Round two: PITH predictions

We at Pucked in the Head don’t hang our heads in shame and tears just because the Vancouver Canucks had their behinds handed to them by the low-down, dirty, rotten, head-shottin’, potshottin’, ball-droppin’ Flames. Nay, we hold our heads high and own our team’s decades-long failure to bring a Cup to the west coast. At least we’re not the bloody Leafs, right?

And so, we put our heads together and prognosticate the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for your scoffing pleasure.

New York Rangers vs Washington Capitals
Jason:
Kudos to the Capitals for skirting past the New York Islanders, but even with Alex Ovechkin honouring defensive assignments they won’t have enough to get past the Vigneault-led Blueshirts. Lundqvist outsaves Braden Holtby in a series whose brevity belies hard-fought games. Rangers in five.

Chris: If there’s anything to indicate that Washington can take New York in a best-of-seven, I haven’t seen it. The Rangers steamrolled Pittsburgh and then took the weekend off while the Islanders gave the Caps all they could handle. (That’s right: Eleven shots on goal is about all the Capitals could handle.) Ovechkin may be the best player in this series, but New York is deeper, and Alain Vigneault shouldn’t even need a full pack of lozenges to out-coach Barry Trotz. Rangers in five.

Montreal Canadiens vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Chris: 
Should be a barn-burner. The Lightning netted a whopping 41 more goals than the Habs during the regular season, but Montreal’s defence was much stronger. On recent form, my money goes to Tampa. They dispatched Detroit without a single goal from Steven Stamkos, and you can only hold that man off the score sheet for so long. Meanwhile, the Canadiens were lucky to get past Ottawa in a game six where a referee’s untimely whistle cost the Sens a tying goal in a contest they dominated. Lightning in seven.

Jason: Kudos to the Bolts for getting past the ageing wreck of a Red Wings team that barely made the post-season. I mean, the Wings have only been mired in a Mike Babcock will-he-or-won’t-he story all year long, and got to Game Seven on the strength of a handful of nobodies ruddering a ship full of greybeards. The Habs, on the other hand, have been the class of the East for a couple of seasons, boast perennial candidates for the Norris and Vezina trophies, and ride the winds of the most powerfully emotional fan support in North American sport. Individually, what’s not to love about seeing PK Subban flatten Steven Stamkos? These guys have been playing hockey against each other for twenty years already, and damned if it ain’t more fun every year. Canadiens in six.

Anaheim Ducks vs Calgary Flames
Jason: 
Do we really have to talk about this? Where the Canucks and Flames both exceeded expectations by just making the dance in the first place, the Ducks have been promising a deep run for years. Getzlaf, Kesler, Perry, Beauchemin, Fowler… This roster is deeper than any of the wrinkles walking into Botox clinics around the Honda Center. The Flames are hard-working, sure, but they’re just a bunch of Grade Eight boys hanging about in the corner, ogling the good looking seniors across the gymnasium floor. Ducks in two and a half.

Chris: Seeing the Flames in the second round is enough to make me want to vomit like I’d just eaten undercooked fowl. Undercooked, by the way, is exactly what I expect these particular fowl to be at the end of the Pacific Division Final. The Flames are a terrible possession team, and their luck won’t get them close enough to roast the Ducks. The Saddledome crowd helps Hiller steal one from his old team, but Ducks in five.

Chicago Blackhawks vs Minnesota Wild
Chris: 
Devan Dubnyk has been outstanding, but I’m not convinced he can hold off the Hawks’ firepower. Both teams have high-end defencemen that can do a number on the opposition’s top line, but the Wild lack the offensive depth that Chicago has in spades. One ray of hope for Minnesota: Corey Crawford is in net, and Chicago conceded 21 goals to a similarly dubious offensive team in Nashville. The goaltending disparity will keep the series interesting, but Chicago outscores its problems. Hawks in six.

Jason: The Chicago Blackhawks have somehow flown under most people’s radars this season. Jeez Louise, people, this team is full of all-Stars, Olympians and beauties who fuckin’ work their nuts off, and has won two of the past five Stanley Cups. As for the Wild, Thomas Vanek has been promising to do something important in the playoffs for years, but hasn’t helped a team win anything since the 2003 Golden Gophers took the NCAA championship. Maybe it’s unfair to saddle the guy with his teams’ lack of success, but damnation, does this guy ever know how to pull a disappearing act in the post-season. Ryan Suter can’t do everything, man. Hawks in five.

