Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Senators vs Ducks: Round 4, Game 5

Ducks 6, Senators 2

PRESIDENT’S 2 CENTS: The handshake between the two captains in the postgame line put to rest any animosity that might have hung over from Game 4, when Alfie fired a puck at Scott Niedermayer, this year’s Conn Smythe winner. In a way, it also solidified once and for all Alfie’s playoff effort this year as a classy and tirelessly hardworking leader. His two goals tonight really punctuated not only his numbers (14 goals, 22 points) but his sheer will. That shorthander with Ryan Getzlaf all over his back was particularly incredible. He could not be stopped, even by the huge Getzlaf. Unfortunately the team was … Alas, it is over, and Ottawa bows out in five. Painfully obvious, moreso now than ever, Anaheim was no doubt the better team. A different type of beast than the inexperienced Penguins, the slower Devils, and the smaller Sabres, the Ducks forced the Sens onto their heels and took away space. There’s nothing much else to say other than to give credit where credit is due. The hottest team in the NHL since December would not be stopped or figured out by anyone. Anyone except the Ducks, which used a perfect combination of size, strength and sheer overwhelming will. Not to take away anything away from them, but they sure got some bounces as well … On the subject of bounces, none was worse than Chris Phillips’ misplaced clearout which sounded the Sens’ death knell as it dragged in off Ray Emery’s skates. The comparisons to Steve Smith’s hiccup in 1984 vs. Calgary are uncanny. Of course, Smith’s Oilers would lose that series but would also go on to win five Cups. With the Sens keeping their nucleus for next year, who’s to say they can’t win at least one? … As for Phillips, that bad break certainly was not indicative of his season and playoff run. Signing this guy for four more years before the playoffs started was a smart move by GM John Muckler, who also signed Anton Volchenkov at the same time.

… Watching the Ducks run up the score and raise Stanley at the end of the game was like a punch in the stomach to all Sens fans. The consolation is that many of them are hard-working Canadian kids (or players with Canadian connections) like Saskatchewan farmhand Travis Moen, world junior champ Corey Perry, or the giant Ryan Getzlaf. The big forward, perhaps so lost in the euphoria of winning the title, forgot he was on national (G-rated) TV had the funniest postgame reaction. “We played our (er, male hardware, in pairs) off tonight,” he remarked … It was also nice to see Scott Niedermayer not only win the Conn Smythe, but help brother Rob raise his first Cup. A sigh of relief no doubt came over their mother, who this time could smile happily and cheer for both, unlike in 2003 when Scott’s Devils defeated Rob’s Ducks … Happily shedding the label of third-longest-serving player to never win a cup was former Jets star Teemu Selanne … J.S. Giguere, who many picked to win the MVP again, took home his first Cup despite health issues with his newborn son in the first round … Ottawa and Almonte natives, Sean O’Donnell and Kent Huskins respectively, represented the area …

More to come on Thursday!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Senators vs Ducks: Round 4, Game 4

Ducks 3, Senators 2


PRESIDENT’S 2 CENTS: You can’t win a Stanley Cup by taking two periods off. Might sound a little harsh, but the score did flatter the Sens somewhat (the Ducks struck iron three times), as the hockey, er, hotbed of California is on the verge of celebrating its first championship. For the second Cup final loss in a row, rain fell on the Capital and has put quite a damper on such a promising season that now hangs in the balance. Similar to the team’s turnaround after an 18-18-1 sputter to start the season, a turnaround of epic proportions—in proportion—needs to happen now. There will be plenty to think about on the five-hour flight to Anaheim tomorrow, but it will all add up to one thing: a glorious and missed opportunity. All three losses the Sens have suffered in the final have been by one goal, whether the score flattered them or not … In this dark hour, let’s roll back the clock one year for some Canadian inspiration: Edmonton, down 3-1 in its series vs. Carolina, storms back in double OT off Fernando Pisani’s hot stick. 3-2. Series shifts back to Edmonton, where the Oilers absolutely manhandle their way to a decisive 4-0 victory, making the whole thing a best-of-one. The Hurricanes squeaked out Game 7, of course, on an empty-netter to win the game 3-1, but it could have gone either way. All this to say, the Sens have it in them to shift momentum on the road, in similar fashion, in a pivotal Game 5. The cruel irony is that former Oiler Chris Pronger is on the other side of the ice … Speaking of the elbow artist, the Ducks showed incredibly resiliency without him last night. Second star Francois Beauchemin was fantastic, playing a game-high 31:40, blocking three shots and registering three. His only real blunder came early in the third where he appeared a little tired and took a penalty for dropping Peter Schaefer with his free hand after allowing the Sens’ stickhandle artist to gain the zone … Speaking of the zone, especially in the final period the Ducks were all over the Sens and seemed to have at least one guy on every Senator who dared go in deep. Problem was, there didn’t always seem to be enough getting in there. No example was more glaring than with about 30 seconds left, where Dany Heatley didn’t seem to hustle in as hard as possible to take one last desperate effort … In a nutshell: Sens have it in them to win three straight. They beat the league’s top scorer, top goalie, and highest-scoring team in five games apiece. They’re simply facing a different beast. Only problem is, their margin of error is hovering around zero now …


