Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Canucks Win Epic Overtime Game to Knock Out Defending Champs

For 16 days during the 2010 Olympics the theme in Vancouver was "Believe," maybe the Canucks fans just needed to believe for one of the most anticipated Game 7's in Canuck history.

The stage was set. The best team in the NHL last year was going to play the best team in the NHL this year for a do or die Game 7. As a hockey fan, Game 7 is the two best words in hockey. That is the case unless your team is in it.

I have lots of memories as a Canucks fan. Game 7 in 2003 against St. Louis, Game 7 in 2007 against Dallas and loads of regular season success year after year. I had seen a lot of games but I had never witnessed a more intense game then the one that was played last night. In fact, even an average hockey fan would admit that the game last night was intense.

Going into the game last night, I was feeling pretty confident. Despite, the Blackhawks being the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the didn't play in a Game 7 during their cup run last year. In fact, there were only four players on the Blackhawks roster that had ever played in a Game 7. In contrast, the Canucks had 12 players who had played in Game 7's.

When the game started my focus was on Reberto Luongo. For the Canucks to win, I thought he just had to be average. When the Canucks scored 2:43 seconds into the game my confidence level grew. I thought it was a type of goal that could kick start a game and swing momentum.  Alex Burrows second goal of the post season was the only goal that period. If the Canucks could hang on for 40 more minutes they would get their monkey off their back.

In the second period, the Canucks started to get a lot of good scoring chances thrown at rookie goaltender Corey Crawford. The Canucks out shot the Blackhawks 15-6 but still, the score remained 1-0. Going into the 3rd period I started to get nervous. I knew that Chicago was too good of a team to keep scoreless for the whole game and Luongo was bound to give up a goal on a luckly bounce.

In a series that had all the twists and turns, the third period had another twist. Early in the third period Alex Burrows was taken down on a breakaway. The referee signaled for a penalty shot. Alex Burrows moved in on goalie Cory Crawford but could not score. The game was still 1-0 Vancouver. The rest of the third period both teams traded chances but on one was able to find the back of the net.

With just over three minutes to go, Vancouver was rewarded a power play. If the Canucks could score on it they could pretty much seal the deal. At the very least they could kill 2 minutes off the clock. However, the Canucks were sloppy in the neutral zone and turned the puck over which led to a goal by Johnathan Towes that sent the game into overtime.

In the overtime intermission, I thought it was going to be a bad bounce that would end the Canucks season. I decided to watch the overtime period in the kitchen. I thought that was a good idea because that is where I watched Game 7 between the Canucks and Stars in 2007 and the Canucks won.

During overtime, Alex Burrows was called for a penalty. As bad as the officiating was in this series, I thought it was a good call. The Canucks dug deep and killed the penalty which gave them momentum. I was now feeling confident again. When Alex Burrows stole the pack and walked in to blast the knuckle puck past Corey Crawford I started to run around the house like a chicken with its head cut off.

Alex Burrows game winning goal sent Rogers Arena into bedlam. It depends how far the Canucks go but if the Canucks can make a cup run this year, it might be the biggest goal in Canucks history. A goal that for sure saved the Canucks from embarrassment.

Now that the Canucks were finally able to beat the Blackhawks, no one will care what happened in games four, five and six. April 26, 2011 will always be a great day in Canucks history. It was one of the most intense games in Canucks history. For me, I will remember this day the rest of my life. Some people call it luck, but I call it justice for all those times us Canucks fans have been heartbroken.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Canucks Search for Answers After Lopsided Loss

No team has ever gone 16-0 in the playoffs to win the Stanley Cap and if the Canucks are able to win the Stanley Cup, they won't either. The Presidents Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks will face their first bit of adversity of the 2011 Playoffs when they take the ice tomorrow night for game 5. If the Canucks are going to make a long run to the cup this spring, it will likely won't be their last bit of adversity they will face.

All that said, Canucks fans are starting to feel nervous after their loss last night to the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks showed little to know energy all night in their play and the 7-2 score painted the picture.

The Chicago Blackhawks were the complete opposite. From the opening face off  the Blackhawks had more energy, more toughness and more emotion. For whatever reason last night that was the case in Game 4. If the Canucks want to wrap up the series in Vancouver in Game 5, they will have to play much better.

