Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bruins Play Perfect Game 7

As has already been widely reported the Bruins played flawlessly in game 7 of the Conference Final. Their game was perfect in every way. The ice was tilted towards the Tampa end all game long and when the puck came back the other way the Bruins did an amazing job of taking the puck back. And when the Lightening did manage to force their way to the net Tim Thomas and the Bruins defense always came up big. This last part was so very important--because in a game like this where one team dominates but can't score (Roloson was nothing short of amazing) all it takes in one successful rush the other way, maybe with tired forwards caught behind the play, and the game is lost. But the Bruins never allowed that to happen, particularly late in the game.

There were a few players who stood out to me. After a let up in game 6, Patrice Bergeron had a very strong game. Going in I was very concerned that his concussion was coming back to haunt him like we saw with Marc Savard last year. Savvy came back and scored a winning goal only to fade afterwards. Apparently Bergeron's concussion really was very mild, and apparently they were just being very careful when he missed those games earlier in the playoffs. I had feared the opposite.

Two players stood out to me above all the rest. The first was Dwayne Roloson, who was the best player out there. He was the only reason Tampa was still in it late into the 3rd, and had they been able to score a goal at the other end of the ice, Roloson could have been responsible for stealing the game. The other player was Dennis Seidenberg. He seems to get stronger with every playoff game and in this one he was the dominant defensive player. When your defensive partner is up for the Norris trophy and you are the one getting noticed, that's really saying something.

The top line of Horton, Krejci and Lucic was also very solid. But they were solid as a line rather than individually, and this really describes the whole team. Hockey is the ultimate team sport and this was one of the best team efforts I have ever seen from the Bruins. I am sure that there are some Tampa fans who are mad at their team for putting in what probably looked like a poor effort in this game. And sometimes it is difficult to tell if a team is being dominated or simply not trying. To some extent the two go hand in hand because a team that isn't getting any space to play will become disheartened over time. But in this case Tampa fans should not be angry. It was pretty clear that the Bruins took their game up a notch and the Lightening had no immediate response.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Here We Go

As far as I'm concerned game 7 vs Tampa Bay is the most important game of the year. The last day or so has given me some time to reflect. It was fun going into game 6 with no pressure--knowing that the Bruins couldn't lose the series. And I have to admit to some daydreaming about going to the cup final. When the Bruins lost I was bitterly disappointed. The reality that the series could end with the Bruins going home tonight loomed over me like a cloud of dark volcanic ash. I didn't like that feeling.

I had to remind myself that following my team is supposed to be fun. If I become one of those people who are bitterly disappointed every time my team doesn't win the Stanley Cup then I could end up bitter and angry. I don't want to be bitter and angry. So I'm going into this game hopeful, but I am not going to throw anything at the TV if they lose. I am going to try to let go of the gloom and enjoy the moment.

Not only that, but if the Bruins win this game I will be happy no matter what happens in the cup final. Going to the cup final would be so cool! When I imagined how this season might end I always imagined being in the cup final. Somehow the thought of Chara holding the cup over his head--higher than any other player has ever held it--never even occurred to me until just now. Sure, I'll want them to win the cup, and sure I'll be disappointed if they don't. But that disappointment will wear off quickly. This would still be the greatest season in many, many years!

Anyhow, that's my own personal state of mind as a fan. For players, it's entirely different. Boys--it's time to show the world what you can do! Tonight you are going to score on the power play and the penalty kill is going to be awesome! Just like we have seen before. The momentum in a series see-saws from one game to the next and it's yours now. Go out there and play like it's the last game ever. Make it happen!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mike Keenan is Wrong

The hit Marc-Andre Bergeron made on David Krejci at the end of the first period in last night's game was an illegal check to the head. I am appalled at how the majority of fans and pundits view this hit. The comments of Mike Keenen made between periods were particularly outrageous. Don't agree? Then watch the video below and then read the text of rule 48.

NHL Rule 48

48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.

48.2 Minor Penalty - There is no provision for a minor penalty for this rule.

48.3 Major Penalty - For a violation of this rule, a major penalty shall be assessed (see 48.4).

48.4 Game Misconduct – An automatic game misconduct penalty shall be assessed whenever a major penalty is assessed under this rule.

It is clear from the video that Bergeron's shoulder impacted Krejci's head. Krejci was moving laterally when the hit came. He obviously did not see Bergeron coming. There is no question that this was a lateral hit where the head was the principal point of contact. Anyone who has been watching this topic knows that during the regular season this would have been called and Bergeron would have been suspended. Shame on the NHL for apparently suspending rule 48 during the playoffs. And shame on Mike Keenen for the tired old, "Krejci should have kept his head up," argument. His suggestion that the players aren't being taught well enough to be aware of where everyone is around them is ludicrous.

