Some Final thoughts scraped up off the ice
Picked-up pieces, rinkside musings, and various top-of-the-crease contemplations as we approach the final game or two of the 2010-11 NHL season, which is being capped off with perhaps the most entertaining Stanley Cup Final since 1994, when the Rangers dumped the Canucks in Game 7 to win their first championship since 1940:
■Hockey sure was sizzling when the Broadway Blueshirts won in ’94, wasn’t it? But then came the lockout (first in a series) only some 90 days later, and then suddenly, uh, the game wasn’t so hot. For a long time. The widespread implementation of “trap’’ hockey only made matters worse (take a bow, Jacques Lemaire, along with all your trappist wonks). The current collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15, 2012. Let’s hope the shakers, movers, and thinkers on both sides of the bargaining table keep the spring-summer-fall of 1994 in mind when they get around to their Greed Games.
■ A shame, too, that Vancouver’s Pavel Bure, only 23 at the time, never really lived up to expectations after the ’94 playoffs. The Russian Rocket had the speed and skills to finish among the game’s top 20 all-time scorers, but contract acrimony and injuries eventually led to his exit at age 32. Final line: 702 games, 779 points, a career half-fulfilled.
■OK, five games gone in the Final and both the Bruins and Canucks are power-play no-shows (a combined 4 for 46). Tim Thomas has been the better goalie, with his counterpart, Roberto Luongo, scorched for 12 goals in five-plus periods in Boston. So it comes down to the Bruins, with the better goalie and the best five-on-five résumé in the regular season, needing to win two games that likely will be decided by goaltending and the best five-on-five play. There are far worse predicaments to be in. We only have to look at Round 2 of the 2010 playoffs, Bruins vs. Flyers, to find one.
■It was Canucks forward Alex Burrows who said that his talented linemates, Swedish twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin, communicate like dolphins when they’re on the ice. Five games into the Final fishbowl, they’ve barely made a peep. Bruins checkers have turned the Sedins into sardines.
■The Green Guys, made famous by their creative antics beside the penalty box in Vancouver, call themselves “Sully’’ and “Force.’’ But, really, wouldn’t two guys dressed in green unitards be better to go by “Mint’’ and “Julep’’? There’s also something about them that reminds me of “Ghostbusters.’’ If I were sent to the penalty box, and they started their Cirque de Soleil antics, I’d pull out a green Sharpie and scribble, “I’ve been slimed!’’ on the glass. I wonder how Eddie Shore would have cozied up to “Mint’’ and “Julep.’’
■Kudos to Mike Murphy, NHL dean of discipline amid the transition from Colin Campbell to Brendan Shanahan, for his courage and vision in sending Aaron Rome off the turf for the remainder of the Cup Final. Hockey is a brutal and ever-dangerous sport when played fairly, which is why cheap shots, especially with the head targeted, have no place in the game. By Murphy’s account, it wasn’t a hit to the head (semantics alert!), which could have led him to hide behind language in the rule book (long a Campbell specialty) had he allowed Rome to skate free. Yet Murphy appropriately determined the act as a whole was egregious enough — and Horton’s injuries of such magnitude — that it couldn’t be tolerated.
■As for Murphy and his confederacy of disciplinarians allowing Burrows to bite Patrice Bergeron’s gloved hand and go free, now that was a huge opportunity lost. Is there another North American sport (or even pre-K recess monitor) that tolerates biting? Framed by that HDTV lens, with millions around the world watching, the Burrows bite really sullied the league’s image and brand value. In such an instance, commissioner Gary Bettman, in concert with top lieutenants Bill Daly and John Collins, must make it clear to Murphy et al that league image and integrity have to be protected. Not to mention, by the way, that the Canucks’ histrionics in Game 2 over the non-ruling acted as the run-up to Rome’s vulgar hit on Horton. The league also should have suspended Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference in Round 1 when he followed his big goal in Montreal by flipping off the Bell Centre crowd. Unprofessional acts must be treated with professionalism, intelligence, and swift, stern discipline.
■True, they have yet to be huge factors on the scoresheet, but it has been a pleasure to see Ryan Kesler and Bergeron work so diligently and honestly in the series. Proof, once more, that when you’ve got game, true game, there really isn’t a need for biting, finger flipping, and other histrionics.
■Right now, Thomas is the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of the playoffs. That could change over the next game or two, but probably not. Even if the Canucks win, Thomas could be the fifth Smythe-winning goaltender to back a Cup runner-up. The others: Roger Crozier, 1966, Detroit; Glenn Hall, 1968, St. Louis; Ron Hextall, 1987, Philadelphia; Jean-Sebastien Giguere, 2003, Anaheim.
■The answer is: 14,277. And the question is: Headed into Game 6 tomorrow night at the Garden, how many days have passed since the Bruins last won the Stanley Cup (answer courtesy of longtime Bruins fan Kevin Vautour, frequent caller to the late, great New England Hockey Journal radio show). Interesting that the number is right there between 13,909 and 14,448, the old Garden’s former sellout figures.
