really hope this gets mean and nasty like all in-state rivalries should.

Also, look for Don Cherry on ESPN SportsCenter tonight. He will be the guy in the horrendous sport coat that makes Barry Melrose look like a fashion icon! In all seriousness, Cherry will be providing some intentional and unintentional comedy that you won’t want to miss!

Updated May 8 at 10:05am

My predictions in Round 2 were flat out awful! Dallas was the only team that came through for me so how could I possibly turn my back on them and go with Detroit?

Tonight is going to be the key game for the Stars as they enter Joe Louis Arena with a ton of momentum after a four overtime thriller against San Jose Sunday Night. They need to jump on the Wings early and hope they are a little rusty after a long layoff.

Think about what Dallas has done in the first two rounds against Anaheim and San Jose……they rolled into the Ducks home building and swept the first two road games… Round 2, they went into San Jose and did the same thing.

To do that in Detroit may be unrealistic, but I think they are going to win at least one of these first two games and take the series in 6. At this point it just seems that Brenden Morrow will not allow them to lose.

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are going to have Pennsylvania divided for the next two weeks.

This rivalry has featured a couple of the most memorable playoff games in the last 20 years!

On April 25th 1989, Mario Lemieux scored 5 goals and added 3 assists as the Penguins won by a field goal 10-7. Believe it or not, the Flyers would rebound from that performance and win the series in 7 games.

How about the marathon game on May 4th, 2000 when Keith Primeau finally sent the crowd home at 12:01 of the 5th overtime period, ending one of the longest games in NHL history. That 2-1 victory helped the Flyers once again end the Penguins season in 6 games.

This year, Philadelphia will not have an answer for the deadly duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They are healthy and clicking on all cylinders which is very bad news for the gritty Flyers.

Look for this to be a short series with the Penguins winning in 5 games unless Marc-Andre Fleury lets his team down in net.

Updated May 7 at 9:21am

As I was driving in to work this morning I had the pleasure of catching a great interview on the Tim Brando radio show with Mike “Doc” Emrick who called in from Joe Louis Arena in Detroit at the Red Wings morning skate. Hearing two of the best in the sports broadcasting business talk hockey was great because Brando does not dedicate a lot of time to NHL banter on his show.

During the interview Brando asked Emrick which of the remaining four teams has the best second line and “Doc” said it was a dead heat between the Penguins (Malkin’s line) and the Red Wings (Franzen’s Line). While that is an interesting question, I would have been much more curious about who he thinks has the best third line. My guess is that he would have chosen Dallas’ third line led by Mike Modano in the middle, but who knows!

Here is an interesting thing “Doc” Emrick pointed out…….

Marty Turco has not won in his last 10 trips to Joe Louis Arena……..then again, there are not a lot of goalies that have much success in the Red Wings home barn…..if anyone should feel comfortable it is Turco who manned the nets for four years as a member of the Michigan Wolverines.

Dallas has started both series they have played on the road. The swept the first two games in Anaheim and then went in to San Jose and did the same thing. Can they do that to Detroit? I guess we will find out tomorrow on Versus when “Doc” and Eddie O call Game 1!

Updated May 6 at 11:34am

Here are my picks for the leading Conn Smythe Trophy candidates for each team that is still alive in the playoffs.

Philadelphia: R.J. Umberger has come on strong with a team leading 9 goals in 12 games, but no one has had a bigger impact on the Flyers than Danny Briere. His 8 goals have been timely to say the least. The power play has been successful because of Briere’s ability to shake free of defenders which has led to his 5 power play goals. Add in a team leading 3 game winning goals and it is tough to not choose the little spark plug.

Pittsburgh: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both are tied with a team high 14 points in 9 games, but I am going to have to give the nod here to goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury. Talk about an unsung hero, Fleury has been rock solid through two rounds. He may not be making the saves that get you on SportsCenter, but if you look at his numbers it is hard to argue against his case for MVP honors. The .938 save percentage is world class…..1.76 GAA is more than stingy…..and who would not want a guy between the pipes that is 8-1? Add in 2 shutouts and this guy gets my vote for the Pens!

Dallas: Sometimes there is not a statistic that can accurately measure dominant play. If there was, Brenden Morrow would be off the charts. The Stars Captain plays with a distinct purpose and when he is on the ice you cannot possibly overlook the damage he is doing to his opponents. His 7 goals lead the team, but it is really the way he leads that separates him. Crushing checks, timely goals, and a contagious desire to win every game makes this guy a very unique and special player. You can never have too many guys like Brenden Morrow on your team……you are lucky if you even have one.

Detroit: Here is the scary thing about the Red Wings, Chris Osgood has not lost a game in net and he has a 1.52 GAA with .937 save percentage and he is still not the MVP of this team so far. Johan Franzen has 11 goals in 10 games including 9 in the 4 game sweep over Colorado. His numbers are staggering with 4 on the power play, 2 shorthanded, and 4 game winning goals. To put this in perspective, Franzen only had 12 goals in 80 games during the 2005-2006 season. The following year he had 10 goals in 69 games. This year he only had 38 points (27 goals) in 72 games. Occasionally, there are players that get hot in the postseason and put up out of this world numbers. Fernando Pisani did it in 2005-2006 when he scored 14 playoff goals for the Edmonton Oilers, this year that guy is clearly Johan Franzen.

Updated May 5 at 10:54am

The NHL’s Final Four are ready to go!

It took five hours and seventeen minutes for a winner to be decided in Dallas last night in what was one of the most exciting games you will ever see! Just over nine minutes into the fourth overtime period, Captain Brenden Morrow ended the San Jose Sharks season with a power play goal that sent the Stars and their fans into a frenzy.

Morrow has been such a special player in these playoffs. He makes an impact on every shift. If you don’t notice him every time he is on the ice, you are simply not paying attention. If he is not creating scoring chances for his teammates, then he is making an impact with his physical play. There was not a defender on San Jose that could move him from in front of Evgeni Nabakov once he planted himself in front of the net.

Did you see what Morrow did to Zbynek Michalek’s brother Milan at the end of regulation? It was quite possibly the hardest clean hit of the postseason. Morrow sent a big time message to all the Sharks that he was playing for keeps.

