Hockey's been dead here for a while. To be perfectly blunt, it already feels like months since the Rangers and Sabres lost their first round series. If that's how this blogger feels, I can't imagine how Hasan does or any Islander fan. We live and die with our teams and the fact that once again, no one's playing deep into the nice May weather can totally suck.
For me, I continue to follow the playoffs where you have no clue on what will happen next. Can Nashville force a seventh game tonight? Are the Sharks in trouble after blowing their second chance to put away Detroit? In what looked to be your typical second round following a long, exciting first round with Tampa and Boston sweeping, the Preds and Wings don't want it to be over yet. They continue to fight, forcing the Bolts and Bruins to wait patiently before the Conference Finals can begin. Is it fair? Probably not. But it might help concussed B Patrice Pergeron, who's a vital cog for Claude Julien. You hope he'll be alright following Claude Giroux's clean hit. If not, Tyler Seguin will make his playoff debut under intense scrutiny. It's the Bruins' first appearance in the Final Four since '92 when the Original 6 black and gold featured Ray Bourque, Adam Oates, Cam Neely, Glen Wesley, Joe Juneau and Andy Moog.
To think that back then I was a young, innocent teenager who enjoyed the throwback style we got. Gretzky was King and Super Mario reigned supreme along with a long haired Czech teen phenom named Jagr as his sidekick, going back-to-back in the Steel City. The hockey version of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, who were supposed to win a lot more before Lemieux's back problems and Hodgkin's. When you look at the point totals of classic scoring races, Mario and the Great One dominated while Oates and Pat Lafontaine along with Stevie Y all did their thing. The excitement dominant finishers like Brett Hull, Alexander Mogilny,The Finnish Flash and The Russian Rocket generated along with a gifted Russian named Fedorov, injected life to a sport that wasn't always about dirty hits and controversial remarks. In the glory days, our heroes were men built like Messier, whose dominance in a series win over Jeremy Roenick and the Blackhawks led Edmonton to another Cup.
Maybe it's me but back then, stars were more celebrated. It wasn't just limited to Sid vs Ovi. American stars like JR, Lafontaine, Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios and Mike Modano transformed the sport- making it more popular in The States. Today, we get emerging young stars Patrick Kane, Bobby Ryan, Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, Paul Stastny, James van Riemsdyk along with black and blue types Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski, Ryan Callahan and Dustin Brown, who we identify with. The names on the blueline have changed to Johnson and Johnson, plus Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk, giving us hopes for the future. Might that include Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and Chris Kreider along with Nick Palmieri and Mark Fayne and Kyle Okposo? Ask the new kids on the block and they'll tell ya who inspired them. The stars of yesteryear's impact can't be forgotten. So, the next time you watch, images of Leetch, Chelios, Modano, Roenick, '96 World Cup hero Tony Amonte, John Leclair, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Gary Suter and Mike Richter should all be fresh. With recent Vancouver hero Ryan Miller, Conn Smythe candidate Tim Thomas and rejuvenated Al Montoya, there's much to like. Indeed, The Kids Are Alright.
Speaking of Team USA, they dropped their final preliminary at the World's to the Swiss 5-3 in Slovakia. Ty Conklin allowed all four goals and Andres Ambuhl scored a goal and assist for the pesky country nobody likes facing. Nothing for D-Step or Kreids, who've both been good this tournament along with Palmieri and Blake Wheeler. They failed on two power plays trailing 4-2 before a brilliant feed from Fowler set up a cutting JVR with reliever Montoya pulled for an extra attacker. However, the Swiss held us off by working the puck out and getting an empty netter to clinch the win. Now, it's onto the elimination round with a potential quarterfinal against familiar face Jagr and the Czech Republic. No picnic. The next game features Sweden and Canada with the winner drawing Russia. Yikes. Norway qualified with a 5-2 win over France. Slovakia didn't but won today 4-1 over Denmark. Marian Gaborik had an assist and Marian Hossa tallied while old reliables Miro Satan (1-1-2) and Jozef Stumpel (assist) had strong games.
Kudos to Versus for televising most of our games live. The quarters will be played in Bratislava at Orange Arena. With a secondary helper late, Stepan hiked his team-leading scoring total to seven points (2-5-7). Wisconsin's Craig Smith notched his team best third goal. A breakout tourney for the future Predator who ranks second with half a dozen points (3-3-6). Palmieri has two goals and a helper. We'll see how they fare in crunch time.