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Bluelines: The Battle of the Sunshine State

Stan Fischler looks at the Florida/Tampa Bay battle, Evgeni Malkin's future, television ratings in the United States, the Carolina Hurricanes' arena, Seattle's state of coaching, how to be a Zamboni driver and more.
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THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW AS THE SECOND ROUND POT BOILS

1. RANGERS: The Blueshirts mistakenly figured they successfully could nurse a one-goal lead through three periods. ER-ROR! Mistake Two: New York thought Vezina-bound (maybe) Iggie Shesterkin was better than Canes backup Antti Raanta.

2. HURRICANES: Rod Brind'Amour better start worrying about tonight's Game Two. His skaters were outplayed for most of the home opener because, right now, the Blueshirts are better.

3. AVALANCHE: Picked by so many "experts" to win The Cup, Colorado's stars may be reading too many of their press clippings. Last night the Blues showed the Avs; forget the clippings, you're slipping.

4. BLUES: A lot of Craig Berube's guys have won a Cup. They showed it last night. Plus, they have their coach's grit and grim determination. With the St. Louis crowd behind them in Game Three, they could surprise the "experts" -- again!

5. LIGHTNING: The defending Champs are playing like there's no such thing as attrition; which I figured would eventually bring them down. The maxim is true: Never bet against the Champs.

6. PANTHERS: The Cats sure are trying; yeah they are very trying. While they're at it, I suggest they take a crash course in Power Play 101. When the PP is oh-for-25, there are only two things to say. Oy vay!

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THE BATTLE OF THE SUNSHINE STATE -- PRESENT ARMS!

Florida-based hockey fans such as author-hockey journalist Al Greenberg waited years for a Panthers-Lightning rivalry to transfer into the playoffs. It did last year in full furyt=.

"Their arenas are less than 200 miles apart," says Greenberg, "and they've co-existed in Florida for almost 30 years, yet the natural rivalry never happened until last spring. Now, for the first time in their mutual existence, they're meeting in the second round."

While the Lightning sell out every game in Tampa Bay, the Panthers began to regularly fill BB&T Center when the playoffs began. Now hockey is king and Vamos Gatos (Go, Cats) banners adorn the boulevards.

"There hasn't been this much hockey excitement in South Florida since the Cats made their unlikely run to the Cup Final in 1996," Al adds.

The Lightning showed no signs of fatigue in either the opening win nor the 2-1 thriller last night. The Bolts third-liners prevail! Grade-A goaltending, third-fourth lines deliver, while the Cats power play remained powerless. (0-25). 

Florida interim coach Andy Brunette respects the defending Champs;as he should. "They made us better by playing them so many times," says Brunette. To which Bolts coach Jon Cooper adds, "They're fun to play against. It's as competitive as hell; and good for hockey."

Entering the series, neither team had a decided advantage, based on the regular season finish. Both teams boast superstars and, in the opening rounds, each team had world-class goaltending.

The Bolts advantages are rooted in the experience of two consecutive Cups and the experienced Tampa Bay enjoys knowing that Andrei Vasilvskiy is regarded as the NHL's best goaltender.

What we've learned so far is that it's never smart to bet against the Champs. "Attrition is not happening to the Bolts," warns Greenberg

In a long series, Florida's deadline acquisitions of Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot could be a difference maker. We already saw how the Bolts late get, Nick Paul, helped win the first round against Toronto. But the Panthers had better wake up fast. If Cats really have nine lives, this species already is up to eight.

"Whoever wins this compelling series," Greenberg sagely concludes,

"the true beneficiaries will be the Florida hockey fans."

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MALKIN VS. THE CRITIC WHO WANTS HIM GONE!

The same day that Geno Malkin sent a -- virtually pleading -- tweet to management that he wants to remain a Penguin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook said, NAY!