It takes 4 games to win a postseason series and Morrow accounted for two of those wins with overtime game ending goals. This guy does everything a captain should. What a tremendous leader!

Speaking of tremendous, Marty Turco and Evgeni Nabakov were unreal last night in net.

Nabakov made 53 saves including one of the most memorable robberies of this postseason on Brad Richards with a sprawling glove save.

Turco left the Sharks shaking their heads all night with a career high 61 saves. His two-pad stack on Patrick Marleau will have fans in Dallas reminiscing for a long time!

Earlier in the day we had a much shorter overtime game as the Penguins disposed of the Rangers in the first overtime on a goal by Marian Hossa. If you watched this game and saw how careless the Rangers’ defensemen were with the puck, you knew this was bound to happen. Henrik Lundqvist had to repeatedly bail out his teammates after countless bad decisions by a normally reliable backline.

The final mistake was made by Dan Girardi who tried to control the puck with his skate instead of his stick. That snafu resulted in Hossa ripping one by King Henrik before he could make the save.

Now the Conference Finals are set, and the match-ups have the potential to be fantastic.

The battle of Pennsylvania will feature Pittsburgh and Philadelphia where the gritty Flyers will try and match the offensive firepower of Crosby and Malkin.

Detroit and Dallas will do battle in the West where two hot goalies in Osgood and Turco will try and neutralize some very capable offenses.

More to come this week including some predictions on who will be battling in the Stanley Cup Finals!

Happy Cinco De Mayo!

Updated May 2 at 9:52am

You Don’t Mess With The Johan!

Next month Adam Sandler’s new comedy “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan” hits theatres across the country. This past week, the Colorado Avalanche unwillingly co-starred in Johan Franzen’s coming out party……clearly they do not want to mess with the “Johan” anymore. Barry Melrose calls him “The Mule” which must be his nickname, but after pumping in an NHL record 9 goals in a 4 game series, the Avs probably have a few different names for him.

Talk about a team playing at a disadvantage. Aside from the fact that the Avs faced a guy who was scoring at a record setting pace, they were missing Forsberg, Smyth, Stastny, and Wolski last night. Couple the injury brigade with a goaltender that played like he had his golf bag ready in his trunk and this got ugly.

“Rivalry Renewed” was how this series was billed, but after last night’s 8-2 shellacking there is not much of a rivalry here.

Another person it appears you don’t want to mess with is Jaromir Jagr. Once again, big #68 put the Rangers on his back and did everything in his power to get his team a win. After a 3 point night that included two goals, Jagr leads the NHL in playoff scoring with 15 points. Not bad for a guy that some people were saying was finished midway through the regular season.

MSG was rocking with chants of Hen-Rik---Hen-Rik---Hen-Rik all night for their goalie, “King” Henrik Lundqvist. Why wouldn’t they chant his name after shutting the door on Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway, and then a penalty shot with the score 1-0. Huge, Huge, Huge!

Speaking of Malkin, what in the world was he doing on that penalty shot. If you have not seen it, go check out the highlights….he approached the goal so slow that a NYC traffic cop almost gave him a ticket….the refs could have given him a delay of game penalty……Lundqvist was able to order a pizza and eat it before he had to make the glove save! If you think I am kidding, just watch it.

More on Malkin……I am not going to say he is a dirty player, but the way he went after Paul Mara in the final seconds was very shady. There is no reason for a league MVP candidate to try and leg sweep a guy with his back turned. If Malkin wants a piece of someone, I am sure just about any Rangers' player will be happy to drop the gloves and oblige him.

Sergei Gonchar also got into it late in the game last night and dropped his gloves……like Malkin’s situation, if you are going to challenge people, then you need to man up and take off your helmet and shield. It is that simple.

Keith Ballard on the Coyotes is the perfect example of doing things the right way. On the rare occasion that Ballard gets in an altercation and drops the gloves, he immediately takes off his helmet and visor.

Malkin and Gonchar need to be sent a tape of Ballard and learn a little something!

One last thing, if you look at this Pens-Rangers series, it is much closer than 3-1.

Game 1, the Rangers lead 3-0 before blowing it and losing.

Game 2, a very questionable quick whistle by a referee keeps the Rangers from tying the game.

Game 3, the Rangers rally back to tie the game at 3 and then Ryan Hollweg takes a stupid penalty that leads to a power play momentum swinging goal.

This series is not over, so make sure and catch Game 5 Sunday morning at 11….these teams do not like each other so it will be heated!

Updated May 1 at 9:00am

Earning his money!

Former Coyotes’ sniper Danny Briere had a career high 95pts during his contract year in the 2006-2007 season in Buffalo. That earned him a monster payday this past off-season from the Philadelphia Flyers who were looking to rebuild in a hurry. This year, Briere earned a whopping 10 million dollars, but he only delivered 72pts. On top of that, he was a -22 so you could certainly argue the Flyers were not getting their money’s worth.

It is safe to say that after 11 playoff games wearing the orange and black, no one in Philadelphia is regretting this monster move by GM Bobby Clarke. Briere has been everything the Flyers hoped for, and much more. His 14pts are the most by any NHL player at this point of the postseason and if the playoffs ended today he would get a boatload of votes for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Briere is not just scoring goals; he is scoring goals in crunch time. His 8 goals are tied for the NHL lead with Johan Franzen (Detroit), and it seems like every one of them has come at the perfect time.

Last night the game was on the line late in the 3rd period and Briere snapped a 2-2 tie on the power play to help the Flyers take a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Philadelphia has now won 7 games in the playoffs…..Briere has game winning goals in 3 of those games.

#48 is earning every penny in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Updated April 30 at 10:54am

The last thing the NHL needs is 3 sweeps in the Conference Semifinals. Ouch! The Rangers, Avalanche, and Sharks are all on the brink of elimination after losing hard fought games on Tuesday.

Jaromir Jagr played like a man possessed in NYC last night and had the Garden rocking when he tied the game at 3, but these Penguins will kill you when given opportunities on the power play. Malkin has been a beast with 13pts in only 7 games so far…..guess what…..the Penguins have not lost any of those 7 games.

As if being in a 3-0 series hole was not bad enough for the Rangers, the NY Daily News reported today that Sean Avery went to St. Vincent’s Hospital with a lacerated spleen late last night. His season is now officially finished and his team may not be far behind.

