Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chicago Photo 10 - Rainy Days Downtown


Ahh the Chicago skyline in all its reflected glory. The Duchess and I decided to spend a Saturday at the aquarium. Mainly because they have a jelly fish exhibit that looked pretty cool. Apparently half the city of Chicago thought it would be a good idea as well. The line stretched out the doors, down the steps and wrapped back around itself two or three times. There was no way it was less than a 3 hour line.

Sooooo with that plan scrapped we took a hot dog break. Well, she had a hot dog, I had a bag of chips. We watched the Segway tours zip by, the bike tours ride by and the tours of grumpy kids and exhausted parents stagger by. What to do with the rest of our day? Food, eh wasn't totally hungry, but I know I was feeling a bit parched.

To the Billy Goat! Underneath Upper Wacker Drive lies the dive bar/ hamburger stand made famous to locals by the writings of Mike Royko and to the nation by Jim Belushi on Saturday Night Live. That's right, "Cheezebooger, cheezebooger, cheezebooger. Chips. No Pepsi, Coke!"

As we wandered up Michigan Ave, dodging tourists and street performers the skies clouded over. They've been clouded over since February it seems. Or if it hasn't been cloudy it's been super cold. It's been the winter that never ended. Not exactly the weather you want when you're trying to convince a Florida born and bred girl that the weather here is wonderful in the spring.

Any who, we stopped at Millennium Park for a quick rest room break (it's a rather lengthy stroll from the museum campus to Miracle Mile) and I snapped a photo or three. The one above is the skyline reflected by Anish Kapoor's iconic sculpture Cloud Gate. More commonly known as "The Bean" it's kidney shaped, all reflective surface can yield unique perspectives on the city.

We did make it to the Billy Goat, had some food, washed it down with some beer and watched Barcelona eviscerate Man U in the Champions League final. A dreary day, but a good one.
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Friday, May 27, 2011

Victory or Loss - Game Sevens Drive Me Insane

I probably should have posted this up earlier, but I decided to head to Wrigley and freeze my cajones off at a thrilling Cubs/Pirates matinee. However, I’ve invested too many keystrokes in it by now to not post it. Congrats to the Bruins – they brought the pressure in Game 7 and deserved the win. No on with the regularly scheduled column….

No fan really likes a Game 7. If they tell you how much they enjoy one, or how much they are looking forward to one they are lying. Ok there is one case where a fan might say he’s looking forward to a seventh game. That’s the fan whose team is down 3-2 after Game 5.

It is in the aftermath, that their greatness is born. But that is only after the final whistle is blown ane the handshake line is through. Before that, it’s all nerves, tension and Alka Seltzer. Every shift is important, every penalty kill is breath stopping. Even goals are only momentary relief. Once the puck drops again the pressure is back on.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “Why didn’t Justin do a live blog, or a running diary of Game 7?” Well, concerned reader, allow me to explain. If I was to catalog my thoughts of a Game 7 they would all pretty much be the same:

In the defensive zone:

“Oh my god…ohmygod..getitout..getitout…GET IT OUT! Oh no a shot! Is it in? No it’s in the corner! GETITOUT….GETITOUT….GETITOUT!

In the offensive zone:

“Shoot it! No don’t shoot it, it’ll get blocked! Shoot it! Keep it in! Is it in? No it’s in corner! Pinch! No don’t pinch! How much time is left? Eighteen minutes. Too much time. No not enough time! Shoot it! Score lots! Oh god it’s going the other way!”

So instead of subjecting you to that for 60 minutes I’ll give you a brief synopsis of my past Game 7’ in order of enjoyment.

3. Game 7 2004 Eastern Conference Finals against Philadelphia. I’m sure this was a great game. How could a 2-1 win not be great? The truth is – I only saw about five minutes of the game. See I was on a quasi-date with my future girlfriend. To her eternal credit , she offered to cancel the date when she realized it would clash with the game.

I demurred and we went to see Casablanca at the historic Tampa Theater, and the rest is history. We did go for post movie drinks at The Hub (another Tampa institution) and celebrated the Lightning’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals with a host of eclectic bar mates.

It actually wasn’t that hard of a decision. Hang out with a girl I really like or drive myself insane watching a hockey game I have no control over. I really, really don’t like watching Game 7’s. I’m not good company. I set in front of the TV (or computer) hunched over staring intently. I don’t make small talk, I don’t eat. I am an ass. Sorry. I was glad she gave me a reason not to watch it, and for two hours it was out of my mind.

