Saturday, April 14, 2007

We stand humble in the shadow of greatness

This is damned good stuff . . . really, really damned good stuff.

I don't care who y'are, that's good bloggin' right there. There really isn't anything I can add that would improve on the exchanges themselves.

Must See Hockey

Sometimes, what the league wants, the league doesn’t get.

The league palpably yearns for a long, compelling Pittsburgh/Ottawa series that would ultimately be won by Pittsburgh, the more to see Sidney Crosby.

Sorry…the most compelling first round series might be unfolding in Nashville, where the Predators and the San Jose Sharks have developed a healthy amount of bile for each other based on the first two games.

The revealing statistics pertain to penalty minutes. For the season, San Jose ranked 26th in total PIMs, Nashville 16th. These are not, by and large, teams that skirt outside the rules.

That was before Scott Hartnell and Jonathan Cheechoo collided knee-on-knee, leaving Cheechoo injured and out for the remainder of the contest.

photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Predictably, the clubs had different takes on the matter. Sharks coach Ron Wilson…

"It could be serious. It was like a two-part attack. It was an elbow to the mouth that knocked a tooth out and the knee-on-knee contact, which you've got two of the worst things that we have in hockey ... If that's not trying to hurt somebody, I don't know what is."

Predators coach Barry Trotz saw a different scene…

"It's unfortunate when anybody gets hurt in the game. But looking at it, I thought it was a pretty clean hit. I mean they did collide knee on knee. But there was no sticking out of the knee."

Whatever, the clubs have taken to evening the ledger on the ice. In the 119 minutes of hockey played since that incident, the clubs have totaled 174 minutes in penalties, 141 of that in last night’s 5-2 win by the Predators to even the series. The 84 minutes piled up by Nashville – including two game misconducts to the aforementioned Scott Hartnell – represents more than seven percent of their entire regular season total. For Hartnell, that’s a kneeing, a fighting, and three game misconducts in the series thus far. Add in tripping and unsportsmanlike conduct minors, at it’s clear Mr. Hartnell has been busy – 44 minutes worth of penalties busy. He has only 23:29 in total ice time in the two games. He might be asked to take a breather, courtesy of the league.

In addition to Mr. Hartnell’s antics, we have Alexander Radulov – he of the 26 minutes in 64 games this year – taking a run at Steve Bernier from behind, checking him face first into the boards to earn 15 minutes of his own quiet time, perhaps to contemplate the importance of that play when he’d already scored three goals in this series.

photo: AP Photo/Neil Brake

The rumble of thunder yet to come came in a comment by Shark’s center Joe Thornton . . .

"I think Colin Campbell has a job, and his job is to review these plays. I'm sure if he wants us to play this way, we can play this way. It's in his hands, and we'll see what happens."

This series has gotten personal. It is at the moment the most compelling story in the first round.

Congratulations Bears!

Last night, the Hershey Bears won three trophies in what, hopefully, will be capped by a repeat Calder Cup win, pounding the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 6-1, in Wilkes-Barre.

By virtue of the win, the Bears skated off with the F.G. (Teddy) Oke Trophy, presented by the AHL to the East Division champion, the Frank S. Mathers Trophy as Eastern Conference champion, and the MacGregor Kilpatrick Trophy (and is that a great name, or what?) as the AHL regular season points leader.

The Bears are at the top of their game as they prepare for the first round playoff series by finishing up their last two regular season games at Binghamton and at Philadelphia. Last night, they abused the Penguins in their own building to the tune of five goals in the first 16 minutes, chasing starting former Bear goaltender Nolan Schaefer (0-3-0 with Hershey this season...), to end the competitive portion of the evening quickly.

Against the other East Division playoff teams over the course of the season, the Bears stack up as follows:

vs. Albany: 7-1-0, 35GF/17GA
vs. Norfolk: 5-4-1, 38/33
vs. WBS: 6-4, 35-27

The Bears struggled against Norfolk in the second half, going 1-3-1 in the last five meetings. Against the Penguins, however, Hershey won five of the last six meetings, their only loss coming as the Penguins scored the tying and winning goals 13 seconds apart late in the Bears' third game in three nights.

With the reassignment of defenseman Mike Green and forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr and David Steckel to Hershey, the Bears appear ready to defend their title. One hopes that this will be a tale Chris Bourque will tell and re-tell in the years to come . . . "Listen, my children, and you shall hear...a wonderful tale of a special Bear year..."