Johan Franzen scored his fifth goal of the series last night for the Wings as they held off the Avs 4-3. Couple that with the loss of Paul Stastny to a knee injury and this series is pretty much history.

Is it just me or does it seem like Brendan Morrow is on the ice causing havoc for every big Dallas Stars goal? There is a reason he wears the Captain “C”.

How about the fact that both goals they scored came from the backline with Sergei Zubov and Matty Norstrom delivering the goods!

Boy does the NHL need Montreal to knot this series with Philly and guarantee that at least one series will go 6 games.

Updated April 29 at 9:29am

Goaltending, Goaltending, Goaltending…….it is what wins and loses playoff games……and playoff series.

Last night the Canadiens outshot the Flyers 34-14 including a 17-2 third period where they dominated play from whistle to whistle.

Martin Biron made the big saves when he had to including a few highlight reel robberies late in the final frame.

Carey Price did exactly the opposite. Once again the rookie let his team down by allowing 3 goals on 7 shots in the second period. He put his team in 3-0 hole that they could not escape.

Price is not the only goalie that has disappeared in the second round.

Jose Theodore has already been given the hook twice for the Colorado Avalanche……and they have only played two games.

In most playoff years, this is about the time we start to talk about candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy and usually there are a bunch of goalies in that conversation. This year if you nominated a player from each team as that organization’s frontrunner it would be tough to choose any goalie.

There is no way this can last forever. Some goalie is going to strap a team on his back and take over a series. It has to happen……it always does.

Updated April 28 at 10:09am

Welcome back Sergei!

Sergei Zubov played his first game last night in over three months after surgery for a sports hernia and boy did he look good. His assist on Mike Modano’s game winning goal was vintage Zubov…..a spin-o-rama pass right on the tape for a huge power play conversion.

Zubov is probably one of the most underrated players in the league and he deserves more praise than he gets. During his time in New York with the Rangers he was overshadowed by Brian Leetch, but this guy has always been an absolute horse for whatever team he has played for.

In 1,058 career regular season NHL games he has 767 points including 615 assists. He is also a +152 during his fantastic career. In the playoffs, he has always elevated his play with 112 points in 154 games.

Let’s not forget that Zubov has two Stanley Cups as well!

I don’t have a vote for the NHL Hall of Fame, but if I did this guy would be a first ballot hall of famer!

Trade deadline moves that involve marquee players can pay big dividends or backfire.

Brad Richards and Brian Campbell were two of the biggest acquisitions at this year’s deadline and last night Richards certainly looked like the better move.

The 3rd period last night was simply owned by Richards who knows a little something about delivering in the postseason as a former Conn Smythe trophy winner. He scored an unassisted goal to tie the game and then delivered 3 more assists as the Stars rolled to a 5-2 road triumph. Scoring 4 points in a period in a playoff game is legendary stuff.

On the other side, Brian Campbell looks lost out there. His lack of production on offense has been evident, but the bigger problem has been his questionable play in the defensive end. If San Jose is going to get back in this series, Campbell has be much better because Dallas is playing at a very high level.

Updated April 27 at 10:06am

It is safe to say that Jose Theodore has seen enough of Johan Franzen! The Red Wings are starting to look scary and Franzen is playing the best hockey of his life. His 5 goals in the first two games of this series have been the difference. It looks like this will be a short series unless Colorado regroups and makes some serious defensive adjustments……and they need much much better goaltending!

The New York Rangers had a great opportunity to take Game 1 in Pittsburgh Friday with a 3-0 lead, but they allowed that game to turn into a track meet. If they are going to even up the series today it is imperative that they tighten up the defense and slow the pace down. Crosby & Malkin are going to win the majority of the 5-4 games so it will be interesting to see what kind of a game plan Rangers’ Head Coach Tom Renney goes with this afternoon.

Updated April 25 at 10:20am

The NHL playoffs were great last night, but believe it or not we have to start with some news from the AHL……

The Philadelphia Phantoms went deep into the night with the Albany River Rats in the longest game in AHL history. At 12:39 a.m. EDT last night the game finally ended at 2:58 of the 5th overtime period when Ryan Potulny gave the Phantoms the victory.

Would you believe the Phantoms had 101 shots on goal? River Rats goalie Michael Leighton made 98 saves before finally giving up the game winner…..It is safe to say that all of these players had no trouble falling asleep after this marathon!

To the NHL where the other team from Philly lost a heartbreaker in Montreal.

With just over a minute to go in regulation, the Flyers were leading by a goal when Mike Richards took down Alex Kovalev and headed to the penalty box.

The Habs had the NHL’s best power play in the regular season and they showed why as Kovalev made Richards and the Flyers pay with an overtime forcing blast that Martin Biron could not stop.

Overtime did not last long, less than a minute into sudden death Tom Kostopoulus banged in his own rebound and sent the Bell Centre into a frenzy!

How good is Alex Kovalev playing…a shorthanded goal late in the 2nd period to knot the game at 2….a power play goal to tie the game and force OT after drawing the penalty that gave his team the man advantage……he is providing the veteran leadership that this team needs, and may be headed for the Conn Smythe Trophy if Montreal can go the distance!

What is a Detroit-Colorado playoff game without fights, cheap shots, and Patrick Roy? Still pretty entertaining if you ask me! Colorado deserves a lot of credit for hanging tough in this game when you think about the obstacles they faced last night.

Peter Forsberg pulled a groin during the team’s morning skate and could not play.

Wojtek Wolski suffered an upper-body injury and did not return after the first period.

Jose Theodore was not at his best and was yanked early in the 2nd Period after allowing 4 goals on 16 shots.

Give the Avs a lot of credit…Peter Budaj came in from the bullpen and stifled the Wings as his team battled from 4-1 down to get within a goal. If Chris Osgood does not make a heroic save with under ten seconds to go, this game is going to overtime.

The Avs probably can’t win this series if Forsberg can’t play…..He is still one of the best players in the world.

This series is far from over assuming Theodore can return to his form in round one!

Updated April 24 at 2:22pm

It is officially prediction time for the Conference Semifinals. Here are my picks for the teams that will move on to the Stanley Cup Playoffs “Final Four”.

