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Fischler Report; Lightning vs. Avalanche — Nothing Could be Better!

Stan Fischler gives his thoughts on who will win the Stanley Cup, why the Rangers fell short, the Edmonton Oilers, the NHL's coaching market, the Florida Panthers and so much more.
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It's the perfect playoff storm -- Colorado and Tampa Bay in the Final.

The absolutely two best teams collide. Bingo!

The Hockey News Yearbook said so last September and, miraculously, the round pegs fell into the round holes.

The two-time defending champions were listed at 7-1 to retain The Cup while the Avs were pegged at 9-1, a minuscule difference.

The ever-growing analytics crowd will overload with graphs and what-not and that's fine. But my simplified X-Ray of this championship tourney goes like this:

The Lightning win in six because of -- 1. Goaltending; 2. Experience; 3. Brayden Point.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is better than Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz put together, and coach Jon Cooper's club has "The Knack." 3. The respite will allow ace playoff performer, Point, to return to the Bolts.

'Nuff said; we'll see.

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A CONUNDRUM FOR COLORADO

My dictionary defines a conundrum as a confusing and difficult problem and question. The word perfectly sums up the Avalanche goaltending situation.

Logic dictates that Avs coach Jared Bednar open the final round with goalie Pavel Francouz. After all, the Czech stopper won four straight from Connor McDavid's Oilers. That should be the clincher. No?

No, it's not. Perfect Pavel is the understudy. Darcy Kuemper, the Saskatoon savant -- He of the very big bucks -- is healthy and ready to return.

My goalie genius, Glenn Dreyfuss, who brazenly operates with his brain but without analytics, says "Whoa!" on Kuemper. "The guy hasn't played a game since Game One of the Western Conference Final when he suffered an upper-body injury," Dreyfuss warns. "If you think that doesn't matter, the Lightning lost consecutive games to the Rangers in the Eastern Final after a week-plus layoff."

Meanwhile, Kuemper insists that he's "100 percent ready." And the audacious Dreyfuss believes him. "Darcy is fully capable of rising to the occasion," Glenn argues. "So will the Avalanche who'll defeat the Lightning in a seven-game classic."

Me, I'd go with the hot, well-prepared Fancouz. And I also refuse to bet against The Champs, as I noted above. In six games!

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BEHIND THE RANGERS THIRD-ROUND COLLAPSE

The series was there for the Blueshirts to grab. They won the first two games and led Tampa Bay 2-0 in Game Three with overly-touted Igor Shesterkin in position to score a shutout. The Lightning was reeling with a New York coup de grace ready to be delivered.

But it never happened although opportunities still were abundant.

Shesterkin needed to "steal" at least one game. He had four chances and went oh-for-four. When the chips were down, the Rangers' big guns were out. Chris Kreider, The Bread Man, Mika Zibanejad and The Kid Line all failed in the clutch.

And don't forget to throw in the coach among the blunderers while you're at it. Why in the world would he bench his best right-wing, Kaapo Kakko, for six-goal Dryden Hunt in the crucial Game 6? That's like a bad joke.

And why did he waste an entire season without naming a captain? (The Bolts "C" man Steve Stamkos scored both goals in the 2-1 clincher. Shows you what a captain can do.)

Gallant's "fatigue" alibi falls flatter than his team's five-on-five play.

New York's roster is filled with young talent that should have withstood the grind. Tampa's much older team handled the attrition with consummate poise while missing their best playoff performer, Braden Point, for the entire series.

In the end, this tourney was there, gift-wrapped for the Rangers. But the Lightning was the club with clutch. Rangers -- not much!

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CROCODILE TEARS, SOREHEAD LOSERS IN EDMONTON

As far as reality is concerned, the once-vaunted Edmonton Oilers were swept out of the semi-finals. Also undeniable is the fact that the "Heavyweight Battle" between Nathan MacKinnon and alleged "World's Greatest Hockey Player," (WGHP), Connor McDavid, was won by the Avs' ace.

So, what we have is what we had -- 1. Edmonton routed; 2. McDavid's heroics couldn't produce one lousy win; 3. The Oilers did no better than Nashville; and 4. The Alberta pretenders-to-the-throne couldn't even scrape together a win over Colorado's backup goalie Pavel Francouz.