"It's time that the team moves on from Malkin and Kris Letang," Cook wrote. "Malkin's age and history of injuries bother me." Others are bothered by the fact that coach Mike Sullivan never gets is Birds flying past the first round.

And still, others wonder whether the new Red Sox ownership will retain the Ron Hextall-Brian Burke general staff. Theoretically, at least the new bosses may just want a new GM who picks a new coach. (Stay tuned on this one.)

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I'M JUST SAYIN'

* Here's another reason why Gary Bettman can remain NHL Commissioner as long as he wants: through the roof TV ratings.

*ESPN and TBS are reaching all-time highs in ratings.

* Game 7, Rangers-Pitt enjoyed the highest rating since the advent of cable tv.

* Has anyone in Toronto figured out what the real Leafs problem happens to be? No, not the coach; the g.m. and the president.

* They have the wrong captain. John Tavares has what I call a negative charisma quotient.

* JT got the key after his disorderly retreat from Long Island. Then, to make his absurdly high salary look good, he got the "C."

* Should have been Auston Matthews. Still should be. The faster they take the "C" away from JT, the faster Toronto will win in the playoffs.

* How safe can Mikey Sullivan be if his teams never get past the first round? And how about those egregiously blown leads?

* Some angry writers have called Toronto the "Choke Team." I say NAY. In the first round, it was Pittsburgh all the way.

* Imagine the Pens minus Letang, Malkin and Rust. Sid had better rest his shoulders over the summer.

* Lou Lamoriello retained his reputation as King Of The Never Leaks. Not one "insider" got inside Lou's head on his and wrote Lane Lambert.

* The Insider's Insider, Elliotte Friedman got it right with his scoop on Peter DeBoer's eviction of Vegas.

* The Maven's Wooden Medal award goes to the Insider -- or outsider -- who guesses right first on Barry Trotz's next gig. (I say that it's the rockin' chair.)

* That's very kind of Marc-Andre Fleury to reveal he might re-sign with Minnesota. His ersatz playoff efforts suggests resign not re-sign.

* How dare anyone suggest that Patrice Bergeron might retire. The Bruins -- not to mention, the NHL -- need this gifted gentleman.

* Sid Crosby says he wants three more years with Pittsburgh. What Sidney wants, Sidney gets.

* Al (Himself) Friedman on Corey Perry: "This guy is a steal. He went 19-21-40 in the regular season. He's got that vet playoff grit." (Points, too!)

* Since crack D-man John Klingberg says he wants to stay with the Stars, I expect that g.m. Jim Nill will make it happen.

* For the umpteenth time -- in response to a reporter's question -- Gary Bettman reiterated that he loves his gig so much, he has no intention of retiring. And I don't blame him. Super guy; super job.

* One of my labor "insiders" insists that Don Fehr's trusty aide, Mathieu Schneider, has no chance to succeed The Donald.

* Thank you, David Poile for extending John Hynes' contract. You've got a good man there.

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WHO SAID IT?

"Draft picks have a way of ending up as bartenders." (Answer Below.)

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THE CANES OFF-ICE BATTLE IN RALEIGH

Packed to the gills for the Canes-Rangers semi-final, Raleigh's PNC Arena has seen better days. Almost a quarter-century old, needs to give way to a new state-of-the-art facility. Plus, it has to happen before 2029. That's when owner Tom Dundon can move his franchise without paying a penalty to leave the city because the arena is no longer up to modern NHL standards nor is the area around it.

Dundon has the NHL's full backing. "We like being here (in Raleigh)," Bettman observes, "and I know Tom Likes being here and want to be here. But obviously, there's work to be done to make sure that the team and community have something that's today's standards."

According to Sports Business columnist Evan Weiner, Bettman wants a stadium village. The village part would be developed by the Canes.

Dundon would like to get the land outside the arena and develop it as a "hub of a new commercial district with offices and residences and restaurants...."

No question that the Canes are popular in Carolina. The more they win, the more popular the team and the easier to get the public to pay for construction costs.