Baseball’s back

Baseball’s back — all right! It’s that time of year when all the other sports goings-on take a break, and we relish the crack of the bat, peanuts, and beer…mmm…beer. But I digress.

[Editor’s note: For those NOT wearing baseball-coloured glasses, of course, it’s playoff time in the NBA and NHL, ramp up time for the Women’s World Cup, and right in the middle of the bloody season for MLS. *evil eye to John* But I digress.]

When last we left our heroes, Spring Training was still in progress. Since then, the Mariners started the season with a great series at home against the Angels… and then delivered a very disappointing road trip featuring some surprising (and painful) implosions on the part of the starting pitching rotation. This was… not expected.

Fortunately the Ms arrived home and put King Felix on the mound to turn things around. The King was as good as gold, fanning 12 and stopping a four-game losing streak.

The Mariners' Nelson Cruz, celebrating his walkoff single against the Rangers April 19th.
The Mariners’ Nelson Cruz, celebrating his walkoff single against the Rangers April 19th.

Continue reading Baseball’s back

Episode 60 – Canucks vs Flames

It’s playoff time, so we put on our tin foil hats and go a-prognosticatin’. This episode is just Vancouver versus Calgary. We predict a Canucks win. What a shocker.

• Intro
• Raunchy Harmonica by Harpdog Brown
• Compound nouns
• Are you trapped in your car?
• Cream cheese
• Canucks v Flames
• Shaming Russell Arbuthnot
• The Conjugation of Radim Vrbata
• Thar be decent hockey in this here league, arrr
• Canucks favoured
• How can the Flames not miss Giordano?
• Get yer statstats out
• Official predictions
• Challenge extended
• No Money in the Till by Harpdog Brown

Dan Hamhuis and Eddie Lack watch on as the Calgary Flames steal game one. Jeff Vinnick photo cribbed from the interweb.
Dan Hamhuis and Eddie Lack watch on as the Calgary Flames steal game one. Jeff Vinnick photo cribbed from the interweb.

Whitecaps photo gallery

Whitecaps WednesdayThe Vancouver Whitecaps surprised just about everyone in MLS on Saturday, as they dominated — dominated — the LA Galaxy from opening kickoff to the final whistle. The official stats keepers only gave Vancouver 52% of possession, but let’s be clear: the Caps played freakin’ keepaway against the defending champs, and won handily. The 2-0 scoreline flatters L.A. More telling is the shot total: Vancouver generated 18 shots on the Galaxy net, and only allowed six the other way. If you only count balls on net, the Whitecaps were even more impressive, outshooting L.A. nine to one.

So far this season, the Caps have won ugly, they’ve won lucky, and on Saturday, they won impressively. Vancouver is now on an MLS franchise-high four-game win streak, with depth everywhere on the pitch. It looks like it’s going to be a fun season, y’all.

Next up it’s a midweek game against the Columbus Crew, Wednesday at 7pm at BC Place, followed by a road match in San Jose on Saturday.

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Episode 59 – The PatQuast

Pat Quinn, may he rest in peace, leaves a massive, Irish imprint upon our community, having changed the course of franchises at the professional, junior and minor levels of hockey in Vancouver. Russell and Jason discuss the big man and give him one last tip of the Pucked in the Head hat. I dig out some audio of an interview I was fortunate enough to conduct with Pat Quinn about a year before his passing. We also discuss the Canucks playoff race, in a timely, timely manner. So timely. Like, mayor of Crazy Town timeliness. Dude. Timely.

• Introduction
• Sofa Surfer Girl by the Orchid Highway
• Russell mails it in
• Linden, Bure, Odjick, this guy influenced a generation of Canucks
• Quinn’s hand in the Vancouver Giants
• Pat Quinn talks about Gordie Howe & Bobby Orr
• Pat Quinn memorial night at Rogers Arena
• Canucks down the stretch
• Time for a Change by the Orchid Highway
• We are professionals

A classy portrait picture of Pat Quinn, 1943–2014.
I was lucky enough to speak with Pat Quinn at Gordie Howe’s 85th birthday event, and he graciously stood for a few portrait photos as well. R.I.P. Pat Quinn — 1943–2014. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Millers having a rough go these days

Even when it comes to injuries, the Miller boys like to play a little game of oneupmanship.