Ken Holland's illustrious Oilers went Oh-for-four against a backup goalie who didn't play a single game last season. Now, in my journalistic book, that should leave the Edmonton hockey operation open to a bit of good-natured criticism. After all, oh-for-four isn't the same as four-for-four in Denver or anywhere across the border.

The jolly fellows at Sportsnet and The Score figured they'd take an amusing kick at the Oil Can; and they did.

The Score displayed a vivid visual of the Oilers logo being spray-painted over with the word LOSERS.

Sportsnet showed an Oiler in a bog trying to grab the Stanley Cup only to land facedown in the mud. Meanwhile, an Avalanche charter flew overhead with a broom.

But this was no laughing matter at the Edmonton Journal, David Staples, who for years has orchestrated a lively "Cult of Hockey" column, was not pleased with the Oiler-slapping. "Denigrating," is what they called it and there were no smiles over that.

"It's no news to anyone in Edmonton that some -- certainly not all -- media people in Toronto are anti-Alberta and anti-Oilers," Staples insisted. (Well, that may be and, yet, it might not be; but what's the big deal?)

As it happened both Sportsnet and The Score eventually removed the allegedly offending tweets. And that raises a question: Are the Cult of Hockey savants being overly protective of their beloved oh-for-four skaters?. My comment to pal Staples. Tsk, Tsk, Tsk! Next time tell Master McDavid and friends to win a hockey game against an Avs' back up goalie who didn't play a single game last year.

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I'M JUST SAYIN'

* Imagine if the Rangers had to play the Penguins with Pitt having a healthy number one netminder. Ditto the Hurricanes.

* Now that I think about it, the Blueshirts would have gone bye-bye in either the first or second rounds.

* Ryan Strome missing a yawning net in Game 5 was the choke miss of the tournament.

* I'll be stunned to the core if Barry Trotz winds up coaching the Flyers. John Tortorella, sure; but Barry?

* Then again, in this uncertain hockey world, anything goes. Exhibit A is Bruce Cassidy who'd be a good fit in any opening.

* In retrospect, the Islanders did better against the Lightning last spring, taking the Champs to a seventh game, 1-0 loss.

* If I'm Bruce Boudreau, I wouldn't be pleased over boss Jim Rutherford calling the Canucks inner sanctum "a country club room."

* Like it or not, Vancouver's bench boss had better prepare for changes orchestrated by Rutherford. Gentleman Jim doesn't mess around.

* Of all the cut-rate goalies available, the one I'd grab if I was Ken Holland is Ville Husso.

* The best reason for Evander Kane leaving Edmonton is that he reportedly needs the bigger bucks available elsewhere rather than the moolah that theOilers can afford to pay the talented ace.

* The "Who Should Jared Bednar Start In Goal" debate in Denver makes me laugh. Pavel Francouz has won four straight, for crying out loud -- he must open the Cup Final.

* Nothing against Darcy Kuemper but a little more rest can't hurt.

* The really tough call for Julien BriseBois in Tampa Bay will be how to fit some awfully good contributors into the Bolts roster for 2022-23.

* I mean how could Julie even think about moving Ondrej Palat after his superior play up until now. Ditto for Jan Rutta and Nick Paul.

* Frankly, I don't get hot and bothered over Cap questions but I know darn well that others do so here's one from Agile Al Greenberg:

* "As if Montreal doesn't have enough problems, the Habs are over the Cap with only 18 players signed for next year. Some serious off-season shedding will be required."

* Bruce Cassidy insists that the Bruins high command led him to believe he'd be back in the B's saddle again.

* My guess is that Cousin Brucie didn't read the fine print in Don Sweeney's eyes.

* My pal Jim Nill might want Cassidy behind his Dallas bench.

* The most redundant "next coach" name is Barry Trotz. Fair enough, but the longer Barry remains mute and out of reach, the more I'm convinced he'll take the year off and then return.

* Am I the only one who thinks Barry would enjoy a one-year, paid, sabbatical?

