|Denis Potvin |
Growing up a Rangers fan, I still have nightmares about the Islanders as those teams had it all, the best sniper Mike Bossy, best defenseman Dennis Potvin and the most intimidating and clutch goalie in the post season, Billy Smith (Smith holds the unofficial NHL record for most goalie sticks broken while slashing ankles of opposing players). Aside from four straight titles, they also are responsible for the springtime facial hair extravaganza known as the playoff beard. As a team bonding exercise, the Islanders decided no man would shave until their final playoff game was played, the longer the facial hair, the closer they were to the Stanley Cup. It started off as a one team tradition but now everyone at all levels in hockey have “THE BEARD”. If players are too young to grow whiskers then a substitute, for example everyone bleaching their hair blonde or green has become an acceptable alternative. If you have a few minutes to kill at work, Google the term “Playoff Beard” for some of the best of all time.
The 1983-1988 Edmonton Oilers clubs were simply the greatest offensive juggernaut ever assembled in NHL history. Aside from amassing the greatest talent ever seen on one team in the past 50 years, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, etc., the chemistry and brilliance in the offensive end may never be matched. If not for Steve Smith banking one of Grant Fuhr’s legs, the Oilers might have won five cups in a row. If not for having Peter Pocklington as an owner, they might have won 10 or more. The highlights reels will forever have their magic to relive, but it’s the still photographer that owes much to the Oilers. After a four game sweep (that took five games) over Boston in 1988, the Oiler team gathered with the cup at center ice for the impromptu team photo. Still sweaty and full of jubilation, the championship picture on the ice with the trophy is Edmonton’s contribution to hockey lore. Yes, a dignified (and usually stiff due to excessive partying) team photo is taken later, but nothing matches that instant moment of victory, the picture most players prefer.
The team that ended the stranglehold on dynasties was the 1989 Calgary Flames, Edmonton’s most hated rival. Since the Flames won the cup only two teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings have won back to back championships and no team has come close to winning three in a row. Need more proof as to how much the game has changed? During the 2010-11 season, Corey Perry of Anaheim was the ONLY player in the NHL to score 50 goals.
The 1989 champs had two 50 goal scorers on the same squad, the pride of Hell’s Kitchen, Joey Mullen, and a sniper from Cornell, Joe Nieuwendyk.
Most of my limited hockey knowledge comes from the people I met during 15 years of riding the bus with minor league teams that no longer exist. The first roommate I ever had during this time was a University of Alberta graduate named Marty Yewchuk. The three things Marty liked most in life were pierogis, the Edmonton Oilers and the band U2. I had no opinions on pierogis, lost a huge bet when Todd Marchant broke Dallas hearts in OT of 1997 and thought Bruce Springsteen was a better performer. But I did agree that if Bono had not spent so much time with his political activism or leading one of the most influential bands of all time, that he might enjoy the game of hockey. So assuming Bono and The Edge have seen the light, here is the rundown of why the Stanley Cup will be decided by the Canucks vs. Bruins and the U2 song that best describes the finalists and the teams they vanquished.Vancouver Canucks “New Year’s Day”
This song contains the famous line “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day”, which is just fine if you happen to be the Canucks. On January 1, 2011, Vancouver was the best team in the NHL and nothing has changed since. It seems light years ago that fans were asking if Roberto Luongo or Corey Schneider should be in the net against Chicago. Luongo has raised his game in every round, capping off with an epic 54-save performance in the 2OT clincher. Ryan Kesler’s performance was just as memorable. He performed better on one leg than most players on two. After looking like an Indy Car with a blown tire in the 2nd period, he played the biggest minutes, won the most important faceoff, and scored the game tying goal with 13 seconds in regulation. They would be planning to build a statue in his honor in Vancouver except for that little problem of American citizenship. Yes, Canada is taking this playoff run THAT seriously. “He’s a great player and tough as nails but he’s from…….MICHIGAN!!!” Maybe if he wins the Conn Smythe that nasty citizenship issue can be overlooked. What makes Vancouver the cup favorite is the Sedin Twins have re-emerged and appear more focused than ever.