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller has been out with a knee sprain for over a month as the team makes a strong pitch for the playoffs on the back of the affable Eddie Lack.  Ligaments in that area are integral to many a professional sport, granted, but hockey goalies and slalom skiers are especially reliant upon strong, healthy knees. Recuperation needs to be tackled carefully; it’s slow and frustrating, and the potential for re-injury is high.

And while you never wish a serious hurt on a player, you’d take that knee injury 100 times out of 100 over what happened to his little brother the other day.

Drew Miller, a forward with the Red Wings, was involved in an almost literal face-off during a defensive zone puck battle against the Senators on Tuesday night. Ottawa forward Mark Stone was tied up with Detroit centre Luke Glendening; as his body twisted forward over Glendening, who was bent at the waist at the time, Stone’s trailing leg swung upward. His skate caught Miller under the visor, opening a gash from his lower cheek, across the eye to the underside of his eyebrow.

Miller immediately grabbed put his gloves to his face and raced off the ice under his own power, and required 60 stitches to his cheek and eyelid. While he was immediately concerned by the amount of blood and swelling around the eye — and good gravy, who wouldn’t be? — it appears at this early stage that the eye itself wasn’t damaged. People in the Miller family and around the hockey world are breathing a sigh of relief today. This injury could have been much, much worse.

And, good hockey playin’ lad that he is, the bastard is going to play against the Bruins tonight.

The slow motion video is downright scary to watch, especially if you have kids who play the game.

The Mystery of Morales

Whitecaps Wednesday

After a disappointing loss to Toronto in their season opener, the Whitecaps have reeled off three straight wins and find themselves in good shape through the first month of play. Sure, they’ve had a flair for the dramatic, earning two of the three victories in stoppage time and the other just shortly before, but it’s tough to argue with nine points in four games – a win is a win after all.

And while the results have been by and large positive (more positive than I had predicted), the process certainly hasn’t been what Carl Robinson was expecting of his squad, which is both a testament to the talent he has brought in and an indictment on their efforts thus far. Yet, over the last three weeks, a rotating cast of players has provided just enough magic to allow the Whitecaps to come out victorious. Which is a far cry from where this team was last year.

Coach Carl Robinson of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Coach Carl Robinson watches on as his Vancouver Whitecaps steal three points against the Portland Timbers at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Last season we saw a team that won and lost largely due to the performance of one man. As Pedro went, the Whitecaps went. And to start the 2015 campaign, it appears that perhaps Pedro has indeed went.

Continue reading The Mystery of Morales

Earnshaw scores in debut — again

Robert Earnshaw was on the pitch at BC Place for less than four minutes before he found himself on the receiving end of a brilliant touch pass from El Capitán Pedro Morales. Keeper Adam Kwarasey charged out to challenge, and Earnshaw used his first touch as a Vancouver Whitecap to chip the ball over him  into the back of the net. He celebrated thusly:

Robert Earnshaw celebrates for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Robert Earnshaw celebrates scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps FC win over the Portland Timbers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

It wasn’t the first time he’d scored in his first appearance with a team. Earnshaw scored in his first game with the Chicago Fire last year, and potted a pair of goals in his home debut with dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Toronto FC two seasons ago. (It should be noted that Saturday’s game-winner was Earnshaw’s first-ever at BC Place — he was held scoreless in his MLS debut two seasons ago when the Caps blanked Toronto 1-0, a game in which he started and played 85 minutes.)

At 5’8″ and just 160 pounds, he’s not likely to overpower defenders like Nat Borchers or that bloody ginger beard of his. But holy hamhocks, can this guy boot a ball into a soccer net. Earnshaw now has a dozen goals in 32 MLS appearances. That’d be a fair clip for a hockey player, but in soccer, them’s all-star numbers. Don’t just take my word for it; the MLS website, for all its warts and biases, usually gives us stats pretty straight up, and it tells us, “[Earnshaw has recorded] a hat-trick in every professional division in England, including the FA Cup and League Cup competitions as well as internationally for Wales.”

