It feels odd to label any game for a team in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ position a “must win,” but this is as close as the Whitecaps are likely to come before the playoffs. Things are good in Rain City, with the club sitting pretty atop the Western Conference, but the Caps face an absolutely brutal run-in, with away matches against the three clubs immediately below them and only one home date after tonight.
I would love nothng more than seeing PK Subban carry the Stanley Cup into Montreal Children’s Hospital. I would totally get behind Pekka Rinne’s name on the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. I’d even sing along if Carrie Underwood twanged her way through a cover of The Good Ol’ Hockey Game by Stompin’ Tom.
Sadly for @PredsOnTheGlass and all the other country-fried hockey fans in Nashville, it’s not meant to be.
Sidney Crosby is going to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to back-to-back championships, the first time a team has repeated since Steve Yzerman captained the Detroit Red Wings to consecutive Cups in 1997 and 1998.
The Pens are just too deep, too good, and they’ve been here before. Nashville are rested, yes, but they’ve also had time to cool off since their wins over the underwhelming Blues and the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Ducks. From Sid and Evgeni Malkin down through rookie Jake Guentzel and beard salesman Nick Bonino, Pittsburgh just gets things done.
Nashville is an impressive unit, and they’ve earned their spot here in the final, but it will take a minor miracle (or some strategic injuries) to unseat the champs. Let’s just hope every single game is good hockey, because thus far this post-season has been damned entertaining. It would be a damned shame if the Preds’ first final appearance — and Sid’s third Cup win — was a dog.
Pens in six.
My calls for the last round were pretty good, actually, all things considered. I tapped the Rangers, Senators, Penguins, Blues, Ducks and Capitals; my only misses came from Edmonton — but the ageing Sharks had injuries across the board, so I give myself a pass on that one — and Nashville — a sweep, seriously? Nobody predicted that.
Record so far: 6-2.
Pekka Rinne played out of his mind for that first round. I mean, did you see this? PK Subban’s energy has to be rousing that locker room just as much as the sea of mustard at Bridgestone Arena, and Peter Laviolette behind the bench has the Preds playing as well as I’ve ever seen them play. Still, the boys from St Loo are just too deep, and it’s Vladimir Tarasenko’s year, methinks. Blues in six.
The addition of Connor McDavid has instilled an actual work ethic in the Edmonton dressing room. For a few years now, they’ve been fun to watch, but half of that was in anticipation of the inevitable self-inflicted immolation. I thought it had happened again when the San Jose Sharks scored a touchdown in Game Four of the first round, but the Oilers impressed with two straight wins directly afterward. All of this points to a Western Conference powerhouse for years to come. However, this year their goaltending is going to let them down. Anaheim can feel the window closing on that core of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg and Cam Fowler. I hate to give those shitty webfooted jerseys another round, but I’ve got to call Ducks in six. I’ll be thrilled if the Oil can prove me wrong.
Erik Karlsson is my second favourite NHL defenceman (after Drew Doughty, natch), and Craig Anderson’s personal situation makes the Sens an easy emotional choice. Hell, they’ve even got Alex Burrows gutting out shift after shift to pull on my heart strings. Karlsson is rumoured to be playing on a wonky foot, however, and Burrows is done as far as slaying dragons is concerned. Across the ice is a squad just one year removed from a Stanley Cup loss to the LA Kings; Henrik Lundqvist has all but said that his window is about shut, and Alain Vigneault knows how to get teams deep in this tournament. Rangers in six.
Aha, the pièce de résistance. Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin. So far in their careers, Sid the Kid has owned Ovi8; sure, the big Russian has won more Rocket Richard trophies for scoring the most goals in a single season, but Sid has two Olympic gold medals, a couple of Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe, and too many other awards to count. Just last year, the Penguins followed Crosby’s lead to one of the strongest second half / playoff combinations we’ve seen in recent memory. This year, Sid was dominant, winning his second career Richard trophy and finishing second in league scoring. The Pens are as deep as the day is long, and are a serious threat to repeat as Cup champions. All of this aside (not to mention Malkin’s 11 first-round points against the Blue Jackets), this is Ovechkin’s year. Brayden Holtby is just plain better than Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes, and the Caps have TJ Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nicklas Backstrom… and you never, ever bet against Justin Williams in the playoffs. Caps in the most entertaining seven-game series we’ve seen since the ’94 Canucks-Rangers final.
