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Conference & Cup Winners, Mild Schizophrenia

 

Predictions are the most ridiculous thing I have to do in my line of work.  People who write about sports for a living shouldn’t be rewarded for their ability to predict the future, but rather for their ability to cover the past.

But whatever, it’s fun to do anyways, so put on your seatbelt.  There’s some more tough calls to be made.

In reality, there are only five legitimate Stanley Cup hopefuls:

Pittsburgh Penguins
Washington Capitals
Chicago Blackhawks
Detroit Red Wings
San Jose Sharks

Quick thoughts on each club:

Penguins:  The Penguins are an all-around solid team.  Good at every position, play as a unit, and have proven they can do it.  Plus they have some Cindy kid or something I heard about somewhere.  And didn’t some guy on their team win the Conn Smythe recently?

Capitals:  A one-dimensional offensive juggernaut that is so strong at it’s one dimension, they don’t look so bad in other areas.  If the other team never has the puck, you don’t have to play defense.  A nice perk.

Blackhawks: Grossly talented, huge fans of riding shirtless in limos - you almost get the impression that it’s leaders (Toews and Kane, mainly) are so young they don’t even realize the pressure.  Naturally, this makes them twice as dangerous, like how baby scorpions are more venemous than the big daddy’s.

Red Wings:  What’s talented, gritty and experienced all over?  Datsyuk and Zetterberg are disgustingly good, and they’re up for the Selke every year since they lead the league in take-aways.  So nothing special, just good D, nice grit, good goaltending and great coaching.

Sharks:  The big line they rely on to win doesn’t play with any youthful pep.  What they do do, is put skill and smarts in front of quality goaltending and get the job done.  Assuming the job they were trying to get done is making the playoffs.

So!  To the results show:

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

CHICAGO vs. DETROIT

This series makes me nervous to even think about, there’s so much talent on the ice.  Did you see game 82, where Detroit had to win to get the fifth seed?  Teams like Edmonton and Toronto were watching that on TV going, “man, someday I’d like to play in that league.”

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

PITTSBURGH vs. NEW JERSEY

What sucks about the East is, Pittsburgh puked away the TV dream of a conference finals with Washington by placing fourth.  What they almost certainly did do, is guarantee us getting to see that series in the second round of playoffs.

The Pittsburgh/Washington series is kind of a crapshoot.  It went seven games last year, and if both teams are healthy, it very well could go that far again this year.  One of these two teams will be missing guys by then, and the healthier team will prevail.  If they’re both healthy… what’s changed from last year?  Knuble and Leopold?  Not all that much.

For the two and three seeded Buffalo and New Jersey, it means that one of them gets to prove they were the real deal this year by earning the right to lose to Pittsburgh in the conference finals.  Quite an honor.  How bout that gift of a bracket?  Buffalo, Boston, Philly and New Jersey.  Anyone’s guess.

STANLEY CUP FINALS

PITTSBURGH vs. HOLY CRAP I HAVE NO IDEA WHO WOULD WIN THE SERIES BEFORE WOULD BRIAN CAMPBELL BE BACK DOES HOWARD WITHSTAND THE PLAYOFF PRESSURE I BETTER PICK SOMEONE LET’S GO WITH….. DETROIT!

Pittsburgh/Detroit, huh Bourne?  Way to take it out on a limb this year.

You want a limb?  Fine, here goes….

….AND THE WINNER IS…

THE PENGUINS!  NO WAIT!  THE RED WINGS!  NONO, PENGUINS!

THIS IS WHY THE PLAYOFFS ARE FUN, PEOPLE.

In all seriousness.  Ahem.  I choose:

The Pittsburgh Penguins. Sorry about the boring answer.  I’d love to see the Hawks or someone win.

Hey, the Isles dynasty was built on a core group of dudes who knew how to win.  I see a formula here (ignore the fact that Detroit has it too, and now that they have solid goaltending, are a much better model of the old Islanders).  Whatever, I had to pick someone, and Detroit is the more likely to lose in round one.  I’m taking Pittsburgh.  Good luck to all!

 

2010 NHL Playoffs – The Leastern Conference

 

Washington Capitals (1)

vs.