Sam Adekugbe of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Sam Adekugbe jacks up the crowd after Robert Earnshaw’s late go-ahead goal. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

“I knew he’d get one chance,” said Coach Carl Robinson after the match, happy to steal three points in a game where his squad was badly outplayed by the opposition. “I know what Ernie can do, what kind of touch he has with the ball, so I just told him to take the chance when it came. I’m glad he did.”

Chances are the Welshman will do it again. Earnshaw now has 217 goals for clubs in England, Scotland, Israel, the US, and Canada, as well as the Welsh international side.

“It’s always exciting, especially in a debut,” Earnshaw said after the match, saying that even after 18 years of playing professionally, he’s still overwhelmed with emotion when he scores. “The feeling of when the ball hits the net, oh my God, it’s the best. The best.”

Here’s a video for your highlight-watchin’ pleasure:

Episode 58 – One-timers

We introduce One-Timers, a new podcast segment wherein Pucked in the Head talks about several timely topics in the news, then promptly takes a week to post the episode to iTunes.

• Intro
• Sofa Surfer Girl by the Orchid Highway
• Jason can’t skate
• Milos Raonic unlocks the Beat Rafa Nadal badge
• Cceci n’est pas une pipe
• Jason plays Nostradamus
• March Madness exists
• Buenos noches, Steve Nash
• Wayne Gretzky transformed hockey, bless his record-breaking soul
• Steve Nash is awesome, but he couldn’t have saved the Grizzlies
• Steve Nash, Simon Whitfield, what’s in the water over there?
• We really ought to do some research
• Nike Academy — will corporations name teams in the future?
• Corporate logos already abound
• Time for a Change by the Orchid Highway
• Smell my shoe

 

Hey. YOU do our Photoshop next time.
Hey. YOU do our Photoshop next time.

100 years? [Insert Leafs joke here]

It’s been a full century since Vancouver won a Stanley Cup. On March 26, 1915, the Denman Arena saw the Vancouver Millionaires, led by Fred “Cyclone” Taylor,  complete a three-game sweep over the Ottawa Senators for the city’s only claim to hockey’s holy grail. One hundred years later, the Vancouver Canucks will wear their maroon tribute jerseys against the Colorado Avalanche.

Team picture of the 1914 Vancouver Millionaires
The Millionaires are famously the only Vancouver team to win the Stanley Cup, which they did in 1915. Note the one player in the back row wearing an earlier version of the jersey. Archive photo retrieved from an AskJeeves search.

The Canucks have made three trips to the finals since their NHL debut in 1970, but have come up short each time. The first was in 1982, a four-game sweep at the hands Al Arbour’s mighty New York Islanders. The second and third, in 1994 and 2011, both went to seventh and deciding games that went to the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins respectively. That leaves the 1915 champs the only ones to have the word ‘Vancouver’ inscribed into Lord Stanley’s chalice.

Hockey Hall of Famer Frank Patrick wearing the 1913 Vancouver Millionaires uniform.
Frank Patrick pioneered the blue line, the penalty shot and the idea of dressing a backup goaltender. He was also a huge early force in establishing women’s hockey on the West Coast. I don’t know about you folks, but I truly dig using bones to make the Vancouver V. (Also, dock skates!) Archive photo gleaned from a Bing search.

 

Roberto Luongo, Tom Sestito and Daniel Sedin in Vancouver Millionaires heritage uniforms.
Many suggest that Roberto Luongo would still be in Vancouver had John Tortorella started him for the 2014 Heritage Classic at BC Place. Even during the game, Lu was leaning his way out of town, and Daniel was all, “I canNOT believe we didn’t play him.” Seriously. Tom Sestito skated in the Heritage Classic, but Roberto Luongo did not. Way to go, Torts. Hilarious bench photo stolen from a Cuil search.

 

Roberto Luongo wearing his Vancouver Millionaires heritage mask.
Swipe right, Torts, swipe RIGHT!