2. Game 7 2011 First Round against Pittsburgh. We’ve covered this game already in recent weeks. Tue Penguins had one hope – get a lead early and hold on. In my mind the Lightning were playing with house money having won Games 5 and 6 to tie the series back up. All of the pressure was on Pittsburgh and once the Lightning got the lead it was over.

1. Game 7 2004 Stanley Cup Finals. If you think I’m a mess for normal Game 7’s imagine what it was like for a Stanley Cup Final Game 7. Put this way, I turned down a ticket to go. It wasn’t a free ticket, but I had enough discretionary income at the time to afford it (unlike the Super Bowl ticket when the Ravens played in Tampa). Frankly I needed pacing room and didn’t think the fans in my section would appreciate that too much. So alone in my condo I watched the game. And I paced. And paced. I think I may have scared the neighbors when Fedatenko scored his first goal. Definitely scared them when he scored his second.

My Dad (living in Hawaii at the time) asked me to give him updates. I called him between periods to keep him updated. He was on the golf course, and I remembered thinking, “How can he be so care free during a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals?”

Oh yeah, he’s not a Lightning fan. I’m not even sure he’s a big hockey fan. But it was nice of him to show interest in his kid’s obsession.

Other than that I don’t think I spoke to anyone during the game. After the game, my somewhat intoxicated friends who did attend the game called and tried to have a certain Tampa sports celebrity talk to me. However, that’s a story for another time.

So now as I finish this up, I have to figure out where tonight’s game fits in the rotation. Unfortunately, it’s the first time they’ve suffered a defeat in a Game 7. I’m stuck between happiness because of a season no one expected and disappointment because they were so close to moving on.

I’m sure with time the disappointment will fade (an announcement of a long term contract for Mr. Stamkos would help as well) and pride will prevail. As far as the series on the whole it’s probably one of the better ones I’ve ever witnessed. It had everything a hockey fan could want and showed two evenly matched teams gutting it out to the very end.

The End

Sad Panda says it all.

Well except for - Go, Canucks, GO!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Through The Mail Day

A couple of years ago I picked up a pack of Upper Deck's first incarnation of a hockey based retro set - Champs. I gave it a hearty "meh" and moved on my way. Too few cards in a pack and a dastardly mini card.

I'm not a fan of the mini card. They always slip out of the pack and hit the floor. They're almost always part of multiple parallels and have mini serial numbers. Are they short printed, over printed, normal printed? Who knows?

So I put them in a box and promptly forgot about them. Till last winter. Then I decided to parse down the collection. What to do with these lonesome cards? Well why not send them out for autos? So I did.

Chris Pronger sent one pack (even personalized!) and now I got back my second. After more than a year - Carolina Hurricane star Eric Staal sent a signed card back.

Now I guess I should get the rest of his brothers to sign something, eh?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Playoff Beard Deconstructed

One of the great joys that I haven't been able to partake in for the last few years is growing a playoff beard. The tradional means for a hockey fan to show his committment to his favorite team. Honestly, it's a stupid tradition, since it has no affect on the outcome of the games. But since when are fans rational?

So with the Lightning returning to the playoffs, I've abandoned the razor and let the hair sprout; much to the disdain of my better half. On more than one occasion she's referred to it as a "homeless man's beard," sighed and shook her head in the way that can only mean, "why am I dating this imbecile?" I'll admit, for six weeks of growth it is a bit patchy, but hey it's the best I can do.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for some), due to a work related opportunity the beard would not see life after game six no matter what the outcome would be. With the Lightning facing elimination, a very, very small part of me was hoping they would lose so that my conscious would be alleviated. Then it wouldn't be my fault if they lost the series. Because as you know, the presence of a beard on a fan 1000 miles away directly sways the outcome of a playoff match between professionals.

For posterity's sake I decided to document the take down of the beard, and to show a couple of fashion choices I was contemplating unleashing on the world.

Base point:

Bask in its scruffiness. Look at those gray hairs. When did I get old? How has my boss let it go this long without saying anything? Why am I not randomly searched when I get on the train? In my mind it's thick and lustrous, yet not so much when captured on film.

Living in Chicago I'm taken for a chubby hipster more often then I am a hockey fan. I've never lived in a town that embraces the scruffy beard more than the Windy City. Granted most of them are on 110 lb vegans that hang out in coffee shops, but still they're all over the place. As for being called a hockey fan, since the Blackhawks have been eliminated hockey doesn't exist here anymore.