With Henrik averaging two assists per game in the WCF and Daniel adding 6 points, Vancouver regained its swagger and domination at both ends of the ice. After the Sharks blew five consecutive PP opportunities in Game 4, the Sedin Twins combined for 7 points as Vancouver’s power play ripped open the game and San Jose’s chances for victory. With Daniel back as a scoring threat, the ice opens up allowing Henrik to work Gretzky-like magic. His assist to Sami Salo on the 3rd power play goal was exactly how it works in practice with NO defense on the ice. Salo’s blast was epic. The last shot with that much speed and accuracy was taken by Navy Seal Team 6. Once a team worshipped only by those who reside west of the Canadian Rockies, Vancouver is now Canada’s team. The nation that lives for this sport has not had a homeland winner since the Montreal Canadiens of 1993. If nothing changes on New Year’s Day, then the Canucks need for the calendar to feel like January 1, four more times to complete their year of NHL domination.
This interesting fact was sent by a Canucks fan searching for one more omen. The country of Canada has hosted the Olympics twice, in 1976, Montreal hosted the Summer Olympics, the Canadiens won the 1977 Stanley Cup. In 1988, Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics, the Flames won the title in 1989. In 2010, Vancouver was the host city and they have a chance to keep the streak alive. No word on whether Winnipeg just put in a bid for the 2022 games.San Jose Sharks “Even Better Than The Real Thing”
The title says it all. San Jose has been the best regular season team in the NHL for the past decade, qualifying for the playoffs in 11 of the past 12 seasons and winning the Pacific Division in six of the past nine years. If you consider the regular season more important than Stanley Cup success, this team is for you. Before Sharks fans start to complain that the elimination goal by Kevin Bieksa was a fluke, please consider that San Jose was 5-0 in previous OT games and all the bounces went their way in the first and second rounds. (The hockey gods ALWAYS even things out and this is just one more example.) San Jose’s stars have more Olympic gold medals than appearances in Stanley Cup finals. While Ben Eager’s stupidity on ice did create some issues, closer look as Game #4 holds the key for another postseason failure. Trailing the series 2-1, San Jose had a raucous home crowd momentum and FIVE power plays in the first 23 minutes of play. The Sharks went 0-5 with the man advantage and there goes the series. San Jose’s big guns were outplayed as Patrick Marleau’s spot in the dog house was replaced by Dany Heatley. It is one thing to be upset in a playoff series but quite another to be outplayed by a better team. During the past two years both Chicago and Vancouver overpowered the Sharks in the conference finals leaving San Jose wondering what is the missing element to Cup success. The window of availability to win a championship can be a fickle thing, sometimes the window closes even before a team realizes what is happening. Until the Sharks can play to their playoff potential they will have to settle for being “next year’s favorite” and pretend to get excited about hanging another division title banner, not nearly as good an experience the real championship that matters.
For the sake of posterity, I hope any future series clinching OT goals are easily noticed. Two of the biggest goals in recent playoff history, Kevin Bieksa’s conference clincher and Patrick Kane’s Cup winner have been complete mysteries as to how the play happened and how the puck wound up in the net. I much prefer Bobby Orr flying through the air, Brett Hull ending a 3OT hearting stopper or hearing “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau !!!” as compared to wondering “is the game over?”Tampa Bay Lightning “It’s Beautiful Day”
This is not in reference to losing the Conference Finals in 7 games. That part actually stinks. The song has a positive attitude for the present and a bright outlook for the future which is exactly what Lightning fans and the organization should be feeling when the pain finally wears off. How quickly people forget that this franchise went from Stanley Cup champion in 2004 to league doormat in 2008 and 2009. In the process, the Bolts traded away superstars Brad Richards and Dan Boyle, had three different owners and even hired Barry Melrose as head coach, a tenure that lasted 16 games. The moves to bring in Steve Yzerman as new general manager and Guy Boucher changed the entire future of the organization. Tampa is proof that with a couple of great drafts picks, along with some savvy personnel decisions, a team can rise from also-ran to contender. Bottom line is Tampa had 103 regular season points, roared back from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate Pittsburgh, dismantled the Capitals in four games and came within one goal of playing for the Stanley Cup. When the organization looks back on what was accomplished in year one of the Yzerman/Boucher partnership and the young talent, Steve Stamkos, Steve Downie and Victor Hedman, they have stockpiled, things indeed look beautiful for an organization that seemed doomed just a couple of years ago.
