Monday, May 19, 2014

Over halfway there

A few random thoughts on this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs now that the conference finals are underway:

Teemu Selanne's storied career concluded on Friday night when Anaheim lost to LA in Game Seven of their second round playoff series. It lacked the advanced hype of Wayne Gretzky's finale back in 1999, but Friday's swan song was, in my opinion, even more moving.

Selanne played 21 seasons in the NHL, 15 of them for the Ducks, and it was with that team that he won the Stanley Cup and ended his career. He hangs up his skates with 684 goals and 773 assists, which adds up to more points (1,457) than games played (1,451). 

He is 43 years old and still going strong enough to ring up six points in this year's playoffs -- and six points during the Olympics three months ago, which was his sixth time representing Finland in the Olympics. During that tournament he led his native country to the bronze medal and became the highest-scoring hockey player in Olympic history.

It brought a lump to the throat watching him skate on the ice after Friday's game and salute the crowd while players from the opposing team banged their sticks on the ice in recognition. Some of those players grew up watching him on TV and have no memory of a time when he was not in the league.

What made the lump even bigger was the knowledge that that Game Seven might also have been the last game for another aging veteran from Finland; namely, Saku Koivu, who has played 18 seasons in the NHL and turns 40 in November. Koivu has not posted the kind of flashy numbers for which Selanne is known, but he has been steady and dependable all along. And he has what might be the coolest sounding name in sports history.

Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in the middle of his career, Koivu missed almost an entire season while being treated and his eventual triumph over the disease inspired millions.

Sadly, championships have eluded him because he did not arrive in Anaheim until two seasons after they won the Cup, and his first 13 years in North America were spent playing for Montreal teams that lacked the kind of depth that is needed to make deep runs in the postseason. Unlike Selanne, he has yet to make up his mind if he will return next year. Hopefully he will, but on Friday night it felt like he won't. We shall see.

Speaking of Montreal... is hard to figure out how to feel about this group of Canadiens. Although I despised them after they beat the Lightning, I found the edge with which they play to be very energizing, and I found myself believing that I love P.K. Subban's moxie. Then they started playing the "we don't get no respect" card way too much, and started whining pathetically after G Carey Price was hurt in a collision with Rangers' LW Chris Kreider in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals.

To a man, the Canadiens players who have spoken about the hit have said they believe it was an accident; but to a man they have also turned around and seemed to take it back by suggesting that Kreider could have tried harder to avoid Price. To quote their 30-year-old forward Brandon Prust: "Everybody thinks it was accidental, but we call it accidental on purpose."

Come on, Prust. Be a man. If you think he tried to hurt Price, come out and say it instead of jumping around the bush like a Looney Tunes character. When Dino Ciccarelli thought that Claude Lemiuex intentionally injured Kris Draper during the 1996 playoffs, he flat out said, with unmistakable anger: "I can't believe I shook this guy's friggin' hand after the game. That pisses me right off."

Come to think of it, I say To Hell With Les Habitants! I hope Montreal gets crushed like a love bug on a Florida windshield at the height of May.

If Chicago wins it all (an admittedly big if when there is so much hockey left to be played) then dynasty talk will be justified, and I have to say that it will make these Blackhawks the most significant dynasty/mini-dynasty since the Edmonton Oilers' run from 1984 through 1990.

Yes, you heard that right Detroit and New Jersey. A Blackhawks Cup this year will make their current run better than the ones you have put on in the post-Oilers era.

From 1997 through 2002 the Red Wings tallied three Cups in six years, but a Chicago win this year will give them three in five years. It will also mean the Blackhawks did it with the same main core -- that is, without going out and buying a bunch of ringers for the third title, like the Wings did by bringing in Hasek, Hull, Shanahan, and Celios.

While New Jersey's three-Cup run was impressive for its nine-season span, that merit could be looked at as a demerit compared to Chicago winning three in a much shorter span. If, of course, Chicago actually does that.

Whatever happens, here's hoping for some fire in the remainder of the conference finals -- and for one doozy of a SCF!

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