HEADLINES FOR SATURDAY LEARNED FROM GAME ONE
A. The Avs are better, but the Bolts can handle "BETTER" even better.
B. Kuemper is average, but Vasilevskiy must steal Game 2.
C. Cooper will try to slow down the pace. If he can, Bolts will win.
D. It's Avs' hunger vs. Bolts experience. Hunger, so far, is ahead by a sip of coffee.
E. DON'T SHOOT THE PUCK OVER THE GLASS!
F. Never bet against the champs.
FOUR NOT-FINAL THOUGHTS FROM THE FINAL
1. Best description of Avs coach Jared Bednar comes via his buddy Jason Fitzsimmons via Sportsnet's Ken Wiebe: "Bednar is a modern-day old-school guy."
2. Best non-analytics description of the Avalanche: "A great team is a great team is a great team." (Thank you, Gertrude Stein.)
3. The genius of Avalanche g.m. Joe Sakic can be defined by one trade, nailing Arturri Lehkonen. He's a forward's forward.
4. One of my favorite playoff writers happens to be Kristen Shilton of ESPN. I loved her piece on the Playoff Under-rateds. Glad she mentioned Frank Vatrano.
COMPARING LIGHTNING WITH ISLANDERS
The manner in which the Lightning pushed and shoved its way to the Final Round has prompted some seers out there to compare the Bolts to the Dynastic Islanders. And I say, fair enough. BUT!
As we speak, Jon Cooper's posse has won 11 straight playoff series. That, my friends, is a remarkable achievement.
But, Al Arbour's Isles won 19 straight playoff series; a record that will be matched when the cow jumps over the moon.
Adore the Bolts all you want -- and they deserve it -- but I raise a big no-no when it comes to matching the Nassaumen and their unmatchable 19 straight feat.
That said, I was tickled to read The Athletic's Joe Smith piece aligning the Bolts and Isles. Joltin' Joe even got The Great One to compare Tampa Bay with Uniondale.
"The resiliency of the Lightning is a lot like that of the 1980s Islanders," says The Great One. "They can beat you by skating, defensive play and physically. And they have a special goalie the way the Islanders had Billy Smith."
Joe got hold of Denis Potvin who's been eyeing the likes of Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh. "How well you defend," says the Hall of Fame Isles captain, "is how you win Stanley Cups."
GOOD CUP STORIES:
A beautiful part of the final round is story-telling. The Avs' ace Nathan MacKinnon tells a tale about when he was a nine-year-old in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His dad made a hockey card for him and asked Nate who he'd like to play for if he made the NHL. "Colorado," he replied, "because of Joe Sakic." How about that for turning dream to reality!
DENVER VS. DETROIT -- WHICH REALLY IS THE 'HOCKEY TOWN?'
Every Cup Final has to have some kind of nutsy-ness. My choice is a column in the Denver Post by Mark Kiszla. The guy had nothing better to write about but arguing that Denver is a better "Hockey Town" than Detroit. Really!
Maybe it is and maybe it ain't. All I know is that the only book with "Hockey Town" in the title is "The Road to Hockey Town," authored by Red Wings Executive V;P. Jim Devellano. And the Hockey Town, of course, is Detroit. (Looks like Mark is off the mark by one book.)
THE GRUNT MAKES GOOD
You can count on one hand the number of St.Louis-born hockey players who've made good in the NHL. Then, there's the unique case of Pat Maroon who already boasts three Cup rings; one from the Blues and two with the Bolts.
Pesty Pat has redefined grit as his substitute for speed and scoring. He compensates well and is beloved by his bench mates. Defenseman Mikhael Sergachev calls Maroon "The Glue" who brings all the guys together" (And that trait cannot be undervalued.)
But Pattycake is far from perfect as proven by his late third period delay of game penalty that proved to be the prelude to the Avs' OT winner.
TORTS AND THE FLYERS, A MARRIAGE MADE ON BROAD STREET
What could be a better match than the Bully Coach coaching the Bullies on Broad Street? Neither Hollywood nor Mel Brooks could make that up but, lucky for the Flyers -- and us -- it's happening. Since Gentleman John is a personal friend -- dating to his Rangers days -- I wish him all the luck in the Pennsylvania World. Also, Torts, make sure that your new boss, Chuck Fletcher, gets you a real NHL goalie!
I'M JUST SAYIN'
* My choice for "Luckiest Guy In The Playoffs" is Nazem Kadri. The Evander Kane hit from behind in the Edmonton series could have resulted in Kadri being wheelchair-bound for life.
* When Ray Bourque jumped from the Bruins to Colorado, I considered it the desertion of his "mother team." Hated it.
* But time is a healer and two decades plus later, all is forgiven, Ray.
Enjoy your adopted Cup-winning franchise of 2001.
* Just for the fun of it, let's call tomorrow "Barry Trotz Day" and maybe he'll not only show up but tell us what's what.
* I know a dozen coaches who are playing the game, "Waiting For Barry!" Another week and it'll be downright annoying.
* I like the Jay Leach next-Bruins-coach rumor. Jay's been one of my favorites since his Devils days.
* Gut guys got the Bolts to where they are and one of the low-key -- but best of them -- is The Grit Man, Corey Perry.
