Hawks Win With a Finish For the Ages

25 06 2013

They started as the best team and finished as the best team. Just when it seemed as though their hot start couldn’t be topped, they finished in dramatic fashion.

The Chicago Blackhawks took down the Boston Bruins 3-2 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to become the 2013 NHL champions. This is their second championship in the past four years.

The last few minutes of the game might have been some of the most intense and exciting hockey anyone could ask for.

Down 2-1 with only a little over a minute to go, the Hawks looked to be facing a decisive Game 7 and following suit with the NBA by taking their respective championship to the wire.

Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland had different plans.

At 1:16 left in the game, Bickell found a way to tie the game with goalie Corey Crawford out of the net. Without even giving fans a chance to catch their breath and ease their nerves, Bolland put in a deflection off the post…17 seconds later. This finish exemplifies what makes hockey so intense and engaging when you have two teams fighting to the finish…literally. This also close to guarantees that the league increased their viewership for the future.

Just as Ray Allen‘s Game 6 three-pointer completely changed the outcome of the NBA Finals, these back-to-back scores gave Chicago the championship and sent Boston fans home utterly shocked.

And just as championship teams of any sport need players to step up when the lights are shining brightest, Chicago had themselves a man that soaked up the light.

From his series-clinching hat trick against the Los Angeles Kings to his two goals in their Game 5 win in this championship series, Patrick Kane gave the Blackhawks what they needed when they needed it most. At only 24, he fought off his previous two regressed seasons to have an NHL playoff MVP season.

It’s only fitting that this team that set an NHL-record 24-game unbeaten streak to start the season finishes with an unbeaten streak. And right when people began to worry if Jonathan Toews‘ injury would hurt the Hawks’ chances of winning this series, he had himself a goal and assist in his final game of the season.

In a series with plenty of lead changes, injuries (I mean, how would you like to play professional hockey with a broken rib, a disk issue in your back or a dislocated shoulder?) and physical play after play, these teams embody the tough, never-give-up attitude that can do a team wonders in the NHL. It shows how the players in this league that put everything they have into their profession as they train and grind relentlessly have a good chance to make it to the top of the mountain.

The Blackhawks deserve to be on top of this mountain. Congratulations, Chicago.

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Fun Fact Friday

31 05 2013

The last four teams left in the 2013 NHL playoffs – the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins – are the last four Stanley Cup champions.

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2013 NHL Pre-lockout-shortened-season Predictions

14 01 2013

Guest writer: Chuck Heldridge

 

 

 

Eastern Conference:

Atlantic Division:

1. New York Rangers:  With Gaborik healthly again added to the addition of Rick Nash, there is no excuse for a failure to score goals. Their D is solid, Lundqvist is at least a top 5 goaltender, and they have a couple of great young forwards in Kreider and Hagelin. It’s Cup or bust for these guys.

 

2. Pittsburgh Penguins:  Forget Crosby for a minute, get excited about seeing Malkin and Neal together again. I’m still angry at Dallas for trading away Neal, no matter how well Goligoski plays. The real question on this team is their defense corps and goaltending. Their playoff performance last year was an abysmal failure, exacerbated by the fact the Flyers flopped in the second round after demolishing the Pens. Goal-scoring is not enough; if Pittsburgh wants to contend they need Fleury to regain his championship form.

 

3. Philadelphia Flyers:  Their offense could be amazing enough to singlehandedly snatch a postseason berth, but that alone will not make them contenders. They may have failed to attain Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but I love the trade to acquire Luke Schenn from the Leafs. This defensive needs some younger defensive talent, and hopefully he can provide that. Bryzgalov is undoubtedly the real question for this team: will Holmgren’s bold move pay off? It certainly hasn’t so far, considering that Richards and Carter just won the Cup in LA less than a year after being traded.