Why was Chicago so fired up for last nights game? It possibly could have been because of the return of Dave Bolland. He returned to the lineup after missing 17 games because of a concussion. He scored a goal an added three helpers on his way to become the first star of the hockey game.

Or it could have been the defending champs not wanting to be swept in front of their home fans. In fact, it has only happened twice where the defending Stanley Cup Champions got swept out of the playoffs in the first round.. The last time it happened was in 2003, when the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim shocked the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings in four straight.

Time will tell what it was that gave Chicago such a spark last night. There have been only three teams in NHL history to come back from 3-0 down. Those three series were:

  • Maple Leafs 4-3 Red Wings 1942 
  • Islanders 4-3 Penguins 1975 
  • Flyers 4-3 Bruins 2010 

The chances are slim for Chicago to come back but it doesn't mean it's impossible. The Blackhawks still have their core players like Patrick Kane and Johnathon Toews to carry the load offensively. Also, on the back end they still have Duncan Kieth and Brian Campbell.

The good news for Vancouver is that they will be able to keep the twins away from Chicago's best checking line. In Game 4 the twins were a non factor to say the least. Getting Daniel and Hendrik away from them will be crucial.  The Canucks are very tough to beat when the top line is clicking so having the last change should be a blessing for Alain Vigneault club.

The biggest answer the Canucks might be looking for is getting back home. The Canucks were the best home team in the Western Conference and should be fine as long as the Rogers Arena is electric tomorrow night. If the Canucks can get off to quick start and not allow Chicago in the game, the Canucks should be heading to the 2nd round of the playoffs for the third straight year.  If not the Blackhawks have a chance to take the series back to Chicago and they might be on their way to pull off the impossible.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Alain Vigneault Faced With Some "Good Decisions"

Not often in life you are faced with some good decisions. If your Alain Vigneault he will have some good decisions to make before his Canucks take the ice for game 3 at the United Centre. The Canucks have a 2-0 series lead against the defending Stanley Cup champs, while no lead is safe the Canucks do have a healthy advantage in the Best of seven Western Conference Quarter Final. For Alain Vigneault to have decisions to make like he does is definitely a good thing at this time of year.

With Raffi Torres set to return from his four game suspension today, what will Alain Vigneault do with his lineup dilemma? Does he take Cody Hodgson out of lineup for Raffi Torres? Cody Hodgson has had two decent games to start the series. In game 1 he had 7: 38 seconds of ice time and recorded three shots on goal. In game 2 he was rewarded with 10:22 seconds of ice time and tallied an assist on the Vancouver Canucks third goal of the game late in the second period.

Or should Alain Vigneault take out Victor Oreskovich? Oreskovich is a energy guy who won't be afraid to drop the gloves to add a ignite a spark for his team. The Whitby, Ontario native was involved in the Kieth Ballard trade on the weekend of the draft back in June and has been a good addition to the team with adding some depth.  Oreskovich has played both playoff games this series but has really been a non factor. The reason I see Alain Vigneault keeping Victor Oreskovich is for his toughness. With the Canucks leading 2-0 in the series, the Blackhawks might try to throw the body around to swing the momentum in their favor. Having Victor Oreskovich in the lineup might be important.

Does Alain Vigneault toy with the idea of putting Raffi Torres as a healthy scratch? Torres this year played in 80 out of the 82 games this year. He has 14 goals and added 15 assists over the regular season. Torres was a big piece in the Edmonton Oilers 2006 Stanley Cup run that ended in game 7 in Carolina. The only way I see Alain Vigneault keeping Raffi Torres out of the lineup is because of illness. Torres was fighting a stomach virus the last few days but he says he's ready to play.

Like Torres, Mikael Samuelsson has also been under the weather. In fact, Mikael Samuelsson missed game 2 because of the flu but is optimistic that he will be in the lineup for game 3.  Samuelsson is an important player for the Canucks. He has playoff experience that should come in handy in a hostile environment like the United Centre.

If Mikael Samuelsson can't go, it is just another spot opener for one of the younger guys. If Samuelsson is able to go then he will surely be in the lineup. Samuelsson had a great playoffs last year scoring 8 goals and 7 assists in 12 Canuck playoff games last year.

No matter what choice Alain Vigneaul makes he can't go wrong. Each player that Alain Vigneault will choose from has some good sides to the player. In addition, all the players that Alain Vigneault will chose from he has confidence in. Over the course of the year all the players have had really good games. With  a 2-0 series lead and lots of choices to make, Alain Vigneault can juggle his lineup and each decision he makes has a chance to be a good decision.

