1. Can the term “choke” be affixed to the Tampa Bay Lightning for its failure to dispose of the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier in the series? I say N-O, despite the fact that the Bolts are now officially postseason gonzo.
2. Fair is fair. The Lightning played most of the Penguins playoff series minus Vezina Trophy candidate Ben (Stops BBs) Bishop and crack-shot-captain Steven (Show Me The Dough) Stamkos. That’s like being behind the eight-and-a-half ball.
3. This ain’t going to be easy, but Gary Bettman and NBC must once and for all unite to ban all future playoff beards that extend down to the knees. And, that goes for you, too, Brent (Beardking) Burns!
4. Marc-Andre (Baseball Cap) Fleury may have to kiss his Penguins jersey good-bye. Matt Murray should be the next-decade Pitt starter. Fleury will look awfully handsome in a neat Las Vegas jersey.
5. Toronto media types spent years ripping and roaring negatives about Phillip (Phiery Phil) Kessel. So – as the tune goes – “Who’s Got The Last Laugh Now?”
6. I’ll tell you who’s got the great guffaw, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford who also nabbed Trevor Daley, Justin Schultz, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin to his robust roster.
7. Technology is fine as long as it’s not overdone. But, technology ruined the human element in Tampa Bay. Over-ruling a linesman’s non-offside call because of a matter of milli-inches is downright wrong.
8. Reader Jonathan (Mister Electronics) Liss, a New Jersey scientist, agrees. “The (officials) cameras,” says Liss, “as with certain medical tests are showing us more than we need to know.”
9. Not that it will decide which team Unrestricted Free Agent Steven Stamkos will choose, but his relationship with John Tavares dates back to their Peewee Hockey playing days in Toronto.
10. Both the Devils – picking 11th in the Draft – and Islanders – picking 19th – might be considering a Long Island whiz kid when the selections are made in Buffalo on June 24 and 25. Son of a Long Beach fireman, Charlie McAvoy, a Boston University defenseman, is a prize. One scout opines: “McAvoy’s best asset is his ability to get around the ice.”
11. Am I wrong in thinking that most Metropolitan area fans (Rangers, Isles and Devils) will root for any team that plays the Penguins, at any time? The overwhelming reason: The persistent whining of Sidney Crosby. There’s no equivalent whiner on the Sharks.
12. Reader Rob Taub of Freeport, on two Islanders potential Draftees: A) Max Jones, Left Wing (LONDON): He’s 6-foot-2, 200-plus pounds, your quintessential second line winger. Slapsie Maxie plays a solid two-way game, but takes a lot of penalties. B) Carl Grundstrom, Left Wing (MODO): This lad packs a punch, although he stands at just 6-feet, 187 pounds. Carl plays with a team-first mentality and can skate very well. Grundstrom is an excellent penalty killer and can get under an opponent’s skin with his nastiness.
13. No doubt unrestricted free agent, Steven Stamkos is grateful that media types are saying he’s good for a seven-year contract at $70 million. But, considering that his medical condition wiped him right out of the playoffs, minus one game, I would never go that high. Plus there’d have to be a “Risk Asterisk,” – money back if he were to get sick again.
14. Unobtrusively, and with little fuss and fanfare, a worthy defenseman named Chris Phillips just announced his retirement. A 19-year Ottawa-forever guy, Phillips never won a Cup, but played the game clean and with class.
15. The goalie with the most-est, whose applause is the least-est, has to be San Jose’s Martin Jones. A former Kings back-up, Jonesie not only knocked his former team out of the playoffs, but has delivered his Sharks to the franchise’s first Final.
16. It’s hard to believe, but Jones – from North Vancouver, British Columbia – was UN-drafted! Somehow, he made it from the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen (Juniors) to the American League’s Manchester Monarchs. Thence to LA.
17. You want “four underrated free agents,” you got ’em. A) Lee Stempniak, B) Alex Goligoski, C) Jason Chimera and D) Roman Polak. Defensemen Goligoski and Polak are a pair of serviceable sleepers. Devils fans hope that 10-year vet Stempniak returns to Ray Shero‘s fold. Over a 15-year NHL career, Chimera never has failed to impress. Any Washington coach would underline that point.