Let's begin the destruction.

New Look 1:

Nice Elvis sideburns and an out of control goatee. My buddy, Saint Leo Mike, once grew the world's most hideous goatee. I think he was making some sort of anti-establishment protest at the uptight company he worked for. Imagine the goatee you see here and multiply it by 100. It was beautiful.

I tried the big sideburns once in my 20's. It lasted about two days. Alas, kids in those days associated more with Brandon from 90210 than they did with Elvis. Damn heathens!

Look, I know goatees went out with the Y2k hoax, but I lack the sharp chin of the classicly good looking. My face gets really round when it's lacking facial hair.

Let's make a slight alteration:

Kept the sideburns and tried to trim the goatee into a Fu Manchu. I didn't quite pull it off and the people I'm meeting with in a day might question my judgment if I rolled up wearing a suit and sporting this facial hair.

Much to the exasperation of my mother I once sported a true Fu Manchu. It the summer after my freshman year in college. I had earned a spot as the closer on my American Legion team and felt that I should adopt a fearsome image. After all, when you can barely break 75 with your fastball you need to get an advantage anyway you can.

At the same time my mom wanted the family to take a portrait together. You know for memory. Please remember this is before digital cameras were affordable and camera phones were as available as hover boards. If I remember correctly, she asked me about 3 or 4 times to shave it off, but I refused. Mainly because I thought it was cool (it wasn't) and because I look even dumber with a regular mustache or completely clean shaven.

She let it go, I'm sure if you ask her she would have grounded me if she could, or smacked the hair off my face if it was socially acceptable to slap you kids. And she would have been right to do so. Frankly, it was a dumb thing to do (especially since I ended up shaving it off three days later). My mom is pretty good at letting me make my own mistakes and not telling me "I told You".

But the photo still remains out there. The smiling, happy family. Not only did I rock the Fu, I also had a Star Wars tie on. No I wasn't dating anyone at the time, why do you ask?

The final product:

Slightly more professional, with much less gray! It even got the girlfriend's stamp of approval. Hopefully, it pays off. Sacrifices I make for my career, sheesh.

For the record the beard was shaved off before Game Six was over, so the Lightning won despite the decimation of my facial follicles. Now on to Game 7!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cards in the Mail. I Got Cards in the Mail!

It's Monday. The sun was out all day, but now it has set over beyond the El Tracks. Hockey is on the computer and Mike Smith is in the net. Wait, what? Insert image of jaw comically hitting the floor. Mr Smith Goes to a Playoff Game? I guess that's cool, but you know what's cooler than that? New cards!

First up is the newest Vincent card for the collection. The captain has had a bit of an inconsistent Eastern Conference Finals, but I expect him to re-enter beast mode for the remainder of the series.

A Donruss 2010-11 base card. Sexy, ain't it? I picked this one up out of box I split with my co-worker Scotty. If you've paid attention to any previous breaks, then you know I didn't actually open the pack that this came in. I had to trade him a Patrick Kane or something for it. I might be semi-responsible for Scotty getting back into the hobby. So that's kind of like me getting someone hooked to heroin, except for the fact that cards can't kill you, aren't illegal and won't make you all heroiny looking. Other than that it's the same.

Speaking of Scotty, he provided the next two cards.

A Topps Cal Ripken All Star Insert. That's right kids, back IN MY DAY these were the only chasewe could look forward to. As a matter of fact, I can't even remember how we got them I think they were some sort of redemption set.

Sitting next to Cal, and checking off another "want" is an Eddie Murray 1990 Topps Mini Leaders. It's so weird to see him in a Dodgers uniform. I know it happened, I know why it happened, but it just isn't right. He should always be an Oriole. Can't we have a Ministry of Truth (card edition) go back and airbrush all of these old cards?

Moving along. If there was an award for best named blog, my vote would go to Plaschke, Thy Sweater is Argyle. Any blog that contains both "Thy" and "Argyle" is aces in my book. So in exchange for a Manny Relic what did he send back? Gold baby! Cardboard Gold!

A rare card indeed. A Peter Bondra showing the Washington sniper sans mullet. The insert photo on this 91-92 Pinnacle does, however, have excellent yearbook photo potential. But this isn't the Gold, neither was the Sandy McCarthy Topps that I neglected to scan for reasons unknown. This is it.

