1. If San Jose wins on Thursday night in Pittsburgh, I will rank that victory with my all-time upsets starting with Joe Namath’s Jets beating Baltimore in the 1969 Super Bowl.
2. Critics rip the Sharks for never scoring the first goal in these playoffs. How can a team score if it never has the puck?
3. Now it can be told; Mike Sullivan is out-coaching Peter DeBoer the same way DeBoer out-coached John Tortorella in the 2012 Rangers-Devils playoff classic. My man in Pitt, Vince Comunale, adds about the winning coach: “Sully never has an easy practice. To play for him, you have to practice as hard as you play.”
4. As a well-trimmed bearded one, I can say with no fear of contradiction that neither Brent Burns nor Joe Thornton have helped their respective games with those monster rugs hanging down from their chinny-chin-chins.
5. You can talk about Joe Pavelski as the poster boy for disappointment in the clutch, but I don’t see flashy-dresser Burns doing his team a heck of a lot of good. Besides, the Sharks don’t get to the Final without Joe’s heroics in the previous rounds.
6. If referees have decided to “let them play,” then why call chintzy penalties when major league wood-chopping and cheap shots galore have pockmarked the series. Exhibit A: Thornton doing a lumberjack’s job on Sidney Crosby in Game 4.
7. Kid Sid’s whining has been relatively muted; no doubt a function of the series so heavily tilted in the Penguins’ direction.
8. Talk about “chutzpah,” how about the Draft prospect Patrik Laine claiming that he should be picked first over the favorite, Auston Mathews. Laine, who is Finnish, has become his own press agent. That and a subway MetroCard will get him second pick.
9. Matt Murray, the whiz-kid Pittsburgh goalie, made one egregiously wrong statement so far. To wit: “You can never predict what’s going to happen.”
(Now don’t make me look bad.)
10. Saddest sight on the winning Pennsylvanians belongs to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s mug on the Penguins’ bench. Every time Murray makes another big save, Fleury moves closer to the trading block.
11. Joe Thornton once was the Sharks’ captain before the “C” was peeled off his uniform in 2014 and given to Pavelski. Turns out that Thronton is playing like a captain should play and Pavelski is about as useful to the Sharks’ offense as the San Jose stick boy.
12. Evgeni Malkin finished his Rip Van Winkle act just in time for the Final round. Face it, there’s nobody remotely close to melding size, talent and creativity on the Sharks who compares with EM.
13. The trick with Malkin — no doubt discovered by coach Sully — is to keep the Russian awake and focused. NoDoz does have its value.
14. LETTERS: Hockey analytics have a function, but not everyone likes them. Reader Robert Taub of Freeport is an ice-arithmetic dissenter. He writes: “I shouldn’t have to pore over missed and blocked shot numbers pertaining to when a player has the puck. The basis of studying hockey should be based on what a team does right or wrong on the ice.”
15. Kyle Okposo commands the lead story in the current Hockey News. The Game’s bible rates the Islander number two in its “Free Agency Power Rankings.” Steven Stamkos — no surprise — is number one.
16. Runner-up of the Met Area pending free agents on the Hockey News list is Keith Yandle placing eighth behind Boston’s Loui Eriksson and two ahead of the Islanders’ Frans Nielsen. Eric Staal is right behind Fransie.
17. When Trevor Daley — overrated in my book — went down with injury, the Penguins’ defense got better not worse. The key, Kid Olli Maatta stepped in and instantly became one of the most important Penguins.
18. Cup Final Wisdom from retired ref Kerry Fraser: “Mistakes will be made. Calls will be missed. Players will do dumb things. But what’s so genuinely great about The Game is that — no matter what happens — when all’s said and done, the players will look one another in the eyes and shake the hand of the man who had been trying to kill him throughout the series.”
19. Nothing tries my hockey patience more than the endless stories — about 2,000 and counting — out of Edmonton this month about which Oiler will be traded. So, how many times do we have to hear Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall?