Colorado vs. Detroit

The return of Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote to the Avalanche has made them a force in the West. They might be the most talented team from top to bottom in the NHL with names like Sakic, Forsberg, Stastny, Hejduk, Brunette, Svatos, Wolski, and Smyth. Add in a rejuvenated Jose Theodore and this is a deadly team.

Avs in 6

Dallas vs. San Jose

San Jose did not look like a team that can go the distance in the first round and many would say they were lucky to escape that series with Calgary. If they play that way against Dallas they will be sent packing quickly.

The Stars are clicking all over the ice….great goaltending from Marty Turco…strong defense led by Stephane Robidas….four lines of balanced impact up front led by the guys in the middle (Modano, Richards, & Ribiero). They picked apart the defending Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks so their confidence could not be any higher.

Stars in 5

Philadelphia vs. Montreal

Both of these teams had to go seven games in this series so neither team will have to worry about any rust from inactivity.

The Habs had the NHL’s best power play in the regular season, but they struggled against Boston and only converted 3 of 33 power play opportunities. They have to be much better with the man advantage if they want to advance against the Flyers.

Philly’s orange and black attack has been led by Danny Briere whose 6 goals in round one are the best in the NHL. The Quebec native will return home and look to deny Montreal its 25th Cup.

This is going to be a long series where home ice will play a huge role. You play all season to make sure you get to host a game 7 and that will be the difference.

Canadiens in 7

New York vs. Pittsburgh

“The Steel City” against the “The City That Never Sleeps”……The Battle of Pests between Sean Avery and Jarkko Ruutu……Jordan Staal vs. Marc Staal……Young Guns like Crosby and Malkin against Seasoned Stars, Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan… many storylines to talk about!

Ultimately this series is going to come down to one man, and that difference maker is Henrik Lundqvist. He has to be spectacular, and he will be. The only thing that can stop Crosby, Malkin, and Hossa is acrobatic saves at key moments. Look for the Garden to be rocking and the Rangers to move on.

Rangers in 6

Updated April 23 at 10:22am

Jeremy Roenick and Joffrey Lupul……these were not the names you would have picked for hero status on a Tuesday Night with two series on the line…talk about coming out of nowhere to deliver massive performances when their teams needed it most.

“JR” was benched in Game 6 by Sharks coach Ron Wilson and many may have thought he had played his last game……Not so fast, after being shutout in Game 6, San Jose needed an offensive spark so they turned to the cagey veteran and he did not disappoint.

The 38 year old sniper who is in his 19th year looked like a kid again……Those young legs were flying all over the ice as he popped two goals and added two assists. Four point nights have been few and far between for JR recently so this was a heroic performance from a guy that was off the radar.

To put in perspective how forgotten JR had become in this postseason, my dad who is a huge hockey fan emailed me this morning and simply said, “I thought Roenick had retired”………Far from it!

For the Flyers, it was Lupul to the rescue! He had been bordering on invisible in this series with no goals as it headed to a sudden death overtime.

If you thought the Caps were going to win you were expecting Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, or maybe even a veteran like Sergie Fedorov to end the series with a game winning tally…..On the other side, Danny Briere, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Sami Kapanen would have been the likely candidates.

6:06 into the first overtime with the Flyers on the power play, Joffrey Lupul put home a rebound and within moments he was the most popular athlete in Philly. Rocky Balboa, Bobby Clarke, Dr. J, Mike Schmidt……and Joffrey Lupul…….They may be naming a new cheesesteak in Philadelphia “The Joffrey”.

Now it is time for the second round of the playoffs and the match-ups are electric!

“Sid The Kid” on Broadway…..Pens vs. Rangers

"The City of Brotherly Love" against “The Brothers Kostitsyn”……Flyers vs. Habs

The Rivalry Renewed……Wings vs. Avs

Pacific Division Showdown…..Sharks vs. Stars

Updated April 22 at 10:27am


Last night’s Game 7 in Montreal was a dud unless you are a Canadiens fan. The Bruins ran out of gas and Carey Price shut the door on a 5-0 shutout.

Did anyone else see the fans rioting in the streets of Montreal after the game? You would think that a city with 24 Stanley Cups would be able to tone it down a little after a first round series victory. It is scary to imagine what might happen up there if they win the Cup this year.

Here are a couple predictions for tonight’s doubleheader of Game 7’s.

Both games will be more entertaining than the Montreal-Boston snooze fest. How could they not be?

29 of the 121 series in NHL playoff history have been decided in OT……you would have to think that one of these games may be destined for a sudden death ending.

If we think coaching will play a part in tonight’s outcome, Mike Keenan gives Calgary a huge edge.

Sometimes you have to get mean and play with an edge in an elimination game. San Jose does not have guys that can match the intensity of Jarome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf. They will be the difference makers, and Calgary is going to turn the lights out at HP Pavillion.

1988 the Caps overcame a 3-1 series deficit against these same Flyers……..That night it was Dale Hunter’s OT goal that gave Washington a 5-4 victory……Tonight they look to erase a 3-1 lead for the second time in franchise history. This time the “Hunter” will go by a different name……

Alex Ovechkin is a cold blooded killer and there is no game plan that is going to stop him tonight.

Put the remote away this evening and order some take out. You will not want to move from your couch for about six hours……maybe longer if we get a trip to overtime!

Updated April 21 at 9:49pm

Washington once had a love affair with “Jackie O”…….These days it is all about “Alex O”.

The Caps fell behind 2-0 to the Flyers, but their young guns would not allow them to lose. First it was Backstrom from Semin to get them within one on a beautiful give and go. Then it was Semin knotting the game late in the 2nd period on a rebound snipe that sent the Caps to the locker room with a ton of confidence.

If you were wondering when Alex Ovechkin was going to take over a game, the answer was the 3rd period of Game 6 when his team needed it most.

With smoke flying off his skates from the high octane speed he had rolling, Mr. Ovechkin came in on Martin Biron with a clear breakaway and ripped home the go ahead goal. This was the type of play where you have to feel sorry for the goalie. What could be worse than seeing a revved up #8 coming at you all alone?

Later in the 3rd, the best player in the world showed the devastating power that very few have ever possessed. He took a cross ice pass and let one go that might have killed someone had it not gone straight into the back of the net. Imagine the hardest one-timer you have ever seen and then double that……it still would not be as big a blast as this cannon!