* Jon Cooper could be a writer 'cause he has imagination. He came up with a solid label for Ondrej Palat; "a deadly assassin."
* If the Rangers don't re-grab Frank Vatrano, the first g.m. who does will be very lucky.
* I love the way the Edmonton media discusses the Oilers gruesome goaltending situation. Sounds like they're talking about "Black Sheep" in the family. As in the song, "I Told You I Love You -- Now Get Out!"
* They want "clarity" on Mike Smith. I'll give them clarity. Thank Smitty very much and have Ken Holland make him goalie coach.
* I'm pleased to hear that the Sabres will be retiring goalie Ryan Miller's #30 jersey. He was one of the best.
* There was one thing wrong with Rangers fans hooting, "Igor is better!" at Andrei Vasilveskiy. It inspired the Bolts goalie to play better than Shesterkin; which he did in the end.
* There are rumors that make sense and then there are rumors that are full of applesauce.
* The report that Chicago is peddling Alex Brincat falls into the Applesauce category.
* Not only does the Farmington Hills, Michigan forward do so many things well but DeBrincat is one of the best names in hockey.
* This should be the Oilers' theme song as Mikko Koskinen boards his jet for Europe: "So Long, It's Been Good To Know You."
* My favorite Hall of Fame defenseman who went 20 years without winning a Cup is Bill Gadsby.
* If any of you folks happen to see Barry Trotz out there, please say "Hello" for me.
* The Rangers can only imagine how much farther they might have gone with a captain like the Avs' Gabe Landeskog.
* Then again, the Blueshirts can only imagine how much farther they would have gone with anyone as captain. Ergo: They needed a leader with a "C" and coach Gerard Gallant wouldn't give it to them.
WHO SAID IT? "What's so bad about the minors? When most companies let you go, they don't find another job for you?"
THE HILARIOUS CHARACTER, BEARCAT MURRAY PASSES
The sadness is that the very bald, lovable former Flames trainer Jim (Bearcat) Murray has died. Yet the nickname Bearcat inspires a smile because Jim was one of the most unusual and likeable hockey personalities.
One reason for that was Bearcat's habit of donning a pair of rollerblades at every rink he visited. Then he would madly skate around the aisles until he worked himself into exhaustion.
Once, during a visit to Madison Square Garden, I cornered Bearcat with a few questions. Here they are with Murray's replies:
Roller Skating: "I do it for exercise and because it's boring sitting around watching a scrimmage. It gives me something to do. The only problem is that in some arenas the rows are narrow, so it gets dangerous. I've got to sidestep lots of leftover cups and crap like that."
Most Embarrassing Moment: "During the 1989 playoffs between the Flames and Kings, I mistakenly went out on the ice while play still was in progress though I didn't know it at the time. Our goalie got hit and went down and then a fight erupted. I figured that play stops when a fight starts. But play hadn't stopped and I'm running to my injured goalie. Meanwhile, play continued in the other direction and we scored with me still out there. And the ref let it count!"
Stanley Cup Stunt: "After Calgary won the Cup, our owner, Darryl Seaman, invited everyone to his horse farm. All the ranchers were thrilled to see the Cup and have their pictures taken with it and with their horses. One of the horses was supposed to be fed so a cowboy stuffed some hay in The Stanley Cup. It was the first time a horse ever had his dinner out of Lord Stanley's mug!"
FAMOUS LAST WORDS THAT DIDN'T WORK:
Before the last game that preceded the Maple Leafs exit, Zach Hyman exhorted his teammates with this deathless bit of cheerleading: "In hockey, you're not knocked out until you're knocked out. You've got to plant that seed of doubt and it starts with one win."
PITY! ANOTHER GOALIE VICTIM
Seattle goalie Chris Driedger once wrote in the Players Tribune, "I feel like I've been waiting my whole life for the Kraken." Our man in Seattle, Glenn Dreyfuss, reveals that Driedger is going to have to wait some more.
The poor guy suffered a torn ACL during the World Championship gold medal game last month. "While surgery was successful," Dreyfuss notes, "Driedger's rehab could last until the final week of next season. That leaves Kraken GM Ron Francis with an unexpected hole to fill alongside number one netminder Phil Grubauer, himself looking to rebound from a wobbly first season in Seattle."
Some serious studies have to be undertaken because the outbreaks of goalie injuries are beyond all reason. Plus they've had a direct impact on the playoffs. Both the Penguins and Hurricanes lost their starters and, not surprisingly, lost their respective series to the Rangers. (Imagine if the Blueshirts ace, Igor Shesterkin, had gone down with a serious wound.That surely would have torpedoed the New Yorkers before they reached the third round.)
A BYE-BYE BLUESHIRTS X-RAY
Some citizens of Rangerville still can't believe that their beloved Blueshirts are on the outside looking in on the Final Round.
Who knows? it might have been different if coach Gerard Gallant had not benched his top right wing Kaapo Kakko in Game Six. And perhaps, Gallant erred in starting an obviously injured center Ryan Strome. My Rangers analyst Al Greenberg offers this pithy comment:
"Gallant is going to be second-guessed on Kakko and Strome all summer. Looking backward, Gallant's early departure from three prior coaching gigs might have something to do with his loyalty to players -- they always like him -- and his disdain for analytics. It really ticked off management (and owners.)."
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? PIERRE PAGE.