As we sit awaiting the puck to drop commencing the start of the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Conference Finals, some sad stuff has been broken by news media. While normally the PUCK YOU! series is one of conversation, and not an editorial, I felt I would break away from tradition to briefly discuss some of these topics.
First off, and not too tragic mind you, is that Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings announced that he will decide by July 1st whether he will retire or not. Lidstrom is a lock for a first year candidate in the Hall of Fame, and his numbers are more than impressive as an NHL defenseman. Lidstrom played this year as if he has not missed a step as a 41 year old player. There is not a doubt he could continue to play well for the Wings if he wants to, but if he decides to go out on top of his game, that is indeed a respectable decision. To describe his style of play as unique doesn’t seem to do justice to Lidstrom. Graceful, intelligent, and bar-setting are words that need to be included… and that just barely scratches the surface.
Our second story, is somewhat speculatory, but doesn’t bode well for the NHL or the television presentation of it. It is reported that Matthew Barnaby was arrested over a domestic dispute last night. Barnaby was a rough-and-tumble agitator, possible best known for his time with the Buffalo Sabres, who later turned towards media commentary for the likes of TSN and ESPN. The charges include: criminal mischief, criminal trespass, harassment, criminal contempt and aggravated harassment. This is not good for the sport, and considering Barnaby’s style of play, only reinforces the stereotype of hockey and fighting in the casual or ignorant fan’s eyes.
In tragic news, Derek Boogaard of the New York Rangers, was found dead in his Minneapolis residence in Friday night. He was 28 years old. Little information is available about the cause of death at this time of the “Boogeyman” of the Rangers, and beloved enforcer for the club. It is expected that it will be weeks before it is understood how this young man lost his life. Boogaard was sidelined for much of the 2010-2011 season with a concussion.
Hopefully Boogaard was one of the professional athletes who signed onto the Legacy Sports Institute. This program is dedicated to studying the brains of deceased athletes in order to better understand the implications of sports-related concussions and help protect players of all sports and professional wrestling for the future.
Now, there is no happy twist on these three stories. They range from speculatory to tragic, and as a hockey fan I offer my condolences to the Boogard family. To the great Nicklas Lidstrom, I give you a tip of my hat if you decide to call it a career. To Matthew Barnaby, I give my head a shake and sincerely hope these allegations prove false.
On the lighter note, we are about to begin two brand new series to determine the winner of the Eastern and Western NHL Conferences, and those who succeed to participate in the opportunity to play for hockey’s holy grail, the Stanley Cup.
Boston will face Tampa Bay tonight. Both teams come out of short pre-conference series and should be well rested. Both teams have been receiving stellar goal tending from two gentlemen previously written off as too old to achieve such greatness. It was only this season that Tim Thomas of the Bruins had to re-earn his spot as top net-minder from Rask. And in 2006, Dwayne Roloson almost helped lead the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup only to be injured in game 1 of the best of seven series against the Carolina Hurricanes. And even THEN, they said Roloson was too old.
Outside of goaltending, Boston and Tampa both bring deep defensive cores and young talented offensive threats. New stars are emerging as bonafide threats from Brad Marchand to Sean Bergenheim, for example, the latter who is surprising many with his clutch style of play. This series looks like it might be very close and exciting for hockey fans.
On Sunday, the Western Conference finals will feature a showdown between two teams that have been criticized heavily as being great in the regular season, but unable to get it done when it matters. The Vancouver Canucks versus the San Jose Sharks will meet in Vancouver to start what might also prove to be a very close series.
What’s interesting about this series is not so much the goal tending, rather the lackluster performances by the stars of the teams. On one side, the Sedin twins have been heavily criticized by sports pundits for “not showing up,” and providing little offensive help for the Canucks. It is odd, considering the two brothers have been dominant forces in the point standings of the last couple of regular seasons. As well, Roberto Luongo seems to still be dogged by the idea that he cannot be a clutch goal keeper, despite helping lead Canada to an Olympic Gold medal in Men’s Ice Hockey at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. However, the real contributor in Vancouver has been none other than Ryan Kesler, and American player who had the guts to say what he felt about the Canadian team in that same Olympics. A polarizing character who is certainly performing at a level of a true superstar.
On the other side of the rink, we see the San Jose Sharks, who despite making the playoffs year in and year out, and being praised as having the team to win a cup, manages to lose every time. Big Joe Thornton is often called lazy, and lacking drive to lead his team. This years goat, however, is Patrick Marleau whose output has been minimal during the first two rounds of this year’s playoffs. Even moreso, Marleau inspired the wrath of his former-teammate-turned-sports-analysist, Jeremy Roenick, who called the Shark’s captain “gutless.”
What we can expect from both Western teams, is depth. If the players who are paid to perform at the highest level are not delivering, the rest of the team has managed to chip in offensively and get the job done. This series also looks to be good on paper, and should deliver some excellent hockey for fans of the sport (especially if not fans of the teams).
Drop the puck!