Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Long drought is over!

For the sell out crowd in Calgary Wednesday night, the future is finally here. Having sat on the sidelines through every playoff year since 1995-96, the hometown Flames are going to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Calgary clinched a playoff spot Wednesday night with a 1-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes, Mikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla the two big factors in tonight’s appointment with hockey destiny.

Kiprusoff recorded his fourth shut out of the year as a Flame, stopping 27 shots and earning a standing ovation as he shut down the Coyotes with four minutes to go in the third. With a last gasp flourish of shots each individual Coyote was turned away unrewarded.

Jarome Iginla scored the Flames marker and put himself into a tie for the goal scoring lead with Rick Nash of Columbus. Iginla has two more games to make the title his own as the Flames finish off the season against Los Angeles and Anaheim this weekend.

The two games could also help to improve their standing in the West Division. By Sunday they could possibly move as high as fifth place, though it’s probably of no importance where they finish now, just making the playoffs was the goal. Now the real work begins, the Flames who have developed into a solid, hard working team with excellent goaltending could be the team that gets the most mileage out of the playoffs this year.

For Darryl Sutter it keeps returns him to the playoffs, and shows why the Flames were so anxious to secure his services for Calgary. Up until last years playoffs Sutter had never missed a playoff round in his career, and had he been on the Calgary scene a little earlier last year he might have made it one year earlier. Regardless, his steady stewardship of the Calgary lineup has paid off big results, the team has accepted his guidance and responded accordingly. And now get to have a taste of the playoff derby, something none of them except for Iginla have been involved in.

The long suffering Flames fans are guaranteed of at least two more home dates now, playoff ones. There’s nothing to stop the team from keeping the ticket line ups stretch out through April and into May.

36 and 0 and counting!

The Canadian Women’s hockey team remains perfect in World Championships. Last night they defeated China 11-0 kicking off the 2004 tournament in fine style. Definitely having China’s number, Canada has outscored them 41-2 in the five matches in tournament history. On Tuesday night, Jayna Hefford led the way for Canada with a hat trick, Hayley Wickenheiser and Gillian Apps had two goals each, while Dana Antal, Danielle Goyette, Vicky Sonohara and Caroline Ouellette all marked one each.

Controlling all facets of the play, Canada put on a clinic last night in front of 5,400 fans at Halifax’s Metro Centre. As high as the score was it could have been a lot worse, Chinese goaltender Hong Guo, who is nicknamed the Great Wall of China, tried valiantly to keep her team mates in the game, making many saves, but eventually the amount of play in the Chinese end took its toll. Canadian goaltender Kim St. Pierre didn’t have a lot of work to do, but remained sharp on the few occasions the Chinese team crossed her blue line.

Canada takes the day off today, taking on Germany on Thursday in their final game of the Pool A play. Despite the one sided nature of the game, Canada feels they still have some work to do to get their game in top shape. They fully expect to be in their groove, the further along the go. The fans of Halifax can’t wait.

Suiting up on the Bertuzzi team

This is either an ominous development or just some solid planning, but regardless the optics of it all are not good. Todd Bertuzzi has retained the services of legendary Vancouver attorney, Len Doust to represent him in any potential litigation regarding the Steve Moore incident.

Doust who is considered one of the best legal minds in Canada would only confirm he has taken Bertuzzi on as a client, but made no comment regarding the ongoing police investigation or any potential civil action contemplated by Moore.

Vancouver Police expect to complete their investigation of the incident by the middle of April. It’s anticipated that they ill decide at that time whether to forward the case to the Crown Attorney for further action on the criminal front.

Moore in his press conference earlier this week, was rather circumspect about any potential legal action in the form of a civil suit over the incident. Though many observers of the conference feel that he had already been coached by the legal types so as not to affect any case later on.

For Bertuzzi retaining the services of Doust is a smart move, having represented many high profile clients in BC in the past, he surely knows how to handle not only the legal but the media circus that will no doubt accompany any court room appearances.

While Bertuzzi is obviously hoping that nothing more will come of the incident beyond the punishment meted out by the NHL, having a lawyer of Doust’s abilities and repute will be a necessity should the other shoe, the legal one, drop in this terrible incident.

Huge Points Lost

The one game the Oilers needed the most, they couldn’t have. Edmonton continued to suffer the misery of a visit to St. Louis, losing to the Blues 1-0 last night, dropping two points that may very well end their season. The Oil just can’t win a game in St. Louis, having been on the short end of the scoreboard over five years now.

By losing to the Blues, the Oilers now must turn their attention to the Nashville Predators, who are just above them in the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Nashville has a game in hand, so the final two Oiler games are vital to their chances. Lose against Dallas tonight or Vancouver on Saturday and it’s all over. Even with wins over both, the Oil will need some help to make the playoffs. A disappointing turn of events for a team that a week ago was streaking so hot that the idea of playoff tickets was no longer a remote thing.

Last night saw them outplayed and out battled by the Blues, who just wanted the win a little bit more than Edmonton. Jussi Markkanen was given the start in the Oilers net and he did his part to keep his team in the hunt, the Oiler’s just couldn’t score a goal and really couldn’t control much of the play either. Old friend Doug Weight scored the winning goal and may well be remembered as the guy that put the Oilers out of the playoffs.

For Edmonton it’s time to put aside the disappointment of Tuesday night, they need two wins to stay alive and hope for the best. Feeling sorry about their situation isn’t going to put them on the board, remarkable as their run has been sometimes you need a little luck, so far it’s not shining their way. But this has been a team that makes its own luck, so it’s back to work. A bit of assistance from Chicago, St. Louis and Colorado would be welcome. But first things first, taking care of their own game is job number one.

They’ve come so far, it would be a shame to see them fall just a little short.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Getting back in the groove

A nice big thank you card should be in the mail to the Phoenix Coyotes, their timely appearance at GM Place just what the Canucks needed to get their game back up to a higher level.

The woeful Coyotes helped the Canucks to head into the final week of the season feeling good about themselves, as they offered up little resistance, inviting the Canucks to score at will which they did.
With a 6-1 victory tonight, their third in a row, the suddenly confident Canucks can start putting together a game plan for the playoffs, the uncertain fragility of the squad from two weeks ago finally banished from the ice of GM Place. Out shooting the Dogs 31-9 by the time fourty minutes were up, the Cancuks just kept rolling their lines over the boards, controlling the play and scoring on seemingly every opportunity.

Markus Naslund finally found the net after a ten game drought scoring a goal from the slot in the second. Daniel Sedin also rediscovered his scoring touch on Monday, scoring his second goal in two games after having gone 14 without a goal. Matt Cooke continued to be strong on the first line, adding a sense of grit and playmaking ability to the line that has suffered the most fall out from the Bertuzzi suspension.

Dan Cloutier while hardly tested frequently had a shut out going until the last two minutes of play surrendering a goal to break his bid for a perfect night in the nets. The win helped the Canucks stay tied with the Stars for fourth in the West, however they still trail the Avalanche by one point, in their bid to take the Northwest division title and a guaranteed home ice advantage.

With three games to go, the Canucks travel to Anaheim on Wednesday and San Jose on Friday before returning home to play the Oilers on Saturday night. Six possible points that could put them over 100 on the season, something not many fans were thinking possible three weeks ago. The last three games have been major building blocks for this team, which is now starting to believe in themselves again. The next three could reinforce to them and the division that road to the Stanley Cup, may have to travel down Georgia Street before the Cup is handed out.

Steve Moore speaks out!

Three weeks after he lay on the ice at GM Place, his vertebrae fractured, and his head concussed, Steve Moore has made his first comments on the infamous Todd Bertuzzi incident.

In a Denver press conference, Moore wearing a large neck brace faced the media, updating one and all on his status, answering some questions and declining opinions on others. In a rather tightly controlled affair, Moore seemed tentative to offer any opinion of the night, sidestepping any reference to Bertuzzi what so ever. He likewise offered no information as to whether he would file a civil suit if his recovery plans did not work out and his career was over. Avalanche officials would occasionally jump into the proceedings to steer the conversation back on the points they felt needed to be addressed, his injuries and the rehabilitation that he faces.

When asked if he had heard about Bertuzzi’s emotional apology, he said he had not heard it. Had he been in contact with Bertuzzi at all? His answer an evasive no, claiming he had many friends and family he had to contact and that was his priority at the moment. He disclosed that he has no real recollection of events roughly fifteen minutes before the incident and twenty minutes after it, suffering a form of amnesia surrounding the hit. When asked if he expected to play again, he said he didn't know at this time.

If the press was waiting for a “forgiveness” quote they went home unhappy. Then again he did not launch an attack on Bertuzzi for his wanton disregard for the health of a fellow player. Moore played the position straight down the middle. Perhaps with a possible eye to litigation later on, he was advised to keep his remarks generic and focused on his injuries and the recovery phase. To that point he thanked the Hospital staffs both in Vancouver and Denver, thanked the fans world wide for their kind wishes and said he hoped that he would reach a full recovery.

His opening remarks along the line of just being glad to be out of hospital and able to walk, basically set the tone for the roughly 25 minute press conference. Covered in force by all three Canadian Sports network and in Vancouver on CKNW (check out the audio vault at 3:25 for a replay of it) it ended as quietly as it began, Moore simply standing up and saying thanks and walking out the door.

With the conference over, the columnists have begun to file their reviews. Alan Maki in the Globe and Mail the first out of the gate as he bemoans an opportunity lost, the press conference indicative of what the NHL has become, a tightly controlled, legally focused corporation.