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THE FLORIDA COACHING FOLLIES

Say this for the Panthers' high command, when it comes to a coaching decision, the bosses take their sweet time. Meanwhile, incumbent Andrew Brunette suffers a form of NHL water torture.

"The more time that elapses and the record number of seasoned coaches available makes Brunette's position more tenuous," says my guy in Sunrise, Al Greenberg. "Andy still has the 'Interim' tag despite guiding the team to a Presidents' Trophy and being a Jack Adams Award finalist."

Still, Pal Al points out that at the end of the 2018-19 season Bob Boughner was fired a day after the season ended. Joel Quenneville got the gig a day later.

Speaking of Q, it remains a mystery as to when -- or if -- he contacts Gary Bettman for the necessary sit down before the commissioner grants a green light -- or not -- for Joel's potential return to an NHL coaching job.

It's inconceivable to me that Quenneville would want to do anything but be restored to a head coaching spot. This is a tough-tough call all around.

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MY FAVORITE MEDIA STORY OF THE WEEK

Sportsnet's Mark Spector is one of my favorite "reads," no question. So, when I saw this headline on his story, I got riveted: What Should The Oilers Do With Polarizing Jesse Puljujarvi?

My first impression was that Jess was a team troublemaker. Not so.

Spector was speculating over the youngster's pluses and minuses in The McDavid Fraternity House.

Mark's conclusion makes a whole lot of sense: If I could use Jess in a deal to land the right goaltender I would trade him.

Guess what? I'm sure Spector is on to something and the Oilers have seen the last of this "polarizing" player.

(Too bad there's no Polar Hockey League; this Jesse guy would be right at home there.)

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GOOD MOVE BY MADISON SQUARE GARDEN

Following Game 5 -- Lightning at Rangers -- a Lightning fan was sucker-punched by a New York rooter as the crowd exited MSG. When an onlooker tried to intervene, he too was assaulted.

MSG accurately has called it "an abhorrent assault" and has banned the attacker for life from attending MSG events.

Kudos to MSG for its definitive statement: "All guests -- no matter what team they support -- should feel safe and respected in the Garden. This has and always will be our policy."

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WHO SAID IT? "They just ooze gamesmanship!" (ANSWER BELOW)

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THE READERS WRITE: DID THE RANGERS CHOKE?

The dirty word of sports is "choke" and can be interpreted several ways as happened earlier in the playoffs when a Canadian writer brought it up re the Oilers.

The term comes to mind after I received a letter from New York author-critic Steve Viuker. Analyzing the Rangers' exit, Viuker writes:

"The playoffs are like a heavyweight boxing match. The Rangers should have given the Penguins and Canes the KO blow in four or five games."

(Editor's Note: Watch for a potential "choke" situation coming up next:)

Viuker: "When the Rangers were up two games to none and one goal away from making it 3-0, they could not deliver the knockout blow."

Ergo: The Blueshirts had it and blew it.

P.S. From Viuker: "Gerard Gallant looked a little too happy chatting with Jon Cooper after losing the series. I know they're friends but the image. And don't be surprised if the Rangers achieve less next season!"

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HOCKEY MEDIA TURNS TO SOFTBALL

When it comes to helping charities, hockey folks lead all leagues.

One such nifty event will take place in Brooklyn on Saturday, August 6th. Pitted on one side will be a team of NHL journalists. They're called the BK Americans, named after the last NHL Brooklyn team.

The Amerks include heavy-hitting Andrew Gross of Newsday, Russ (Ice Cream) Cohen from NHL Radio, Christian Arnold out of amNewYork and AJ Perez who stars for Front Office Sports.

Facing them will be a local all-star outfit, the BK Nationals. In three previous games, the Nats won 19-1, 12-2 and 17-6. Organized and founded by hockey author and columnist Matthew Blittner, the softball classic will benefit an Alzheimer's charity.

For the past three summers, the Lenny DiCristino Memorial Cup -- it looks a lot like The Stanley Cup -- has been captured by the local ringers. It's about time the NHL reporters show they can hit as well as they can write.

I give a hearty YAY to Blittner for creating and organizing the event. Donations can be made at the following here.

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ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper after his Lightning beat the Rangers, 3-1 in Game 5 last Thursday night.

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