… So Andy McDonald burns the Sens again with two on the night. That’s three in two games now, and you know he wasn’t going to forget hitting that crossbar only minutes before when a gaping 6x4 stared him in the face. Bad ice aside, how the heck do you miss a chance like that? … Official Presidential Opinion: yup, Alfie did fire a shot across the bow to sitting Duck Scott Niedermayer. Controversial as it was, here’s one thing to think about – if the puck had hit him in the face, that prized playoff beard would have safely and entirely absorbed it. Humour aside, that gave the Ducks an unsolicited edge … So much for the absence of Chris Pronger making a difference. The Ducks are now over .500, regular season included, without him in the lineup. Worst part? Sens really could have used the lightning-quick Dean McAmmond tonight to not only jump-start a subdued forecheck effort, but also on the defensive end. You wonder what would have happened if McAmmond was on the ice when Dustin Penner zoomed to the net to receive the fateful one-timed feed. Would the fastest-skating Senator have made a difference? You make the call … Speaking of calls, it appeared from the opening minute that the slash Chris Neil drew from Beauchemin would make this one a carbon copy of Game 3. A heck of a first-period display ensued, with the Ducks not striking Ray Emery until less than ten minutes remained. Antoine Vermette’s 360-degree spin midway through, followed by an assault on Jean-Sebastien Giguere, was the highlight of a Sens storm in which the home team dominated on both ends. On one particular play in Ottawa’s corner, Ducks F Todd Marchant seemed to give up on trying to pressure Chris Phillips into a giveaway. On the other end, Alfie was on the receiving end of a pretty tic-tac-toe play. No dice. You had the feeling throughout the period—at least four or five times—when will this thing go in? When Alfie finally did score with less than a second left, the deflating feeling that the visiting team is supposed to have heading into the second simply did not happen. Hats off to the Ducks’ resiliency …

… Despite being caught out of position (not his fault) on a bad change which led to the Penner game-winner, Wade Redden is normally an excellent positional player. He’s in the right place at the right time, especially when it comes to making that first pass and holding the line on the power play, but the hustle still is not consistent enough. It’s the Stanley Cup final … There weren’t too many highlights for the Sens in that awful second period, but they still did prevent the Ducks from converting with the extra man. Notably, Alfie actually almost stopped the first McDonald goal from happening with fantastic pressure on Beauchemin and forced the puck out on the next play. Unfortunately, two goals in two minutes by the same guy will take the wind out of any sails … Speaking of sails, it appeared to be clear sailing after Bryan Murray changed their direction by shuffling the lines. Patrick Eaves, whose sweater Jason Spezza wore briefly the game before, fed Heatley in Spezztacular fashion to tie the sucker. What a great sigh of relief that was, to finally hear “The Heat is On” at the Bank again. Razor made two great glove saves before that too… However, in the third, the Ducks’ attention to detail was excellent. Random example? Mike Comrie causes a turnover, jumps on the biscuit and heads to the net. Tiny Mike is immediately surrounded by three hustling Ducks. Another random example? The trap starts with about 12:17 left. It’s like a plague, and you can bet the elder Niedermayer brought it over from New Jersey, where it originated … Another muggy night in the Capital caused ice problems and trips all over the place. Giggy had to leave the Ducks’ net, Chris Phillips needed repairs, and Joe Corvo ran into defence partner Tom Preissing in the first period. The gates opened at 5:30 again, and maybe that should stop …