The game starts at 5pm and will be on TV on CBC, Versus and RDS.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Canucks and Blackhawks ready to Write New Chapter in Rivalry

No matter which way you look at it, the Canucks and Blackhawks over the years have became intense rivals. It doesn't matter if your an old time hockey fan or a modern day hockey fan, if you like hockey you will learn to like this rivalry.

The Canucks and the Blackhawks have met four times in the playoffs. The first of those four meetings came in 1982 with the Canucks unexpected run to the cup. In the Conference Finals the Canucks found themselves playing the Chicago Blackhawks. The series started in Chicago in one of the loudest arenas in the NHL. The Canucks were not intimidated at all winning Game 1, 2-1 in 2OT. The Canucks had a 1-0 series lead and were three wins away from there first Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history.

In Game 2 of the series the Canucks found themselves trailing 3-1, with the Canucks shorthanded for the ninth time in the game. After Denis Savard made the game 4-1, Vancouver Canucks coach Roger Neilson decided to hold up a towel of signs of surrender. The referee wasn't to happy with him and ejected him and a few players who joined in. Neilson was fined 1,000 dollars for his act.

The fine did not dampen the Canucks playoff spirits. For Game 3, it was back in Vancouver at the Pacific Coliseum where a sold out crowed greeted the visiting Blackhawks with white towels. The tradition was called "Towel Power  is still used today for Canuck Playoff games.

The Canucks went on and won the next three games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals where they would get swept by the Islanders.

The Canucks and the Blackhawks would have to wait a full 13 years to renew there hate for each other. In 1995 it was the Blackhawks who got the better of the Canucks. Chicago would sweep Vancouver 4-0 in the Western Conference Semi Finals.

The Canucks would have to wait 14  years to seek redemption. In 2009 the Canucks hosted the youthful Blackhawks, which featured a handful of players from Western B.C.. Going into the series their was no clear favorite to win the series. Reberto Luongo came into the series on a unbelievable hot streak. In contrast, the Blackhawks were known as the comeback kings of the NHL playoffs.

The first three games was very exciting. Vancouver won games one and three. Going into Game four the pressure was on Chicago. With the Canucks leading 1-0 in the third period of game 4 the Canucks went into a defensive mode to try to hold onto a 1-0 lead. The choice to go into defensive mode was looking like the right choice until Martian Havlat scored a goal to tie the game a 1-1. In overtime, Andrew Ladd (who my Mom taught.) scored the winning goal to give the Blackhawks the Game 4 win and made what was a best of 7 to a best of 3. The Blackhawks ended up winning the next two games and the Canucks season ended with a very sour taste in their mouth.

The following year the Canucks got the match up they wanted in the 2nd Round. The Chicago Blackhawks this time were the better team and were poised for a cup run. However, in Game 1 of the series it looked like the Canucks were poised for a Stanley Cup run. They dominated Chicago at the United Centre on route to a 5-1 win. After game 1 in the series, the Blackhawks started to take control  of the series. They won the next three games to take a commanding 3 games to one series lead. The Canucks stanched Game 5 back in Chicago but Chicago rapped up the series in Game 6 to advance to the Western Confreance Finals and eventually be named the Stanley Cup Champion.

For the third year in a row the Hawks and Canucks will battle again in the playoffs. This year it will be a round earlier and this time the Canucks will be the favorite. The Canucks come into the playoffs with the most points, most goals scored and the least  goals against. It is the first time that has happened since the Montreal Canadians did that in 1976. The good news for Canucks fans is that Montreal won the Stanley cup that year.

The Canucks are the best team in the league by a long shot. The only question remains is will playing the Blackhawks for the third time in as many years hurt the Canucks or help them. Over the last decade, there has only been a handful of teams that have met in the playoffs three years in a row in the four main sports. The familiarity factor might favor the Blackhawks but on the flip side the Canucks might be due to beat the Blackhawks.

In the end I think the Canucks will prevail in the best of 7 western conference quarter final. Usually over a long seven game series, the best team comes out victorious. If the Canucks can use their depth to their advantage they should be able win the series. However, the Blackhawks are a well coached team coached by Joel Qunneville. If he can use his coaching skills to out coach Alain Vigneault then  Chicago might have a chance to pull off the shocking upset but other then that I see the Canucks wearing down the Blackhawks as the series moves on.

