Hey, is it too late for me to jump back onto the Habs bandwagon?

I have a confession to make.  As a long-suffering Flames fan–don’t even remind me that the 10-year anniversary of the game-winning-goal that wasn’t reviewed is coming up!–I’ve taken to cheering for Montreal in the playoffs.  Hey, it’s not like Calgary’s been to the postseason in a while.  Nor have the Leafs for that matter; lockout-shortened season turned epic Game 7 collapse aside.  Of course, unlike your native Torontonians, I have no hang-ups about cheering for the Habs.  The Oilers or the Canucks, well, that’s a different story…

For me, it all started in 2010, when La Sainte-Flanelle made their unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals on the back of Jaroslav Halak.  At the time, I was working with a buncha Quebeckers, and I started watching the games just to have something to talk about at the office.  But then the magic happened: after trailing 3-1 in their first-round series to Washington, Montreal stormed back, winning three straight games and allowing just three goals to a team that had already thrashed them for 19 in the series.  It was then and there that the Legend of Jaroslav the Great was written.  Although the competition didn’t get any easier, with a second-round date against Pittsburgh, the Habs once again staved off back-to-back elimination games, coming from behind to win the series in seven.

Of course, after knocking off the top two teams in the East, Montreal figured to dispatch the much less-heralded Flyers to reach the Stanley Cup Final.  But Halak’s magic wore off, and Philly won the series in five.  And though I jumped back on the Habs bandwagon for the 2011 playoffs, a string of subsequent early postseason exits effectively put them on my backburner.  Hell, I might even have been rooting for the Leafs last season…although I must admit I enjoyed every minute of their third-period meltdown!

But now, this year, I’ll be damned if I’m not a Habs fan again.  Although their first-round sweep of Tampa Bay was over before you knew it, they followed it with a gritty, hard-fought, seven-game series win over Boston, succeeding where the Leafs failed last year against the Bruins.  You could say there were shades of that 2010 team in that second-round win, which left one wondering whether the Eastern Final would be another huge let down.

And lemme tell ya, it sure didn’t get off to a good start!  With Carey Price hobbled by a 36 km/h run-in with Chris Kreider, the Habs surrendered seven goals in their worst playoff loss since ’02.  After backup Peter “I Just Budaj’d in Your Arms Tonight” Budaj gave up three goals on just eight shots in the third period, the team turned to raw rookie Dustin Torkarski, he of the 10 career NHL appearances, for Game 2.  Though the kid got better as the game went on, he still gave up three goals in a 3-1 loss.  Down 2-0 heading to New York, it definitely looked like the Habs were done…

But that’s when Chapter One of The Legend of Dustin the Great was written.  In a game in which every goal but one was scored off a bad bounce, the rookie netminder stopped 35 of 37 shots in a 3-2 overtime win, the first NHL playoff win of his career.  That being said, this kid’s a proven winner.  The Humboldt Wall won the Memorial Cup in ’08, backstopped Canada to World Junior gold in ’09, and led the Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup in 2012 with an impressive 12-2 AHL playoff record, complete with three shutouts.  All that’s missing from his decorated mantle is Lord Stanley’s Mug.

And hey, it’s not like the Habs haven’t won with a rookie netminder before.  Back in ’86, some young kid named Pat Roy, fresh off an 1985 Calder Cup, backstopped Montreal to a five-game win over the Flames for the Cup.  (Don’t even remind me that the 28th anniversary of the fastest overtime playoff goal just passed!)  Now, I’m not comparing him to St. Patrick, but I do think Tokarski gives the Habs a second chance after The Fall of Price–and with a win tonight, they could send the series back to Montreal all tied up at two’s.  And if he can get them back to their first final in 20+ years, Dustin the Great will firmly cement his place in Habs history…


…which will make it all the more painful when he gets traded to St. Louis next month.  Désolé Habs fans, but the Blues still need a goalie. :P

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COMMENT OF THE DAY: Hooray for NHL parity!