As Moore continues his rehab, there is still one final shoe to drop in the current situation. Vancouver Police have yet to announce their findings in the incident, still investigating the on ice event for possible criminal intent. Should they decide to hand the case off to the Crown for prosecution, the next press conference may give the media more interesting clips, sending the story off in a whole new direction.

For now the focus is on Moore and his recovery, the Vancouver Canucks issuing a brief press release expressing relief that Mr. Moore is on his way to recovery, wishing him well with his rehabilitation. They also added that due to the time of the season, the hockey club will not be commenting any further on the incident until after the playoffs. Something that they may wish will happen, but one suspects that they won’t be able to avoid the issue. There will be more news announced shortly and answers to be provided, before the Canucks play their last game of the season.

SENS reign Thunder over Lightning

If Monday night was a preview of an eventual Eastern final, then stock up on videotapes, because we’re in store for some exciting hockey. But if the stats are to be studied, for the Lightning it will only mean a quick exit.

The Senators continued their dominance over Tampa, with a thrilling 5-4 Overtime victory in front of over19, 000 Lightning fans. It was Ottawa’s fourth win over the Bolts this season, sweeping the season series 4 games to none.

Chris Phillips scored the winner with just one minute remaining in the Overtime frame, giving the Sens the win and keeping the pace with the Leafs in the hotly contested North East Division title race.

Martin Prusek once again got the start for the recovering Patrick Lalime and kept the Sens in the game in the third period and the Overtime. Prusek had a shaky first period featuring one shot going off a post and another Cory Stillman shot finding the mark behind him after twelve minutes of play. However, as things went along, it became a firewagon style of game, giving him ample opportunity to redeem himself.

Daniel Afredsson fresh off his newly renegotiated contracted reached a Senators milestone tonight, his goal in the third period, the 219th of his career put him at the top of the Senators all time scoring list. Purging forever the name of some guy named Yashin, who is apparently in the witness relocation program living somewhere in New York. Alfie who is locked in with the Sens for the next five years, dominated a lot of the play while on the ice, proving that the 32 million dollars is a wise investment.

For Tampa losing out on the two points may be a costly, it may have come in handy in the chase for the Presidents trophy against Detroit. The Wings beat Minnesota tonight and lead the Bolts by 1 point at 105 on the season. Tampa has two games remaining, the Wings three. For the Sens, they remain one point behind Boston and Toronto for the title to the North East Division, with the winner probably not known til the last puck is dropped on Saturday night. The last week of the regular season is quickly becoming just as exciting as game seven of a Stanley Cup final!

Will Monday be a black day for the Leaf Nation?

Toronto Maple Leaf fans will be waiting for the Doctor today, and they’ll be holding their breath while he talks. Owen Nolan’s knee will be subject to an MRI and general pushing and probing. All because of a hit he tried to lay on Brian Smolinski in Saturday night’s Battle of Ontario at the Air Canada Centre. Nolan went in awkwardly while trying to finish a check behind the Senators goal, his knee buckling as he collided with Smolinski, Nolan eventually had to be helped off the ice, in a fair amount of pain.

GM John Ferguson was remaining tight lipped Sunday, not venturing an opinion one way or the other on the status of Nolan. Only saying that he would be looked at again on Monday and any decision required would be made at that time. If indeed Nolan’s knee requires surgery, the Leafs would probably want to have it take place as soon as possible.

It’s another setback for Nolan, who joined the Leafs in time for last years playoff run and had to play through the pain of a hip flexor through the entire playoffs. Earlier this season he suffered a near career ending eye injury and now this, Nolan and Leaf fans alike must be wondering why he can’t catch a break.

Some of the Leafs are blaming the ice surface at the Air Canada Centre for the injury to Nolan’s knee and a similar problem with Patrick Lalime. He also stumbled awkwardly on Saturday night, having to be pulled from the game and is now listed as day to day.

Alex Mogilny classifying the ice surface as “ridiculous”, stating that the conditions at the ACC are a sore point with the players. For his part GM Ferguson says he’s heard no complaints about the ice of late.

Nolan’s injury, the latest in a string of veteran Leafs that has been hurt, must be weighing heavy on the Leaf Nation today. They face the prospect of winning that Stanley Cup starting to fade away with each addition to the injury roster.

Wild University thriller gives ST. F X the title

The game featured everything you could want, double overtime, end to end rushing, punishing checks and some spectacular goaltending. Sundays CIS Championship game had it all.

With the hometown UNB Reds taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the first period, many in the Aitken Centre Stands were getting ready to celebrate. That is until the St. F X, X-men finally got their wheels going, tying the game up early in the third period. After that it was firewagon style hockey from end to end, through the third, into a fourth and half way through the fifth.

St. F X dodged a big bullet when Blake Robson took a penalty at about the 6 minute mark of the 2nd overtime, St. F X held off the attack with goaltender Mike Mole doing his best to keep the Reds off the board and from claiming the title.

As is usually the case in these nail biting epics, it was the penalized Robson who would become the hero of the game. At 10:13 of the second OT, he blasted down the left wing, putting the puck over the shoulder of UNB's Reg Bourcier to claim the title, 3-2 X Men.

For UNB a disappointing finish to the game and the tournament. Controlling most of the play in the game they let St. F X back in and paid the price for it. The Reds can take some consolation from the tournament though, they came into the week ranked as the sixth seed, but defeated the mighty Alberta Golden Bears to get to the final, the first defeat for the Bears this year. By the end of the tournament the usually formidable Bears would have their second defeat losing to Dalhousie 4-1 in the consolation round.

That gave all three medals to Atlantic Schools in the tournament, a pretty good testimony to the quality of Hockey being played down east. For Canadian University hockey it was just a super exhibition of the quality of the game and a decent recruitment vehicle for those kids looking for a hockey alternative to the Junior game, or the US college scene.

TSN carried the weekend eliminations and the final on Sunday. Judging by the excitement generated, one wonders if a game of the week in CIS hockey isn't too far down the line.

Oilers keep on the trail

"We want the playoffs, We want the playoffs". That was the cry from the sold out Rexall Centre Sunday night, as the Edmonton Oilers did their part to keep the bargain. The Oil continued on their winning ways with a 4-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.

Igor Ulanov, Petr Nedved, Fernando Pisani and Mike York were the goal scorers for the Oil as they collected points in their sixteenth consecutive game. Shane Doan scored twice in a losing cause for Phoenix.

The win keeps the Oilers tied for the eighth and final playoff position in the NHL West with the Blues. The two teams go head to head on Tuesday night. Trailing by two points are the Nashville Predators, who also have a game in hand. St. Louis had back to back games against the Chicago Black Hawks this weekend, helping them to keep pace with the three contenders in the West.

For the Oilers it's one game at a time. With three road games to come, St. Louis on tuesday, Dallas on Wednesday and in Vancouver on Saturday. They have a bit of work to do, if they want to give the Edmonton fans what they were chanting for at games end Sunday.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Confidence

A big win for the Vancouver Canucks tonight as Brendan Morrison's overtime marker gave the Canucks a much needed win on home ice. A possible playoff preview had the Stars and Canucks play a tight checking, hard hitting affair at GM Place. Dan Cloutier making a number of key saves to keep his team in the game during the third period.

The good news for the Canucks was the lack of panic that seemed to envelope them in the games since the first week of March. Tonight, they didn't appear to get rattled when Dallas would pull ahead on the scoreboard, or put a bit of pressure on them in their own end. Another promising sign was the re-emergence of Markus Naslund's offensive touch, he was in the flow of the game much more tonight, getting a number of chances to score. Also finding their game returning a bit were the Sedin's, who had a number of chances to score, only to be thwarted by a fairly solid Ron Tugnutt in the Stars net. Henrik finally got his first goal in 14 games scoring a tying goal in the first period. Dallas took the lead in the second with a Pierre Turgeon marker, Geoff Sanderson answering that goal at 9:38 of the third. The rest of the third was all Canucks as they buzzed around the Stars end of the ice, coming up just short of winning in regulation time.

Tied 2-2 after three they went to overtime, Morrison scoring the winner just forty seconds into the extra period. With the win the Canucks climb closer to the Colorado Avalanche in the hunt for first place in the Northwest Division.

The game was not without it's losses though, Bryan Allen and Brad May both left the game and did not return. Allen apparently holding his shoulder as he left the ice, May suffering what is called a lower body injury, received when he was hit into the boards by Brendan Morrow. Despite the injuries, which aren't wanted heading into the playoffs, Marc Crawford must have been pleased with the effort of his club, especially the third period which had all the Canucks involved in the play. If he can keep that work ethic up for the next week, the playoff run may not have to be deferred to another year. A game like tonight's' will go along way to giving them both team and individual confidence, a tonic for the uncertainty they've shown during their free fall of the last two weeks.





The Battle of Wounded Knees

The Leafs and Sens settled nothing Saturday night, each got a point for their efforts on the ice, and both watched a star player leave the ice with knee problems. A 2-2 tie the final result of 65 minutes of entertaining, if not high scoring hockey at the Air Canada Centre.

A rather conservative affair for the national TV audience, as both teams took turns heading into the other’s end firing a shot at the goaltender, then returned to cover their end of the rink. An unlikely goal scorer Rob Ray, who only came out of retirement, last month scored the opening goal in the 1st period. Close checking and lucky breaks were the order of the day, the rest of the game. Jason Spezza jumped on the ice too quickly, resulting in a too many men on the ice penalty, which Ron Francis capitalized on to tie the Leafs at 1 with the Sens early in the second period. Chris Phillips gave the Sens the lead back in the later stages of the second period. Brian McCabe evened it up and wrapped up the scoring in the third, just trying to get a shot on net, it somehow eluded back up goaltender Martin Prusek, going into the net. The teams would not score any more during the game and overtime.