In his postgame interview Ovechkin said something that illustrates how much of a leader this young superstar has become……“I play for my teammates and they play for me,” he said with a big smile.

I cannot wait for Game 7 on Tuesday Night in DC! If the Caps can complete this miraculous journey back from a 3-1 series deficit we will get something very special in the 2nd round.

Ovechkin vs. Crosby… could be the start of a defining rivalry for the ages.

Could the NHL ask for anything better? If you love hockey and want to see the sport grow then it is time to “Rock The Red” tomorrow and root for the Capitals!

Updated April 21 at 11:19am

If you are wondering how the Boston Bruins have battled their way back from a 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7, you are not alone. History certainly points to the home team having an advantage, but the way this script has been flipped, it is anyone’s game.

Here are some interesting things to keep in mind tonight.

The Bruins have never won a series where they trailed 3-1. A record of 0-20 is not something that breeds a lot of confidence.

Montreal has a record of 10-8 in Game 7’s and they are 4-2 against the Bruins.

Boston also has had success in Game 7’s with a 9-7 record (they have won 6 of the last 7).

The Canadiens are 26-0 in playoff series they have led 3-1.

Canadiens’ star Alexei Kovalev has played in five Game 7’s and never lost. He will need to be better to keep that streak alive. In Saturday’s Game 6 loss he was a disappointing -3.

Home teams have one 63% of Game 7’s in NHL history.

People take their hockey very serious in Montreal so a collapse in this series will be devastating to the fans, and the players.

The Bruins have nothing to lose because no one expected them to do anything this year. In Beantown, the fans are getting spoiled with the success of the Patriots, Red Sox, and the rejuvenated Celtics……do they deserve another reason to celebrate?

Who will be the hero? How about a sudden death overtime that goes late into the night? Will we see a player make an error that costs his team victory? Which coach will push the right buttons when it matters most?

Lots of questions will be answered tonight when two of the "Original Six" take the ice for this Game 7 showdown.

Updated April 21 at 9:09am

There will be a new Stanley Cup Champion in 2008.

The Dallas Stars made sure of that with 2 goals in the first 2:10 of the 3rd period last night against a Ducks team that was fighting for its playoff life.

Stephane Robidas powered home the game tying goal on the power play and then set up Stu Barnes with a perfect pass moments later for what would prove to be the game winning, and series clinching goal.

Who would have thought that with all the offensive punch the Stars have up front, it would be Robidas putting the nail in the Ducks coffin? He was fantastic last night with 26:38 of impact ice time.

It was a nice moment to see that building in Dallas going crazy as future hall of famer Mike Modano sealed the 4-1 victory with an empty net goal.

The Western Conference Semis are setting up rather nice with Detroit, Dallas, Colorado, and the winner of the Game 7 between Calgary and San Jose.

If San Jose can fend off Calgary in that final game, we will get to see one of the NHL’s best rivalries renewed.

Colorado and Detroit absolutely hate each other so this would be a nasty series. Remember when Claude Lemieux buried Kris Draper’s face in the boards? It is safe to say that all the fans in these cities certainly do!

Keep an eye on the Avalanche as a team that may be able to go the distance. The acquisition of Adam Foote has once again stabilized their defense in front of Jose Theodore, who has been magical in net.

Peter Forsberg looked like the old Peter Forsberg the other night stickhandling through defenders and looking physically superior to just about everyone.

If they match up with the Wings, look for Colorado to pull the upset.

Back to the Calgary series for a second……San Jose looked lifeless last night……21 shots on goal and barely any sustained pressure against Kiprusoff who recorded one of the easier playoff shutouts in recent memory……a Mike Keenan coached team in a Game 7 is not one you want to face.

Check back later for some thoughts on tonight’s huge Game 7 in Montreal.

Updated April 20 at 9:13am

What a 3rd Period in Boston last night! 6 goals, multiple lead changes, it was basically punch-counterpunch like a heavyweight fight. When the final horn sounded, Boston mobbed their goalie Tim Thomas like they had just won the series. Quick newsflash…..all they did was force a Game 7 in Montreal on Monday night.

How about the goal by Phil Kessel in the 2nd period for the B’s….that was some serious dangling! This former #1 draft pick is starting to elevate his game to a very high level. With 3 goals in the last two games, he has become the type of difference maker that could be a hero in Game 7.

Is there anything better than a Game 7 in the NHL postseason? Get ready for a good one in this series. Rookie Carey Price will have the weight of the world on his shoulders after surrendering 10 goals in the last two losses to the Bruins. He needs to be better, or he will have all summer to think about this disaster.

Boston may not have a lot of household names on their team…in fact they may not have any unless you are fans of big Zdeno Chara….if they come back to win this series after being down 3-1 and losing 8 in a row during the regular season to the Habs, you have to learn a lot about some of these “Killer B’s”.

Updated April 19 at 4:44pm

Let’s all hope we get to see seven games in the Caps-Flyers series. The intensity and high level of play on the ice has been the best of any first round series by far.

This afternoon’s 3-2 win by the Caps on NBC was action packed and hard hitting for the full sixty minutes. Whoever escapes this war is going to enter the second round with a lot of bumps and bruises.

Think about this if you don’t believe the Capitals are built for a bright future.

Alex Ovechkin 22 years old
Nicklas Backstrom 20 years old
Alexander Semin 24 years old
Brooks Laich 24 years old
Mike Green 22 years old

There are not a lot of teams in the NHL that have 5 guys under 25 years old that are already impact players. George McPhee has done a great job as the GM in Washington.

Updated April 18 at 7:44pm

No Handshake

The Rangers eliminated the Devils in five games tonight so we knew what was coming as the teams lined up to say goodbye one final time.

MSG Network did a fantastic job of keeping the camera on Sean Avery as he went through the handshake line. Every member of Devils extended their hand to #16 and then came Martin Brodeur who would not deliver the shake.

Here are a few quotes from Sean Avery as he was interviewed postgame.

“Everyone talks about how unclassy I am and fatso there forgot to shake my hand I guess”

“I read Vogue not the sports pages”

How classic is this guy? To put it mildly he is one of kind!

The New York sports media will undoubtedly have a field day with this. You could not script a better ending for the “talking heads” in the tri-state area.