 

4. New Jersey Devils:  Eastern Conference Champions? Yes. Contenders next year? No. The loss of captain Zach Parise dooms this team, as do their ancient goaltenders Brodeur and Hedberg. The bright side for this team is young players Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson and Jacob Josefson. They all need to take another step forward this year if the Devils want to have any chance of being competitive in the Atlantic Division. Another painful indicator for this team: rampant rumors are circulating that Ilya Kovalchuk would rather stay in the KHL rather than return to New Jersey. Ultimately, he’ll likely rejoin the Devil’s club, but they need his heart and mind with the team, not back in Russia.

 

5. New York Islanders:  Just buy DiPietro out this offseason. What a terrible contract. Lubomir Visnovsky is determined to play anywhere but Long Island this season, and who can blame him? Tavares is likely a superstar, but that won’t be anywhere near enough for this team. Maybe they can put together a decent lockout-shortened season, but the early indications are that this team is doomed to hover near the bottom of the standings once again.

 

 

Northeast Division:

1. Boston Bruins: This team is loaded, definitely the top team in this division on paper. However, can Tuukka Rask adequately replace Tim Thomas? The talent is there, but that doesn’t guarantee things will work out. Boston should handily make the playoffs and win the division even with the shortened season, but can they avenge last year’s first-round exit?

 

2. Buffalo Sabres: This team now has the grit they’ve desperately needed. With the acquisition of Steve Ott, easily the most effective agitator (and perhaps most hated player) in the league, they need to step up. Also, no more letting opposing teams hit Ryan Miller without making the trainers scrape up the offender’s remains off the ice before the game is over. Derek Roy is a big loss, but this team is out of excuses and needs to make the playoffs.

 

3. Ottawa Senators: Can they make the playoffs again? Karlsson may be a superstar, Alfredsson is back for at least one last year, and Jason Spezza is in his prime. However, the team lacks proven depth and their goaltending is once again a concern. Was last year a fluke or can they claw their way back into the playoffs?

 

4. Montreal Canadiens: Can we say Jaroslav Halak? Carey Price needs to step up now. They have some good young talent, but with Markov, Gomez, Gionta and Cole reaching into their mid-thirties, this team cannot afford to wait forever.

 

5. Toronto Maple Leafs: Best fan base in the league, most profitable organization in the league, worst team in the league. Phil Kessel is a great player, but they’re going to lose him in two years if they don’t improve quickly. Will JVR provide the extra young talent that offense needs? Is Reimer the answer in net for both the present and the future? Or are they going to make another colossal mistake and trade for Roberto Luongo? GM Brian Burke was just fired, but will that translate to any real changes for this constantly underachieving team?

 

 

Southeast Division:

1. Carolina Hurricanes: Sure, they overpaid for Jordan Staal. Sure, they are taking a risk with Alexander Semin. But this team now has a very talented offense with brothers Eric and Jordan, shootout-extraordinaire Jussi Jokinen, young and talented Jeff Skinner, and the disgruntled free-agent Alexander Semin. With a decent defensive corps highlighted by young Justin Faulk, and a great goaltender in Cam Ward, this team could be the favorite to win a suddenly competitive Southeast division.

 

2. Washington Capitals: Adam Oates will certainly make this team more exciting to watch, but will he make them better? Their offense will likely improve under his oversight, but how will their defensive game fare? One has to assume that Braden Holtby is the man in Washington after his stellar postseason and the subsequent trade of Vokoun to Pittsburgh, but can he take the next step? Their defense was quite stingy last year, and that must continue. The draft day acquisition of Mike Ribeiro will provide much needed depth for their offense and even a fallback option if Backstrom is injured again this season. Washington is at the least a southeast contender, but if Oates can reignite their offense and Holtby proves last season was no fluke, then this team could win it all.

 

3. Tampa Bay Lightning: Stamkos is a superstar, St. Louis can still get it done at 37, and LeCavalier is still in his low thirties: this offense is as dangerous as any. However, will the additions of Nashville’s backup Anders Lindback and former-Flyers defensemen Matt Carle be enough to lower last year’s awful 3.39 goals against/game? Both were good pickups and should definitely help this defensive group, but it won’t be enough. Tampa will be competitive for a playoff spot, but will fall short.