Yeah, baby. He promised a surprise and he delivered. 2010-11 SPX Winning Materials Dual Jersey card. In other words, a card I would probably get outbid on 4 or 5 times on the bay. And not it's mine, ALL MINE!!!!!

As always, a huge thank you to all of those out there kind enough to send me cards. Oh and later this week I reveal a long lost Through The Mail auto! Yea!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Game Two Blues...

Hey, the Bolts lost, this makes it better. Don't worry, in Game Three I'll show some Lightning Girls

Well, that was Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals saw the Lightning's 8 game playoff winning streak come to end. Throughout the sixty minutes of exciting hockey there were some good things and there were a lot of bad things. Fortunately, they leave Boston with a split of the first two games and head back to Tampa with home ice advantage.

To be honest, I'm not surprised at how this game turned out. Even during their winning streak the Bolts weren't playing their best hockey. Game after game they were relying on their old man between the pipes, Dwayne Roloson, way too much. Tuesday night it finally burned them. He was off his game from the beginning, struggling to control his rebounds all night and the Bruins were finally able to take advantage.

I'm sure some writers will slyly remark that perhaps time has caught up to the 41 year-old netminder and that perhaps he's starting to show his age. I disagree. He just had a bad night, something that happened during the regular season from time to time. So lets put a kibosh on the "start Mike Smith in Game 3" talk before it begins. The Lightning are not the Flyers.

Let's recap Game Two by bulleting some things I didn't like, and some things I liked.

Things I didn't like:

-Seeing Mike Smith in the net while the game was actually being played. I like Smith, he seems like a nice guy, but when the Bolts cut the deficit to one I was thinking of how many years would be taken off of my life if I had to watch a playoff game with Mike Smith minding the net in overtime.

- The second period. The Lightning have played a vast majority of these playoffs in their own zone, it's just the way the games have gone. They spend a minute and a half furiously skating around in their zone, chasing around the other team and blocking shots. Then they get possession of the puck skate down the ice and score in thirty seconds. Then back to defending their zone frantically for two minutes.

In Game Two Boston finally put all of their zone time to use. They got in front of Roloson and were first to the rebounds that he gave up. That's how you beat Tampa Bay, outwork them in front of the net.

- Patrice Bergeron not being healthy. If Boston had started their concussed centerman, chances are young Mr. Seguin would have been scratched. Therefore (and such as) he wouldn't have abused Roloson on his first goal or had a hand in three others. Stupid teenager!

Not one of Dwayne's finest moments in this year's playoffs.

- The Lightning's fifth goal. Look, I was excited when they scored, but that should have been blown dead waaaay before Dominic Moore shot the puck in. The ref has got to see that Tim Thomas' helmet was off and stop play immediately. There is too much going on around the crease to take that kind of chance.

Things I did like:

- The Lightning got themselves down by three goals, but never gave up. One might even argue that if it wasn't for the stellar play of Thomas Tampa Bay would have never had that type of deficit. They kept getting scoring chances, and kept forcing the play. Let us not lose sight of the fact that they've put the puck past Veizna trophy candidate Tim Thomas 9 times in two games.

- Steven Stamkos' goal. A pure shooter is a joy to watch. The subtle drag of the puck to change the shooting angle and then the quick wrists to snap it over Thomas' shoulder was a thing of beauty.

- Steve Downie goading Zdeno Chara into taking a penalty. Getting the big man off the ice for two minutes is always going to be a big thing for the Lightning. As this series continues look for Downie to continue to pester the Bruins.

"Lemme at 'em. I'll kill 'em. Even if he's two feet taller than me!

- The third period. It was really the first time in weeks that the Lightning dominated a period offensively like they did Tuesday night. If they can skate with that kind of urgency in Game Three, their chances for a win look good.

Three Stars:

Number Three - Mike Smith. Why? Because it's probably the last chance I get to ever give him a star. On a serious note, what he did in the third is a lot harder then people know. He hasn't seen a puck fired in anger in about a month. To come in off the bench and stop all 8 shots that he faced is not easy.

Number Two - Tyler Seguin. Two goals and two assists for someone who wasn't even supposed to play this series. Once again - stupid teenager.

Number One - Tim Thomas. His stops on Marty St Louis and Ryan Malone kept the Lightning from matching the Bruins' offensive onslaught in the second period. If he lets in either one of those goals it is a whole different hockey match. He may have given up five goals, but he also stopped about half-a-dozen prime scoring chances.