Steve Stamkos deserves extra mention for the courage he showed in the deciding game. The kid gets blasted with a slapshot square in the face splattering his nose in three different directions. TEN MINUTES later, he is back on the ice with a face shield, cotton up his nostrils to stop the bleeding and tape holding the whole appendage in place. Michael Jordan is a legend for playing in the NBA finals with the stomach flu, Stamkos was banging bodies for half a game when he should have been visiting a plastic surgeon. Amazing.Boston Bruins “Desire”
The seeds for the Bruins run the Finals were sown out of last year’s collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers. This year’s Bruins club has made a commitment to defense, unlike any other team in the league. Watch the Bruins when they have a lead late in a game, three players back, forwards clogging the middle of the ice and an ingrained policy to get the puck high off the glass and out of the zone every single time. The Game 7 lockdown in the final three minutes should been shown as a training tape to young players. Boston loses games because of special teams, occasional lack of offense but not because of mistakes inside their own zone. Proof of this is Tim Thomas setting the regular season record for highest save percentage, .938. Thomas is a Vezina Trophy finalist but to set that record your teammates have to be clearing rebounds, limiting odd man rushes and making opponents in front of their net more uncomfortable than Arnold Schwarzenegger at the next Kennedy family reunion. The save Tim Thomas made on Steve Downie in the third period of Game Five is one of the greatest in hockey history and will be talked about forever by Boston fans if the B’s win the cup. (We all know how much Boston fans like to go on and on and on about anything that leads to a championship. Yes, Dave Roberts made a great steal of 2nd base and Tom Brady is tremendous in the 4th quarter of Super Bowls. We get it, now please TURN THE PAGE!!!) This Bruins team finds new heroes with every win including Nathan Horton, who scored the game winning goals in both of Boston’s Game 7 triumphs. At age 19, Tyler Seguin became a teen sensation with his game 2 performance and at age 43 Mark Recchi continues to defy the odds. For Boston the word is DESIRE, the desire to play a team concept above everything else, the desire of a goaltender who does not give up on any play no matter how impossible it may seem and now the desire to win the team’s first Stanley Cup since 1972.
Game Seven from the Boston-Tampa series showed all that is right with hockey, hard hitting, great intensity and unbelievable effort on both sides. The greatest hockey tradition of all is the handshake after a series ends. Even if you despise the opposition no one is too important to disrespect the meaning of the event and storm off without participating, (See Dino Ciccarelli, 1996: "I can't believe I shook his freakin' hand"). All the respect for your opponent and honor for what the game means is on display during line. Watching former college teammates Tim Thomas and Martin St, Louis meet at center ice shows that even after seven classic games, the admiration for each other and the lifelong bond hockey creates is something to be cherished as no other sport can compare.
Vancouver and Boston, the only items they have in common was a one-sided trade involving Cam Neely and that in 2011 each team was one goal away from being eliminated in the first round. Vancouver’s goalie has pedigree, a former first round pick with an Olympic Gold medal on his mantle. Boston’s goalie was nearly out of hockey and has a style that at times makes goaltender coaches cringe. Vancouver can fill up a highlight reel with their offense while Boston lets the defense do the talking. The matchups are mirror opposites, the slick Sedins vs. the mammoth Zdeno Chara, the classic netminder Luongo vs. scrappy Thomas, Tim Horton’s and all of Canada vs. Dunkin’ Donuts and New England. If contrasting styles make for great fights, this should be a great finals. Bring it on.Bruce LeVine is the post-game co-host for Dallas Stars road games on Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket. Email Bruce at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @BruceLeVine22