 

4. Florida Panthers: Let Jacob Markstrom play already! Theodore and Clemmensen are old and nothing special, let the kid play. Can Peter Mueller stay healthy for once? How will their older vets fare this year after the lockout? Guys like Fleischmann, Weiss, Versteeg and Campbell will certainly make them competitive, but their division just got a whole lot better last offseason. It seems doubtful that this team will be able to repeat as southeast champs.

 

5. Winnipeg Jets: Their youth need to step up if this team wants to have any success this season. Pavelec needs to earn his contract (and avoid drunk driving charges) this season and beyond. Olli Jokinen is a good player, but he’s past his prime and I don’t see him improving this team significantly enough to make a difference. This team also needs to learn how to win an occasional road game this year.

 

 

 

Western Conference:

Central Division:

1. St. Louis Blues: They may have overachieved last year, but I’m convinced this team is legitimate. Halak and Elliot comprise perhaps the league’s best 1-2 punch in net, their defensive corps is as young and exciting as any, and they have some underrated talent up front in Oshie, Backes, and McDonald. Sure, they were dismantled by the Kings in the postseason, but who wasn’t? This team will take the next step and become a contender.

 

2. Chicago Blackhawks: Perhaps the only real question here is Corey Crawford. This team will certainly make the playoffs, but can they overcome their glaring disadvantage in net? If Crawford plays well in the postseason, they are among the most dangerous teams in the league.

 

3. Detroit Red Wings: Never count on Ken Holland. Yes, Detroit has seen better days, but Ken Holland will always keep this team competitive. Datsyuk and Zetterberg may be getting old, but they’re still superstars and the Red Wings will again be dangerous. I wouldn’t be surprised if this team managed to put together a postseason run this year.

 

4. Nashville Predators: Not a fun offseason for this team. Suter is gone, Radulov is back in the KHL, and Shea Weber just received a ridiculous contract thanks to the Flyers. Still, this team is not a bad defensive unit, and 22 year old Roman Josi may be able to blossom into a worthy defensive partner for Weber. Rinne will definitely steal a few games singlehandedly, but the goal support could be lacking this year.

 

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: Well, it’s a good thing they don’t actually have any fans to disappoint. Rick Nash is gone, and they don’t have many inspiring prospects to get overly excited about. Poor Jack Johnson is the new Rick Nash. This team needs guys like Ryan Murray, Derick Brassard, and Nick Foligno to blossom into stars if this team has any future in Columbus.

 

 

Northwest Division:

1. Vancouver Canucks: Two amazing regular seasons, two President’s trophies, a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, and a continued inability to win when it really matters. They still have a great team, but they need to win NOW. They’re going to run into major salary cap problems very soon (especially if they can’t manage to ditch Luongo) and they’re not getting any younger. Can Schneider be the man in Vancouver?

 

2. Minnesota Wild: No more excuses for this team. They’d just better hope that Parise and Suter and worth the $96 million contracts they each signed this offseason. Backstrom can certainly play, and this team now has the needed talent up front to make a legitimate run. Mikael Granlund is at the least a very good AHL player, but can he make the jump to playing in the NHL? Ultimately, this team needs to make the playoffs after their heavily scrutinized offseason.

 

3. Colorado Avalanche: This team might be really good, especially with the shortened season. They have loads of young talent, including Calder Memorial winner Gabriel Landeskog (youngest player to ever be named team captain). With other exciting young players such as stud defender Erik Johnson, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, and goaltender Semyon Varlamov, this team could become good in an extremely short amount of time.

 

4. Edmonton Oilers: Lots and lots of upside in potential superstars Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle (25 goals, 51 points in 34 AHL games this year!), Justin Schultz (48 points in 34 AHL games), Calder nominee and World Junior star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and this year’s first overall pick Nail Yakupov, Edmonton’s offense could become elite. They also have other good young players in Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner to fill out their future depth. Their defense should at least be competent, if not exciting. Goaltending? Not so much. Devan Dubnyk and 39 year old Nikolai Khabibulin don’t exactly spell out a bright future for this team’s netminding, but Edmonton will certainly have the trade assets to fix this problem.