Somehow, Ryan Malone gets called for goaltender interference on this play. "Never touched the guy, ref. I swear!"

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Oh Wait, Is it Time For Hockey Again?

Picture if you will a faceless goalie skating in his crease in a darkened arena. He is alone, all of the action is taking place on the opposite end of the ice distant and blurred. A voice, not unlike the late great John Facenda, narrates:

“Age catches up to all athletes. The goaltender, now in the twilight of his journeyed career feels it more than most, feels the time dwindling away. Is this his last chance of glory? He watches as players half his age shuttle the puck back and forth, suddenly the action changes direction and his mind clears, his focus not on the years, but on the mass of humanity hurtling his way and on the sliver of frozen black rubber that, like time, he must prevent from getting behind him”

Look reporters, we get it. Dwayne Roloson is old. He’s on the wrong side of 40 for a professional athlete. And Tim Thomas ain’t no spring chicken either. So far that seems to be the number one story heading into the Eastern Conference Finals between the Lightning and the Boston Bruins. Old goalies.

Contrary to popular belief, these are not Roloson's first goalie pads.

For me, they cancel each other out. Both net minders have been excellent at stopping shots in the post season. They’re probably going to continue their excellence over the next two weeks. The story of this series is going to be decided elsewhere.

I’m not going to lie, I don’t know a lot about the Bruins. I know they finished with the same exact record as the Lightning, scored about the same amount of goals in the regular season and gave up a lot less. That would lead me to believe that they play decent defense. They had a really tall defenseman. They have a highly touted rookie who might see some playing time this series due to a concussion suffered by Patrice Bergeron.

It seems every time I hear Nathan Horton’s name it’s because he’s scoring a game winning goal. Mark Recchi is still playing well. The Lightning have won just 4 games in Boston in their history. Yup, that’s about all I know.

So what kind of preview is this? Well an uniformed one obviously.

Look, it hasn’t mattered who the Bolts have played in the postseason. They play their style regardless of their opponent. If they execute and stay within the system they can beat whoever lines up against them. It’s that simple.

If you’ve followed the Lightning at all this season you know they struggle when they get impatient and try to force the action. When they relax and settle into Coach Boucher’s system good things happen. If you haven’t followed Tampa Bay and you came here to get an informed synopsis, well you’re lost. Back up, make a right at ESPN and point your browser to Raw Charge. They’ll hook you up.

I will leave you with some do’s and don’ts for the Lightning to win this series:

Do - Continue to score on the power play. Tampa comes into this series with 12 extra man goals while Boston only has two. If they win the special teams penalties they position themselves to win the series.

Do - Kill penalties. Kind of related to the first point,

Don’t - Take penalties. Through the first two rounds there seems to have been an endless parade of Lightning players marching to the penalty box. While they have been able to kill the vast majority of them, it has hurt their offensive game by mixing up their lines and limiting the amount of time they can attack their opponents zone.

Don’t - Try to battle the Bruins physically. Boston will try and lay the hammer down on the skilled forwards of the Lightning. They (I’m looking at you Mr. Downie) can’t be drawn into retaliatory penalties. Beat them on the scoreboard.

Don’t - Get frustrated. The Bruins have a trap of their own that they like to play. They won’t be as aggressive as the Capitals, nor suffer as many defensive breakdowns as Washington did. Don’t force the offense.

Do - Attack with speed. It is the Lightning’s greatest weapon.

Do - Continue to block shots. 233 shots blocked so far this post season. That, more than any other stat, shows why they’ve made it this far.

Don’t - Get freaked out by past stats. Yes the organization hasn’t enjoyed a lot of success against Boston, but these are different times.

It should be a highly entertaining series. The teams are relatively fresh. Both teams are hungry for the cup. The time for talking is through, no it’s time for it to be settled in the rink.

Prediction for game one - Kind of a sloppy affair, Boston pulls out the 4-2 win.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Time For Some Trade Updates

It’s time to step away from the hockey scene (noooo you can’t it’s the PLAYOFFS!!!) and check out what has graced my mailbox over the last couple of weeks. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been horribly lazy about trading this year. My goal of reducing the cards I have up here is not being attained. So please, I implore you – take these cards and these cards off of my hands now! I don’t care if you don’t have anything you think I’d like, I need to clear out the space. Especially since I’m going to be adding about 120 Donruss Hockey cards in the near future.