Dear Canucks Fan,
You have no doubt become aware of this, yet I still feel it necessary to warn you that the hockey team you follow is terrible. Languishing low in the league, Vancouver, despite its stated intention of competing for a playoff spot, seems instead destined to once again offer its fans the cold consolation of a lottery pick.
(My apologies for the Lemony Snicket-style alliteration, I’m just really excited for Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf.) Continue reading A Series of Unfortunate Decisions – The Promising Prospect
Longtime followers of Pucked in the Head might remember that we started out as a podcast called Bernier is a Turd. That was back when Steve Bernier was an overpaid roster spot holder for the Vancouver Canucks. We frequently complained that Mr Turd was a sorry excuse for a hockey forward, and accused him of being a garbage goalmonger of the very worst sort. “He can only score if he’s standing in the crease,” we lamented, “and only then, with no goaltender between him and the goal line.”
Turns out we were half wrong.
Bernier now plies his trade in the American Hockey League, for the New York Islanders affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers. As the Hartford Wolf Pack pressed to tie a 3-2 game late in the third period, our man Steve lay down, angling his shin pads just so, to block a point shot from Ryan Graves. The puck bounced, ricocheted, rebounded, even caromed the length of the ice into the Hartford net. There was indeed no goaltender, as the Pack had opted for an extra attacker. But we admit — Bernier can, indeed, hit the net from outside the crease.
You can’t say he didn’t do it on purpose.
— AHL (@TheAHL) November 24, 2016
If you liked this, check out our Weird Goals post. Oh, and its sequel, Weird Goals II.
“I am a glass case of emotions right now.”
No, this is not a story about Anchorman. But you gotta love that Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was no doubt feeling all the pressure one would expect in Game Seven of the World Series, while playing for a team that had not won in 108 years, picked that quote to describe his mental state of affairs last night. And that David Ross, the veteran catcher who was playing his last game in the majors, had just previously told him “Well, it’s only going to get worse. Just continue to breathe. That’s all you can do, buddy. It’s only gonna get worse.” Wiser words…
Game Seven in the World Series. By default this is a situation that comes with some pressure, right? Each team has won 3 games. Whoever wins this one gets champagne showers, so you know there’s pressure. This is the situation that every kid playing baseball dreams about, being at the plate or on the mound at the end of Game Seven, winning the game for your team and your town and your fans. Joe Biden would probably think of it as a pretty big deal.
But this was no ordinary Game Seven, last night in Cleveland. No, this was Game Seven featuring the two teams in baseball with the longest Series droughts – the Cubs’ infamous 108 years, Billy Goat Curse and all, but the Indians sporting a not-too-shabby 78 years of their own. For perspective, the last time the Cubs had won the World Series, American women did not have the right to vote, Jim Crow was still the law of the land, and there was no major league baseball on the West Coast. It was an awfully long time ago. And even the Indians’ last win came as African-Americans were finally in the Majors – Larry Doby and Satchel Paige both played for the 1948 Indians – and Harry Truman was President. Generations of Cubs and Indians fans have never seen their team win the Series.
The Cubs dominated the regular season but had gone down 3-1 in the Series, then come back to make it 3-3. For the deciding game, the Cubs started Kyle Hendricks, he of the best ERA in the regular season, while the Indians countered with Corey Kluber, who had already won two Series games and was pitching on short rest.
We at Pucked in the Head appreciate weirdness. Odd scoring plays, in particular, bring us equal parts unbridled joy and unsolicited hate mail. Consequently, we are happily wary to present this, the second installment of Weird Goals. (The inaugural Weird Goals post can be found here.)
Loui Eriksson starts off his Canucks tenure with a bang
From horrible trades and season-long injuries to embarrassing contracts and mysterious coaching changes, the Vancouver Canucks have had a rough go of things since gifting the Boston Bruins the 2011 Stanley Cup final. The latest bit of bizarre came on the opening night of 2016-17 against the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Calgary Flames.