 

5. Calgary Flames:  Old and not particularly promising, this team’s immediate future may not be so bright. Iginla and Kiprusoff are still great players, but they’re aging and won’t be able to help the team too much longer. They still have a good core, but pretty much everyone is either at the end of their prime or past it already. It might be time for them to start trading away their good players for prospects before all their trade value is gone. If they were making the playoffs every year then they could keep their team intact, but they constantly finish outside the top eight and should probably just tear the team up and move on.

 

 

Pacific Division:

1. Los Angeles Kings:  Move over San Jose, the division is yours no longer. The Stanley Cup Champions have their entire roster intact from last year, and with only one active player over 30 years old (Rob Scuderi, 34) they’re here to compete for a long time. They’ve got star talent, they’ve got depth, and they have a top goalie in 26 year old Jonathan Quick. This team is here to stay.

 

2. San Jose Sharks:  This team still has a great offensive and defensive corps. The problem: they’re not getting any younger. San Jose’s championship window is rapidly closing, and they’ve shown no ability to win past the first two rounds of the playoffs. Are they a good team? Absolutely, even though they’re depending on Niemi to play well for them in the net (still convinced he’s not a legitimate playoff goaltender even though he won it with Chicago). However, they need to win now.

 

3. Dallas Stars: Just give Jamie Benn whatever he wants, don’t you dare lose him. Loui Eriksson is probably the team’s best player, and Kari Lehtonen looks like a legitimate goaltender. Defensemen Philip Larsen may be ready to take the next step, and they have two Derian Hatcher-like defensive monsters in 20 year old Jamie Oleksiak (6-7, 254 lbs) and 22 year old Brendan Dillon down in the minors. The free agent additions of Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney show that this team is serious about competing. Derek Roy will hopefully be able to replace Mike Ribeiro on the first or second line. Can they make it back to the playoffs for the first time since they lost to Detroit in the Western Conference Finals?

 

4. Phoenix Coyotes: Head coach Dave Tippett (thanks a lot Nieuwendyk for firing him) will make sure this team is competitive, but once again they probably don’t have the necessary talent to compete with the top teams (not that it mattered last year). This team desperately needs good years from young players Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mikkel Boedker. Mike Smith needs to show that last year’s stellar performance was no fluke, or this team is doomed.

 

5. Anaheim Ducks: How does a team with names like Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne finish 13th in the West? They’ll need a bounce back effort this year, but this team has seen better days. Will Jonas Hiller be able to hold onto his starting job, or will a netminding change be in order for the Ducks this year?

 

 

 

Eastern Conference:

1. New York Rangers

2. Boston Bruins

3. Carolina Hurricanes

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

5. Washington Capitals

6. Philadelphia Flyers

7. Buffalo Sabres

8. Ottawa Senators

———————————–

9. Tampa Bay Lightning

10. New Jersey Devils

11. Montreal Canadiens

12. Florida Panthers

13. Toronto Maple Leafs

14. Winnipeg Jets

15. New York Islanders

 

 

Western Conference:

1. Los Angeles Kings

2. Vancouver Canucks

3. St. Louis Blues

4. Chicago Blackhawks

5. San Jose Sharks

6. Minnesota Wild

7. Detroit Red Wings

8. Dallas Stars

———————————

9. Colorado Avalanche

10. Nashville Predators

11. Phoenix Coyotes

12. Edmonton Oilers

13. Anaheim Ducks

14. Calgary Flames

15. Columbus Blue Jackets

 

 

Eastern Quarterfinals:

1) New York Rangers def. 8) Ottawa Senators (rematch!)