Despite my sloth-like commitment to trading I have managed to arrange a few trades, actually I think my trading partners initiated all of these, and for that I thank them. In no particular order here…we….go.

First up… from not so far away fellow blogger D at Potch Wheeler and the Cardboard Heros sends a new Eddie Murray for the personal collection

It’s a 1991 Bowman showing Eddie in his Dodger whites. A majestic follow through, but I don’t think he got all of it. I’m saying he flew out to center on this one.

Batting second is B.A. Benny. He wanted some Yankees stuff that I would have lit on fire rather than keep. In exchange for two measly cards he fired back some O’s

Sprinkled amidst a fine collection of O’s were a trio of O’s outfielders. A 1991 Mike Deveraux, a 1994 Brady Anderson Silver Script and a plaintive looking Steve Finley from the iconic 1989 Upper Deck. Look at that cartoon bird logo – so awesome!

There was also a surprise in the package:

Adam Jones signed Topps Town! AJ spent the week beating the crap out of his former team, the Seattle Mariners. Hopefully the rest of the team will heat up. Speaking of needing to heat up…the centerpiece of the trade:

A Brian Roberts Bowman Heritage Pieces of Greatness. Now something I just noticed on this card. On the front it says it’s an “authentic game worn jersey”. If so that must be one hell of an uncomfortable jersey, because it is most definitely a piece of wood. Flipping it over confirms that it was supposed to be an “authentic game-used bat relic card”. OMG it’s just like the Frank Thomas 1990 error card! I’m going to be rich! Eh, probably not.

Finally, a few months back I got rid of the rest of my 2010 Allen & Ginter mini inserts. Everyone’s favorite trader, The Wicked One, took some off of my hands. I just wanted one card back, but as we all know that never happens with the Don.

The card I wanted:

A 2005 Donruss Champions of 1983 World Series MVP Rick Dempsey. Look at that nice white space which I hope to put to good use by sending it off to Mr. Dempsey in the mail. I think this thing will look sweet with an on-card signature on it.

Sprinkled amidst some Rays and O’s cards (including some Crawfords I didn’t have) were these three cards:

A 2000 Topps Chrome Harold Baines 20th Century’s Best, a 2006 Bowman Chrome Roberts (probably waiting for a reliever to warm up) and a sweet looking BJ Upton from the 2010 Season Biography insert from Upper Deck.

But the hits aren’t done. From the less famous brother category:

A 2003 Bowman Chrome Joey Gomes Auto. I’ve seen this card around before and thought of picking it up just because I like the way it looks (shiny). Joey is Jonny’s little brother and was drafted by the Rays in 2001. Despite showing some aptitude with the bat (a career .297 hitter in the minors) he never caught on and appears to be bouncing around the Independent League having spent some time in Schaumburg in 2010.

Wait, wait don’t tell me….there’s more!

A Rod Brind’ Amour UD MVP relic. Wait, what? Hey I respect Rod the Bod and enjoy a middle of the name apostrophe as much as the next guy, but I’m not really a Carolina fan. What’s this one-on-one talk? Let’s flip it over and take a look at the other side…

Hey there Brad Richards! (sighs and looks up dreamily) It’s always nice to have a piece of sweater from the former Lightning center and now free agent. Who knows maybe he’ll come back home. Why yes I would very much like to see how a Stamkos, Richards, Downie line would look in the new Lightning uniforms.

Well, thanks to all you traders out there!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Game 3, Win 3, Still Nervous

Six straight wins. Three to nothing lead in the series. It’s not a bad time to be a Lightning fan right now. That being said it’s not over. As a matter of fact it is far from over. There were days when a 3-0 lead in a series was a death knell for the team that was behind, but as the Flyers proved last year it’s not over until a team gets its fourth win.

Before the game I was telling the folks at work that I’d be happy with a split after this weeks back-to-back games. Now I want it over. I want the sweep. I want them to cut the heads off - no zombie Ovechkin comebacks this year!

How did the Lightning find themselves up 3-0 in a second round match-up that no one had them winning? Simply put they are outworking the Caps. Washington might be getting the sexy stats - more shots, more time with the puck, more power plays, etc., but it’s the Lightning that are outworking the higher seeded team.

The boys in the black and blue are winning the battles along the boards, blocking the shots and controlling the front of the net. It’s the last point that has made the biggest difference. If you look at how they are scoring goals, it’s by getting position in front of Neuvirth and banging home rebounds or deflecting passes in.