20. Of course, the Rangers have their eyes on soon-to-be-available prodigy scorer Jim Vesey. A dozen other teams do, too.
21. Reader Michael Rudman of Syosset is disgusted with all the shot-blocking that has become as much an epidemic as concussions. “Shot blockers should be penalized,” writes Rudman. (Easy to say, difficult to do.)
22. Newsday‘s Arthur Staple lists a dozen players that the Islanders “potentially could trade for in the offseason.” My favorites are Milan Lucic, Nikita Kucherov, David Backes and Martin Hanzal.
23. Toronto writers, who spent seasons scorching Phil Kessel as a Maple Leaf, will labor all summer coming up with reasons why Phiery Phil is the new Penguins’ superstar. (Perhaps reason number one is that Kessel does not have to put up with the Toronto media carping every day.)
24. Sports business analyst Even Weiner labels Las Vegas as “a flawed hockey market.” Yet he finds reasons why the NHL still might add it as a 31st franchise. “By going into Nevada,” Weiner explains, “the NHL would be the first major league in the city and get whatever corporate support and marketing partners available.”
25. Devils alumni continue to get work. Scotty Stevens hooked on as an assistant coach in Minnesota under Bruce Boudreau while Dave Barr moves on to the Panthers coaching staff.
26. DeBoer’s candid analysis of the Penguins: “They shoot from everywhere and get pucks to the net and then cause confusion around the net.”
27. My personal suggestion to Pal Peter: Why don’t your Sharks guys try that in Game 5? It might work.
28. Looking ahead to the Entry Draft, June 24-25, The Hockey News figures the Devils — picking 11th — will select Penticton center Tyson Jost. “He’s one of the most dynamic pivots available,” claims THN.
29. Choosing in the 19th spot, the Islanders — according to THN — could go for Erie right winger Alex Debrincat. “He can fill a net like no one’s business,” is the THN assessment. (And who am I to argue with The Bible of Hockey.?)
30. Barr always was one of my favorite third-line Devils. I’m glad to see this wise hockey man has hooked on as Panthers Associate Head Coach. (And don’t ask me the difference between an “Associate” and an “Assistant” head coach.)
31. Only Garth Snow knows what Garth Snow has in mind, but we do know that he’s made some headline trades. His double-dip acquisitions of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy in October 2014 top the list. Question remains: will the Isles’ GM remake the roster via trades? We’ll find out soon enough.
32. You’d have to rate the Kris Letang vs. Burns match a TKO for the Penguins’ ace. As for the captains, Crosby up against Pavelski; don’t ask.
33. You don’t hear much about hockey players getting inspiration from NBA types, but the Sharks’ Joel Ward cites Paul Pierce as one of his idols. “People always knocked him down a little in the regular season,” says Ward, “but in the playoffs he always stepped up.”
34. One very smart NHL scout defies the odds and tells me that the Sharks still can take this Final to the seven-game limit. “With their backs to the wall,” the birddog explains, “they’ll play desperate hockey and could win Game 5. With that, they should win back at home. And that would set up Game 7.” (Another theory that looks good on paper, but will never happen.)
35. Coaches have learned how to semi-subtly rip the refs without getting suspended. Case in point was this interchange between a reporter and DeBoer after San Jose lost Game 4:
Reporter — The penalty on Melker Karlsson that led to the goal looked like the (Penguins) guy kind of flopped. How did you see it?
DeBoer — The same way you did!
P.S. It was a dive and the zebras did blow it.
36. How many thousand times will we hear players and coaches tell us “We have to play it simple?” But nobody ever explains how to play it “simple.”
37. The truth is that their idea of “simple” is darn complicated. Except, of course, for the Analytics bunch.
38. Murray on going from half-empty American Hockey League rinks to gills-packed Cup Final arenas: “It’s been an absolute blast.”
39. If there was a coach’s award for honesty, I’d give it to Sullivan. When he was asked what he did to turn Kessel into a playoff MVP, Sully shot back, “I didn’t do anything!”