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DOES SEATTLE NEED A NEW COACH?

The Kraken's season is history. Now the question is whether head coach Dave Hakstol will be history as well. Our crack Kraken critic, Glenn Dreyfuss offers this view:

"Hakstol was far down the list of problems with the Kraken compared to subpar goaltending and lack of scoring punch, It's a testament to

Hakstol that when key pieces of a thin roster were traded for picks at the deadline, the team continued to play hard, and even won some games.

"But Barry Trotz is available and checks all the boxes. He molded an expansion roster in Nashville, won a Cup in Washington and overachieved the talent on Long Island. It would be malpractice for g.m. Ron Francis to at least find out if Trotz is interested in a move to the Pacific Northwest."

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A GOOD JOURNALISTIC POINT

Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox read the Brendan Shanahan news that the Leafs boss is retaining his g.m. Kyle Dubas and coach Shelly Keefe. Cox's reaction gets a "Bullseye" from me:

"It must be frustrating for Leafs fans that there are no consequences for failure by their favorite team."

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DON CHERRY HEARD FROM

Apart from his regular blog, Don Cherry can be found in the Toronto Sun. Instead of "Coaches Corner," which was a successful staple on Hockey Night In Canada, Don's new header in the Sun is called "Cherry's Corner."

Sun reporter Joe Warmington got Grapes going the other day about some sensitive subjects. One of them a possible return to HNIC's

Coaches Corner. While Cherry agreed that he wouldn't mind a do-over but, realistically, it ain't gonna happen. "Unlikely is the way he put it.

As for his split with longtime HNIC sidekick, Ron MacLean, Grapes put a nix on that one. "I don't think we'll ever be friends again." Cherry asserted.

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THIS GUY HAD TO FOLLOW THE TOUGHEST ACT IN HOCKEY

It's generally accepted that -- until his retirement -- Michael (Doc) Emrick set the gold standard for hockey play-by-play in America.

When Doc, left his stint as the voice of the New Jersey Devils, his successor had his work out for him.

Steve Cangialosi accepted the challenge and for ??? years emerged as the perfect replacement for Emrick. More than that, "Cangy," as he was known far and wide, was respected and admired as an engaging and amusing colleague.

Having worked with Steve for more than a decade, I don't hesitate to say he was one of my all-time favorite broadcasters and as an

A-1 pal as well. Yes, Cangy, you followed Doc magnificently.

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SO YOU WANT TO BE A ZAMBONI-DRIVER; YOU CAN (Part One)

Prize-winning screen-writer, Joltin' Joe Dionisio, ("Serenade Of The Vulture"), has a fun side job; he drives a Zamboni at the Ice In Paradise rink in Santa Barbara, California. Since I know many hockey fans who'd love to drive a Zamboni, I asked Joe to tell us all about his adventures on the Big Z.

Take it away, Joltin' Joe:

"I assumed that learning to drive a lumbering, snail-paced Zamboni would be a breeze. Yet, I discovered that this quirky, beloved vehicle requires more cockpit skills than a NASA space mission.

"Taming tis five-ton, $100,000 beast is my duty at Ice In Paradise where I'm the Adult Hockey Director. Zambonis, however, hate being tamed. I had to master blade height, speed, water pressure, rink usage(figure skating vs. hockey), and geometric paths.

"My rookie ice cuts wouldn't win any awards -- ruddy, wet and sometimes uneven. Once, my elbow accidentally bumped the water valve, nearly boring a hole to the concrete. On a few nights, you'd find better ice in a 7-Eleven Slurpee. But, I've improved, thanks to my mentor, Ice In Paradise manager Erik Norton"

(In Part Two, next issue, Joltin' Joe will explain the 'Secret' to training Zamboni drivers. If Dionisio can do it, so can you.")

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(ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Flames coach Darryl Sutter on his aversion to trading star players for draft choices.

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