2) Boston Bruins def. 7) Buffalo Sabres

6) Philadelphia Flyers def. 3) Carolina Hurricanes

4) Pittsburgh Penguins def. 5) Washington Capitals

 

Western Quarterfinals:

1) Los Angeles Kings def. 8) Dallas Stars

7) Detroit Red Wings def. 2) Vancouver Canucks

3) St. Louis Blues def. 6) Minnesota Wild

4) Chicago Blackhawks def. 5) San Jose Sharks

 

Eastern Semifinals:

1) New York Rangers def. 6) Philadelphia Flyers

2) Boston Bruins def. 4) Pittsburgh Penguins

 

Western Semifinals:

1) Los Angeles Kings def. 7) Detroit Red Wings

3) St. Louis Blues def. 4) Chicago Blackhawks

 

Conference Finals:

1) New York Rangers def. 2) Boston Bruins

3) St. Louis Blues def. 1) Los Angeles Kings

 

Stanley Cup Finals:

New York Rangers def. St. Louis Blues

 

 

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Football – True Reality TV

17 09 2012


Ever since the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup and King James won his NBA championship, we’ve been waiting for the long summer season to come to an end. Now, the MLB has given us plenty of drama, and I fully expect a very entertaining October as we make our way into the playoffs.

However, ever since that first kickoff a couple of weeks ago, the sports world seems to be so much more alive. There’s nothing like a Saturday afternoon when no less than five big matchups are underway at the same time. Remotes across the country are pushed to the limit as we flip between the big upsets and the huge nail-biters. If you’re not careful, all of the sudden it’ll be 11:00 p.m. and the only thing you’ve done all day is get your fill of college football. If that isn’t crazy enough, we do it all again on Sunday afternoon as the pros take center stage.

The current level of excitement for American football is nothing short of amazing. Every week it seems like one of the networks is claiming that they just experienced their highest-rated game ever. Just last week, the NFL Network released a statement saying that their Packers-Bears Thursday night opener was their highest watched opener ever. That’s nothing compared to the news that came out last May, though. As all the major networks were wrapping up their seasons, NBC very proudly let the world know that their Sunday Night Football had unseated American Idol as the most-watched program on television for the 2011-2012 season. Wow. The fact that a football game could unseat the Fox singing competition juggernaut is nothing short of amazing.

With the increasing popularity of mobile devices, on-demand programming and Internet streaming, the networks have been struggling to figure out how to keep their viewers in front of the television. Nevertheless, the NFL, along with the other major sports, is somehow enjoying some of their highest popularity ever. The argument could be made that even the best CSI episodes can’t compete with the drama that unfolds in a Patriots-Giants game. The grittiest cop show can’t capture the magic of a 63-yard field goal. Televised sports is the original reality show and many might say that the Manning brothers, Tom Brady, and Jerry Jones provide a whole lot more entertainment than anything on Survivor, Big Brother or Jersey Shore.

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Kings of the Ice

12 06 2012

They might not have been the best NHL team for the entire season, but the Kings played as if they were one of the best teams assembled in NHL history when it mattered most.

After taking a 3-0 series lead on the New Jersey Devils, the Los Angeles Kings looked to be on their way to winning the first Stanley Cup championship since the franchise came into the league in 1967. Even though the Devils stormed back from their slow start, handed the Kings their first consecutive losses since early April and were halfway to becoming the fourth team in NHL history to come back from this seemingly unconquerable deficit, the Kings closed out the Stanley Cup Final in Game 6 as they defeated the Devils 6-1 Monday night.

Everything looked to be going the Kings’ way, especially at the start of the game when they scored three first-period power-play goals. Capitalizing on their power play situations has not been one of the Kings best qualities, so the fact that they did so three – count them, three – times proved to be crucial to their success. This game was practically over before it even began since the Devils would have to play unlike themselves to crawl out of this quick 3-0 hole. They had only averaged 1.4 goals against playoffs MVP Jonathan Quick up to this point in the series – no thanks to his superb play the past few months.

These “Road Kings” never looked back, as they have done since the playoffs began. With this victory, the Kings become the first No. 8 seed to take home the Stanley Cup. Their competition was steep but their determination could not be tamed.