Updated April 18 at 1:39pm

If the Devils need some additional motivation for tonight’s game against the Rangers they can simply think about the “Handshake Lines” they will have to participate in if they get eliminated in five games. What could be more painful than having to shake a smiling Sean Avery’s hand? Marty Brodeur is probably not looking forward to that encounter.

What will Avery do tonight? This unrestricted free agent is a TV ratings bonanza. Reality TV at its finest….unscripted, unrehearsed, and always unfiltered! His agent has to love the way Mr. Avery is delivering in the postseason. It looks like Glen Sather is going to have to pay the man, to play the man!

When are we going to see some bitter playoff aggression? It seems to always happen in a game where the score gets out of hand. If the Rangers get a lead on the Devils tonight you have to think that someone is going to challenge Avery.

Coyotes' fans have to be rooting for Freddy Sjostrom to advance to the 2nd round. He is one of the all time good guys, so it is great to see that he has a chance to go deep in the playoffs with a very talented Rangers team. Best of luck to Freddy!

Updated April 18 at 9:50am

It is hard to remember a more entertaining period of hockey than last night’s first overtime between Washington and Philly. They went up and down the ice with reckless abandon resulting in scoring chance after scoring chance for both teams. Quite possibly the best part about this was the fact that there are no TV commercials in OT so the furious action seemed to be never ending.

When Mike Knuble finally ended the game in the 2nd OT, I found myself in a state of depression because this was a game I could have watched for several more hours. Now the Flyers have a commanding 3-1 series lead and the way Danny Briere (5 goals in 4 games) is playing it is tough to imagine his team losing three in a row.

Another team with a surprising 3-1 series lead is the Dallas Stars. Marty Turco has been fantastic in net and they have the Anaheim Ducks on the ropes.

Talk about efficiency……Stars tough guy Steve Ott is shooting 100% in the series. He has two goals on two shots including a big one last night that put this game on ice…….The Stars need to keep feeding the big dog!

Tonight, we get the first big goaltending move of the 2008 playoffs. Mike Babcock has seen enough of “The Dominator” and will turn to Chris Osgood to ignite a Wings team that is suddenly entrenched in a dogfight of a series with the Predators. On the other side, there is no controversy in net after Nashville netminder Dan Ellis turned away 39 shots in the Preds Game 4 victory.

One other goalie that needs some kudos is Jose Theodore! He has strapped the Avs on his back and made one clutch save after another. His .933 save percentage doesn’t even begin to tell the story of how large he has come up for Colorado. How far can the ‘Lanche ride this hot goaltender? With snipers like Sakic, Forsberg, Stastny, Hejduk, and Smyth the sky is the limit for this team. If they can close out the Wild at home in Game 6, no one in the Western Conference will be looking forward to playing this team in round two.

Updated April 17 at 3:00pm

Who will be the hero tonight? With 5 games on the schedule there are so many candidates for a big night. Barry Melrose has to highlight somebody on SportsCenter!

Will tonight be owned by the one man wrecking crew Alex Ovechkin? Is Ryane Clowe going to continue to power San Jose, or will an angry Jarome Iginla be the Sharks worst nightmare?

In Montreal, we should see the end of the Bruins season unless Carey Price starts to look like a rookie......fat chance…….he is that good!

What is the best thing that could happen to a defending Stanley Cup Champion that trails a first round series 2-1 with Game 4 on the road? How about the return of their leading goal scorer? Corey Perry popped 29 goals in 70 games including 11 on the power play so he is a weapon the Ducks desperately need to turn back a well balanced Stars team.

With Perry and Ryan Getzlaf reunited on the top line, Stars Head Coach Dave Tippett will have to be selective in matching lines. Will he have Jere Lehtinen chasing the Selanne/Kunitz combo, or Perry and Getzlaf? No matter what he does, Perry in the line-up is a headache he does not want.

Updated April 17 at 10:01am

New York Night

Which of the following three things do you think made New Yorkers happier last night?

Rangers win Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead over the Devils?

Yankees pound Red Sox 15-9 in a shootout that took over four hours?

The potential that Isiah Thomas has coached his final game as the Knicks head coach after they lose and finish the season 23-59?

There is no easy answer to this question, but the roar at MSG when rookie phenom Mark Staal hammered home the game winner said it all.

Updated April 16 at 10:17am

The “Price” Is Right

When Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey shipped Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals at the trading deadline many wondered if Carey Price was ready to carry the load. It is safe to say that the rookie netminder has made Gainey look like a genius so far.

Price is 15-4 since Huet was sent packing on February 26th. The 20 year old rookie goalie is even making Bob Barker proud!

Last night, Price turned back 27 shots in a 1-0 shutout victory that gave the Habs a commanding 3-1 series lead heading back to Montreal. For the series, his numbers are staggering…..957 Save Percentage…..1.20 GAA…..and 1 shutout. Boston may need Kevin Garnett and “Big Papi” David Ortiz to set screens in front of Price if they want to get back in this series.

On the flip side, Huet has been getting lit up in the Caps-Flyers series. His 3.69 GAA and .884 Sv% are not getting the job done for the Caps who trail 2-1.

9.4………ask Mike Keenan about what that number means and you might get knocked out. Joe Thornton tipped home the game winner in the final seconds to even the Sharks-Flames series at 2. Ouch!

Who is Ryane Clowe? Has anyone else asked themselves that question? How in the world did this guy become the most important player on the Sharks team all of the sudden? In 15 games played during the regular season he had only 8pts (3 goals, 5 assists), but in 4 playoff games he has been a difference maker with 4 huge goals (2 on the power play) and 3 assists for 7 points. For a player that was taken 175th overall in the 2001 draft this is some great stuff. Clearly this 6’2’ 225lb power forward is one to watch!

Two other quick thoughts……

The Ducks are clearly not dead. For the first time this postseason they looked like a team that is defending the Stanley Cup.

The Avs and Wild did not go to overtime and Joe Sakic did not score….would you believe Ruslan Salei was the hero for the ‘Lanche? He might have played the best game of his career looking very offensive with a goal and an assist.

Updated April 15 at 03:21pm

What could be worse than facing an angry Alex Ovechkin? The Flyers are probably not looking forward to finding out the answer to that question.

