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Canucks v Blackhawks II

Drunk Kane

Drunk Kane

Well its gonna happen.  The much awaited playoff rematch between the Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks.  Last year, also in the second round, the Chicago Blackhawks crashed their way to a 6 game series win over the Canucks.  This, along with a number of personal battles between players on both teams should allow for one hell of a series.

The Canucks will tell you that they felt they should have won last year, that they feel they are the better team, and if they stay out of the box and learn from last year’s mistakes they should win the series rematch.

The Blackhawks will tell you that they can get into Luongo’s head, can tame the twins, and should have no problem skating circles around the Canucks defense.

Sporting Vancouver will tell you that if the referees do their job and call goaltender interference EVEN ONCE in this series, something that seemed to, inexplicably, perplex them in last year’s series, the Vancouver Canucks should have enough to exact revenge against their rivals.  However, if the refs allow Byfuglien and the Hawks forwards to use Luongo as a bean-bag chair as they did with impunity last year then the Canucks, again, will be up against it.  It seemed as though Chicago scored at least 90% of their goals with Luongo shoved into the back of his net with one or two Blachawk forwards dog-piled on top of him.  Somehow, this drew no attention from the referees whatsoever.  Alain Vigneualt and his team better hope things will be different this year.

So far, it looks as though the league is determined to allow the goalies a chance to remain on their feet and attempt to stop shots.  We saw the Kings called for goaltender interference 3 times in the last series.  We also saw a Washington Capitals goal disallowed in a close game 7 because one of the Caps players allegedly grazed Montreal goaltender Jiroslav Halak’s toe preventing him from making a save.  Now, I’m positive Luongo won’t get anywhere near that kind of protection from the referees in this series…but if he gets at least some protection the Blackhawks will have to find a way to get shots past Luongo instead of just shooting the puck into the empty net after pushing him out of the way.

This series will be a long one.  This series will be a tough one.  It will be entertaining and will probably be the best of the 4 conference semi-finals.  We will see plenty of Byfuglien v Luongo, and maybe some Alberts v Byfuglien or O’Brien v Byfuglien.  We’ll definitely see some Kane v Kesler, and probably some Kane v Ladd.  Of course Burrows v Kjalmarsson and Samuelsson v Niemi.  I’m thinking there will be a pretty good tag-team match between the Sedins and Keith & Seabrook.  Mitchell v Toews would have been nice but Mitchell is still out.  Of course we will see Vigneault v Quenville II, which should be a good one…I just hope we don’t see Refs v Canucks II…cuz that would suck.

Yes, Canucks v Blackhawks II will be a toe-to-toe, knock him down, drag him out, grudge match between two of the best, most dynamic teams in the NHL.  Round 1 goes Saturday in Chicago.  DING-DING!

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Round 2: Here we go again…

With the Montreal Canadiens  Game7 victory, and improbable comeback from down 3 games to 1, against the Washington Capitals, the Eastern Conference playoff picture has been turned on its ear with the top 3 seeds being eliminated.  The Western Conference, however, has played out more to form with no upsets–unless you consider the 5th place Detroit Red Wings, who made it to the finals the last 2 years and won it all 2 years ago, beating the upstart  4th place Phoenix Coyotes an upset.

As we set up for the 2nd round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it is important to point out a few things.  For starters, both of last year’s finalists, the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, are still alive and should be considered favorites despite the fact they finished 4th and 5th in their respective conferences…at least until someone beats them, which I don’t see happening in this next round.  I am pretty sure Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks will wake up and remember that they’re Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks and produce yet another epic playoff fail.  In the East, giant killers Montreal face another giant, but this time the giant sees them coming and knows how to handle them.

In the other 2 series I expect to see a couple of serious battles.  Boston Bruins v Philadelphia Flyers should be a physical battle with 2 of the biggest, meanest defensemen in the league in Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara  patrolling their respective zones.  In the West we will see a grudge match that has been brewing since last year’s 6 game bloodbath that saw the Chicago Blackhawks dispatch the Vancouver Canucks in 6 games.  Look for the Canucks to do a better job this year of protecting the area around Roberto Luongo and be much better able to match Chicago’s scoring, thus returning the favour and knock out the Blackhawks in 6 games.  In the East, Marc Savard’s return to the Bruins should be enough to lead them to victory over the Flyers, but expect a long series in that one.

In about 2 weeks time we will be looking at an Eastern Conference Final between Marc Savard’s Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins as well as a Western Conference battle between the Detroit Red Wings and the Vancouver Canucks.

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Rollercoaster season sees Canucks fight injuries; score heavily.

The 2009/2010 regular season comes to a screeching halt after seeing the Canucks deal with all kinds of adversity and successes, expectations and disappointments, highs and lows, and one of the NHL’s highest total of mangames lost to injury.  Still, they persevered, and once the dust settled they found themselves repeating as Northwest Division Champions, 2nd in league scoring with Henrik Sedin leading the way as the Art Ross Trophy winner, a 1st round match with the young and dynamic LA Kings, and a lot of questions to be answered.