Without a doubt, we are in the era of the “hot team.” Dallas Mavericks. St. Louis Cardinals. New York Giants. All three of these reigning champs paved their path to a championship by sprinting through the competition once the latter part of the season approached. Even though every one of these champs were competitive during the regular season, each team’s play progressively went to an entirely different level. A clutch level. A championship level.

As the Kings played their best hockey of the year from April 11 to June 11, they took down the top three seeds in the Western Conference on their way to the championship and simply found a way to fit into the era each professional sports league just can’t break out of. Being the “favorite” has harmed a team’s chances of going all the way (however, this trend will be over soon once the Oklahoma City Thunder or Miami Heat take home the Larry O’Brien trophy).

In 1988, the esteemed Wayne Gretzky came to L.A. with his Hollywood wife in hopes of bringing Lakertown something else to cheer about than a Lakers’ championship. Many envisioned this move sparking a new hockey dynasty. This didn’t pan out as the they only made it to the Stanley Cup Final once during Gretzy’s eight years with the team.

The Kings didn’t have the big name. The Kings had two different coaches this season. The Kings didn’t look to have what a legitimate contender needs to win a title. They didn’t care. This group of fantastic young hockey players that simply enjoyed playing with each other put together one of the best postseason runs ever with their 16-4 playoff blitz through the competition.

Kings fan had to wait a league record 45 years for this Stanley Cup title, but it has come and it is here. These players and these fans have proven to be a hockey town. Well, this town can now celebrate the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Championship together.

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In Case You Missed It… (Weekend Edition)

4 06 2012

Here is the Top 5 sports stories from this past weekend…

 

 

 

1. No More No No-Nos

New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana pulled off something that Mets fans have been craving for a while. A long while. Effectively using the inside the the plate against right-handed batters and hitting all his spots, the 33-year-old put together a spectacular game as he threw a no-hitter in an 8-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. The reason this holds even more significance than any normal abnormal no-no pertains to the fact that this was first in the Mets 50-year franchise history. Even though there was a controversial call on a Carlos Beltran foul ball, this should not take away from Santana and his monumental accomplishment. The way in which this no-hitter came about does not matter; what does hold significance is the achievement, and Santana brought the Mets one, tremendous achievement.

 

 

2. Kings of the Road

Just like that, the Los Angeles Kings have come out on top of two straight overtime games against the New Jersey Devils that ended with the exact same score, following suit with their road superiority during this year’s playoffs. Jeff Carter’s Game 2 overtime goal gave the Kings a 2-1 win that puts them two games away from taking home the prestigious Stanley Cup. At this point, no one should be surprised that the No. 8 seeded Kings are blitzing their way through the Stanley Cup Final so far. Goalie Jonathan Quick has provided the backbone for the defense while Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar seem to be hitting their stride at the right time. The Kings have only lost two postseason matches so far this year and are currently tied for the professional sports record for consecutive road playoff games won (12) dating back to last season. The word “momentum” has been taken to a new level by this group of men that won’t settle for anything short of winning it all. If Darryl Sutter can tell his team to drown out the cheering these next two games and convince them it’s another team’s road arena, this series could be wrapped up very quickly.

 

 

3. Wild Djoker

It can be assumed 75-percent of the time that Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer can be seen in the semifinals of any Grand Slam tournament (don’t ask me how I came up with that number). Well, the world almost saw this prediction fall short when Djokovic had a daunting obstacle to overcome Sunday morning. After looking very sluggish and losing the first two sets against Andreas Seppi, the No. 1 ranked player in the world realized he was the No. 1 ranked player in the world and finally began playing like it. He successfully completed the 0-2 set comeback by stealing a 4-6, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 4 victory that took 4 hours, 18 minutes and moved onto the quarterfinals of the French Open. The inability to make up for lost ground is something unique to tennis compared to other mainstream sports. If a basketball team gets down by 20 points or a baseball team can’t seem to put up a run for eight straight innings, there is still an opportunity to change the outcome of the game as a whole. When Djokovic lost those first two sets, he lost those first two sets. Point Blank. That’s why elite tennis players must have excellent psychological strength and have the ability to completely forget about a big lead or big deficit going into a clean slate at a new set. Instead of looking upon this as a negative and the fact that he struggled against a player ranked 24 spots below him, I see this as Djokovic proving his mental toughness in a sport that requires just that. If he continues to push through and win games in which he has 81 unforced errors, the Djoker might find a way to win his fourth straight Grand Slam tournament.