… Official Presidential Rant: as the melee ensued following the captain’s beaning of Niedermayer, a spectator sporting a Leafs jersey in the front row was spotted on camera. WHY do people wear Leafs, Habs, or any other non-participating team’s jersey to Sens games? At Game 4 vs. Buffalo, a young girl was spotted wear Tie Domi’s jersey, perhaps hoping he’d get signed by the Sabres before puck drop. Also vs. Buffalo in that January tilt where Heater got a hat trick, an entire family of five was sporting Habs apparel. People: even if the Sens are your second-favourite team or something, stop sporting other colours! Oh well, at the end of the day, team owner Eugene Melnyk is happy to have those confused fans’ ticket money, as the team appears headed towards its first operating profit in history … On that subject, it’s important to remember Bruce Firestone and the rest of the original owners who each put up hefty sums of money—which they would never see again—to see the NHL’s return through. And let’s also not forget Rod Bryden, who lost over $40 million of his own money to keep this team afloat through the pre-salary cap, crappy Canadian dollar years. Hats off, gentlemen …

… The NBC/CBC simulcast of that second intermission show was the best pundit-ertainment in recent memory, with Don Cherry and Brett Hull squaring off. Best part, obviously, was the exchange about Alfie’s controversial Game 3 goal. “No he didn’t,” said Grapes, defending the captain. “It hit the inside part of his skate.” Brett Hull flatly disagreed, to which Grapes responded: “You should talk, (with) your foot in the crease,” referring to Hull’s own Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1999 over the Sabres that should not have counted. Not only did he put Brett in his place, he also scored another perfect 10 in the 2 Cents’ Don Cherry Suit Rating. That cream suit with the bold black pinstripes, coupled with a red corsage, was killer. To top it off, bringing on Gen. Rick Hillier of the Canadian Forces was a nice touch. He’s a pretty good hockey analyst too … Bob Cole Line of the Night: you could swear he almost certainly said “two-line offside” on a long Anton Volchenkov pass attempt. Brain freeze perhaps, but you’d think even Mr. Cole might not say that, two years into the rule change … Billy Talent’s “Red Flag” was an excellent Sens-themed musical choice for the HNIC opening montage … Speaking of music, Alanis Morrissette is now 1-1 at Sens games singing the anthem. Constable Slewidge should have sung, plain and simple … Last but not least: swallow your pride Sens fans, and look back to the 1942 Leafs (yes, the Leafs) for inspiration as the last team to come back from being down 3-1 to win the Cup. In fact, the Leafs were down 3-0 to the Red Wings, who actually invited the Leafs to their victory party. Now while there won’t be any such locker room bulletin-board material like that this time around, take this to heart: It’s either been a Canadian team or Detroit that’s won every year with seven as the last digit. Detroit is golfing, and this series has to go seven games in 2007 for the Sens to win. Will it be a lucky seven? Stay tuned, Sens fans, and keep the faith now more than ever for what is easily (and in obvious painful fashion) the toughest test of the season.



Sunday, June 3, 2007

Senators vs Ducks: Round 4, Game 3

Senators 5, Ducks 3

PRESIDENT’S 2 CENTS: Back in the series! You can throw out the clich├ęs now, folks. The Senators came home to a raucous, red, record-setting Bank crowd and battered down the hatches, forechecking and fighting their way back into contention for Stanley. The stepped-up forecheck effort, of course, was the mantra heading into Game 3, and the Sens made sure it was the difference. Leading the way was proud new papa Chris Neil, who welcomed 1-day-old daughter Hailey into the world with a Duck-smacking sideshow and a real nifty goal, focussed all the way as he kept his stick on the ice for the precise strike. Talk about a guy who had that extra jump in his step, right from the opening faceoff when he jostled with Travis Moen all the way to the end when sending a message after the dirty Chris Pronger elbow. Take a bow, Neiler … On the subject of the Pronger hit on Dean McAmmond, you can bet Ducks GM Brian Burke, who has a way with words, will spin the story and claim that the 6-6 Pronger didn’t see the shorter McAmmond and was just finishing his check. This was definitely not the case when Pronger elbowed Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom in the melon in the West final, and certainly not this time. Replays clearly show a targeted elbow swing, and it appears that the big Ducks defenceman, now a two-time offender, will sit one or two games for his actions … The hit was probably a result of Pronger’s frustration after knocking the game-winning biscuit into his own net. The goal was credited to McAmmond but kudos also goes to Oleg Saprykin, who hustled in hard to corral a Chris Phillips dump-in, took the hit, passed to McAmmond and drew the defence away as he went to the net for the one-timer that Pronger took care of. Freakin’ Saprykin came to play again tonight, as did all the role players … On the subject, anyone not named Jason, Dany, or Daniel chipped in with some much-needed secondary support. How about Anton Volchenkov, who led the way with five shots on goal, three hits, and two blocked shots? One of A-Train’s shots bulged twine and he nearly had another, but Mike Fisher deflected it … Chris Kelly figured in nicely on the A-Train marker, as he was offside on the play but quickly retreated, spun around and zoomed into the corner to create room for Vermette to feed the Train. Just another blue-collar night for Kelly, really – it’s nice to see him finally figure in on the scoresheet. Second-liner Peter Schaefer almost got his second of the postseason on a third-period breakaway, but a muggy day in the Capital no doubt contributed to the bouncy ice that stymied the Sens’ best sticklandler …