Montreal Canadiens (8)

For whatever reason, I don’t like many teams that wear red.  For example, there’s just about nothing I want to watch less than a New Jersey/Carolina series, as attested by my coverage of said series in last year’s playoffs (blatant refusal).  To make those games worse, I feel like there’s just something grinding about watching the actual colour red play red.  Anyone feel me on that? (Mmm, aesthetically soothing Canucks colours…)

First round bye, weee!

For some reason, this red vs. red battle doesn’t bother me quite so much.  Like most hockey fans, I love to watch Washington.  And Montreal, though a puny little excuse for a Washington challenger, is kinda fun to watch this year too (fun like those tiny toy cars “Hot Wheels” were as a kid).

The only way Washington’s round one series had any hope of being interesting this year was if Philly had the eight seed.  It would’ve been awesome watching Carter and Richards going buck-crazy, being playoff performers out there, scoring goals….. and still losing by football scores, like 21-14.  Thatta been great.

Not much to say here, except the obvious: Washington just has way too much firepower to lose.  If the Canadiens give them so much as a scare, I fear for Washington when they play a better team.  I rate Montreal’s chances, as a percentage, at beat-it-dont-even-try.4%

PREDICTION: CAPITALS in THREE

*****

New Jersey Devils (2)

vs.

Philadelphia Flyers (7)

I think this was a tough card for New Jersey to pull, simply because I can’t believe how badly the Flyers have underachieved this year.  I mean, 88 points, in the East?  How is that possible, with their roster?  Before the season, I noticed that their back end had good transition/powerplay guys such as Pronger, Timmonen and Carle, and I remember thinking “crap, they’re gonna score a ton of goals this year.”

Combine that with with some of the games best forwards: Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Danny Briere and crew (Claude Giroux is no slouch. Hell, Van Riemsdyk is sick too.), and Philly has a wonderful hockey team.

So what the hell is going on there?

Dollar says he scored.

Riiiighht, goaltending, right.  I’ve seen this play before.

On the other side of the coin, I was completely surprised by New Jersey’s record this year.  Any time you have Brodeur in net, your team can’t be bad – but past him, I didn’t see a reason for them to have much success.  I knew Parise and Zajac were great, but then what? (That, and I kinda figured Elias and Langenbrunner were past their best-before dates…. guess not).  I kept waiting for this team to trip, but it never happened.

With the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils finally have that dynamic offensive punch you always felt that they lacked in the past.  It gives them two really solid lines (though they admit they can’t find a spot for Kovy that clicks), and combined with Brodeur, it’s become pretty clear that their season wasn’t a fluke.

{I have to point this out for the millionth time – can you BELIEVE that Kovalchuk is 230 pounds?  I’d have been off by 60 if you had made me guess two months ago.}

But looking at their D -  Andy Greene, Mike Mottau, Bryce Salvador, Colin White, Paul Martin, Mark Fraser, Martin Skoula and Anssi Salmela.  I dunno… it doesn’t feel very Cup contender-y.  They have, however, done a great job at keeping pucks out of their net this year (y’know, first-in-the-league-good, at 191 over 82 games – 2.32 per), but something about them makes me nervous.  ….And it probably has something to with NJ’s (okay, Marty’s) meltdown in the final minute of game seven against Carolina last year.

If you put the leagues most average goalie in the Flyers net - say, Dwayne Roloson – I think I’d pick them to win this series.  I like their roster that much more.  But Parise, Zajac and Kovalchuk shooting on Boucher makes it a dicey situation.

In the end, New Jersey has done too good of a job defensively to lose their first playoff series, where defense and goaltending are emphasized.  I think they’ll see round two, but barely.

PREDICTION: DEVILS in SEVEN

*****

Buffalo Sabres (3)

vs.

Boston Bruins (6)

If I were the Buffalo Sabres, I would be pissed at how the final playoff seeds ended up falling.  They (like New Jersey) were so close to getting to play an obviously worse team like the Rangers or Thrashers.  But noooo, Boston and Philly had to get their shit together at the last second, and squeak in.

Shot! Save. Shot! Save. Shot! F**K!

This sucks, you see, because Boston and Philly aren’t as horrible as they desperately tried to convince us all they were this year.

One of the few guys pushing Ryan Miller for the Vezina this year is Boston’s Tuuka Rask.  Combine that solid goaltending with Buffalo’s Phoenix-like offense (three lines of second line forwards = good team/not great), and we may see some low scoring games – especially when you consider that Buffalo has the league’s best goaltender, and Boston can’t score (206 goals all year, good for second-to-dead-last).