18. There are a few general managers out there who could use large, long pieces of wood. The reason is if the Oilers propose that some team – any team – take Nail Yakupov in a trade, the response likely will be, “I won’t touch him with a 10-foot pole.”
19. Expect the Tinseltown crowd to say bye-bye to Marian Gaborik, 34, while the Columbus faithful will do an “au revoir” for 29-year old Jack Johnson. Both figure to go in trades assuming that there’s good hockey left in Gabby’s gas depository. Getting out of Ohio, Johnson could reach his defensive potential.
20. The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin tosses out a pair of “free agents who’ve spiked dollar values in the playoffs.” See if you agree. A) Matt Cullen, Penguins. “Playing a top-nine role, Cullen had 10 goals and 16 points in his final 27 games”. B) David Backes, Blues. “Backes hasn’t been a consistent all-out world beater this Spring, but he’s produced in bursts.”
21. Ken Hitchcock is one of those coaches who – win or lose – knows how to dissect results. In this case, losing to San Jose: “We had individuals who were struggling, guys who were high-minutes players. One of the things that hurt us energy-wise was our inability to close out when we had the opportunity. It extended the series. Ended up forcing us into playing players multiple times for multiple minutes. Ended up really hurting us overall”.
22. Hitchcock on the Sharks: “San Jose’s ability to check won them the series. The Sharks were committed a little bit better than us. Their forwards really worked and put a lot of pressure on us from the backside, constant pressure, and had the energy to play that way. In the end, it was our inability to close off those first two series and get the rest that San Jose got by closing off LA so early.”
23. Peter DeBoer and Hitchcock did a ‘Punch and Judy’ routine during their six-game set, but when it was over, the Sharks coach was all class. “Hats off to St. Louis and the fight they put up,” says Pistol Pete, “and how hard they made us work for the series.”
24. OK, Peter, but what about your “feud” with Hitch? “I know. Hitch and I went back-and-forth about adjustments and (whining) things. Hey, the Blues had an exceptional season considering all the injuries they had. Hats off to them.”
25. THE unsung Sharks hero? How about Joel Ward. And, if you don’t believe me, ask DeBoer: “I’m a big believer that if you’re a clutch playoff performer, that’s something that’s a gift,” says Pete of Joel. “That doesn’t go away. I had Mike Richards. He was that type of guy. They have the ability to rise to the occasion this time of year.”
26. Asked what’s so special about Ward in May, DeBoer shoots back: “The playoffs fit him. He’s a big, heavy guy. I don’t think it was any secret, this roster here, considering LA, Anaheim, St. Louis, we had to get bigger, heavier, harder to play against so that we could play this time of year.”
27. Jumbo Joe Thornton summed up his mind set about reaching the Cup Final in five well-chosen words: “It’s a pretty cool feeling.”
28. On the other hand, Thornton’s pal, Patrick Marleau, has an arresting theory about the Sharks’ turning point this year: “Winning on the road helped us get close as a group during the regular season. It carried over into the playoffs. Just having each other’s back out there, working for each other.” Makes sense. That and goaltending.
29. San Jose Captain, Joe Pavelski simplifies the Sharks success formula in four words: “The four-line attack.”
30. Doesn’t it seem as if Penguins third-string goalie Jeff Zatkoff beat the Blueshirts in the opening game of the Rangers-Pitt playoff about a century ago?
31. Speaking of ancient history, last Fall, The Hockey News had Sergei Plotnikov as the Penguins “Rookie To Watch.”
32. With 20-20 hindsight, it has to be Matt Murray or Mister Rust, hero of Game 7.
33. Yeah, Jeff Blashill nudged the Red Wings into the playoffs. But the feeling I get is that he’ll be nudged out by Thanksgiving if the Detroiters stumble from the starting gate.
34. Considering how Pitt dominated most of the series with Tampa, it’s amazing that the series went seven games.
35. The Penguins should not have a lot of trouble with San Jose, but I’ll get into that in a day or three.