With both teams gaining only one point, they fall a little further behind the Boston Bruins in the North east Division, they defeated Montreal 3-2 tonight. The Bruins are now two points ahead of the Leafs, three ahead of the Sens. Toronto has three games left in the season, Boston and Toronto each has four.

The real story tonight though will be the status of Patrick Lalime, who left the game with some kind of knee problem in the first period. He fell awkwardly in his net, and then skated to the bench and off the ice done for the night. Doctors say it probably is not a serious injury and he will continue on with the Sens as the road trip continues. An injury to the starting goaltender not something that Sens fans want to deal with heading into the playoffs. Prusek for the most part played well in the Sens net, with the exception of the winning goal by McCabe.

Over on the Leafs bench, they were holding their breath as Owen Nolan ended up on the ice in the Ottawa end after trying to finish off a check into Brian Smolinski. Nolan had to be helped from the ice and now has to wait for the swelling to go down before Doctors can determine how much if any damage he has suffered.

For the most part the Sens/Leafs game was a rather tame affair, nowhere near as bitter and nasty as some of the games in the past. The teams renew acquaintances again in six days, the final Hockey Night in Canada from the east of the regular season. Saturday night, could also end up serving as a warm up session for the first round of the playoffs.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Leafs and Sens renew acquaintances tonight at the ACC

Home Ice advantage is just one of the sub plots in tonight’s Hockey Night in Canada match up between Ottawa and Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. When we last left the provincial cousins coach Pat Quinn was saying rather uncomplimentary things about the Senators players and coaching staff.

In the intervening days since the last game, we’ve seen the Toronto management pony up some money so their fans can wear their sweaters inside the Corel Centre when the two teams meet next Saturday night in Ottawa. And we've hard talk, lots and lots of talk.

Tonight First place in the Northeast could become a bit clearer, as the teams scramble for home ice advantage in the playoffs and tonight could set the tone for a possible playoff match up.

Both teams are coming off of big wins from Thursday, the Sense shutting out the Canadians 4-0 in Montreal, with Patrick Larimer having one of his best performances of the year thus far. The Leafs taking care of the Bruins 2-0, making the logjam at the top of the Northeast something that probably won’t be sorted out until the last game of the season.

Both teams will be relatively healthy for the game tonight, the February 5th game in Ottawa, featured a flu ridden Senators squad, which had a hard time keeping its players on the bench let alone on the ice.

Some hard hits, fast paced action and some solid goaltending. That should be the recipe for tonight’s contest, while the two teams don’t really need to get up for each other anymore, the fact that they are still so close to each other in the standings with one week to go, should make this a pretty intense night of hockey.

Ken Dryden's plans to save and change our game

Ken Dryden has produced a lengthy, well researched and weighty examination of our National Game, and strongly urges us to begin a comprehensive review of all facets of the game we love. Tracing the 125 year history of the Game, Dryden explains how the game today does not resemble the game of yesteryear, and why the game of tomorrow needs to move away from what we offer today.

He traces the modern era of Hockey with a fair amount of passion, explaining how the players have become bigger, faster and stronger over the last 25 years. Expansion increasing the need for bodies to fill rosters, adopting a style of hockey that will keep the games close, not particularly entertaining but close enough to keep the fans coming back.

His examination of the size factor is an interesting point to ponder, in 1952 the average player measured 5 foot 10 and ¾ inches, weighing in at 175 pounds, in 2003 that same player has grown to 6 foot one inch and 204 pounds, adding 29 pounds of force to a game moving a much faster pace. This he says is the main factor for the many serious injuries of late, the concussions and the season ending trips to the trainer’s room or hospitals.

He bemoans the increased hitting from behind, which he feels are leaving us dangerously close to a horrible situation where players will not get up after being hit. Finishing the check, long the holy grail of many a coach, comes in for criticism as well, Dryden pointing out that it wasn’t always part of the game, instead finishing your check would be considered interference in earlier days, the referees no longer inclined to call it or even advise the players that it could be considered a penalty. He offers the opinion that hitting from behind, finishing your check and hits to the head are all unneeded aspects of the game, ones which not only put the players in personal danger but detract from the flow and speed of the game.

His many comments will serve as an interesting starting point for the debate to come. There are many in the sport that will dismiss his opinions out right. The old guard that believes the game doesn’t need a major overhaul, perhaps a subtle tweaking but nothing more.

There is a certain portion of the league who will not agree with Dryden at all, Pat Quinn is on record as saying the game doesn’t need to be overhauled and he’s working under the same roof as Dryden. Brian Burke of the Canucks was quite vocal about the verbal wanderings of Dryden, in a recent hour long appearance on the Bill Good Show on CKNW in Vancouver, Burke stated that “Ken Dryden doesn’t speak for me” and Don Cherry will not have much time for Dryden’s thoughts on hitting and finishing checks. No doubt he’ll offer the counterpoint on Coach’s Corner. The always vociferous Toronto media already are compiling the us against them stories of the Maple Leaf offices; the essay provided by Dryden will most likely widen the differences at the Air Canada Centre even more.

But by speaking out as he has, at least Dryden has brought the topic of change in the game to a higher level. The debate will carry on through the playoffs and should the expected strike or lock out occur, we’ll all have lots of time to debate the merits of the current style of the game. The players, the owners, the managers and the fans, they all must have ideas on how to make the game safer and better, the key will be trying to find a consensus from so many different opinions.

OILERS win big, pull into seventh place

Kevin Lowe’s trading deadline shopping trip has paid off big dividends for the Oilers, as Petr Nedved put the go ahead goal behind Roman Chechmanek in the second period. It was Nedveds 300th career goal in the NHL. More importantly for the Oilers it was Nedveds fifth goal since joining them for the playoff run, bringing his total points as an Oiler to 11 so far.

Providing the Oilers with the scoring touch that they needed, Nedved is quickly winning fans in the dressing room, along the bench and in the stands. On the short end of tonight’s action were the LA Kings, who with this 3-1 loss have dug themselves a very deep hole in any bid to make the playoffs. Losing their sixth game in a row, they now have only five games left to catch the St. Louis Blues for the final playoff spot in the West.

Out shooting the Kings 32-19, the Oilers took an early lead gaining a two goal advantage by the 13 minute mark of the first, Fernando Pisani and Ryan Smyth scoring to put the Oil ahead. The Oilers dominated play in the first period marking 18 shots on net compared to the Kings 5. Andy Murray must have motivated the Kings for a bit in the first intermission, as Ian Lapierre, helped the Kings to battle back into the game at 2:33 of the second. The teams would trade chances for the bulk of the period until Nedved put the game away at 18:24 of the second. There would be no scoring in the third.

Ty Conklin continued to hold down the fort in the Oiler end of the ice and while not tested often, he made the big saves when required. With tonight’s win the Oilers have now gained at least a point in their last fifteen games, and move into seventh place in the West. With LA seemingly drifting away from the pack, the final week should provide some exciting moments for the Oilers, the Predators and the Blues (who have a game in hand) as they jockey for the final spots in the NHL West.

With Nedved starting to fire on all cylinders, the Oilers must be feeling fairly optimistic about their chances.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Mr. Bettman, CNN on line one, Mr. Bettman, Mr. Bettman?

Not content to find the good name of hockey trashed in the American media for violent incidents on the ice, the NHL now finds itself in the midst of a sex scandal of all things.

The now ex-captain of the Ranger City Skaters, a cheerleader type of group that appears at Ranger games (who knew the NHL had cheerleaders!) has filed a complaint with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing an un-named Madison Square Garden executive with Sexual harassment. She also claims that she was fired because of she was warning other members of the Skaters of the executives intentions.

Courtney Prince, 25 and an original member of the Skaters has been making the media rounds the last few days telling her story to anyone giving her the time of day. Friday’s appearance was on CNN’s prime time program Anderson Cooper 360, where Prince, fellow skater Amea Smith and lawyer Katherine Peratis, told the CNN audience stories of MSG executives pressuring the Skater Girls to attend bars with them. Many of whom were only 18 years of age; Peratis suggests they attended as they were afraid to lose their jobs. She also questioned the morality of married MSG execs taking young girls out on “dates”.

Ms. Prince also accused MSG executives of boorish behavior, suggesting some girls go for breast enhancements and cutting off the complimentary cookies for the team due to perceived weight problems. She also said that the execs were rude to the team members suggesting that some of them were ugly.

Needless to say with the Rangers nowhere the playoffs, the New York papers are running wild with the story. This is probably a good thing for Glen Sather but not necessarily for Gary Bettman. He’s already got Colin Campbell handling the on ice stuff; this backroom material needs an avowed arbitrator of morality. Perhaps he can get Dr. Laura to take a few hours out of her day to sit in on a hearing. She’ll no doubt be able to peel the paint off the walls of the executive offices at the Gardens.

Living in the Jersey witness protection program

It's a mystery to rival the saga of Jimmy Hoffa, when will Scott Stevens make his re-appearance on the New Jersey blue line. Out of the line up since Jan 7, Stevens was supposed to face the media this week with a health update, but his press conference was unexpectedly cancelled with no reason giving. A situation that has sent the rumour mill into overdrive.

Such were the wild suspicions being bounced around the Jersey area, that Lou Lamoriello finally held a conference of his own to try and clear up some of the outstanding questions. Listed as suffering from a concussion now, originally Stevens had been described as just ill. A situation that has resulted in whispers of burnout and fatigue taking it's toll on the 40 year old blue liner. Something to which Lamoriello denies is the cause of Steven's absence.