But, every time you think a series is going to be a defensive suck-fest, it ends up amazing.  Using that logic, this could be a thrilling, high-scoring series.  The only people I care to see play are the goalies.  I’m not saying Derek Roy and David Krejci aren’t exceptional hockey players, I’m saying that nobody is circling dates on their calendar to see them when they come to town.

I see Boston being the better team in this series, bringing the play to Buffalo, shooting, skating, hitting, exhausting themselves, and Ryan Miller chucking up the frustrating stone wall.  Then I see the Sabres working hard and smart, capitalizing on a few nice plays, (maybe a powerplay or two?), and winning games by scores like 3-2 and 2-1.  They probably win a couple of the - oh, let’s say three – games that go to overtime.

I really wanted to pick an upset here – and the Sabres and Devils are definitely both on my “upset watch” list.  But Ryan Miller is the best goalie in the world today, and that counts for something in playoffs.  I’m siding with him.

PREDICTION: SABRES IN SEVEN

*****

Pittsburgh Penguins (4)

vs.

Ottawa Senators (5)

Congratulations, Ottawa.  You finished ahead of the slovenly pack of droolers in the East.  You stayed out of the “who’s gonna make playoffs” fracas.  And in the process, you convinced me that you’re actually a good team.  I was wrong about you.

Strike a pose

The bad news is, you’re basically about as lucky as the Coyotes in the West.

Had Pittsburgh caught New Jersey, as they should have, you’d be playing Jersey instead.  And I like your odds there.

What I don’t like, for you, is going up against the defending Stanley Cup champs, who are healthy, and about to flip it into “game on” mode.  You’re toast.

The Penguins probably slow-played their hand a little bit too much this year.  Didn’t do enough to grab the really high seed that guarantees they get to coast through round one.  Over the long haul of playoffs, having to play a good Senators team to start things off is really going to grind on them physically.

But as far as this series goes, Pittsburgh is still Pittsburgh.  Between last years Cup champion team and this year, they cut off a couple guys that were acting as anchors, and picked up depth assets in guys like Jordan Leopold and Alexi Ponikarovsky.  You take a team that’s won the cup and make them better?  They don’t lose round one.

PREDICTION: PENGUINS in FIVE

*****

So that’s all she wrote for round one, folks!  I’ll keep a running total of how my predictions went as we go (though I won’t follow how many games it took to get it done – that’s really just there to demonstrate how confident I am in the winner I picked). 

GAME ONE OF M***********G PLAYOFFS STARTS TONIGHT!

THROW.    THE.    SNAKE.

Summer Jobs For NHL Players

 

In the spirit of DownGoesBrown….

*****

Well, its that time of year again.  Playoffs.

And at this time of year, journalists, reporters and TV pundits are all focused on the boys who made the cut and still have a chance at Lord Stanley’s Holy Grail.

Fortunately for you, you read the blog of an ex-player, and I have the connections to give you a look at something different.  Truth is, even though NHL players make a ton of money, a lot of them still live paycheck to paycheck.  You know how that can be.  So, I thought it’d be entertaining for my readers if I made some calls and figured out what a few of the NHL guys that didn’t make playoffs are doing for work in the off-season. 

***

* It seems Dog the Bounty Hunter is getting too old to do his show, so they were doing interviews for someone to take over the lead role.  Nobody thought Evander Kane would actually get the part, let alone immediately after his interview, but apparently he knocked it out.

* Phil Kessel was told he could come in any time over a two week span for a job interview at some place called “Olympic” Pizza, but apparently he went missing the whole time.

* Rick Tocchet apparently hasn’t been able to find any summer work, but he somehow moved into a nicer home.  I’ll give you 3 to 1 odds he’s got something going under the table.  5 to 1?  Okay, 5 to 1.

* Steven Stamkos was already up for the salesman of the week bonus at the Nissan dealership that hired him - apparently he tied the lead guy in sales by selling a tricycle to a blind guy for $80 bucks at the last second, just to reach the numbers.

* Apparently Keith Ballard got a job coaching t-ball.  Not sure why.