Are the defending Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks about to be down 3-0 to a very tough Dallas Stars team?

If all Sharks can swim, why does it appear that San Jose is drowning in Calgary?

They may need overnight parking at Pepsi Center in Denver if Game 4 continues the trend and heads to sudden death OT.

Boston has been greedy in the sports world with the success of the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics…..does this city deserve a Bruins playoff upset over the Montreal Canadiens….absolutely not!

Tuesday Night…..Five Games……Two TV’s in the living room is not even enough to catch all the action. Time to get the remote ready!

Updated April 15 at 10:05am

In Ottawa, Danny Alfredsson made his return to the lineup, but the Penguins continue to look like they are a serious contender to make a deep run in the postseason. After a 4-1 triumph, Pittsburgh has a stranglehold on this series, 3-0. The brooms are ready in the Steel City.

The Senators scored 261 goals in the regular season which was only one less than league leading Montreal. In three games against the Pens, the Sens have been outscored 13-4. Putting up barely over a goal a game is not going to get it done against Crosby, Malkin, and Co.
Does this mean the Penguins have figured out how to play defense? Is Marc-Andre Fleury finally reaching his potential between the pipes? If the answers to those to questions are both yes, Pittsburgh is going to be a tough out for anybody.

Maybe the Wild and Avalanche should stop wasting time in the first three periods and just start the game in sudden death overtime. After three straight overtime thrillers that would seem to make sense if it were not for the fact that the regulation play has been so exciting.

Last night’s final period of regulation saw Brian Rolston score a shorthanded goal on a text book two on one off a perfect pass from Pavol Demitra to give the Wild a 2-1 lead…….Mr. Clutch Joe Sakic then did what he does best……score big goals in the playoffs when the game is on the line.

11:58 into OT, Rolston hooked up Pierre-Marc Bouchard and the rest is history.

Since 2003, the Wild and Avs have played five straight overtime games in the playoffs, all of which have ended in 3-2 scores.

Here is a prediction for Game 4 tonight……Avs 3-2 in Overtime on a Joe Sakic goal…

How about this……..Sakic now has 182 career playoff points which is the most among active players. Now he is only 200 points behind Wayne Gretzky who has the all time lead at 382. Sometimes “The Great One’s” numbers are just frightening. Joe Sakic has been one of the most consistent playoff performers of all time and he does not even have half the playoff points that Gretzky does. How in the world is anyone ever going to break that record?

Updated April 14 at 3:35pm

When you are down 2-0 in a seven game series you need a hero, or a lot of luck to right the ship and take four of five. Danny Alfredsson has not played since April 3rd, but if the Senators are going to make a comeback against the Penguins they will need their Captain back on the ice tonight. Whether he plays is still in question, but this guy is a warrior who was the best player for the Sens during last year’s postseason.

How do you combat a team with Crosby, Malkin, and Hossa… send out Heatley, Spezza, and Alfredsson and hope for the best. This Pittsburgh squad is going to score goals so winning games for Ottawa boils down to filling the other net. Without Alfredsson this series is over and headed towards a sweep, but if he comes back, anything is possible.

By the way, in two games during this series Malkin has a goal and five assists and Crosby has four assists. Those guys are just nasty. Imagine a second round match-up against Washington and Ovechkin… is a safe bet that the executives and Versus, NBC, and The NHL are already dreaming about Alex O. and Sid The Kid in primetime.

Updated April 13 at 10:35pm

Wearing the traditional “Sunday Red” did not lead Tiger Woods to another Green Jacket at The Masters today, but it was a whole different story in Calgary where the “Sea of Red” was rocking!

The Saddledome was silenced early in the first period when the Sharks jumped on the Flames for a 3-0 lead in less than 4 minutes…..Kiprusoff was sent to bench and in came former Coyotes goalie Curtis Joseph…..A lot of people probably grabbed the remote control and looked for alternate programming…..Boy am I glad I stuck it out!

Sometimes it takes a physical play to change momentum in a big game. A little past the midway point of the first period Cory Sarich caught Patrick Marleau with his head down, and delivered the perfect check that sent the Sharks veteran crumbling to the ice. The sight of the Sharks veteran bleeding ignited the crowd, and the Flames bench. This was the type of clean hit that players dream about.

Goals by Iginla, Langkow, and Phaneuf knotted the game at 3 as CuJo continued to deny San Jose at the other end.

With less than 4 minutes to go it was another former member of the Coyotes making a huge play for the Flames. Owen Nolan used a quick release and ripped one by Nabakov…game over…..and what a game it was! People in Calgary will be talking about this game for a long time, while the Sharks will be hoping to erase a bad memory in Game 4.

Here are a couple other quick thoughts.

There have been some great pests in the NHL that have elevated their games in the playoffs…Claude Lemieux, Esa Tikkanen, and Dale Hunter come to mind…..Sean Avery is starting to look like one of those guys for the Rangers. He has scored a goal in each of the first 3 games against New Jersey, while driving Martin Brodeur to the point of insanity with his antics in front of the net. If the Rangers don’t resign this unrestricted free agent there may be riots in NYC. The fans absolutely love this guy and he gives them no reason not to.

Boston looked like they were in deep trouble in OT against Montreal, but they got a big time snipe from Marc Savard and suddenly they have a chance to even up their series at home in the next game.

Lots of great hockey and the playoffs have not even been going a full week!

Updated April 12 at 11:01am

Eventually we are going to run out of adjectives to describe what Alex Ovechkin does at the rink. When he stepped on the ice for his first career playoff game Friday night you just knew something special was going to happen.

With the score tied at 4 in the 3rd period he took over the game and would not allow his team to lose.

The Flyers defensemen are still trying to figure out what happened on the game winning goal. In the blink of an eye, Ovechkin stole the puck from two Flyers, and then undressed the goalie before roofing a rocket shot into the net.

I might even be more impressed with what he did in the final minutes to preserve the one goal win. He was running around the ice hitting everything in sight like a man possessed. Just ask Flyers’ star Mike Richards about it……he got absolutely vaporized by #8 at the blueline. Most guys that score 65 goals don’t destroy the opposition with physical play…..most guys are not Alex Ovechkin.