Having started light skating within the last couple of weeks, the Devils are hoping that concussion specialist Dr. Karen Johnston gives Stevens a clean bill of health shortly and that he can rejoin the Blue line by playoff time. Until then though, Stevens will continue to live within the arrangements of the Devils Witness Protection Plan. Condition unlisted, whereabouts unknown.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Lalime back in a groove

Just in time the Sens and Patrick Lalime seem to be on the same page again. Thursday night saw the Sens head into Montreal and Patrick played one of his best games of the year, leading his team mates to a 4-0 win over the Habs.

Surviving an early rush of Habs in the first period, the Sens built up a 2-0 lead by the time the second period came around. The Sens totally dominatined the Habs in the second, Montreal unable to get a shot on goal for the first fifteen minutes. Unable to take advantage of power plays and outhustled and hit for the bulk of the game, Montreal would rebound a bit in the third, but were unable to beat Lalime on the night.

The Sens received two goals from Alfredsson and one each from Smolinski and Spezza. Alfredsson's goals putting him over the 30 goal plateau for the second season in the last three that Alfredsson has scored 30 or more goals. Lalime recorded his second shutout in four games, and rebounded nicely from his shaky effort in Boston the other night.

With the win the Sens keep pace with the Maple Leafs, one point behind the Leafs as they prepare to head into the last weeks of the season. With Lalime starting to have more confidence on the ice and the bench coming alive to score some goals, the Sens should find that they won't have much to do to take things to next level. With his improved play, Lalime's confidence should be rising, with it will come the team chemistry that has kept Ottawa on it's winning ways the last couple of years. The time is right to carry things on into the playoff rounds.

The Healing power of Hockey

There's a pretty special thing happening in Fredericton these days, friendships are being formed and damaged relations repaired, all thanks to minor hockey.

Last year a Peewee hockey team from Brockton, Massachusetts arrived in Montreal to take part in a tournament there, something they had been looking forward to all year. The visit went wrong right from the start, as they were unloading their luggage from their bus, it became the target of Anti Iraq war protestors wandering through the streets of Montreal, banging on the bus, cursing and yelling at the passengers, 12 year old boys, the moronic behavior of the protestors causing much alarm amongst the chaperones and players alike. Things didn't get much better as the visit went on, the next night while attending the Bell Centre for a hockey game, normally a festive event for any twelve year old, they heard their anthem booed and their presence in the building mocked. They left after the second period and went home, pulling out of the tournament many vowing to never to return to Canada again.

Over the next week and month, the Brockton Boxers received e mails, letters and various forms of apologies for the boorish behavior of a small portion of Montreal. But one fellow in New Brunswick went the extra step to try and repair the battered image of Canada. Brian Johnson a hockey parent in Fredericton, New Brunswick took it upon himself to try and make amends. He and other parents put in motion plans to bring the Boxers to New Brunswick for a friendly tournament. Approaching the Brockton parents himself, Johnson started in motion an event, that has mushroomed into a symbol of good will and good sporstmanship. The Premier of New Brunswick visited the Massachusetts state House last week with team jackets and personal invitations to attend. Setting the tone for what was to come.

The Boxers traveled to New Brunswick yesterday, met at the border by an RCMP honour guard, a police escort through St. Stephen, the border crossing and hundreds of minor hockey players banging their sticks in salute as they crossed into the province. The fence mending has continued in Fredericton with a gala dinner with Frank Mahovolich as a keynote speaker, a friendly hockey game in the midst of the Canadian University championships and a pond hockey game with the Stanley Cup on the banks of the pond for inspiration. To show twelve year old kids that there really are no differences between the two countries, the teams were deliberately split up, Canadian and American peewees playing on the same sides, in Canadian and American sweaters. The score an 8-7 USA victory, irrelevant to the friendships being created.

Brockton Mayor Jack Yunnits says his kids are walking on air, overwhelmed by the reception. You can't help but admire the tenacity of Mr. Johnson, for taking on a task such as this. While the cards, letters and e mails probably had started to soothe the justifiably bad image our country received, Mr. Johnson took it to another level, getting out and doing something about it. Showing a group of twelve year olds that they really shouldn't have been held accountable for decisions made by adults. As much as we treasure the idea of free speech and the right to protest, treating 12 year old boys as badly as these ones were treated, doesn't put a particularly good light on our sense of perspective. Fortunately the attitudes of those in Montreal those days reflect the smallest minority of Canadian opinion, the reaction to the incident from ordinary Canadians a much more telltale indication of Canadian beliefs.

But as it always will be, it's the kids that once again help us to recapture some sense of doing the right thing. In a month where hockey seems to have been under attack from all corners, the events in New Brunswick this week give you some hope. The Brockton Boxer and Fredericton Canadien players, 12 year olds that they are, could probably teach the boors of a year ago a lesson in civility. The ability to share good times and good competition in New Brunswick says a lot about their character. The fact that the hockey parents of New Brunswick went to such remarkable lengths to reverse the bad feelings tells us a bit about ours as well.


All Brian, All the Time

Brian Burke was all over the media Wednesday, with the Canucks running their Canucks for kids promotion, Burke took to the airwaves in seemingly a non stop blitz of appearances.

Beginning with Neil MacRae's sportscast at 8:15 on CKNW, Burke then sat in for an hour with Bill Good on his NW talk show. He wrapped up his broadcast day with an appearance between periods with Tom Larscheid during the Canucks broadcast.

The bulk of his airtime was spent in defence of his players, Burke claiming that he can see them working their way out of their funk of late. Beginning to turn things around as the playoffs appear on the horizon. MacRae solicited opinions on such things as fragility, goaltending and Ken Dryden.

Good tired to get him to shed more light on his contract situation, which he declined to do. He did however arouse some anger in Burke about the media in Vancouver, Burke singling out Tony Gallagher of the Province as someone that he dislikes immensely.

His final NW appearance of the night, ended up as a lavish testimony by Larscheid as to the skills Burke has brought to the team and the community. Sounding almost as though Larschied expects Burke to be leaving at the end of the season, he expressed disdain at the way management had handled Burke's contract. Wishing he would be signed and they would get to chat again next year.

A whirlwind of media exposure for Burke who had been keeping a low profile in the days after his media conference over the Bertuzzi affair. To check it all out for yourself head for the CKNW audio vault, from 8:15-9:30 you'll get a sample of All Burke, All the time.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

21 of 26

You want a reason for the success of the Edmonton Oilers and why they have clawed their way back into the playoff race in the NHL west, then the above is your evidence.

Credits to Neil MacRae of CKNW, he first pointed out the Oilers' spectacular run on statistics in his morning sports today. Thirteen games, 21 of 26 points taken, it is almost perfection. The Oilers have been the hottest team in the league of late, putting together a game plan that has finally rewarded coach Craig MacTavish with not only hard work, but results as well.

The winning ways continued on Monday night, the Oilers going into Los Angeles and taking 2 points away from the Kings with a 2-1 victory, vaulting themselves into a seventh place tie with Nashville in the West. The Blues are now the odd team out, in the always changing playoff picture in the West.

Ryan Smyth was the hero of the night, cut, bloody and determined he scored the winning goal on a deflection late in the third. The Kings had battled back to tie the Oilers, with Luc Robitaille passing Johnny Bucyk's point totals for a left winger with an assist. But that would be the end of the celebration for the Kings and their fans, Smyth countered with his goal two minutes later. The celebration worthy of a Stanley Cup championship. The beauty for the Oilers is that they can control their own destiny now, not having to depend on others to keep them in the playoff hunt.

For a team that many had doubts about at the all star break the turn around has been nothing but remarkable. The Oil is definitely back, with both them and the Flames flying high at the moment, Alberta hockey is pretty hot. It's a little bit early to think about it, but, are we in store for another of the storied battles of Alberta? It will take a few lucky breaks down the line, but the way both teams are playing at the moment it's not beyond the realm of belief. CBC must be rubbing their hands with glee, a Flames/Oilers matchup would catch the interest across the country, one just hopes that it's much later in the playoffs. These are teams you'll want to watch go a long way!

Monday, March 22, 2004

A goalie Spurned

The day after the Canucks threw away two separate leads in a 5-4 loss to Columbus, found the club back on the ice tuning up for the next game Wednesday against LA. Stopping by for a chat with the players was Todd Bertuzzi, who checked into the dressing room before practice. Apparently trying to be useful, offering his observations, going over tape and generally trying to help his co-workers get their game back. Crawford afterwards commented about Bertuzzi's appearance in the building and how it's a positive not only for Bertuzzi, but for the team as well.

Out on the ice there seemed to be a little bit of finger pointing going on, Johan Hedberg left to practice by himself at one end of the rink, the rest of the squad working out at the other. Was Hedberg put in the doghouse by coach Marc Crawford? Was he working on his concentration in solitude? Has the rest of the team sent him a less than subtle message, of disappointment? No one is talking, Hedberg in an interview afterwards with CKNW (check out the audio vault for Sports at 4:30 for a clip) claimed all was well, he was still confident in his abilities.

Crawford had no comments regarding his goaltender after the practice, though he did hint that it was a disappointing turn of events last night, suggesting that Hedberg was partially responsible for last nights loss.

Dan Cloutier apparently took a quick skate and headed back into the dressing room, no word on his status or the extent of his "lower body injury".

Hedberg apparently left the practice not having faced shot, on the up side, no pucks got by him either!

Two points out!

Edmonton heads into tonight’s game in Los Angeles with renewed optimism. It was only a few short weeks ago, that many hockey fans were lamenting the fact that Canada wouldn’t have all six teams in the playoffs this year. With tonight’s game on the line, the Oilers are only 2 points away, from making it six for six.