From: http://espn.go.com/newyork/conversations/_/id/9322234/john-tortorella-fired-new-york-rangers-head-coach

Now, I’m not saying the fix is in, but with the Kings beating the Sharks last night, there are five teams left in the NHL playoffs.  This final five (to be trimmed to four tonight) also consists of the last five Stanley Cup champions…


But let’s get one thing straight: Boston is not eliminating Pittsburgh this year!!!

This just in: The Pittsburgh Penguins are Canada’s Team!

From 2004 to 2007, three different Canadian teams made it to the Stanley Cup finals–and lost.  Ditto for 2011, when the Vancouver Canucks blew a 3-0 series lead to hand the Cup to Boston, much to my delight.  Alas, every Canadian team not located in Toronto or Montreal has made the final in the past decade (not including the Jets, who rejoined the league last year).  But this year, Canadians from coast-to-coast won’t have that one team to rally behind… unless you count the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Of course, the Pens beat the only Canadian team that beat a Canadian team in the first round, and are thus directly responsible for dispatching Ottawa, who in turn beat Montreal.  Considering the Canucks’ annual choke-job and the Leafs’ epic collapse, you could say the Pens are to blame for blocking this country’s best shot at a Stanley Cup.  But hey, it’s not like there isn’t a bevy of Pittsburgh players who’ll be bringing the Cup home to Canada in the coming months…  starting with Captain Canada himself.  No, not this guy!

Say what you want about Sidney Crosby, but when he scored the gold-medal-winning goal in overtime to beat the States in the Vancouver Olympics, he forever etched himself in my–and most of the country’s–good books.  And thanks to a fortuitous deadline deal, he’s been reunited with Jarome Iginla, the greatest black hockey player of all-time, who also drew the gold-winning assist.  I’m pretty sure most of Calgary’s been cheering for the Penguins since the playoffs started.  Well, some of us might have been cheering for San Jose, too–until they swept Vancouver.  Now there’s really no need to support the Sharks. ;)

But while they’re the most notable Canadian nationals, Crosby and Iginla aren’t the only Canucks in Pittsburgh.  In fact, 15 of the 28 players listed on their roster hail from the land of Timbits and Kraft Dinner.  How Canadian are the Pens?  Put it this way: They traded a Staal for a Sutter.  Sure, Brandon might be be a second-generation, Son of Sutter, who was born while his dad (Brent) was playing on Long Island–but how many teams can claim ties to two Canadian hockey dynasties?  All they need is a Subban, and they’re practically the 11th province!

The Pens lineup also boasts the likes of Pascal Dupuis from Laval, Kris Letang from Montreal and the pride of Sorel-Tracy, backup goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s been doing a great job holding out a towel for Tomas Vokoun between periods.  Concurrently, Captain Crosby centres a line with Dupuis and Chris Kunitz, the pride of Regina, while Iginla’s been skating with Whitby native James Neal and Magnitogorsk’s own Evgeni Malkin.  OK, so Magnitogorsk is a mid-sized steeltown south of Russia’s Ural Mountains, but give ‘em a CFL team, and they’re basically Hamilton. ;)

In any case, the Pens will be facing off against Boston in the Eastern Conference final starting sometime late next week.  Hey, it’s not like anyone in the GTA is gonna be cheering for the Bruins, soooo…


COMMENTS OF THE DAY: Start planning the funeral parade—Top 10 reactions to the Leafs loss

In case you didn’t know, the Toronto Maple Leafs suffered a historic meltdown that was completely unprecedented in the wide, wide world of sports last night.  Suffice to say, there were plenty of unhappy Leafs fans (and players) on the interwebs today.  Here are 10 who made me chuckle:

10. The fix is in!  If the Leafs lost, it’s because the refs…


From: http://www.theprovince.com/sports/hockey/canucks-hockey/Bruins+Maple+Leafs+Playoff+ecstasy+slips+away/8379363/story.html


9. Joffrey Lupul’s ghost


From: https://twitter.com/JLupul/status/334341399434649600


8. Cry it out, bro.


From: http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/2013/05/14/toronto_maple_leafs_top_10_hilariously_bitter_tweets.html (Click for more sad Leafs fans)


7. Sure, blame it on the wife…


From: http://sports.nationalpost.com/2013/05/13/leafs-endure-heartbreaking-collapse-in-game-7-overtime-loss-to-bruins/


