Friday, April 10, 2009

Rock the Red...Squared

Your national championship finalists in NCAA Men's Ice Hockey, University of Miami (Ohio) and Boston University

It's a Red, Red World...

Big Weekend in Chocolatetown

As the Caps are wrapping up their regular season, so too are the Hershey Bears. And unlike the Caps, who know where they will finish, the Bears are still in a fight for the top spot in the East Division. Five teams are fighting for the four playoff spots available...

And here is how the schedule for the weekend breaks out...


Friday: at Philadelphia (7-1-2 against the Phantoms)
Saturday: Philadelphia (6-1-3)
Sunday: Wilkes-Barre Scranton (4-3-2)


Friday: Springfield (2-0-1)
Saturday: Lowell (4-1-0)
Sunday: no game (season complete)


Friday: Albany (5-2-0)
Saturday: Norfolk (4-1-2)
Sunday: at Hershey (5-3-1)


Friday: Hershey (3-6-1)
Saturday: at Hershey (3-6-1)
Sunday: no game (season complete)


Friday: Norfolk (3-4-0)
Saturday: at Albany (3-3-1)
Sunday: no game (season complete)

The Hershey/Philadelphia home-and-home has a lot of subplots. Leave out he fact that they are within spitting distance of one another. The Phantoms are bringing down the curtain on The Spectrum tonight. Then again, the Bears have not lost in regulation to the Phantoms in The Spectrum this year (4-0-1). On the other hand, Philly is tied with Binghamton in points for the last playoff spot, and they hold the tie breaker of more wins.

Hershey having the game in hand on Bridgeport is huge heading into the weekend, but that game in hand could be a showdown with the Penguins. Here is a scenario for you...

- Hershey splits with Philadelphia
- Bridgeport sweeps Springfield and Lowell
- Wilkes-Barre/Scranton sweeps Albany and Norfolk

That would create a log jam of three teams at the top of the division, all with 49 wins. Hershey and Bridgeport would have 106 points; Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would have 104 setting up the game of the year in the regular season at 6:00 on Easter Sunday in Hershey between the Bears and the Penguins for the division championship. If the Penguins were to win in regulation, they would win the division by virtue of having more wins (50 to 49 each for Hershey and Bridgeport) while tying the other two with 106 points.

Add that to your weekend hockey thoughts, and what a weekend it is shaping up to be.

A Three Game, TWO-point night: National Semifinals and Caps 4 - Lightning 2

If hockey was sugar, The Peerless would be in a diabetic coma this morning. After watching two national semifinal college championship games last evening, then catching the recorded version of the Caps/Lightning game later, it has been a “hockeypalooza” start to the weekend. And it isn’t over.

But first things first…

It was a bad week for schools who claim green and white as their athletic colors. On Monday, Michigan State was stomped by the University of North Carolina in the NCAA men’s basketball championship game. Last night, both teams sporting green and white – the Bemidji State Beavers and the Vermont Catamounts (Vermont also sporting gold in their uniforms) dropped decisions in the national semifinals of collegiate men’s hockey, Bemidji State falling to Miami (Ohio), 4-1, and Vermont losing on a late goal in a 5-4 Boston University win.

In the first game, it looked like a case of Bemidji State finally running out of gas against a team that could skate with them as no other opponents seemed to be able to do in the tournament, and not having an answer to Miami’s size advantage. What Bemidji State didn’t lack for was support. It looked as if the whole school showed up to support the Beavers. Even though they fell short, it was the sort of thing that make the college version of the sport so appealing.

In the second game, which one might look at as the “upper half” of the draw (Bemidji State and Miami both being four-seeds in their respective regions), Vermont showed no fear in facing the top-ranked Terriers. Despite falling behind 2-0 in the first period, Vermont roared back with three goals in the second in a span of six minutes to take a 3-2 lead. BU scored late in the second to tie the game, which set the table for a great third period. Vermont scored on a power play mid-way through the third and looked in complete control at that point. But the Catamounts took a penalty about a minute after taking the lead, and the momentum turned. BU failed to convert the power play, but Chris Higgins tied the game just after the penalty expired. All that was left was to see who would find the smallest crack in the other’s armor. It came with just under six minutes left as Higgins sent a shot at the Vermont net directly off a clean face off win that was kicked aside by goalie Rob Madore. But Madore couldn’t control the direction of the deflection, and the puck ended up right on the tape of Colin Wilson’s stick. A Hobey Baker finalist is not likely to miss on the sort of opportunity presented to him in that situation, and Wilson didn’t. He stuffed the rebound short side past Madore, and BU was off to fight for its first championship since 1995.