A remarkable run in the last two weeks has the Oilers playing some pretty entertaining hockey and the team has been coming together nicely ever since that run began. Strong goaltending from Ty Conklin, solid defence and a renewed scoring touch has all been responsible for the rocket up the standings. Last night’s win over San Jose indicative of their new found belief in themselves. Prior to last nights game, Edmonton had not won in San Jose in four years, the win last night perhaps an indication that they are for real now.

Tonight they face the Los Angeles Kings, another important two points up for grabs, a win and they pass St. Louis and will be tied for the seventh with Nashville, all of a sudden they’re in the thick of the playoff race.

Back in Edmonton, the bandwagon is filling up with believers, the Oilers are back, the fans are scrambling, there’s playoff hockey on the horizon for the Oil. Nervous times for St. Louis and Nashville, the Oilers look to be peaking at just the right time.

After all, once you make the playoffs anything can happen. A hot goaltender, a team that has meshed can go a long way. Having clawed their way into the playoff race, the Oilers would seem to be the favorite of the three bottom teams to survive come the end of the season.

Free Fallin'

It might be time to change the music in the Canuck’s dressing room before games. If they have Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits playing in the background, somebody get to the boom box. Because like Petty’s song “Free Fallin”, the Canuck’s are falling down the standings, mired in a terrible spin. As a matter of fact, much of Petty’s music can relate to the state of the Canucks of late, "Breakdown" certainly appropriate as it’s breakdowns on defence, on the fore-check and in the nets that have the Canucks slumping. "Hometown blues" another song of fate for the team, GM Place has not been the big advantage it has been in the past. "Running Down a dream", well you can ask any Canuck fan about that symbolism. Coach Marc Crawford must be humming along to “I Need to Know”, since he can’t seem to find answers to the fragile state of his team of late. Brian Burke may wish to have them focus on just one track “I won’t back down”. Then again perhaps just quiet contemplation is in order; this team needs to start thinking about what made them successful in the past and how to get back there fast. Maybe they need to turn off the boom box all together and concentrate.

With Columbus arriving in town Sunday night, many Canuck fans were sure the suffering would be over, a weaker opponent just the tonic for their horrendous slide of late. With the Canucks winless in their last four games, many believed the Blue Jackets would be just what the Canucks needed to get their game back on track. And with the announcement that defenceman Ed Jovanovski would be back in the line up for the first time since January, Sunday should have been a day of good news.

Things got off to a good start, the Canucks quickly getting off to a 2-0 lead with Jovo playing with the style that brings Canuck fans to their feet. But then a relative unknown to the NHL stepped up and showed why the Blue Jackets took on the Russian Red Army. Nickolai Zherdev, who only joined the Blue Jackets a few weeks ago, (ruled a free man by a court in Switzerland), accounted for 4 of the 5 Blue Jacket points. The Jackets coming back and shocking the Canucks and their fans, winning 5-4 at GM Place. Zherdev scoring the winning goal with only 1:33 left in the third, putting a screen shot behind Johan Hedberg in the Canucks net.

For the Canucks, two separate, two goal leads were not enough to ensure victory, with goaltending once again rearing its head as a trouble spot. Needing Hedberg to rise up to the occasion they were let down, again. Facing 23 shots compared to his counterpart in the Jacket’s net who was peppered with 31, Hedberg continues to test Marc Crawford's patience. Dan Cloutier missed his second game in a row with a hip problem, adding to the missing persons list on the Canucks roster these days. Raising the concern level among the Canuck faithful.

Throwing away two important points is not going to help the Canucks in their bid to secure home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They now trail not only Colorado but Dallas and Calgary is making a charge up the standings. Sixth place is not beyond belief now and the Canucks are now in the unenviable position of needing help from other teams, except who do they cheer for, tonight for instance Dallas plays Calgary, if Dallas wins they’re two more points ahead, if Calgary wins they’re two more points closer. A scoreless tie would be a nice gesture from both tonight. One final selection from the Tom Petty songbook might be appropriate, “Even the Losers, get lucky some time”. They’ll be singing that tonight, hoping it rings true by the end of the season.

One Interview, Two bombshells

Teemu Selanne may not be scoring many points this year on the ice, but in off ice media interviews he’s leading the league in bombshell announcements.

Selanne in an interview with Al Strachan of The Toronto Sun says, that in the moments following the Bertuzzi incident, he and some of his fellow players on the Avalanche bench discussed and apparently were in favour of leaving the ice. Feeling that GM Place was not a safe place to be at that moment, Selanne didn’t want to go back out. He even suggests that had the team decided to skate off and not finish the game, they would have had the full support of their GM Pierre Lacroix. He claims Lacroix had spoken to the refs about ending the game there and then, but they chose not to do so, finishing the remainder of the game without further incident.

Selanne also wondered aloud what was behind the rash of uncivilized behavior of late, suggesting that perhaps the use of Sudafed or ephedrine was resulting in players not thinking clearly, and not showing the proper respect that needs to be exhibited on the ice. He says that if they find that a dependence on drugs is leading to these incidents, then that’s something they need to address.

His approach on fighting took an unusual tactic as the well known pacifist sounded more like Don Cherry, claiming he had no problems with the one on one, face to face fights; they are part of the game. But the cheap shots, stick work and disregard for opposing players has to stop, before someone gets killed.
He wrapped up his interview by thinking aloud that perhaps the players’ association needed to take a more proactive approach to the situation. Explaining to its members, that the senseless forms of violence must end for the safety and well being of all members.

All points that should give Gary Bettman, more of a case of indigestion than he might already have these days. The specter of out of control violence, misuse of drugs and increased union involvement in the day to day issues of the league, all items that his Board of Governors won’t enjoy reading or hearing about. The regular season is about to end and instead of the fabulous exercise that is the playoffs, the off ice issues are grabbing all the headlines. Not a good indication of the state of the game these days.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Avs continue their losing ways

The end of the season can’t come soon enough for the Colorado Avalanche; this regular season stuff is starting to get tiresome. Playing losing hockey and involved in another ugly on ice incident, March is not going to be a month to remember.

Tonight Toronto took control of the game from the very beginning jumping quickly to a 3-0 lead in the first period, pounding Avalanche goaltender David Aebischer with 3 goals on seven shots, all three scored in a period of two minutes and thirty three seconds. Aebischer settled down in the second and his defense held off the Leaf attack for most of the second period. The game boiled over in frustration from time to time, Peter Worrell and Matrhew Barnaby seemingly the target of much Maple Leaf affection.
The game had an ugly moment, one which had the Avalanche charged up after the game. Wade Belak clubbed Ossi Vannenen on his helmet with a two handed slash, did he lose his balance and just mistakenly swing his stick or was it just a mindless use of his stick, that will be up to Colin Campbell to decide in a disciplinary hearing. Vannenen did not appear worse for wear from the incident, but it was yet another bad mark for the games image of late.

Belak was assessed a five minute major for attempt to injure and thrown out of the game. His actions almost letting the Avalanche back into the game, as Colorado picked up a goal during the five minute power play. But it would prove not to be enough, the Leafs going on to win the game 5-2.
Bringing to an end a horrible Eastern Canada swing for the Avalanche, losses in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto wont’ sit well in Denver. With numerous injuries the Avalanche could probably come up with some excuses, but haven’t so far. But with some listless play and a sudden lack of scoring on the ice, they need to get some of the walking wounded back in action soon.

For the Leafs it was a solid win, a good test against one of the stronger clubs in the NHL. The Leafs moved into fourth place in the East with the win. It gives them a one point gap, between them and the Senators for home ice advantage in the playoffs.

As for the Avs, they’ll be glad to get to the playoffs; the regular season is not ending on a great note. Perhaps if it’s a win or go home situation they’ll be able to change their results of late.

Senators Lose a valuable point

The Senators know that they were the cause of their own misfortune Saturday night. With Patrick Lalime doing his best to keep his team in the game, it was an effort wasted, as his team didn't take advanage of the opportunities presented to them. The Sens managed to secure one point Saturday, with an Overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricane at the Corel Centre.

Bret Hedican put the cap on the night for the Canes scoring with 56 seconds to go in the extra period. Making amends for an earlier miscue in the second period, when he received a double minor for high sticking Chris Neil. His selfish move put his team in a bind for four minutes. The Sens had held a lead of 2-1 going into the third, despite being outplayed by the Hurricanes for the most part. The game tied up with a disputed goal at the 11 minute mark as Josef Vasicek redirecting the puck past Lalime for the goal.
Most telling story for the Sens tonight was the ineffective power play especially on that four minute man advantage in the second period, one in which they could only put one shot on the net.

While they gained a point for the Overtime tie, in the tightly contested Eastern Conference it may be very important point that they lost. With all the big games they have played in the last couple of weeks and those to come, perhaps they didn’t take the Hurricanes seriously. If so, they should keep in mind that the standings don’t care if you lose to Toronto, Philadelphia or Carolina. A point is a point is a point; each one brings its own importance to the final results at the end of the season.

Colin Campbell's Video Slumber Party

Fire up the Popcorn maker, put the coffee pot on, Colin is going to have late night. Two games Saturday gave him an excuse to put on a video or two and earn a little OT.

The Leafs and Avalanche game was a hard hitting affair, with more than a few scuffles and scraps as the night progressed. Most somehow, involving Matthew Barnaby which is not all that much of a surprise.
Wade Belak and Peter Worrell engaged in a spirited bout of fisticuffs in the first period, but Belak would be best remembered Saturday night for his incredibly stupid two handed slash on Ossi Vaanenen, striking him across the helmet. Belak received a five minute major for intent to injure and the customary expulsion from the game. The incident now goes on to further review from the league office.