6. Far worse than any Flames loss!


From: http://sports.nationalpost.com/2013/05/13/leafs-endure-heartbreaking-collapse-in-game-7-overtime-loss-to-bruins/


5. Well, at least it wasn’t Game of Thrones…


From: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2013/05/14/toronto-leafs-fan-broken-tv.html


4. Even worse than McGuinty!


From: http://www.thestar.com/sports/leafs/2013/05/14/toronto_maple_leafs_joffrey_lupul_that_hockey_game_will_haunt_me_until_the_day_i_die.html


3. Just like a deer through the windshield…


From: http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=423146


2. Baby Jesus remembers the Bruins’ last breakaway goal


From: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/the-day-after-where-do-the-leafs-go-from-here/article11906960/comments/


1. Golf Leafs Golf!


From: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/the-day-after-where-do-the-leafs-go-from-here/article11906960/comments/

Nope, still not a Leafs fan…

On Friday, I was telling anyone who’d listen that the Leafs-Bruins series would end that night.  Of course, I was wrong.  Though the Leafs barely hung on in the third period, they still managed to hold off the Bruins to extend the series.  And while neither side brought their A game in Game 6, the Leafs were definitely the better team.  So they came back from 3-1 down to force Game 7.  Congrats.  But you’re not gonna see me out there freezing my balls off in Maple Leaf Square or anything.

The fact of the matter is that I’m just not a Leafs fan.  I couldn’t possibly stand around outside surrounded by Blue and White with those guys holding up replica Cups without resisting the urge to chant “19-67!  19-67!” in a highly non-complimentary fashion.  And I’d probably be the only one cheering after that epic collapse from up 4-1 in the third period to losing in OT.  Well, maybe not cheering, but certainly not in break stuff mode, anyways.

Of course, as a Flames fan, I haven’t had a team to cheer for in the playoffs in a little while.  And while I can kinda relate to the way the Leafs played in Game 5–score two goals and hold on for dear life is classic Calgary Flames hockey–I can’t say they’ve won me over with tonight’s epic collapse.  This is the first time the Leafs have even made the playoffs since I’ve been living here, and I moved to Toronto in 2005.  Considering that I’m a Flames fan first and foremost from October until early April, a team with such a track record of post-lockout postseason non-participation is not going to earn my support.  Even if I live here.  But hey, maybe if they make it past the second round, one of these decades…

Mind you, I’ll be joining Leafs fans in cheering against Ottawa in Round 2.  Not that I have anything against the Sens, or the nation’s capital–hell, my folks live 10 minutes from the rink–but I’m wearing my brand-new Iginla jersey in support of the greatest black hockey player of all time.  (PK Subban?  Come talk to me in 10 years!)  Iggy’s on a mission from the hockey gods to take home the Cup, which is precisely why he vetoed that trade with Boston.  Cuz clearly, the Bruins aren’t going all the way this year.  I mean, they can’t possibly expect to play that poorly for the better part of three games and escape with a series win against any team that’s won the Cup since 1967. ;)

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A Mexican’s suggestion to improve the Canucks’ playoff fortunes…

From: http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/hockey/vancouver-canucks/Vancouver+Canucks+Stanley+dreams+left/8357424/story.html

As the Vancouver Canucks, Canada’s (Least-Favourite) Team, deal with another disappointing early playoff exit—a first-round sweep, no less—fans and columnists are trying to figure out what needs to be done to make the team stop choking.  Fire the coach, fire the GM, fire the coach and the GM—or maybe just ban blowfish?  Then again, they could always do things the “Mexican way,” as this Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca resident suggests:


I dunno guy, but construction companies have been doing it the Mexican Way in Montreal for years—and now most of these guys are out of a job and/or going to jail.  But hey, if the Guy Carbonneau Commission leads to the Canucks resigning from the NHL, I’d be all for it! :D

I just bought a new Iginla jersey today…


Well, it’s new to me, anyways.  I got a hot tip that vintage Iggy jerseys were half off at the Hockey Hall of Fame: 100 bucks plus HST.  And since the last Flames jersey I bought was Dion Phaneuf’s, a couple months before they traded him to Toronto, I figured it was time to update my look.  Cuz while my Phaneuf jersey gets me heckled at the ACC, an old-school Iginla sweater certainly commands respect.  Funny thing, I could’ve bought his jersey on Fan Appreciation Night 2000, but I opted for Marc Savard instead.  So this time, I’m buying a Flames sweater after they traded its wearer, not before.  Uh, I guess that’s progress?