My Pick: Canucks in 7

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mariners Against Indians Game Experience

There is a saying in baseball that goes like this " There is no such thing as a bad at the ballpark." On Friday I got a chance to test that theory. My first Mariners game was in 1998 in the Kingdome  was a 5-3 loss to the San Diego Padres. Alex Rodrigez homered and Ken Griffey made a nice catch at the wall were my highlights. Before the day was done I was a baseball fan.

Over the years of attending games I had never witnessed what I say on Friday. The Mariners 12-3 loss over the Cleveland Indians made it official. I had officially seen a blowout in a major league baseball game. Did I have a bad experience at the game. Of course not. In fact, it was much better then listening on the radio, which is what I would have done if I wasn't at the game because the game wasn't on TV in Canada.

My day started when my  family left at 2pm for Seattle. I was able to get out of school at 1:50. The border lineup was about 30 minuets, which is pretty good for a friday afternoon. We didn't run into any traffic until Lynwood. After that the traffic was really slow.

Eventually, my family did get to the stadium. We got there just past 6pm, 30 minuets before the pre-game festivities. During the offseason Hall Of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus past away. Before the first pitch the Seattle Mariners were going to pay tribute to their first ever broadcaster. In addition, the Mariners were going to recognize Felix Hernandez with his Cy Young award.

The Tribute to Dave Niehaus was filled with emotions. He was one of the best announcers, not only in baseball but in  sports. Every night game when I was between the ages of 7-14 I would lay in bed listening to him. His passion for the game of baseball was off the charts. The Ceremony was very well done and had just enough emotion to it. It was not too sad but at the same time it was sad enough to realize that he meant a lot to people in the Northwest.

My favorite part of the ceremony was when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis  sung "MY OH MY ".  For a person to have the courage to  write a song about a great guy is an accomplishment by itself. The song had great lyrics and was preformed beautifully. It has a good beat and it really makes you think of what a great guy he was. I also thought it was great to see King Felix get such a nice ovation for winning the Cy Young. I really liked the pre-game festivities.

Unlike the pre-game festivities, the game itself I did not like. The Indians pounded out 9 hits on Mariners starting pitcher Jason Vargas. He only lasted 31/3 and took the loss. What made matters worse was the Indians put up a 10 spot in the fourth inning. When the Mariners finally retired the Indians in the fourth I was like "wow, the Mariners won't  even score 11 runs this series. "

When it was 12-1 in the Top of the 6th, I realized that there was no chance the Mariners would come back and I took a walk to the Team Store. I wanted to buy a T-shirt that had a players name on it but I wanted to wait to see who was having a good year so I will likely wait to July when I will be back at Safeco to buy one.

In the ninth inning, the Mariners rallied to trim the deficit to 12-3 but it was way too little, way too late. The Mariners for whatever reason just didn't have it on Friday night. Sometime your home opener is like that where for whatever reason they just come out flat.

 All in all, I had lots of fun despite the 12-3 loss. My dad said we will make going to opening day a tradition for now on Jokingly or not, I hope he comes through in his word. I think the goal for the Mariners should be to go .500 at home. If you go .500 at home and 18 below on the road they would get to my goal of 72-90.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

College Basketball is Over For This Year

With Uconn defeating Butler in last nights National Championship game, the College Basketball season  came to an end.

At a first look back at the season, I thought this years college basketball season was a very intriguing season. There were lots of teams that thought they had a chance to win it all. I couldn't remember the last time the NCAA field was this wide open. At the start of the year I thought Duke was the overwhelming favorite. If Kyrie Irving didn't come down with his injury that sidelined him for 26 games this year, Duke may have been the Champion. However, now that the season is over that is all a what if.

The reason I thought the season was an intriguing season may of been the amount of games I watched. Last year I barely watched any college basketball. That was mostly because of the 2010 Winter Olympics and the cruise that I went on. This year was a bit different. I found myself excited for the college basketball games. It didn't matter if it was a Huskies game that night or a ACC game. I was excited.

During the season I always thought that this years March Madness had the ingredients to be an outstanding tournament. Especially, with BYU and San Diego State fighting it out for the Moutian West Title and possibly a #1 seed. I thought this years college basketball season would be a season to remember.            