Updated April 11 at 12:01pm

Did anyone else notice that the Washington Capitals amazing turnaround this year coincided with a new retro looking jersey? Somewhere Dale Hunter and Rod Langway are smiling in their old school jerseys from the Cap Center days.

How many sleepless nights do you think Flyers Head Coach John Stevens had this week? Alex Ovechkin is the type of player that gives opposing coaches nightmares during the regular season. The thought of the NHL’s leading scorer with increased motivation and passion in the postseason is flat out scary!

In all sports, special players seem to take over when it matters most. In the NHL it is has been legends like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Mario Lemieux. In the NBA, we remember the nights Michael Jordan and Larry Bird simply would not allow their teams to lose.

Alex Ovechkin is that type of player. His enthusiasm is infectious. Will he be unstoppable in his playoff debut? It is a safe bet that Barry Melrose will be showing an Ovechkin highlight tonight on SportsCenter.   

Updated April 11 at 10:30am

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are about stars elevating their play when it matters most. On Thursday night, no one was shining brighter than Evgeni Nabakov of the San Jose Sharks. His acrobatic highlight reel robbery of Owen Nolan was one for the ages. Although he only had to make 21 saves in the series tying 2-0 shutout, he made some monstrous stops when the Sharks needed a lift to get this series knotted at a game a piece.

Speaking of “Stars”…..How about the Dallas Stars power play last night? As Darren Pang would say, “Holy Jumpin’”!  They lit the lamp four times on the PP and got some help from unlikely sources. If Steve Ott and Loui Eriksson are getting power play time and scoring goals, the defending Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks are in serious trouble.

Marty Turco was probably the only Michigan Wolverine that was smiling last night. His 23 saves did not have the flash of Nabakov, but the result was the same, a shutout. If only his alma mater had that kind of goaltending. In the Frozen Four, Michigan had to yank their goalie after falling behind 3-0. They would eventually fall to hated rival Notre Dame 5-4 in overtime.

It seems like the last time the Montreal Canadiens lost to the Boston Bruins we were watching the games on Black & White TV’s.

In the old days it was the Mahovlich Brothers (Frank & Pete) doing damage for Montreal, now it is the Kostitsyn’s (Sergei & Andrei) making history. Last night they became the first brother combination in almost 25 years to score goals in the same playoff game.

Carey Price was solid between the pipes and the Habs took Game 1 of this series 4-1. This has sweep written all over it.

Coyotes Play-By-Play man Dave Strader will be in Montreal for Saturday’s Game 2 on Versus so make sure and check that out!

Updated April 10 at 10:40am

Fans of the Phoenix Coyotes will get to enjoy a familiar voice tonight on Versus as Dave Strader handles the play-by-play duties at 4pm (Phoenix Time) when the Red Wings host the Nashville Predators. He will be joined in the booth by Eddie Olczyk, so the only thing that will be missing is Darren Pang!

It will be a historic night for the ageless wonder Chris Chelios at Joe Louis Arena in the Motor City. He will tie Patrick Roy for the most career playoff games at 247 which is a remarkable accomplishment. To put that in perspective, you can basically add three full NHL seasons to his career that started in 1984. Can you name all the Coyotes that were yet to be born in 1984? How about Dan Carcillo, Martin Hanzal, Peter Mueller, Dan Winnik, and Kyle Turris? What an amazing career for one of the NHL’s most durable players. He must have a fountain of youth in his backyard instead of a pool. The crazy thing is that the 46 year old looks like he could still be playing at 50.

Updated April 9 at 10:01pm

What would opening night of the Stanley Cup Playoffs be without drama, controversy, and an overtime game winner? The Avalanche/Wild game had all that, and then some. With the score tied at 2 in the 3rd period it simply got crazy. The Avs had two goals reviewed and disallowed that were both borderline calls. The second of which resulted in a penalty shot after a Wild player covered the puck with his hand in the crease. Ryan Smith came in on Niklas Backstrom with speed and made a great move, but he was denied. The Avs kept coming and rang one off the crossbar, so they headed to OT. For any fans that were expecting conservative boring neutral zone play in overtime, they were sadly mistaken. It was end to end hockey that was riveting theater. So who do you look for when the game is on the line? How about one of the greatest clutch players in NHL History? Joe Sakic is still a special player and he turned the lights out at the Xcel Energy Center with his 8th career playoff OT winner at the 11:11 mark. Wow Wow Wow! If you have not seen highlights of this game go check them out!

While nothing could match the excitement in Minnesota, one former member of the Phoenix Coyotes was having a good time in New Jersey. Freddy Sjostrom finally got to experience what it feels like to a part of playoff hockey, and if you saw the smile on his face as he congratulated Henrik Lundqvist, you would know he is having the time of his life. The game changing moment happened with the score tied at 1 in the 3rd period when the Rangers got a break most teams dream about. Martin Brodeur was caught napping on the job by Ryan Callahan. Brodeur lost track of the New York winger and took way too much time to move the puck. Callahan made him pay and banged it home. Sean Avery delivered the insurance tally with just under three minutes to play and nobody has better goal celebrations than Mr. Avery! On that goal, Sjostrom would get his first playoff point, while former Devil Scott Gomez collected his 3rd assist of the night and some serious revenge. One other note from this game that cannot be overlooked is what Brendan Shanahan did at the end of the game. Shanny and Nigel Dawes came in alone 2-on-0 with an empty net. First Dawes gave Shanny the opportunity to net his second goal of the game, but the veteran said no thanks and gave it back so the youngster could get one himself. That is what class is all about and Brendan Shanahan is a future hall of famer with loads of class.

Speaking of old guys, the Penguins got a big boost from 41-year-old winger Gary Roberts. He started and finished the scoring in a 4-0 Penguins shutout over the Senators. Evgeni Malkin also went large with a goal and two assists. This series looked like it will be over quickly because if the Penguins are rolling and Sid The Kid has not found the scoresheet, Ottawa is in deep trouble.

One team Coyotes’ fans will more than likely be rooting against is the San Jose Sharks, and they are going to have to dig deep to avoid a first round upset from Mike Keenan’s Flames. Calgary may be a #7 seed, but Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf, and Miikka Kiprusoff have the ability to take over a series against anyone. Tonight, they withstood a furious attack by the Sharks in the final minute to capture Game 1 by a 3-2 score.

This is the best time of the year!

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