There are going to be times when a player gets himself into a vulnerable position. In this case it was Bergeron coming off the bench and catching Krejci unawares. A player might get caught looking down at the puck a few feet from the boards with his back to the play. Or maybe he doesn't notice the stanchion ahead when preparing to take a high hit along the glass. The question is, should we blame the player who gets hit and possibly injured, or do we expect the player doing the hitting--the one usually in control of the situation--to back off a bit? I believe this is a critical question and the future of the NHL depends on getting the answer right.

Eric Lindros, Pat LaFontaine, Marc Savard, and Sydney Crosby--all high profile players who have had their careers heavily impacted by concussions. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Looking just at recent Bruins history, not only do we have Savard missing an entire season and may never play again, but Patrice Bergeron also missed a season. He recently missed several playoff games as well. David Krejci was lucky, his teammates gave him a heads up just in time or it could have been much worse. Krejci too has a history of concussions, having missed seven games to it.

According to neuropsychologist Dr. Paul Comper, the NHL averages about 75 concussions per season. “In my opinion, really what you should do is get rid of all targeted head hits," Comper has said.

Ex NHL referee Kerry Fraser has also said that banning hits to the head was necessary, saying, “The N.H.L. must outlaw head hits.”

Here's how I see it. The speed of the game increased after the lockout in 2005. Players have less time to react and hits come with greater impact. As a result concussions have become more common. As the careers of more and more high profile players are threatened this is going to force the NHL to come to a decision: either slow the game down by bringing back the clutching and grabbing, or put a stop to the hits to the head.

I remember all too well how boring the old clutch and grab game was. I would hate to see it come back. So in my view the NHL must stop the hits to the head. Rule 48 is a good start, but it needs to be expanded. Any hit to the head is dangerous, regardless of whether it is from the blind side or laterally. I suspect the reason some don't see this most recent example as a violation of the rule comes down to whether or not it was a "lateral" hit. I believe it was, but others may disagree. The thing is--this is a technicality that should not matter, nor should it matter if the player had his head down.

Later in the same game Marchand was knocked to the ice. As he fell his stick rode up and hit another player in the face. A penalty was called and the commentator agreed, claiming that, "you must always have control of your stick." Nobody tried to blame the other player for not protecting himself. So why the double standard? When a player's back is to you along the boards you don't hit him on the numbers sending his head into the boards. You don't leave your feet to drive your shoulder into someone's head. And when a player's head is down you don't drill it. That's not really so difficult is it? Considering the alternatives, this would seem a small price to pay to keep the game we love healthy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bruins vs. Bolts Game 2 Odds and Ends

With all that's being said and written about the playoffs it is difficult to have something to say that hasn't already been beaten to death. But here goes.

Tyler Seguin: I think sitting upstairs watching the games helped him in two ways. Obviously as a competitor it brought out the desire to make a difference. But less obviously I think he saw what many of us watching have seen: the Bruins have been a little too tentative, a little too slow to enter the zone and too unwilling to carry the puck to the front of the net. Tyler's game was speedy, straight-up north and south, and it reaped him big rewards. This was never so obvious as when one of the Bruins (I didn't catch who) approached the offensive blue line. As he did he slowed and looked around. The puck was poked away and it fell on Seguin's stick. The moment the puck touched his stick Seguin rocketed into the zone at full speed, forcing the Bolts defense to backpedal or get bypassed. We also saw this same straight ahead style of play from Lucic, who was a monster out there. It didn't always work. Sometime he turned the puck over at the blue line, but the Bolts defense had to respect his speed and strength and started backing off. After that it really paid dividends.

Tim Thomas: I think people are being a bit harsh in describing some of the goals as "soft." But if you are the best goaltender in the game you are going to be held to a higher standard. Yes, he got beat by a great shot. But it is easy for Bruins fans to forget, because our goaltending has been so good for so long, but a player with a great shot is going to be even the best goaltender cleanly once in a while. And that five-hole goal: I think it hit a stick and dipped. Versus needs to buy their guys in the booth bigger HD monitors. There were several times last night that they didn't seem to be watching the same replays I was watching. At one point Olczyk claimed the puck had gone over the goal line when the overhead shot had clearly shown that it hadn't gotten anywhere close to being completely over it. I doubt that he doesn't know that the puck has to be completely over the line so I have to assume he didn't have a good view of the replay. And all the while this was going on, I had seen the puck go off Tim Thomas' face with his mask off and it took them several minutes to realize it!