We all know how the MWC ended in the regular season. Jimmer Ferdette and the BYU Cougars won the regular season title. The Cougars cruised to the MWC Tournament Championship game and losing to their conference rival San Deigo State. It was a great storyline to follow for most of the year. To see two mid majors in the Top 10 for most of the year should help College Basketball.  With BYU going to the WCC next year it will be interesting to see the rivalry between BYU, Gonzaga and St. Mary's.

Over the course of the season I watched at least one basketball game a day. In fact, even when I wasn't watching any games I was keeping an eye on the scores. For me, it would be hard to pick out one game and say that was the best game of the year. I could bee a Husky homer and say that the Apple Cup in the Pac 10 Quarter Final was the best game of the year. On the flip side if the would of lost that game I would be saying that was the worst game of the year. So I'm just going to say that I witnessed a lot of great games this year.

My favorite thing  about this years tournament was that I won my families pool. With my number third pick in this years draft I picked the Uconn Huskies. I picked them because they were playing close to home during the first week, I thought they had a pretty easy path to the Elite 8 and their super star Kemba Walker. With me winning the pool I won $9.

All in all I thought it was a good year of College Hoops. For the first time ever I watched the Tipoff Marathon in November. I watched 20 out of the 37 Washington Huskies games which is a personal best. In fact, I went to a Huskies game this year. Despite the loss I had loads of fun. In General, I thought the Washington Huskies had a good season. The Huskies played inspiring basketball for most of the year. The Huskies impressed me the most when they played without Starting Point Guard Abdul Gaddy got the season ending injury in early January. With a few breaks this team definitely could of made it to the Elite 8.

Friday, April 1, 2011

King Felix Starts Title Defense Today in Oakland

For six straight seasons now Felix Hernandez has baffled hitters with his amazing Curve, a great Change up and an outstanding Slider. Last year was a season to remember for Venezuela born right-hander. He had a microscopic 2.27 ERA in 34 starts last year. He was the type of pitcher that could give your team a chance to win anytime he was scheduled to pitch.

The question will be can Felix Hernandez have a repeat performance of what he did in 2010? I believe Hernandez will have another amazing season despite his ERA going up just a had. It is hard to imagine Felix improving on his 2.27 ERA but he should be able to improve on his record. Last year Felix Hernandez finished the season with a 13-12 record. That was the one stat that was mediocre but that was because of the Mariners offense and not his pitching.

If I could take a guess of what kind of numbers Felix Hernandez will put up this year it would go like this: Felix will go 16-6 with a 2.54 ERA a WHIP of 1.29 and will go over 200 innings pitched for the fourth consecutive year. So will he win the AL Cy Young award again this year?

Since 1967 there have been four repeat winners.  Those four winners were Jim Palmer in 1975-76, Roger Clemens in 1986-87,  Roger Clemens again in 1998 and 1999. Lastly, it was Pedro Martinez in 2000 and 2001.

If the Mariners offense is going to improve and it will because it can't get much worse, then Hernandez will end up with a better record. He has a lifetime record of 71-53. Despite his 71 wins over his short career, he has never had a 20 win season. That should continue this year. The Mariners offense will improve but it will be still below average compared to the rest of the teams. Therefore, it's hard to imagine him winning that many games. Remember, a pitchers record is not really in his control so he will be definitely have to get some run support if he will be a 20 game winner.

One thing that will be going for Felix is his other starting pitchers. If Erik Bedard and the other pitchers can stay healthy this year it will put less pressure on Felix to go our their every five days and give the bullpen a rest. If there are injuries then the AAA pitchers get called up and they can't go that deep into games because their younger.  Then the bullpen gets used more then Eric Wedge wants to and feels the need to let Felix go as long as he can. This becomes a domino affect and he pitches way over 200 innings. If the rest of the rest of the starters can stay healthy, Felix will be able to not throw so many innings in the first part of the season and be more fresh towards the end of the season.

All in all, Felix Hernandez should expect another great season. It must of been a disappointment for him last year not to be selected as on All Star last year. I think he can expect an All Star appearance this year as well. Like I said earlier in the article, 16-6 is pretty reasonable. I have a feeling that his record will be between his record in 2009 (19-5) and  2010 (13-12).

Well, there you have it. Felix takes the mound tonight and will try to defend his AL Cy Young Award today. The game starts at 7:05 and is on TV on Roots Sports. Go Mariners.