That being said, I am definitely cheering for Pittsburgh in the playoffs this year.  Since the Pitt-NYI series coincides with the Habs and Sens, I’ve been flipping back and forth at stoppages and commercial breaks.  I hafta say the former has been much more fun to watch–full-line brawl in Ottawa notwithstanding.  Iggy’s been looking good on a line with Sid the Kid, and I hope he helps ‘em win the Cup this year, to make up for the one he was cheated out of in ’04.  (Don’t even get me started…)

Of course, it’ll be bittersweet seeing him raise the Cup in another team’s sweater.  Let’s just say I won’t put it on my mantle next to my Lanny McDonald photo.  But it’s not like I’ve been able to cheer for the Flames in the postseason this decade, so I’ll still be happy for him.  And on that note, I might be adding an (insert number-one pick) jersey to my collection in a couple months.  Here’s hoping Calgary’s highest draft selection since Dion Phaneuf will be their best first-round pick since Phaneuf…  and that he doesn’t join Dion on the Leafs anytime soon. :(


COMMENT OF THE DAY: Leafs make the playoffs… Start planning the parade!

From: http://www.thestar.com/sports/leafs/2013/04/16/maple_leafs_poised_to_clinch_playoffs_tuesday_night.html

And in other hockey news, the Toronto Maple Leafs are about to accomplish something that hasn’t occurred since Justin Bieber was a fifth-grader.  With one more win—and a Winnipeg loss—the Leafs will make the playoffs for the first time in nine years.  And if you think the Toronto media bias is blowing this out of proportion, wait till you see the reaction from Toronto fans like this guy:


Now correct me if I’m wrong, but the Leafs haven’t even made the finals since 1967.  How exactly is that worthy of respect? :P

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2012 Stanley Cup champions… the Los Angeles Kings!

Yeah, I know the Stanley Cup finals don’t start till Wednesday, and they’re still cleaning up champagne stains from the home locker room in Newark, but when it comes to the Kings, I am ready to crown their asses.  This would make them the first number eight seed to go all the way since the playoffs were expanded, but I have no reason to bet against them.  After all, their opponents are only a six-seed…

One thing you can bet on: this is gonna be a low-scoring final.  Between the Devils, forefathers of the neutral zone trap, and Darryl Sutter’s Kings, who only gave up 2.18 goals a game while scoring just 2.37–second fewest in the entire Western Conference–we can’t expect too many barn-burners from these two teams.

That being said, L.A. has come to play in this playoffs, blowing their regular-season goals-per-game numbers out of the water.  They put up four goals in their first two games against the Canucks, scored no fewer than three in any game of their four-game sweep of the Blues, and tallied four in three of their four wins over Phoenix.  On the other hand, they’ve only given up three goals twice in 14 playoff games to date, so the added scoring hasn’t come at the expense of their sound, defensive style of hockey.  Did I mention they needed no more than five games to dispatch the top three teams in the West?

On the other hand, the Devils barely squeaked past the Southeast Division winning Florida Panthers in the first round, needing seven games and three OTs to get the job done.  Though they’ve since turned in better performances against the battle-hardened Philadelphia Flyers and the San-Jose-Sharks-of-the-Eastern-Conference New York Rangers, this team has been far from the picture of consistency this postseason.  Though they’ve scored at least three goals in all of their wins, they’ve also been shut out three times–twice by Lundqvist and the Rangers in the last round.  Meanwhile Martin Brodeur, the once-ageless all-time wins leader is finally starting to show his age, and has looked a little shaky at times.  The same can’t be said of the Kings’ rock-solid backstop, Jonathan Quick, who’s carried a Vezina-worthy regular-season performance into the playoffs, and should add the Conn Smythe to his mantle as well.