And what a great story that's going to make for the grandkids. (Old codger's voice) "It was the conference finals and we were playin' the old Litnin' team. There was a wild scramble in front of the net. I'm sprawled on the ice with a defenseman on top of me and I see the puck first hit one post, travel down the goal line, and then hit the other. I'm scrambling to get up and my mask comes off. The next thing I know a high shot comes from beside the goal and hits me just over the eye! Just like the olden days before goalies had masks. You didn't know that did ya? Yep, they once played without any face protection at all! And kids, wouldn't ya know it bounced off my forehead and into the net! I shook it off and put my mask back on and we finished the game. We went on ta win that series and the Stanley Cup."

Tomas Kaberle: Keven Paul Dupont recently called Kaberle a "joke" after his mistake behind the net that lead to a goal on game one. He also stopped just short of calling Chiarelli an idiot for trading for him. But as usual, KPD is more about being obnoxious than writing something worthwhile. Sure, his article likely struck a chord with the fans who were angry about the loss and Kaberle made a great scapegoat. But how cheap is it that? Any blogger could have done that.

The truth is that after a terrible start against Montreal, Kaberle has actually played pretty well. Yes, he didn't have his strongest game in game one against the Bolts. But anyone can make a mistake. How many times has KPD been wrong about the Bruins, for instance? More than I can count... Should he be roasted for it? I wonder sometimes if this guy has even laced up a pair of skates? I see little evidence of it in his commentary. Anyhow, Kaberle said he could play better and last night he did. He brought something the Bruins lack: a bit of cleverness and trickery. Credit where credit is due: there were many times Kaberle was the key to the Bruins gaining entry to the zone and without that you can't score.

Shame on Versus: I've said it here before. Shame on any network for telling us about how the crowd was pumped up by the national anthem rather than showing us. The anthem is part of the game. Show it dammit!

Shame on the Officiating: is it just me or has the officiating been terrible this playoffs? Inconsistent calls. Refs out of position and missing obvious penalties. Head scratchers where you watch the replay again and again and wonder what the ref could possibly have seen. For once the calls seemed to go the Bruins way last night, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating.

Marc Savard: it was so great to see him in the building!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bruins vs. Bolts: Going Into Game 2

There was much talk about the typical defensive posture of the Bolts during the long wait for the series to begin, much of which came from the Bruins coaching staff. It looks to me like the Bolts coaches took advantage of that by changing things up big time. Everyone expected a defensive struggle but this game was wild, going end to end for much of the first period. The Bruins did a pretty good job of skating with them, but you got the feeling this was not the game they had prepared to play. To the Bolts coaching staff I say: nicely done.

So what have we learned from game one? For starters, the Bolts are very well coached and playing near their potential. The frustrating thing about that is how clear it seems that the Bruins have not played up to their true potential, even though they have won two series. On paper the Bruins are the much better team, with better goaltending, better defensive play, greater depth, and more lines that can score. But as we saw last night none of that means anything if they don't put it all together and play with focus.

I believe the Bruins have the depth to win this series, but there is no question how important Bergeron is to this team. The thing about Bergeron is that his role isn't obvious. Serious hockey fans who follow the Bruins all season know full well how important he is, winning faceoffs, killing penalties, scoring, and winning the battles along the boards. He's also the best guy out there when they are sitting on a lead as the last seconds on the clock wind down. But the most striking thing about Bergeron comes when you watch a replay of his line scoring. If Bergeron is out on the ice and a goal is scored you can almost always trace it back to a play he made that set it up in the first place.

Perhaps the most worrisome thing I learned from game one was how potent the Bolts power play is. This is one area where missing Bergeron hurts badly, but even then it seems that the Bolts PP matches up a bit too well against the Bruins PK. It would really help for the Bruins to get their own power play rolling.

About that-- I'm not one to second guess the coaches. After all, they know more than I do about the game and the players. Of that there is no doubt. But it has become painfully obvious to me what the root problem is. Long time Bruins fans know that Brick talks about how much he likes it when a forward comes off the half wall. The Bruins haven't done that at all this season. Well, actually, there was one exception. In the series against Philly someone, I think it was Krejci, had the puck poked away along the half wall. He was forced to chase it out in front of the net. And guess what? It lead to their first power play goal of the playoffs!

It looks to me like this: it has become increasingly difficult to gain entry into the zone to set up the power play for every team, and particularly for the Bruins. So the Bruins have adopted a conservative puck control approach where the emphasis is on keeping control of the puck. That means that they don't allow themselves to come close to a defender. So carrying the puck into the "danger zone" in front of the net is considered a bad idea. The end result is that everything stays outside to the point where the passes get longer and more dangerous and... you guessed it--they turn it over. If I were the coach (and thank God I'm not) I would scrap all that and tell them to attack the damned net every chance they get.