 

 

4. Back in the Woods?

After rallying from four back and birdying three of the final four holes to take home the Memorial for the fifth time in his career, Tiger Woods received the question he has dreaded for the past too-many years – is the old Tiger Woods back? He sarcastically remarked that “I feel like an older Tiger Woods.” However, even though Woods must be politically correct and avoid making a bold statement about the athlete that took golf to a level it has never been to before, this golf player might actually be somewhere in the vicinity of his former self. Why? A fist pump. After making one of the best chip shots ever, Woods showed a level of emotion he has not reached since his downfall. Woods showed a level of passion that has seemed benign to the viewer’s eye. Woods showed he might just be back. He looks to be in outstanding control of his swing, and the way in which he came back Sunday was nothing short of “Tiger-esque.” With this win, Woods now sits right along side Jack Nicklaus – who was at the Memorial as a spectator – for career PGA Tour victories. When the U.S. Open begins next week, don’t be surprised if somebody that you used to know shows up with clear intent to win his 15th major championship.

 

 

5. Rondo the maestro

When will this guy stop growing as a basketball player? Seriously? Even though Rajon Rondo has failed to complete a triple-double as he did three times in his first two playoff series, he has been the most influential basketball player on the court in the Eastern Conference Finals. As the Boston Celtics took down the Miami Heat in overtime, 93-91, to tie up a series with as many foul-outs as weird Russell Westbrook shirts (well, maybe not that many…), a shocking revelation about this series became apparent: for the first time since the Heat’s Big 3 came together, one of their playoff series is not about them. This is about the man that finds a way to put his fingerprints on every single NBA game he plays in, no matter the defense his opponent throws at him. This is about the player that did something no NBA player has ever done in the playoffs when he had 44 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in Game 2. This is about the 26-year-old that has already tied Bob Cousy for most 10+ assist games in Celtics postseason history. This is about Rajon Pierre Rondo. Even though the Celtics have their preset Big 3 that will be the image of their 2008 championship year, they have a new Big 1 that has seemed to mature right before our very own eyes. What will he do next in Game 5? That is the question people can’t wait to see answered. Rondo has created a reason for the nation to watch a Miami Heat basketball game unrelated to the Miami Heat. Wow.

 

 

Honorable Mention: Durant the Closer and Serge the Perfectionist

 

 

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Stanley Cup Final Preview

28 05 2012

 

Guest Writer: Andrew Gerberich

This Wednesday marks the beginning of the end of the most difficult journey in all of sports: the road to the Stanley Cup Finals. Players from these two remaining teams are already thinking about nothing more than raising Lord Stanley’s hardware over their heads. Thinking about what they’ll do with it, whether it’s sipping champagne, slurping out spaghetti or throwing it from a balcony into a pool, they can do whatever they please with it. But first, they have to play what will most likely be the most difficult series of their careers. Who would have ever thought at the beginning of the season these two teams would be playing in the Finals? And although these aren’t two higher market teams in the league, it will undoubtedly be an exhilarating series, and I personally prefer this matchup as opposed to a Pittsburgh/Detroit or Chicago/Philadelphia series. But let’s break it down for each team, and then I’ll chime in with my own views on this series…

 

For the Kings to win:

1.) Jonathan Quick must continue to be absolutely mammoth for the Kings if they want to have a shot at winning. He is 12-2 in these playoffs with a 1.54 GAA and a .946 save percentage. Yeah, you read that right. That’s good for first in all three categories. He has put on one of the best performances in recent memory this spring, and he will most assuredly win the Conn Smythe if the Kings come out on top.