Meanwhile, in Tampa…

The Caps clinched the two-seed in the East with what might be described as a “workmanlike” effort in defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2. In a perverse way, this win was encouraging. Setting aside for the moment that Tampa is: a) a bad team, and b) has nothing to play for, the Caps pounded out a win in lunch-pail fashion. It was the kid who, despite hating Brussels sprouts, manages to down each and every one of the little suckers.

Other stuff…

- You ever go to a ball game, and the big bopper in the lineup goes 0-for-5, hitting screaming line drives into everyone’s glove? That was Alex Ovechkin last night. 11 shots on goal (five in the third period), 22 attempts…no goals, no points.

- It was another somewhat troubling night for Sergei Fedorov, who took two minor penalties (to go with the three he took on Tuesday). Of the five minors he has in the last two games, three were for hooking (two of them last night), and one for holding. As much as the putting the Caps a man down, his taking those penalties deprives the Caps of a heady penalty killer and all around force. We’ll call it a mental slump.

- Another encouraging sign. The character actors in this movie took top billing again. David Steckel had a goal (on his only shot) a hit, a blocked shot, and won nine of 12 faceoffs (including seven of eight in the defensive zone). Brooks Laich had a pair of goals. Matt Bradley and Keith Aucoin chipped in assists. It overshadowed Mike Green’s three-point night (1-2-3).

- OK, it was a great diving poke of a pass from Zenon Konopka to Steven Stamkos for the first goal of the game in the first minute. But we weren’t in much of a happy mood the way Tomas Fleischmann more or less waved at Stamkos as he blew by to receive the pass.

- Laich’s two goals were scored from almost in the paint. But they weren’t the only two instances in which he could tell what kind of gum goalie Karri Ramo was chewing. He was in Ramo’s face on a number of other chances that, had Ramo not been quick to cover the puck, would have ended up behind him.

- Jose Theodore was a winner in his 500th career game. He can tie his career high for a season in wins (33) with a win over Florida tomorrow night.

- Each team had five penalties, but the Caps arguably put themselves in greater danger of losing in doing so than did Tampa. Of the five penalties taken by Tampa Bay, two were taken by Matt Smaby, two by Evgeni Artyukhin, and one by David Koci. Combined, Koci and Artykhin had 15:40 in ice time, and Smaby – a defenseman – doesn’t contribute a lot at the offensive end (he had 20-plus minutes of ice time). Meanwhile, of the five penalties the Caps took, two were by Fedorov and one by Ovechkin. The Caps can’t afford those guys being off the ice much for penalties.

- Think coach Bruce Boudreau is evaluating guys? John Erskine had almost seven minutes of ice time in the third period.

- Viktor Kozlov…one shot attempt. One can appreciate the role Kozlov often plays in the offensive zone, lugging the puck into territory to get plays started, but getting something of a threat from his stick might free up other guys, too. Maybe that’s why he got only 11 minutes of ice time.

- And what is it about Sergei Fedorov, “Man of Action.” In his first 11 shifts of the game, play stopped six times either with a penalty or a goal. Of course, the same could be said of linemate Alex Ovechkin, as in his first 11 shifts play stopped seven times for a penalty or a goal.

- We were a little surprised to see Mike Green (28:09) and Alex Ovechkin (23:15) get so much ice time. We thought things might be dialed back a little on those two getting ready for next week. We’ll see what it looks like tomorrow, now that the Caps know where they’ll finish.

- Steven Stamkos, who has put together quite a rookie year after a slow start burdened by unrealistic expectations, set a Tampa Bay rookie record for goals with 22. The record had been held by Brad Richards.

- The win by Washington ties a franchise high (50), and the two points earned in the win gives this edition of the Caps the franchise record for standings points (108). Does that make this the greatest team in Caps history? The Peerless ranks this team – for the moment – third, behind the 1985-1986 team (which held the wins and points records) that was deeper offensively and better defensively, and the 1997-1998 team that finished with a rush and used that momentum to go to the Stanley Cup final.

- Speaking of that 1997-1998 Cup Finals team. That team went 8-2-1 in their last 11 games. If the Caps win tomorrow night in Florida, they could finish their last 11 games, 8-1-2…hmmm.

Only one more to go, then the fun can start. Florida was eliminated from playoff contention last night, so the Caps might either blow the doors off a team that suddenly has nothing to play for but the pride of finishing well, or they can go through the motions looking ahead to next week. We have no clue which scenario will unfold. Isn’t that what makes following this team so, uh…interesting?