Before Campbell can make his decision on Belak however, he’ll have to wade through the shenanigans of the final five seconds of the Flames/Predators game. A number of hard hits in the third set the physical tone for the remainder of the game, featuring Chris Simon wandering over the ice trying to hit as many Predators as he could stumble across. The Preds popped in an empty net goal with 3 seconds to go, salting away a 3-1 victory.

At that point Calgary coach and GM Darryl Sutter, sent Krstoff Oliwa onto the ice with two defensemen lining up on the forward line for further effect. Oliwa tried to goad two separate Predators into a fight, with none entertaining his offer. A linesman eventually parking himself between Oliwa and the Predator on the ice. The pre-emptive measure going for naught, as fights broke out at the buzzer. During the confusion Oliwa broke free from the grasp of a linesman, to toss a few punches into a scrum. Even the two European goaltenders squared off and dropped the gloves, with Tomas Vokoun trading blows with Miikka Kiprusoff. As the refs got the post game dancing under control, Daryl Sutter and Barry Trotz found themselves climbing up on the glass partition, exchanging insults with each other.

Two issues for Campbell to consider as he pushes rewind and fast forward. Wade Belak, even if he was off balance, as is being portrayed by the Toronto media, not keeping control of his stick must surely be worth a suspension of some length. Especially in this high visibility period, following the Bertuzzi incident. While not appearing to be as pre meditated as that situation was, Belak did not control his stick and had expressed some dislike for Av players earlier in the game.

The Calgary/Nashville game does cause Campbell even more problems. Having just fined the Canucks 250,000 dollars for supposedly not exerting enough control on their players, then what would be the fine for the gong show ending of the Calgary game? If Campbell doesn’t come down equally hard on the Flames organization for the way the game ended, then Brian Burke had best be filling out the forms asking for a refund on his payment. The league has to start showing some consistency in it’s dealings with discipline. The video viewing party on Sunday morning gives them the chance to set a standard.

Friday, March 19, 2004

TWO POINTS AWAY!

They’re back! The Oilers just won’t go away. Friday night saw them win a must game in a wild, barn burning affair in Edmonton. Taking on the Nashville Predators, the Oil traded goals to come back and defeat the Preds, 5-4. The win moves the Oilers to within two points of the eighth place Predators and the chance to go on to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Igor Ulanov scored the go ahead goal and eventual winner with 1.31 remaining in the game. The see saw nature of the game, kept the sell out crowd on the edge of their seats for the duration. Demand for tickets to the game, was such that the Oilers set up a closed circuit broadcast in the Jubilee Auditorium selling an additional 2,000 seats.

The two teams are going in separate directions, the OIlers having won the last three games in a row and haven’t lost in regulation time in the last 11. The Predators on the other hand have been on a losing skid of late, winless in their last seven as they try to make the playoffs for the first time in their six year history.

Oiler fans are hoping that it’s wait til next year time in Nashville.

Sliding, Skidding, the need to turn things around!

The Canucks continued to have problems as they dropped an Overtime match 4-3 to Chicago Friday night. Falling behind early on the Canucks managed to pull even by the end of the third period setting up the OT frame.

Desperate to turn around the slump they find themselves in over the last week and a half the Canucks gave the impression they might be able to salvage the extra point tonight. Starting Johan Hedberg in the nets tonight for the injured Dan Cloutier, things got off to a rather rough start, as Hedberg gave up three goals on just fourteen shots. He was replaced at 6:53 of the second, by Manitoba Moose call up Alex Auld, who held the fort through the remainder of the second and third periods.

The Chi-Hawks won the game at 1:44 of OT with Tyler Arnanson scoring his third goal of the game, a flukish thing that originated as a pass from Bryan Berard that deflected off of Auld only to be batted into the net by Arnanson. With that it was game over, the Hawks gaining two rare points in front of the home crowd.

For the Canucks it’s just the continuation of playing under a black cloud. Even before the Bertuzzi suspension they had been having their problems putting together wins in a row and losing to teams that they were expected to beat. With Bertuzzi gone for the season and the playoffs they seem to be performing in a fog, not playing the full game, making mental mistakes and being outperformed at key points of the game.

The goal now is to stop the freefall, rather than worrying about catching the Avalanche they have to concern themselves with falling further down the standings. With a record of 1-4-2 in the last seven games, they’re not going into the playoffs in the most positive of lights.

LEAFS PONY UP SOME SWEATER MONEY

With the flourish of a pen, the Toronto Maple Leafs have come to the aid of their sartorial challenged fans. In response to Ottawa City Council’s “sweater tax”, the Leafs have donated 5,000 dollars to the Ottawa Food Bank and Toronto’s Daily Bread Food bank.

Earlier this week, Ottawa officials announced that Toronto sweaters would be banned from the Corel Centre, unless a donation was made to the Ottawa Food Bank. The Leaf’s rose to the bait and promptly pulled out the cheque book. Leaf officials added that they hope that the Ottawa organization meets or exceeds their donation to both food banks.

In a final twist of the public relations knife, the Leafs added that they hope their fans fill the Corel Centre on April 3rd supporting their favorite team. Expect an awful lot of blue and white in the Corel Centre that night, but with the community benefiting such as it will, even the Sens should be able to turn a deaf ear to that desperate chant of “Go Leafs Go”. Some advice for the Sens, Cash the Cheque, then finish your checks. Add up the cash, and continue that dash (up the standings)!

The Last Days of Roller Derby!

The negative media coverage of the NHL continues in the USA, as TIME magazine weighs in with a story on the Bertuzzi incident and hockey violence. Gary Bettman’s worst nightmare is coming to the forefront, as the mainstream media paints his game as one of stumbling ratings, financial basket cases and nothing short of brutish violence.

The article, by Joel Stein, titled “Can the NHL save itself”, recounts the Bertuzzi stalking and punch on Steve Moore and then takes a look at the “code” of revenge that hockey lives by. With such lines as “if hockey were a normal sport” and “full of Mafioso laws about protection and honor.” Hockey gets painted as a sub sport in America, one not worthy of consideration by the educated or sophisticated fan. Stein offers the opinion that the NHL is in the worst shape of its history, having over expanded in the last decade. The game suffering from stifling defensive systems and fights for the sake of fighting set to music and sold as videos.

The television situation in the US was also examined in the article and the news there wasn’t particularly positive for Gary Bettman, Stein reports in the story, that Hockey on ABC can’t outdraw such “sports” as billiards, TV poker and bowling. Bettman gets to take that bit of knowledge into contract negotiations with ABC for a new contract this summer. Of course as Stein points out, as if things aren’t bad enough, now there’s the likelihood that the league won’t even operate next year, involved in an ugly labour standoff with it’s union. He also recounted the brutal financial findings presented by Arthur Levitt in his audit of the leagues finances.

Using quotes from John Davidson, Stein points out how the league is being portrayed, with many media types referring to Bertuzzi as someone who should be jailed for life for his attack on Moore, not how you want your higher profile players showcased. Davidson also hopes that the black eye will serve as a wake up call for the NHL, spurring it to avoid the upcoming labour stoppage before they lose any more people than they can afford.

The final shots in the article are the most damaging for Gary Bettman, and will most likely give him thought to cancel his subscription. Stein wraps it up with the comment that the Bertuzzi type of violence must be stopped before someone gets killed. He then draws the comparison of the rage of violence to that of another American event, one which was portrayed in the same light as Wrestling.

His final thought, “you should have seen the last days of roller derby” OUCH! That sound you hear, it’s Gary Bettman banging his head on his desk, his sport mocked in the mass market leading newsmagazine. It’s not the image he would want presented of his sport and certainly not the one the owners, players and fans would like to have portrayed.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Print up those playoff tickets, the Calgary Flames are not only going to make the playoffs but they may end up with home ice advantage. The Flames on a tear of late, burned the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night, shutting them out 2-0 in front of an ecstatic, sold out Saddledome crowd.

Miika Kiprusoff registered his third shutout of the season and lowered his goals against average to a ridiculous 1.63, the best in the league. Matthew Lombardi and Jarome Iginla were the goal scorers for the Flames, scoring early in the second and late in the third period to seal the win.

Calgary in sixth place trails Dallas by one point and has climbed to within 2 points of the slumping fourth place Canucks. If they can continue their successful ways of late, they could end up with the home game advantage in the playoff round.

With eight games remaining for Vancouver, Calgary and Dallas all of a sudden the Flames look to be the favorite to move up the most in the standings. And how many Flame fans were thinking that way at the start of the season? Now the streaking Flames may be the team to watch this year!

Stanley Cup Preview?

Big games require big efforts and tonight the Sens came up large. The Colorado Avalanche arrived in Ottawa to take on the Senators at the Corel Centre, by the end of the evening Patrick Lalime and the Sens would get a huge confidence boost.

Lalime would record his fourth shut out of the season as the Sens topped the Avs 2-0, clinching a playoff spot in the East. Peter Schaeffer and Wade Redden scored the only goals of the game in the first period, Lalime shutting the door handling only 23 shots, including a hectic 53 second period when the Avs had a two man advantage, but couldnĂ‚’t score. Colorado abandoned goaltender David Aebischer, who faced 33 shots in the loss. Only their fifth road loss in regulation time this year, but the second one in a row. A troubling show of inconsistency for Tony Granato.

For the Sens the big home win in front of a sell out crowd was a sense of redemption for a poor western road swing. Which saw them finish off with an uninspired loss to Minnesota. Losing 3 of the five games,tonight'ss win will go a long way to getting them back on track for the playoffs.

The Sens remain tied with the Maple Leafs at 92 points, but hold a game in hand. Not much changed in the East tonight, the Leafs won, the Bruins lost. The Sens now one point behind the Bruins in third place. A few more efforts such as tonight and the Sens may be looking down on both Boston and Toronto by this time next week.