■Lots of chuckles linger over Mike Milbury referring to the ineffective Sedin twins as “Thelma and Louise.’’ Milbury is among the funniest guys I know, especially when not working under the gag order of good-times-nothing-but-good-times NESN. However, attaching female monikers to failing performance is not the way to go in 2011. If the Sedins break out now, will they be “Thor’’ or “Hercules’’ or “Zeus’’? Doubt it. I’ll keep my “I like Mike’’ button, but hockey has had enough of those passive-aggressive drive-bys for years with Don Cherry’s off-color ruminations.
■If there is anything positive to come of Rome’s hit on Horton, let’s hope that it convinces everyone involved, especially the players, that it’s time for a dramatic scaling back in size and type of material used in shoulder and elbow pads. True, if forced to work with less protection, players likely will suffer more injuries to those areas. However, they also won’t be empowered to run around the ice and deliver the kind of kill shots to the head that they land with the current beefed-up, rock-hard pads. Manufacturers aren’t going to like it. Note to manufacturers: too bad. Just do like the rest of the world: charge the same or even more for a lesser product.
According to Richard Johnson, the museum’s curator, a caller to his office Friday noted that he was in the Garden on that day in 1970 and took home a piece of the net.
“This guy was a season ticket-holder at the time,’’ said Johnson. “Amid all the mayhem on the ice, he went over to one of the photographers’ positions and slipped a pocket knife to one of the kids who was running all over the ice in celebration that day.
“He told the kid, ‘Look, cut me a piece of the net and cut yourself a piece while you’re at it.’ ’’
All of which, Johnson believes, adds credence to the belief that the old heavy-metal goal, now on permanent display in the museum, is the real McCoy. According to Johnson, when the museum took possession of the net some 10 years ago, from an anonymous donor/thief, there wasn’t a thread of net on it.
According to the donor, the goal had been used for street hockey for close to 30 years before being returned, so nearly three decades of Game On! wear and tear also could have left the goal threadbare.
Whether or not its provenance is ever proven, it still makes for a neat story. Johnson figures he may even take up one Globe reader’s suggestion and charge museum visitors a small price for the pleasure of firing a tennis ball into the goal. If so, here’s hoping they have a large room, one with a second balcony, in case Bruins alum Bobby Schmautz twirls by for a shot.
Home of the free? Prior to the playoffs, conventional wisdom would have had the Bruins signing Tomas Kaberle to a contract extension before the July 1 start of free agency and allowing Michael Ryder to walk free after three, shall we say, up-and-down seasons. Now Kaberle looks like the one to let walk, Ryder the one to keep. The bet here: They’ll both get offers from GM Peter Chiarelli, but at steep discounts from their current wages (Kaberle, $4.25 million; Ryder, $4 million). Neither one fits the Chiarelli model of “hard to play against,’’ but both have enough skills to keep them around as support players.
Julien has his reasons OK, why no sign of Tyler Seguin on the Boston power play these days? That was the aching question following Game 5 in Vancouver Friday, after Claude Julien opted to slot in checking-line grinder Gregory Campbell with Mark Recchi and Ryder on the second unit. It’s just the Julien way, folks, and it has worked quite well of late. Campbell plays the coach’s requisite “heavy’’ game, and is reliable, which is to say he is very unlikely to commit a rookie mistake. However, he’s also equally unlikely to score a power-play goal unless it bounces in off his backside. Seguin, 19, has yet to master the shift-to-shift discipline and courage it takes to play a more engaged game. From the stands, that’s frustrating to witness. But from inside the dressing room, where coaches must cultivate trust and respect based on work ethic and willingness to battle in all three zones, it makes perfect sense.
Loose pucks Win or lose the Cup, both Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara will be on a plane for Las Vegas early next week to attend the NHL Award ceremonies. Big Z has a good shot at landing his second Norris Trophy as top defenseman, and Thomas the same at his second Vezina as top stopper. If Thomas wins the Smythe and the Vezina, he’ll stand with Ron Hextall and Bernie Parent as the only goaltenders to accomplish that prestigious double dip . . . Craig Ramsay, the former Bruins assistant who just wrapped up his first season as Thrashers coach, hasn’t been told whether he’ll be the guy to coach the same club in Winnipeg. “Unnerving,’’ Ramsay told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Meanwhile, team president Don Waddell has said he won’t go north, and GM Rick Dudley has been replaced by Kevin Cheveldayoff. Don’t be surprised if Dudley rejoins old pal Dale Tallon, the GM in Florida. Tallon and Dudley did most of the heavy lifting that turned the Blackhawks into 2010 Cup champs, and both were out of the picture when current management began to dismantle the roster soon after the win . . . If you see a tall guy wearing hooded sweatshirt, dark sunglasses, and earphones walking around Castle Island today, it could be Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. “Bobby Lou’’ likes to walk along bucolic Stanley Park (named after Lord Stanley) in Vancouver prior to big games. It helps him relax and focus. Prior to leaving Vancouver yesterday, he said he’d look to do the same around the Hub of Hockey. Hey, that has to put him at Castle Island, right? Let’s see, hooded sweatshirt, sunglasses, earphones . . . only sounds like 3,000 or 4,000 other guys walking around Castle Island. Maybe he’ll opt for one of those Mint Julep unitards instead?