On the flip side they have set up a wall in front of Dwayne Roloson and aren’t allowing too many shots through. The few shots that are making it through are getting knocked down by the ageless net minder and swept aside by his defensemen. The 1-3-1 gets all the press but it’s what they’re doing in the defensive zone that is making the difference. While the Caps are getting shots, they aren’t getting quality chances.

Washington fans are bemoaning the fact that the Lightning are “getting all the bounces,” but what they are failing to realize is that Tampa Bay are creating those lucky bounces. Throwing the puck at the net is one thing, but good things happen when you throw the puck in front of the net and your teammate has position. That’s what the Lightning are doing.

Washington ended up with the number one seed because they were able to bounce back from adversity during the season. This team was left for dead in December and yet managed to bounce all the way back in the second half of the season. They have the guns to come storming back, but do they have the character? Recent playoff performance say no, but this is supposed to be a different team. So we’ll see.

They have to find a way to shut down the Dominic Moore/ Steve Downie / Sean Bergenheim line. The offensive success of that line allows Coach Boucher to stack the Big Three on one line. If the Caps send their top defensive unit against Lecavalier, St Louis and Stamkos then Boucher sends out Moore line and they pick apart Washington.

Tampa Bay has also exploited the lack of speed on Washington blue line. As offensively talented as they might be, the “National Defense” isn’t exactly the most fleet of foot. Mike Green is great at carrying the puck up the ice, but get him skating backwards and he’s a liability. Alzner and Erskine are physical forces but have been turned into statues by Bergenheim, Stamkos and St Louis. Can Dennis Wideman make a difference? We might see in Game 4 if he’s healthy.

Resiliency has been a major characteristic of this season’s Lightning squad. They bounced back from a late game tying goal in Game 2 to win in overtime. Tuesday night they bounced back from a one goal third period deficit to take Game 3. They could have folded at any point and been down two games to one. After all, they don’t have playoff experience and shouldn’t be able to handle the pressure.

While Boucher has been able to do a great job in getting his team ready for the last six games, his greatest work may be ahead of him. Will the players back off a little now that they have a three game cushion? If they do they are in trouble.

Three stars for Tuesday night:

Steven Stamkos - if you need to show a non-hockey friend what a sniper looks like on the ice show him Stamkos’ game tying goal. Across the ice, with a screen to the top corner of the goalie’s stick side. Unreal.

Vincent Lecavalier - Vinny is now in Beast Mode. Look out folks.

Victor Hedman - SWEDE! SWEDE! SWEDE! Most improved player in the playoffs for this team. He’s got his skates under him and is starting to throw his weight around and skating more with the puck. Yet another possible weapon at Boucher’s disposal.

Oh You Silly NHL.

A 6.30 puck drop? Really, NHL? What about us mid-westerners who are stuck at work? You're killing me!

Looks like someone is going to be streaming from work!

Game Two Two Minute Review

*Vincent is in beast mode.
*Tampa is doing a better job of controlling the front of the net on both ends.
*Tampa can't keep taking penalties against the Caps.
*Some of the pressure is back on the Lightning for the first time since game 4 of the first round.
*If they split the next two games I like their chances.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Enough Hockey - How About Some Heritage Trade Bait

As much as I'm sure everyone is enjoying the hockey write-ups, let me throw a bone to my core readers with a little trade bait.

About a week ago I found myself in a local Target. Much like other folks on the internet I fell to the temptation of the $14.99 Value Pack. Pretty much just for the two guaranteed Diamond Giveaways cards.

I'm not going to lie, those cards were the top picks of the box. While I'm trying to put together the Topps Regular set I've found that I have absolutely no interest in Heritage. So I'm offering them up to you loyal readers. Let me know what you want and we'll see if we can work out a trade:

NF-9 Jamaica Gains Independence
445 - Prince Fielder
414 - Jarrod Dyson
351 Twin Terrors
332 - Alcides Escobar
325 Alexei Ramirez
298 - Jason Kubel
276 - Darwin Barney
248 - Chris Johnson
245 - Jason Bartlett
230 - Francisco Liriano
187 - Jon Lester
167 - Wilson Ramos
143 - Babe's Pitching Record
137 - Babe and MGR Huggins
93 - Nick Swisher
38 - Coco Crisp
21 - Carl Pavano

Feel free to check out my wantlists along the right hand side and let me know what you have to offer.