One last observation. Some "fans" and sports personalities have a lot of nerve. The very idea of tuning into a team only after they have reached the conference finals and then complaining bitterly because they lost the first game of the series... how utterly obnoxious.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Difficult Days

These days between the end of one series and the start of the next--these are the difficult days. Despite the daily stories in the sports sections, blogs, etc, all we can really do is wait. Waiting is not a lot of fun under normal circumstances, but when Patrice Bergeron went down that tunnel in the last game against the Flyers, it became downright painful.

Forget for a moment how important Bergeron is to the team, as a leader and perhaps the best all around player in the game today. We remember him lying there on the ice after hitting the boards that awful day in 2007, and the long road to recovery after. Some people have forgotten: he could have died. The bones in his nose were almost driven into his brain. But he was "lucky." He only had a concussion. For those paying close attention, we knew that from that day on it was only a matter of time before his career would be ended by it. And what about his future afterward? What will be the long term result of that hit? These aren't fun things to think about.

I've been reading that some fans think Bergeron may return to the playoffs. Really? After what happened with Savvy last year? Recall that he rushed back from a concussion for the playoffs and even scored the winning goal his first game back. And what is he doing now? He's not even up to coming to the games to watch for God's sake. A "mild" concussion for another player might be something to get over quickly and return, but not Bergeron. Not with his history. It would be a huge mistake for him to come back this year. Period.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Impressive Win over Flyers in Game 3

I have been waiting since the start of the playoffs for a truly impressive effort by the Bruins and this one finally qualifies. The Bruins scored twice in just over a minute and never looked back. The Flyers, who desperately needed this win, were never in it.

I would usually never dream of calling this a series before the fat lady sang, but this one is over. After what happened last year there is no way the Bruins are going to lose this series. The Flyers may take one or maybe even two games before they head for the golf course, but they will not win this series.

It amazes me how the playoffs in the eastern conference have progressed thus far. To be perfectly honest, I don't think either the Caps or the Flyers deserved to pass the first round--at least not in any normal season. The Caps fortunes rested too much on Ovechkin. Shut him down and they are just a good team. They also didn't have the goaltending for the long haul, which seems to be a theme this year.

The Flyers have looked completely outclassed in the second round, making one wonder how they ever got past the first. I think it says more about how unready Buffalo was for the playoffs than how good the Flyers are. The Flyers too lack the goaltending to go any further.

It's possible that when this is all over the marquee match-up in the east will be seen as the Bruins and Canadiens. On the other hand, watching the way the Lightening utterly dominated the Caps makes me think that Tampa may be the real deal. With a conference final between the Bruins and the Lightening all but assured, I am already looking forward with great anticipation to the start of the series. Is Tampa as good as they appear to be? Or did weak opponents make them look better than they are? And will the Bruins--having met their stated goal for the season of reaching the conference final--just resign themselves to the golf course once again?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Some Thoughts Going Into Game 2 vs. the Flyers

Ok, I don't say this sort of thing very often, and to be honest it makes me very uncomfortable. I am squirming in my seat as a type. But here goes: deep breath... the Montreal Canadiens are a very good hockey team.

The B's win in the first round was less than impressive. Many of the games were close and could have gone either way, including the game 7 OT. Yet... the Habs had been successful against them all year; they knew exactly how to beat them. And the Bs spotted them game 1 by turning in a lackluster effort. Yet somehow they still won the series. That's impressive, if not very pretty.

The Flyers are a step down in comparison, as are Washington and Tampa. None of those teams have the complete package to win a cup, and none of them match up against the Bs the way the Habs did.

That said, I think the Bruins are fully capable of losing in the second round again. After all, they were the better team last year too--and look what happened.

I keep thinking about this game a few seasons back. As I remember it the Bruins were fighting for a playoff berth at the end of the season. They had to win the game in regulation in order to keep their chances alive. The score was even with the seconds ticking off in the 3rd period. The Bruins had a power play going and Marc Savard yelled at the coach to put him in. He jumped over the boards and arced across the zone yelling and banging his stick on the ice. He got the pass and buried the puck in the back of net with just seconds remaining. That's what it takes to go deep in the playoffs.

I miss Savvy and I wish he could be a part of this run. But we have seen signs of this kind of competitiveness--the desire to be the guy who goes out there and wins the game--in this year's squad. I see it in Horton. It shows up in Bergeron from time to time. Kelly may have it. I've even seen it in Chara, although he hasn't made good on it so far--but the desire is there. I saw it in Lucic last year. But is it enough? Will they all step up?

The way to the cup final is clear Boys. Are you gonna go for it?