Canucks continue to struggle

As the playoffs edge closer and closer, the Canucks continue to have problems getting things out of first gear. Thursday night saw them head into Dallas and a possible Playoff preview game, by the end of the night; the result might give the staunchest Canuck fan cause for pause. Dallas was quite convincing in their 3-0 shutout of the Canucks tonight.

If it’s a Dallas/Vancouver match up it’s a definite advantage Dallas. The Stars have won all three games this year against Vancouver, a 6-1 record over two years. Philippe Boucher, Jason Arnott and Bill Guerin the marksmen for the Stars, Marty Turco registering the shut out on 20 shots, his 20th shut out in his career. Canucks goaltender Dan Cloutier was pulled from the game after two periods, suffering a “lower body” injury, Johan Hedberg taking his place in the nets for the third period. While not described as severe, Cloutier will miss Friday night’s game in Chicago, Alex Auld getting the call to leave the Moose behind in Winnipeg and head for Chicago.

With Ed Jovanovski, Brad May, Henrik Sedin and of course Todd Bertuzzi out of the line up, the Canucks were physically battered by the larger Stars. A point not lost on Marcus Naslund who identified the strength and skill of the Stars first line as the key to the Stars’ win tonight.

This Canuck team is a lot different than the one dressing less than two weeks ago. A team originally designed to do a lot of hitting in the corners and crashing the front of the net, now has to find new ways to get some scoring. The good news for Canucks fans is that it's March 19th and not April 19th, so there is time to get things fixed. Whether Marc Crawford can get them all on the same page by playoff time, is the big question.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Banning the Colours at the Good ole Hockey Game

Like school officials in a gang ridden neighborhood, Ottawa City Council has taken to banning the colours of the Blue gang from TO. The rivalry between the Sens and the Leafs heats up again, as council members in the national capital prepare to vote on a resolution to ban the wearing of the Leaf uniform in the Corel Centre.

If you are a Leaf fan you can wear a barrel, a potato sack or a toga, just don’t don the Blue and White of your beloved Maple Leaf Nation. The tongue in cheek resolution even includes a punishment for those Leaf fans that can’t leave home without their unlaundered jersey; a donation to the Ottawa Food Bank will let the Leaf fan off the clothing hook.

With the possibility of the Leafs and Sens meeting once again in the first round of the playoffs the Food Bank should see a spike in donations in the month of April. There’s no talk of a retaliatory edict from the Leafs on Sens jerseys at the ACC, Toronto councilor Brian Ashton claiming there is no need as the Sens jersey is not that nice. Words not likely to calm the water back in Ottawa.

Of course if the Food Bank finds that the sweater ban is a success, just think of the next step. Imagine what the Sens could do about those noisy Hab fans and their irritating Go Habs Go chants all night long at the Corel Centre, perhaps a donation for every Go would aid the cause.

And well, then there are the Philly fans. No one would be folly enough to wear a Flyer uniform at the Corel Centre would they? Letting Flyer fans carry cans to a hockey game would just seem like a particularly unwise thing to do, on a par with asking Bobby Clarke to speak at the UN on the state of peacekeeping today.

Fighting for a playoff spot

The Sabres spent St. Patrick's Day in Atlanta, acting like the Battlin' Donnelly's. Fighting their way through three periods of hockey and 125 minutes in penalties, on their way to a 4-3 win over Atlanta. The win pulls Buffalo to within four points of the New York Islanders who give every indication of wanting to welcome the Sabres to the eighth and final playoff position.

Buffalo's Daniel Briere was knocked out of the game in the third period, when an elbow from Thrasher Andy Sutton sent him to the dressing room with a possible concussion. Briere uttered the R word after the game, Respect or lack of it. A little over a week after the Bertuzzi incident, there is no let down in the physical nature of the games. The two teams combined for many melees on the ice starting early in the first period and continuing to the mid point of the third. Buffalo tough guy Andrew Peters squared off with many of the Atlanta enforcers, the most discussed of the battles tonight between Peters and Thrasher Francis Lessard, which featured Lessard pummelling the back of the neck of a covering up Peters. The power play that followed totaled seven minutes and gave the Sabres one goal, on their way back to win the game in Overtime. Expect to hear more of the fisticuffs from the league office after Sherrif Campbell reviews all the pertinent video evidence.

Derek Roy netted the winning goal and brought to an end Fight Club, on a fluke play fifteen seconds into the overtime frame. The fourth game in a row that has required extra time for a result to be listed. The Sabres continue their tour of the Southwest with a game against Tampa Bay on Thursday night, Saturday they head for Miami then get three nights off before playing Montreal at home next Wednesday. The Islanders entertain the Wild, Lightning and Capitals in the same period of time. Buffalo needs some help from the weaker teams as they try to make up some ground on the Islanders in the dash for the last playoff spot.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

CONTROVERSY BUBBLING IN THE SENS NET?

Is this how a goaltender controversy gets its start? The recent Senators swing through Western Canada saw a healthy Patrick Lalime sit on the bench while his understudy Martin Prusek faced back to back action in the Sens net. The question making the rounds of the Ottawa media now is will he get a third start in a row.

Prusek was pulled in the Senators 3-1 loss to Edmonton due to a sore back, as usual with these situations there’s not a lot of information coming forward about the extent of that injury. But with a game against Minnesota Tuesday night, many are wondering if Prusek will again get the call.

It’s a difficult situation for Coach Jacques Martin and GM John Muckler to handle, having given their unconditional support to Patrick Lalime prior to the trading deadline, they don’t want to appear to be abandoning him as they get closer to the playoffs. Lalime has had a few shaky appearances in the Sens net this year, but still is considered the solid choice as starting goaltender in the playoffs.

Perhaps, Martin is just giving him a rest and a chance to watch the flow of the game. Maybe he doesn’t want to waste Lalime’s outings on the Western Conference teams, preferring to get his game back on track against those teams he’ll possibly face in the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Drive.

Regardless of the thinking the media speculation is out there, with many considering Martin’s options for him, should there be a Bruins/Sens match up. Should that come to pass, many say the puck should be given to Prusek who has a better records against the Bruins than Lalime.

Lalime says that the increased playing time for Prusek doesn’t bother him, saying he can’t let these kinds of questions sidetrack him from the job at hand. His best strategy to do that then is to not pick up a newspaper for a while and stick to the all music stations around Ottawa’s radio dial, with the playoffs fast approaching the chattering Ottawa fans needs something to chew on, a goaltender controversy should fit the bill nicely. For Lalime a strong start to the first round of the playoffs will go a long way to keeping a lid on the bubbling brew being stirred up by the Ottawa media.

Monday, March 15, 2004

QUENNEVILLE BACK IN THE SADDLE

St. Louis’s loss is Canada’s gain. Joel Quenneville signed on today for some international duty, named as coach of Canada’s team at the World Hockey Championships.

Looking at this as a tremendous opportunity, Quenneville says he can’t wait until that first game on April 25th. Until then though, Quenneville will return to the rinks of the NHL, something he’s not been inclined to do since his dismissal by the Blues. But with a purpose to view the games now, he’s in a hurry to get to the rink. Quenneville will be scouting out the games of the soon to be departed and those teams on the bubble, trying to get a handle on which players would be a good fit for the International game.

Canada is defending champion this year, as Andy Murray led the International brigade to the championship in the 2003 games in Helsinki. Murray says that Quenneville is a terrific choice and there won’t be a lot of advice he can offer to him. He does have a few ideas to pass along and Quenneville says he’ll be all ears, looking forward to picking Murray's brains for some strategies for Prague.

Team Canada GM Jim Nill says he, Assistant GM Dan Maloney, Quenneville and player personnel director Lanny McDonald, will all have to sit down and decide how many spots to leave open for first round casualties in the NHL. Eight teams could be eliminated from the playoffs by the time the Canadians play in their first game, giving the management team a large pool to choose from to fill the 22 NHL roster spots available. With Quenneville now settling in as coach, they mind that there won’t be as many declined invitations this year; such is his popularity with the troops of the NHL.

Sabres let Leafs back in, end up on losing end of score

The Maple Leafs began a week of tough games Monday night, by falling behind Buffalo by a score of 5-2, only to claw their way back to a tie and then a 6-5 win in Overtime. Tomas Kaberle put the cap on a wild night, scoring with just over a minute left in OT giving the Leafs the win. The game featured Alexander Mogilny's 1,000th career point as he collected three assists as part of the nights scoring. Big guns Mats Sundin and Owen Nolan both scored two goals each on the night, with Gary Roberts scoring the tying goal with only 37 seconds to go in the game.

Buffalo had a 5-2 lead going into the third period, but couldn't hold it. Trevor Kidd making his first start since February 5th, managed to shut the door in the third, while Buffalo's Martin Biron found himself giving up four unanswered goals in the third and OT.

Buffalo gained one point on the Islanders climbing to within four of the New Yorkers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, while the Leafs trail the Sens and the Bruins for the title of the North East conference, holding down fifth overall in the division.

Buffalo has ten games left in the season, the Islanders 11 so the struggle for a playoff spot is still very much uphill. As for the Leafs, Monday's win was their first after two losses, they now go on to face four division leaders in their next four games. A test for them as they try to claim first in the conference and solidify a hold on home ice advantage for the playoffs.

Alberta sweeps Sunday

Both Alberta based teams found Sunday to be to their liking, winning their respective games in convincing fashion.