Will the team’s depleted defense keep them from reaching their potential?

Will Luongo shake off the post-olympic cobwebs and regain his masterful form in time to keep the Canucks rolling?

Will the Sedins continue rolling and light up the other team’s goaltender?

Can Kesler and Burrows continue to get under the skin of their opponents while continuing to put up points?

There’s a lot that needs to be answered going into Thursday’s playoff opener at GM Place.  It all depends on which Canucks team shows up.  The Canucks have shown that when they are interested, they can beat anyone in the league as evidenced by wins over Chicago, Detroit, San Jose, Washington and Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh.  They’ve also shown their ugly side with inexplicable losses to Columbus, Carolina, Edmonton, and the Islanders.

Their first round opponent, the LA Kings, provide the Canucks with a serious competition.  They are young, fast, and physical.  They have depth at forward as well as on defence and have been overlooked by many around the NHL as this year’s “one-hit wonder”.  In my opinion, this team is for real.  They will give the Canucks all they can handle and meet the Canucks hit for hit and shot for shot.  The Canucks will need to be disciplined and stay put of the box as much as possible and they will need to have the better goaltender.  If Luongo is Luongo, the Canucks will win this series.  If we see the same Luongo we’ve seen since after the Olympic break, things may not go as well for the Canucks.

All in all, I expect this series to be very entertaining and well-played.  I expect that the Canucks will defeat the Kings in 7 games (as long as the refs stay out of the way).

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Gold or Bust for Men’s Hockey

The 2010 Vancouver Olympics Men’s Hockey Tournament is in full swing.  After 2 days of competition, all 12 countries have gotten their feet wet.  As expected Canada and the USA had little problem dispatching Norway and Switzerland respectively.  Germany surprised Sweden by battling them to a very competitive 2-0 result which saw the Germans hit several goal posts behind Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist.  The Czech Republic ousted the rival Slovakia 3-1, and the Russians handled Latvia 8-2.

Canada started Roberto Luongo between the pipes against Norway and he subsequently posted a shutout on what was, expectedly, a quiet night for him in which he only faced a handful of dangerous shots.  Martin Brodeur, who is expected to be the Team Canada starter for the run of the tournament will start today, in what should be another tune-up type game, against the Swiss.  Although, your humble blogger is loathe to point out that the Swiss stunned Canada in Torino2006, and should not be taken lightly this time around.

Canada’s first game against Norway, which they won 8-0, saw the top line of Crosby, Nash, and Iginla light up Norway with Iginla notching a hat-trick.  This line looks deadly, with Crosby having 2 snipers to choose from in Nash and Iginla.  But then again, it was Norway.   The Swiss, no doubt, will put up a much bigger fight, but anything short of a convincing victory will leave fans wondering.  The 7th place finish in Torino still leaves a bitter taste in the collective mouth of Canadian hockey fans.

Team Canada coach Mike Babcock has been trying out different line combinations.  Initially, he had put Patrice Bergeron, who your humble blogger thinks shouldn’t even be on this team, on the top unit with Crosby and Nash.  Bizarre.  After the futile production that this line produced in the 1st period, Babcock promptly, and wisely, yanked Bergeron off the 1st line replacing him with Jerome Iginla who went on to score a hat-trick taking beautiful feeds from Sidney Crosby while looking dangerous on almost every shift.

Tonight’s game should provide a better idea of what Team Canada will look like moving forward.  The team has had a game to get to know each other a little bit, work out some special teams systems, figure out some line combinations, and will have their number one goalie, Martin Brodeur between the pipes.   Due to the short nature of this tournament, there is not a lot of time for teams to ‘gel’ or master checking systems.  This team needs to come together fast, and come together now.  We will see what they look like tonight against the Swiss.

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Sporting Vancouver’s Early Take on Olympics

February 15, 2010 1 comment

In the past 3 days, your humble blogger has watched the opening ceremonies, lamented the loss of young Georgian Olympian Nodar Kumaritashvili,  tweeted about protesters and vandals, been to a rainy Cypress Mountain, and today watched Alexandre Bilodeau become the first Canadian to win Gold on home soil.

Let me start by saying that Sporting Vancouver extends sympathies and condolences to the family, friends, teammates, and countrymen of Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.  May his courage be long remembered whenever and wherever future Olympics are held.

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Now onto the opening ceremonies, which, quite frankly, blew me away.  To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting too much.  I figured it would be ok.  You know, ok in the sense that we didn’t totally embarass ourselves in front of the world and we didn’t just have a bunch of lumberjacks chasing beavers in canoes while Quebecers traded maple syrup for pelts with First Nations Peoples in igloos…you know…the stereotypical stuff…maybe with a Celine Dion and/or Corey Hart performance sprinkled in.