L.A. hasn’t needed more than five games to eliminate an opponent this year, and I have no reason to expect any different in this round.  Kings 4, Devils 1.  Maybe now that the Lakers and Clippers have both been knocked out of the NBA playoffs, the city of Los Angeles might actually take notice.

Y’know, there are worse things than an LA-Phoenix Western Final…

For example, we could have a full year without hockey followed by the Deadmonton Losers making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.  The only good thing about the ’05-’06 season was that they lost.  But what else would you expect from a team whose city had to change its slogan as they piled up three straight number-one picks?  Alas, they’ll probably see the playoffs sooner than the stuck-in-cement Flames–but I must digress.  Let’s talk about the teams still in the playoffs, shall we?

Unlike past years, when feel-good underdogs like Montreal or fan favourites such as Detroit and Pittsburgh made deep playoff runs, this season’s postseason has been a ratings nightmare for the league.  The West saw hot commodities Detroit, Chicago and San Jose make first-round exits, along with Vancouver, the team everybody loves to hate.  The Eastern Conference lost defending champs Boston and Sidney Crosby’s Penguins in the first round, along with the Ottawa Senators, ensuring that we wouldn’t have a true Hockey Night in Canada come the conference semis.  That said, it’s no surprise the CBC took the rights to the Eastern Conference final this year, even though the Rangers and Devils series really only captures the attention of one major media market.  The alternative, well, it has to be the ugliest Western Conference final in recent memory.

In fact, having not followed the playoffs all that closely, when I saw a blurb about Phoenix and LA in the conference final, I thought they were talking basketball till I recalled that the Suns came up just shy of the NBA postseason.  Surely, we can’t be sending one of these two sun belt teams to battle for Lord Stanley’s chalice!  But unfortunately, we are…

That said, I really don’t hate the Kings.  Darryl Sutter’s got his troops playing like the Flames of ’04, only with a bit more offense.  They knocked out–and very nearly swept–the Canuckleheads in Round One, and then proceeded to sweep second-seeded St. Louis in the second.  This team is on a roll, and if Game One is any indication, they could be the first team to take out all three top seeds in the West since Calgary did so before the lockout–and they’ll certainly give either Eastern team a run for their money, too.

The problem I have with L.A. is that it’s not really a hockey market.  When I went there in ’05, a sports memorabilia store had a signed photo of Lanny McDonald holding up the Cup marked down to 20 bucks–and I had not bought it, it would probably still be on sale today.  The guy who sold it to me really didn’t know much hockey beyond the Gretzky-era Kings, already a full decade in the past at that time, and they also had a whole lotta Gretzky merch on the shelves.  But seeing as Anze Kopitar is hardly the next Gretzky, it’s safe to say the Kings are playing fourth fiddle behind the Lakers, the Clippers and the Magic Johnson-owned Dodgers’ hot start these days.

On the other hand, the folks in Phoenix have never really cared about the Coyotes–not until oh, about two weeks ago.  The scrappy, no-name team has battled hard the past couple seasons, and even managed to win the Pacific Division crown, despite having the worst attendance in the league.  This is a team I could really get behind–if only they had moved to Winnipeg a couple years back.  While the recent string of playoff sellouts have managed to pull the wool over the new owner’s eyes, and might even allow the team to break even on the season–should they last longer than L.A.’s first two playoff foes–there’s no way in hell this city deserves a Stanley Cup.  Can you just imagine Gary Bettman handing the trophy to… himself!?  Correct me if I’m wrong, but the new guy doesn’t take the reins from the NHL until next season.

So while only the most die-hard Canadian hockey fans watch on TSN (and whatever satellite channel is showing this stuff in the States), we’ll surely have a strong Canadian crowd at each game between the entertainment industry expats at Staples Center and the western Canadian retirees in Jobing.com Arena.  As of right now, tickets are still available at a mere 31 bucks on StubHub for tonite’s contest, with a 6 pm start ensuring that grandpa will get to bed at a decent hour.  Enjoy your playoff hockey, ya old farts!

In any case, whoever wins the West (and it better not be Phoenix) will guarantee at least one thing for the Stanley Cup Final: We can count on shitty ice conditions for half the series.  Thanks a bunch, Bettman!