2.) Their top guys have to keep finding the back of the net and coming up big. Captain Dustin Brown has had an MVP-esque playoff run with seven goals and nine assists. He and linemates Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams need to keep providing offense. I don’t see offense being much of an issue, though. Defensemen Drew Doughty also has to continue his impressive run. He’s been huge for them; look for him to continue to play 25+ minutes. And Darryl Sutter needs to also make sure and get Doughty and Scuderi out against the Zajac, Parise, Kovalchuk line.

3.) The power play has been atrocious for the Kings at 8.1 percent. This has to change. They have to come out and draw a call early in Game 1 and get themselves off the schneid. If they can’t get the ball rolling on special teams with all of the weapons they have, they’ll become an even more dangerous team.

4.) The Kings have yet to lose on the road at a perfect 8-0. If they can find a way to beat the Devils in their own building, they can start planning the route for their Stanley Cup parade.

5.) The Staples Center has to be rockin’ from puck drop of game three when the Kings get home. The fans can be a huge factor for both of these teams, but we already know the Prudential Center will be struggling to keep the roof from popping off, so Kings fans, I’m calling you out. Match the energy level of the Devils fans for the sake of your team.

 

For the Devils to win:

1.) Come out strong and finish strong. The Devils haven’t had a problem with that first part, outscoring their opponent 23-9 in first periods. But the second part is where they have trouble. They have been outscored 33-28 in the second and third combined. They have to play 60 full minutes. And I would imagine longer than that in a couple of games this series.

2.) Martin Pierre Brodeur has to play like 30-year-old Marty in his prime, which he has looked like at times, especially as the playoffs have progressed. It’ll be fun to see a little Old Bull/Young Bull action with him and Quick. He may be 40, but the Kings better respect him or the Devils will have this series wrapped up pretty quick (no pun intended). This is a guy who has rewritten the record book and is arguably the best goaltender of all-time (I still say Patrick Roy). So, the Kings better recognize.

3.) The key for the Kings’ power play is also the key for the Devils, except that the Devils need to shut it down. They were the best PK in the league during the regular season at 89.6 percent. And although they’ve only killed off 74.2 percent of penalties, they have a real opportunity to keep the Kings off the board and make them become frustrated with themselves at the lack of success on the PP.

4.) Pete DeBoer needs to make sure and roll all four lines. This is probably the biggest advantage the Devils have over the Kings: depth. The fourth line in particular has been phantasmagoric. They have combined for nine goals in the playoffs. If they play like they have all throughout the playoffs, this would give the Devils a fairly sizeable advantage. And of course, as long as the top two lines continue to play well.

5.) The Devils have a plethora of guys that have been X-factors in the postseason, including Adam Henrique, who has two OT game winners, which also happened to be series clinchers. You could put the whole fourth line of the Devils in this category, but I would focus heavily on Ryan Carter, who has already matched his regular season goal total of four. This is a guy who was claimed off waivers earlier in the season, and has played a huge role in the Devils Cup run. Another guy who has surprised a lot of people is Bryce Salvador. A veteran defensemen who had no goals during the regular season has three along with eight assists in the postseason, and has developed into a real shutdown guy. If the Devils can get the same production from these guys that they have received throughout the playoffs, they’ll be successful.

 

In Conclusion:

The depth scoring of the Devils and better balance will ultimately push them over the top and they will be the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup Champions. Although the Kings had a magical run, barely squeaking into the playoffs and stomping on the first three seeds in the West, I believe it will end with them going home empty-handed wondering what could have been. The experience and poise of Martin Brodeur will beat out his younger counterpart in Quick, but only time will truly tell. Devils in 6.

Fun Fact: No matter the outcome of this series, an American born captain will raise the Stanley Cup, either Dustin Brown of the Kings or Zach Parise of the Devils. They will be the second to do so in NHL history and first since Dallas Stars captain Derian Hatcher in 1999.

 

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