No, it was certainly much more than ok.  Right from the video presentation of the snowboarder descending the mountain then appearing at the top of the BC Place Stadium and jumping through the Olympic rings to welcome the World to Vancouver, I knew this was not going to be a typical, outdated, safe, Canadian-style production.  No, this was new, cutting-edge, enthralling and fast-paced.  Just the perfect recipe for today’s attention-span-challenged young viewers.

K.D. Lang’s performance of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah was breath-taking.  She made the song her own.

Shane Koyczan’s performance of his poem “We Are More” wowed many people, including yours truly, as his twitter account instantly got 100s of followers.  If you haven’t heard or read it yet, do yourself a favour and follow the link above.

After watching Jen Heil take Silver in Ladies’ Moguls and Kristina Groves take Bronze at the long track speed skating oval, Canada was treated to a Gold Medal performance in Men’s Moguls tonight at Cypress Mountain.  Alexandre Bolideau, buoyed by his inspirational and determined brother Frederic, became the first Canadian ever to win a Gold Medal on home soil.  The reaction from coast to coast was huge.  Nowhere was this more evident than on the internet and through social media.  The terms “Alexandre Bolideau” and “Canada wins Gold” were trending for hours afterward and at the writing of this blog.

Yes we are only a few days into the 21st Olympiad here in Vancouver and already so much has happened–and hockey hasn’t even started yet!

It appears as though we are in store for a great show.

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Olympic Fever Grips City

February 10, 2010 1 comment

Well, here it is.  Sporting Vancouver’s first (of what should be many) “Official Sporting Vancouver 2010 Olympic Blogs”.

With two days to go before the opening ceremonies this Friday February 12th, 2010, the city appears to be holding its collective breath.  The type of breath one would take before diving into deep waters.  This is it…its here.  The world has come to Vancouver.  Lights, camera, action.  The curtain comes up in a matter of hours…is the city ready?  Probably not…  Will it ever be ready?  Probably not…You see the thing with Vancouverites is we want to be a big city…but we don’t want traffic jams.  We want to have big, world class events…but just “not in my back yard”.  We want tourists to come here and spend millions of dollars….but we don’t want them jamming up our Starbucks and making us wait an extra eleven minutes for our non-fat, non-dairy, fair-trade, mocchajavalattespressoccino served in an eco-friendly, sustainable energy, renewable resource, bio-degradable cup with that oh-so-beautiful-and-status-ensuring Starbuck’s logo on it which we have to stir with our fingers because we’d have to chop down a tree for wood stir stix, re-usable spoons would have germs and would need to be washed in an electicity-guzzling dishwasher, and well…you can forget about plastic stir stix!!!

You see…Vancouver is a city where, in my humble opinion, common sense and democracy go to die.  It is a city where the vocal minority run the show.  Special interest groups ‘squeak’ very loudly in this city and, thus get most of the governmental ‘grease’.  This is why you will see many protesters around our fair city decrying the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as a waste of money…money that should have gone to give them free homes….not just any free homes…but free homes in downtown Vancouver, virtually the most expensive chunk of real estate in North America.

Anyways, I am getting off-topic…this is a sports blog after all.   I was acting like I was trying to get a gold medal in political griping.

I was on hand, behind the scenes at BC Place Stadium for the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremonies and was amazed by the amount of security present.  I am hoping that these Olympics will be a safe, and enjoyable event for all.  I am also hoping that all protesters will be free to demonstrate and voice their opinions democratically and not violently or destructively.

Its the calm before the storm.  We have two days to go, Vancouver.  Let’s tuck in our shirts, put on our faces, check our hair, pop those zits, and open the door to the world…after all, we want them all to come back and spend more money in the future…money we could use to buy ourselves free houses downtown.

Canada’s Big Game

Yes, I know hockey is, without a doubt, Canada’s favourite sport.  That being said, this weekend in Calgary our nation comes together to celebrate something exclusively and honestly Canadian.  It is Grey Cup week!  Let the festivities begin!

This year’s edition of the CFL Championship features the Saskatchewan Roughriders taking on the Montreal Alouettes for Lord Grey’s mug.  It should be a good game.  2009 CFL Outstanding Player Anthony Calvillo and the Als are favoured by 9.5 points as of the writing of this blog.  After watching both of these teams playing in recent weeks, I think it will be one hell of a game.  I think it will be physical, fast, hard-hitting and evenly matched.  I expect a close game.  I also expect Saskatchewan will win this game.

I don’t think Montreal’s vaunted passing attack will be enough to top the Roughriders’ balanced team.  With Durant proving he can get the job done in the clutch, time and time again, this somewhat negates Montreal’s advantage at QB.  With Saskatchewan having the advantage in many other aspects of the game, I don’t think Montreal will have the same success with their air attack as they did last week against the banged up BC Lions.

I think it will be close but look for Saskatchewan to win by 4.  31-27