After signing a big off-season free agent contract, Loui Eriksson was making his Canucks debut. Less than ten minutes into the first period, Troy Brouwer drew a penalty; Ryan Miller skated to the bench for an extra attacker, as the Canucks had possession. Eriksson found himself hounded by four — count ’em, four! — Flames, and despite having the delayed penalty on his side, panicked. He threw the puck back to his defenseman, but WAIT! The D were thinking line change and/or attack, so the puck slid the length of the ice and directly into the Vancouver net. Brouwer got credit for the snipe before heading to the box for an ineffective Canucks power play.
Interesting point: after this game, Canucks goalie Ryan Miller had a perfect 1.000 save percentage, and courtesy of a Vancouver shootout win, a 1-0 record. However, he was not credited with a shutout because of Eriksson’s blunder.
Twitter just it up, as you can imagine. BTW, after nine games in Canuck blue and green, this remains Eriksson’s lone goal of the season.
Loui Eriksson kicks off his Canucks tenure with an own goal pic.twitter.com/2hTHpZ0WTl
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) October 16, 2016
Flames score as Dumba goal as you’ll ever see
What the hell, Calgary? You get all these bizarro goals and you’re still a Pacific Division stinker? I mean, sure, you’ve got that one win for Lanny back in ’89, but jeez Louise, you’ve gotta turn all of these awful gimmes into more than one lousy Cup.
Devan Dubnyk has no chance at all when a shot by David Jones goes off Mike Reilly’s stick, then caroms off Matt Dumba’s head into the net.
Marc Bergevin throws the puck into his own net
Who says the San Jose Sharks only have bad luck? Early in this game against the St Louis Blues, Marc Bergevin decides to gift some karma to Mike Ricci et al with a shortstop-worthy flip into the back of his own goal. Gary Suter dumps the puck in; Bergevin gloves it and tries to fling it away from the onrushing Sharks forwards. Instead, it flies past a stunned Roman Turek into the Blues net. Tie game.
Ed Belfour gifts Mike Gartner, 1993 All-Star Game
Mike Gartner isn’t supposed to play. An allegedly hungover Ed Belfour probably shouldn’t. Together, they make magic in the first period of the 1993 All-Star Game.
Belfour comes well out of the net to prevent the fastest skater in the league from catching up to an Adam Oates clearing play, and lets the puck through the wickets with hilariously bad form. Gartner, added to the lineup to replace injured Rangers teammate Mark Messier, scores his second goal in 22 seconds to put the Wales Conference up 2-0 early. (He goes on to score two more and earn MVP honours before the game is out; Belfour allows six goals in his 20 minutes of duty.)
Bonus: the 1993 All-Star Game in its entirety.
Watch Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, Pat Lafontaine, Pavel Bure, Alexander Mogilny and Adam Oates, among others, as the Wales Conference beats the Campbell Conference 16–6. Twenty years ago, the ASG was actually watchable.
It’s been four years since I last joined a hockey pool. I’ve enjoyed the game far more in years that I don’t have a horse in the race, you know? This season, though, I thought I’d throw caution to the manure-flavoured wind and join a workmate’s keeper fantasy league. Here’s how my draft went (part one):
Round One – Vladimir Tarasenko (RW), 8th overall pick
Even if he plays for the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ St Louis Blues, Vladimir Tarasenko is bloody exciting to watch. He’s an explosive player whose speed and agility recall a young Pavel Bure, and I loved watching Pavel play. This guy can score from just about anywhere, and last year he did — 40 goals was good for fourth overall in the NHL in 2015-16. Tarasenko is on the cover of EA Sports NHL 17, and ranked at #6 overall by Greg Wyshynski over at Puck Daddy.
Picked 8th overall, just after Steven Stamkos — how the hell does Stammer go 7th?!?!? — and one before Joe Pavelski.
Round Two – Erik Karlsson (D), 17th overall pick
Karlsson’s 82 points was good for fifth in the league last year (well, tied for fourth but Joe Thornton had three more goals than Karlsson). Buddy had 66 assists despite playing on the woeful Ottawa Senators. Again, a joy to watch this guy play the game. It’s easy to cheer for someone who makes plays like this.
Picked 17th overall, just after Carey Price and one before Ben Bishop.