The Oilers held the Senators to only thirteen shots on the way to a 3-1 win over the Sens, who wrapped up their swing west Sunday night. For the Oilers it was a shorter than usual night, since February 29th the Oilers have gone into Overtime in every game, in order to preserve the point or gain a win. Tonight it was straight time as Ethan Moreau, Radek Dvorak and Raffi Torres all scored for the Oil to secure the win. Martin Havlat picking up the lone goal for the Sens. Ty Conklin got the win for the Oilers, Patrick Lalime replaced starter Martin Prusek, as Jacques Martin tried to shake up his lethargic squad. The Sens remain in fourth place overall in the conference with 90 points. The Oilers presently are in 10th, but now only four points behind the St. Louis Blues who are holding down the final playoff spot in the West.

The Oilers received a big favour from their provincial cousins, as the Flames took care of the Blues today by a score of 3-0. Roman Turek led the Flames to victory turning back all 25 shots that he faced against his old team, his first game since being placed and going unclaimed on waivers. Marcus Nillson, Craig Conroy and Chris Simon accounted for the Flames offence, but the team defence is what kept the Blues at bay. Strong checking and positional play by the Flames, kept the Blues off the shot clock for the first ten minutes of the game. The Blues made more progress in the second and third periods, but Turek closed the door. The win helps to solidify the Flames hopes for a playoff spot, currently holding down sixth place in the West with 82 points. While they Oilers won't be sending the Flames any thank you cards, the Flames work tonight has given Edmonton a boost, as the stumbling Blues suddenly seem within reach of the Oil.

Perhaps we're not too far away from the good old days of the Battle of Alberta, with a surge from the Oilers and continued success for the Flames, Alberta can dream a little of what could be.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Dr. Murphy takes the pulse of the nation!

Rex Murphy opened up his phone lines on CBC Radio’s Cross Country Check Up program Sunday, and Canadians from coast to coast unburdened themselves of the angst of the Bertuzzi incident. From Newfoundland to British Columbia, Murphy had guests on line and took calls on the topic of hockey violence in the NHL and in hockey in general.

While Murphy admitted that he was not a close follower of the game, he provided some excellent points and asked the questions that have been making the rounds this week in other forums, not always handled as carefully as Murphy did.

Caller after caller gave their observations on the incident in question and the state of the game in general. The first caller of the day, a gent named John in Waterloo, Ontario, recounted how a junior hockey game degenerated due to the hostile nature of the parents and fans in attendance. A caller named Tom, asked why the NHLPA had not made any comments about the situation, wondering why they had not made efforts to protect their membership, by offering suggestions and support for cracking down on other violent incidents. Stephen Brunt of the Globe and Mail, who was a guest in the first half hour offered up the suggestion that there isn’t much in the way of leadership these days, either in the league office or with the player’s themselves.

Through the two hour programs a few themes seemed to come up over and over again. Violence is no more prevalent today than 20 or 30 years ago, according to Richard in Ottawa. Ed in Ontario claimed the NHL should have punished both coaches for the incident, suggesting that Tony Granato should have known that this kind of situation could have developed. The Medias approach to the incident came under fire from Don in PEI, who offered the opinion that a lot of the media in Vancouver had been building up the rematch for a week or so, bringing things to a boil so to speak.

The instigator rule came in under attack as well, callers identifying it as a root cause of the increased attacks on star and journeyman player alike. Don Cherry and Dave Hunter, who both appeared as guests, echoed that suggestion, claiming that if the players knew they were answerable for their tactics at the hands of an enforcer then things might be different today. Cherry blaming the left wingers (political ones, not positional players) who force the instigator rule on the league, which in his opinion has declared Open season on the stars. Hunter, who appeared close to the end, said much of the same, saying that the players were living by the code of take care of your team mate. Both men said that the suspension was what they expected and should be the end of the situation, with no police involvement. Both however said that they believed the courts would become involved in the case.

One caller from London laid the blame at the feet of the minor hockey system, saying that it has a win at all costs attitude, forsaking skill development for the brute force approach to success. Murphy brought in Ed Willis of the Vancouver Province at one point, who recounted the atmosphere at GM Place that night, describing it as a surreal and bizarre type of game. Leading to an ugly third period and the events well documented by now. Pointing out that just prior to the incident, the Canucks had a line on the ice consisting of Brad May, Todd Bertuzzi and Sean Pronger, to try and engage Steve Moore in a fight. Moore had declined an invitation from Pronger, not more than thirty seconds before Bertuzzi made his fateful move. Willis described how the arena’s mood changed quickly as the trainers, doctors and paramedics scrambled onto the ice to attend to Moore, the pool of blood forming around his head as they worked. By the time they had him loaded onto the stretcher, a sick feeling had descended on the rink.

The callers continued to express their opinions of the possibility of legal action, the far too often use of sticks above the waist in hockey and what we perceive is acceptable action on the ice. They decried the lack of power of the referees, urging them to be given more control over the games. Some wondered why hockey was singled out for violence, when football and basketball both also have violent incidents with injuries part of the mix.

Most interesting were comments from two young hockey players of twleve and thirteen years of age, both of whom accepted that Bertuzzi had done wrong and needed to be punished for the situation. Both suggested that the use of sticks was something that needed to be addressed.

The two hours went by rather fast, an interesting dialogue in the state of the game today and a collective therapy session for fans still trying to come to grips with the events of last Monday. If you can find the time a listen to the Cross Country archives will give you a replay of the program. An interesting snapshot of how the country is thinking about the last week and how the game has been affected.

Still the hot topic!

The Todd Bertuzzi incident of Monday, has almost made it to the seven day news cycle. Today, the incident and the underlying topic of violence in the sport, will be the topic on the CBC Radio National call in show "Cross Country Check Up".

Host Rex Murphy will provide a wide range of guests, opinions and of course the voice of Canadians from coast to coast.

Check out the website for the time in your area and a live link to the broadcast.

Hopefully, one last chance for us all to vent our emotions, purge ourselves of the angst and get back on with our lives.

Collecting points with the Calgary Flames

The Calgary flames continued on with their unbeaten streak taking the total to four Saturday night, with a 4-4 tie against the Nashville Predators. A see-saw game that saw the teams battle back and forth all night, it was broken open when Jerome Iginla hit the scoreboard 31 seconds into the third to the game up. Miikka Kiprusoff then shutting the door on a pesky Nashville team, that is fighting for it’s playoff life. Giving the Flames a one point cushion between them and Nashville now tied for seventh spot with St. Louis in the West.

Predator goaltender Tomas Vokoun took the blame for the lost extra point, claiming he let his team down Saturday night. The Predators at one time held a 3-1 lead, only to have things fall apart in a very short 2 minutes and fifty three seconds, spanning the late second period and early third. For the Flames the effort while sloppy at times, gave prove that they can come back from a deficit and salvage a bad situation.

As the season winds down, the Flames may find themselves to be a dark horse candidate for success in the post season. Any good playoff team needs goaltending, the Flames are finding that Kiprusoff gives them an added edge; it’s up to them to take advantage of it when the opportunity provides itself

Wandering Goalies and missed opportunities

Finally we could concentrate on some hockey, the Bertuzzi incident almost reaching it’s finishing point as far as a media fascination. Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada double bill, provided some exciting and fast paced action, almost playoff like in it’s intensity.

Starting with the Toronto Montreal game we enjoyed two ancient rivals, take to the ice at the Bell Centre and put on a great display for the fans on hand and the television audience. Ed Belfour brought re-assurance to his Maple Leaf fans by starting in the net for Toronto tonight, but right off the bat gave them cause to worry. Mike Ribeiro electrifying the crowd by dashing across the front of the net stretching both defensemen and Belfour out flat before firing the puck into the net to open the scoring.

The two teams battled back and forth in the fast and physical game, Montreal taking the lead for good at 9:33 of the third, when Richard Zednik scored for the Habs. While the atmosphere was loud and enthusiastic in the arena, Leaf coach Pat Quinn was not enthused about his team’s performance tonight. Worrying about the inability of the first unit to get any chances or make an impression. Belfour played well for the most part, Montreal goaltender Jose Theodore just a little bit better at the other end. The 4-3 win gives the Habs a bit more breathing space in the East, the loss coupled with a Senator win gives leaves the Leafs looking up the standings at Ottawa in fourth place.

The Senators putting together an effective road game in Vancouver to gain a game in hand on the Leafs and move closer to the Bruins for first overall in the North East conference. Another fast paced game, this one featured some unusual goals in the Sens 2-1 victory at GM place. Ottawa outplayed the Canucks badly in the first period, controlling the play and keeping the Canucks off the shots list until the fifteen minute mark. An early goal by Zdeno Chara was waved off after the referees ruled incidental contact in the Canuck crease. Martin Rucinsky missed a golden opportunity as well as his shot in the first went wide of the empty side of the Sens net. The first Senators goal by Peter Bondra was scored when Canuck goaltender Johan Hedberg went wandering behind the net to play the puck, mishandled it ended up on Bondra’s stick and then in. The lead didn’t last long as farmhand Pat Kavanagh scored a goal for Vancouver, one minute and fourty eight seconds later, it was Kavanagh’s second goal in the NHL since being called up.

The Canucks had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the third when Ottawa was assessed a four minute penalty, but the Canucks could not score and in fact were for the most part kept out of the Ottawa end for the duration of the penalty. Daniel Alfredsson then took the play into the Vancouver end with nine minutes to go and scored an unusual goal as the puck bounced off of two Canuck defenders before making it’s way behind Hedberg.

The Sens settled things down and survived a few extra Canuck rushes to secure the 2-1 victory, they round out their road trip west with a game Sunday night in Edmonton. The Canucks don’t face another Eastern team for the rest of the season, they’ll have to improve quite a bit if they hope to meet one in the post season.