… If the rest of the match would have went down like the first 10 minutes, Ducks F Andy McDonald would have been a game star. He forced Ray Emery to make one of his two best stops of the game off Dustin Penner, who was the recipient of McDonald’s gorgeous pass following a slick, twisting fake move off the wing. McDonald then scored a few minutes later after parking himself on Razor’s doorstep. It was the third goal of the series where an Ottawa player covering the guy behind the net didn’t hit hard enough to prevent a slot feed for a goal. As far as Razor’s second big stop, it came in the third period when he bailed out Tom Preissing with a spectacular stop (and midair stick swat of his own rebound) off Todd Marchant, who roared in on a breakaway on a Ducks penalty kill. The Sens still have work to do on the defensive end (especially against the PPG line), but the effort was exponentially better tonight … Speaking of feeds, Ducks pain-in-the-butt centre Samuel Pahlsson sure has fed Jason Spezza some frustration this series. The Spezz Dispenser let loose some of that pent-up frustration on Pahlsson in a second-period dustup, in which Pahlsson tore Spezza’s #19 jersey. What’s extra funny is that Spezza temporarily pulled on Patrick Eaves’ #44 sweater while his went for repairs. Notwithstanding last change, going in disguise is one way of getting away from that Ducks checking line …

… The physical play, normally a mainstay of the Ducks’ style, turned on them in the third period when Brad May got whistled for a trip. Minutes later, Ryan Getzlaf ruined his own team’s power play with a cross check, and the wheels officially fell off when Andy McDonald got a goalie interference penalty. Early in the first, discipline was a factor as Corey Perry knocked down Mike Comrie as the teams changed. The Sens truly stole a page out of the Ducks’ playbook, outhitting them 32-26 and forcing them into penalties … The two celebrity attendees CBC chose to show on camera both had a political twist: firstly, it was funny to see Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams in a Sens jersey, mere months after he took down the Canadian flag from the rock’s provincial legislature after a public spat with Ottawa over offshore oil revenues. The other celebrity ‘spotted’ on camera was CBC’s own news anchor Peter Mansbridge. Gotta plug the network’s newscasts on game night, eh? … Official Presidential Opinion: Daniel Alfredsson didn’t kick the puck in the net, but it’s in the realm of possibility that he, shall we say, ‘strategically’ stopped. Still, Alfie simply made it a point to go to the net …

… Don Cherry Suit Rating: normally you either like it or you don’t. However we’ll go in between and give the red-roses-on-white a seven. It was ok … the massive Canadian flag making the rounds in the Bank’s 300 level during the anthem was incredible. Speaking of anthems, please leave Lyndon Slewidge in there for Game 4. Nothing against Alanis Morrissette, who has a 1-0 record when singing them (1992 franchise opener), but Constable Slewidge is our guy and has earned his stripes … It was funny to see the Sens’ fourth line perform a little anti-Ducks karma at the end of warmup, as McAmmond, Schubert, and Saprykin turned the net backwards before leaving the ice, so Ducks D Ric Jackman could not get any empty-net practice. Looks like it worked, as the aforementioned Ducks’ penalty problems robbed them of any chance to re-take the lead a fourth time … Interesting Stat of the Night: Dany Heatley, with four missed shots to lead all skaters … Comforting Stat of the Night: Three shots on goal for Anaheim in the third period …

… That guy who held up the “Canada’s Best Chance” sign behind Ron MacLean and the crew during the entire pre-game show and past the opening montage had tireless arm stamina. Way to represent … Either Wade Redden is injured, or he’s having confidence problems. He needs to skate harder and finish checks. He’s capable of much better … Last but not least: the fact that the Stanley Cup was in town, polished and ready to be potentially awarded to the Ducks on Monday, had to be inspiration to the Sens. It’s only one win, but the fact that the entire team chipped in tonight, making the last change vs. the checking line sideshow a non-factor, is a true indication that the momentum has balanced out. If the Sens Mile jubilation and horn-honking was any indication, stay tuned.