Round Three- Artemi Panarin (LW), 32nd overall pick
Artemi Panarin was lightning with Patrick Kane last season. Sure, there are rumours the Blackhawks might split them up to start the year, but he’ll still be on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. How , oh how will he ever score 77 points again with those losers on his line; huge loss for the plucky sophomore. Yes, I just wrote ‘plucky sophomore’ — mainly because of this:
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) September 28, 2016
Picked 32nd overall, just after Dustin Byfuglien and one before Cory Schneider.
Rounds 4-15 to come.
I was all kinds of cynical coming into the World Cup of Hockey. “Who cares about Gary Bettman fellating Toronto for two weeks?” I asked. “It’s just a glorified pre-season cash grab.”
It’s easy to stand by those remarks. Many of the world’s best hockey players — Phil Kessel among them — aren’t spending these couple of weeks in Hogtown wearing their national flags. In the case of Team Europe and Team North America, even the players who are there are wearing shirts with meaningless, made-up logos.
Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn't put my finger on it.
— Phil Kessel (@PKessel81) September 21, 2016
It’s easy to laugh at the States — Tortorella, Kesler & Co. just take themselves so seriously — so Kessel’s jibe on Twitter is too joyfully snarky to shake off. But let’s admit it: the Yanks weren’t that bad. They outshot the Czechs by a wide margin, and put a pretty good scare into Canada for ten to fifteen minutes of the first period. Even when that elimination game was a foregone conclusion, the good guys up by three goals in the third period, America the beautiful hit three posts and even scored one to make it interesting. Face facts, and it was a lucky bounce off of Corey Perry’s gut that proved the turning point in Canada’a game two romp.
I’m not upset at the U.S. getting knocked out, especially after the clusterbleep of Americentric propaganda coming out of the Rio Olympics. What kills me is the elimination of Team North America. That entire team played with jump and grit nearly every shift. Their breakneck speed and puppy-like enthusiasm brought fans out of their seats, coaching systems bedamned. Mistakeswwre made multiple times per shift! It’s what makes the World Juniors such a blast every year — even goals against are spectacular.
Coach Todd McLellan saw the speed and skill of the kids and decided to play — gasp — a fun style of hockey. After all, if you peer through the bluster of hockey media and clear away the vast sums of money that lather up those precious athletic egos, fun is what the game is supposed to be about, isn’t it?
Ref cam of McDavid —> Matthews is mesmerizing pic.twitter.com/MZMfpj3S1p
— Marina Molnar (@mkmolnar) September 20, 2016
But back to Mother Russia. Tarasenko and his comrades issued a 4-3 comeback against the younguns featured a colossal second-period meltdown that must have felt pretty familiar to the Maple Leaf fans in the building; the only difference here was that Team North America very nearly scored their way out of the problem. Russia was merely lucky not to let these kids into overtime.
Mans so we have a Saturday night loser-go-home tilt between Canada and Russia. And somehow it feels like meh.
It’s hard to believe that Sid the Not-A-Kid-Anymore versus the Great Eight is a letdown, but damn it all, that Team North America was just so bloody entertaining, it’s a shame to see them sit after just three games. We may never see Connor McDavid set up Auston Matthews for another goal again. Ever. And that’s hard to swallow.
Damn it, even Team North America’s goal song was fun.
The good news is that the Toronto Star says the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry still exists. You know, except that one of them has won multiple Stanley Cups, Olympic gold medals and a long-running Tim Hortons contract. The other? Sure, he’s got a Rocket Richard trophy or two — Ovechkin can snipe all the live long day — and some World Championship titles, but you only win those when your team is out of the playoffs early. Fact: Alex Ovechkin will forever be judged by the hardware he hasn’t won. Right now he’s in the mix for the Best Player Who’s Never Won a Cup award with the Sedins, Marcel Dionne and Darryl Sittler.
Even if he does manage a miracle, and gets Russia past Canada this Saturday, even if he then helps win the best-of-three final against either Sweden or Team Europe, a pre-season, cash grabbing World Cup of Hockey trophy won’t bring him up to Crosby’s level.
In mid-July, the Whitecaps hosted some jokers from a place called London, England — seriously, what kind of name for a football squad is Crystal Palace? Anyway, they tied the friendly 2-2, in a game that wasn’t particularly exciting sport but gave locals a chance to see some Premier League footballers up close and personal.
Here’s a gallery of my best pics from the match. Enjoy.