Sunday, June 5, 2011

The End is Near!

No, I'm not talking about the end of the world as predicted by Harold Camping (again). I'm talking about something much more important...Hockey season. True, our season has been over for about 2 months (and all the other minor leagues are done for the season, as well), but the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs are still going, with the Vancouver Canucks holding a 3-2 lead over the Boston Bruins. The series returns to Boston for game 6.

I'm sure you've heard about "Bitegate", the shocking incident from Game 1 in which Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows bit the finger of Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron during a scrum behind the net. First off, why do we have to call every controversy _______-gate? It's getting a little old. This controversy pales in comparison to the Watergate scandal, so I don't think it should be referred to in such a manner. Okay, mini-rant over. That said, I was extremely disappointed that the NHL found the evidence "inconclusive" in the Burrows case and thus decided not to suspend him. I think anybody who is not a Canucks fan clearly saw Burrows open his mouth, crane his neck and bite down on Bergeron's finger. That's the kind of thing that goes so far beyond the norm that it should never be allowed. I definitely think a suspension was warranted. Unfortunately, Mike Murphy didn't agree and Alex Burrows played in Game 2...not only played, but dominated. He notched an assist and 2 goals, including the game-winner in overtime (just to add injury to insult). He was the #1 star of the game, a game in which Canucks players mocked Bergeron for the biting incident, which to me is about as low-class as you can get. You know what you did, you know you got away with it, and now you're just rubbing it in. In effect, they're making a joke out of Murphy and the NHL (not that they needed any help).

Game 3 was a different story. The series shifted to Boston and the Bruins responded to a little home cooking. The fans were loud and intense, and the players followed suit. They had lost two close contests in Vancouver and were determined not to let it happen again. They were also determined to let the Canucks know they wouldn't go down without a fight...literally and figuratively. The Bs were wearing their hitting hats and they established a strong physical presence. They dominated the Canucks in every aspect of the game. Luongo had a bad game, bringing up all the old letdowns that have built his reputation as a choke artist. The final tally of the game was 8-1, with only a late goal by Jannik Hansen preventing a complete whitewash.

Game 4 was a better game for Vancouver, but not by much. They still couldn't generate much offense and got shut out 4-0 to even the series at 2 games apiece.

Game 5 took the series back to Vancouver, and the Canucks held serve on home ice (continuing the trend of the whole series). They got a goal from Max Lapierre, another noted pest, on a fortunate bounce. Kevin Bieksa got control of the puck at the right point and wound up for the shot. He had his head up the whole way and was able to see that there was too much traffic in front to be sure he could get the shot through, so he adjusted and fired it wide right off the back boards. The puck ricocheted right to Lapierre on the left side of the net and he threw a fluttering puck at the goal, just beating Thomas' diving attempt to stop it. Both teams (and both goalies, in particular) played very well and this game could have gone either way. Luongo, for his part, quieted those (including myself) who second-guessed Vigneault's decision to start Luongo again in Game 5 after back-to-back embarrassments in Boston. Luongo came up big and held the Bruins scoreless for his second 1-0 shutout victory of the finals.

While I'm no fan of the Bruins (as a lifelong Canadiens fan, I have in ingrained dislike for them), I can't bring myself to root for a bunch of whining, diving, biting pansies like the Canucks. At this point, I'm not really rooting for either team, but I just want to see a good series, which is exactly what it's been so far. I hope the series goes 7 games.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the hockey world, the Binghamton Senators defeated the Houston Aeros in the finals to win the AHL's Calder Cup. In the Central League, the Colorado Eagles (and former Cottonmouth Riley Nelson) lost in the President's Cup finals to the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs. In an interesting twist, both teams announced within a week after the finals ended that they would not return to the CHL for this coming season. The Eagles jumped leagues to join the ECHL, while the Mudbugs have decided to cease operations. It really seems like the CHL is in trouble, with the Quad City Mallards announcing that they would not participate in 2011-12 (then announcing yesterday that they're back in) and rumors going around that as many as 5 teams may drop out this off-season. With Colorado leaving, can Arizona be far behind? I don't know how long they can survive out in the West all by themselves. Their nearest travel is to Odessa, which I estimate to be about 10-12 hours. It will be interesting to see how many teams they end up with this season.

As for me, I'm heading back to Phoenix next week for a little vacation/convention time. The Hockey trainers and equipment managers are having their annual convention there, so I'm going to head home a week early to spend some time with family and friends. I'm looking forward to getting out of this humid heat we've been having and getting home to the dry desert heat.