* Rick Nash got a job doing landscaping, but was noticeably frustrated after seeing that, even though he was doing an amazing job, his co-workers sucked so bad things always turned out horribly.

* Amazingly, Daryl Sutter got a job running a major league baseball team.  Since then he’s been there he’s been desperately trying to get some Blue Jays on his roster, at one point reportedly saying “I know all they’ve done is lose, but trust me, I really like what’s going on with these Toronto guys.”

* The only other scoop I heard was that Dion Phaneuf has apparently sunk to being a bus boy at Earls.  It’s not about the money, I’m told.  The staff said he just likes taking care of the sloppy seconds.

*****

After learning about a few of the Maple Leafs summer jobs, I realized I hadn’t heard much from that organization lately.  I did a few quick Google searches to see what’s been going on:

 

*****

For your daily mix of (mostly hockey) insight and humour, follow JTBourne on Twitter.

2010 NHL Playoffs – The Bestern Conference

 

I’m picking the Sharks to win the Cup.

*waits*

AhhhhGotcha!  They suck.  Let’s make some picks.

*****

SAN JOSE SHARKS (1)

vs.

COLORADO AVALANCHE (8)

Before the season, I didn’t have Colorado pegged to be a playoff team.  Halfway through the year I looked Barry Melrose level wrong on that (y’know, the guy who didn’t think Stamkos was gonna amount to much of an NHLer?  Love the guy, but he’s building a solid reputation for his wrongitude).  By the end of the season, I had almost come full circle back to right.

Expect a much better playoff performance this year

They’ve got a ton of badass young talent.  But I wouldn’t bet on Colorado to win this series if Vegas doubled the odds and you paid for my wager.

Contrary to my “they suck” joke about San Jose to open this blog, I don’t think they suck.  I’m picking them to go deep – like, conference finals deep – but I wouldn’t pick them to win a series against Chicago or Detroit (both would be epic series), and the bad news for SJ is, both those teams happen to be in the Western Conference.  Which they’re in too.

I think you’ll see a great first round out of big Joe and crew, cause they’ll be fired up as all hell to prove themselves.  More than any team in the NHL this post-season, they know an early round exit means a bunch of people getting new zip codes in the off-season.

Colorado’s pace will be amazing, and Stastny will be money.  But with Nabokov in net, the Avs upset hopes are some of the lowest in the league this post-season. (Here comes an Avs sweep after that prediction, huh?)

PREDICTION:  SHARKS in FIVE

*****

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (2)

vs.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS (7)

Shocking truth – I don’t think Chicago’s goaltending is bad as every human on Earth seems to think it is.

Youuu don't get to play, bud, sorry.

Now Washington – Washington has two horrific goaltenders.  Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet may not be the elites of the league, but they certainly aren’t the dregs either.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, Nashville – despite reaching 100 POINTS this year – was EVEN in goal differential during five-on-five regular season play.  Well that’s not very good, is it?

If they struggled to create offense in the regular season, I can’t imagine it’s going to go much better in the tighter checking post-season.  And if you could sum up the general point I’ll be making in my predictions, it’s that “teams that score by committee are f****d”.  Depth is good.  No-big-guns is bad (though I will race you to pick Hornqvist in fantasy hockey next year).

In reality, the Predators are not going to lose because of the Predators.  They’re going to lose because they’re playing a team that’s gone all-in this year.  Every chip they’ve got has been pushed to the middle, with very little regard to what happens after this season.  This equals one thing: an all-star team.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, Dustin Byfuglien….. really I could just type roster names til I’m out of them.  This one won’t be close.

PREDICTION: HAWKS in FOUR

*****

 

VANCOUVER CANUCKS (3)

vs.

LOS ANGELES KINGS (6)

As Bob McKenzie adamantly pointed out today, the LA Kings finished two – count ‘em, two – points behind Vancouver in the standings. It’s not so much a “3 vs 6″ matchup as it is two 4.5 seeds going at it.

This is one of those series you know is going to go six or seven games, but I’m not sure why.  Vancouver is better in net.  And up front.  And on D.

Easy jokes aside, these two are full blown difference makers.

That’s not to say LA isn’t strong in all those places, because they are (101 points!).  But those Sedins have gone from point-getting and bothersome to venemous and unbelievable.  Both sides have game breakers in this one, which is why it’s going to be a blast (which, incidentally, is why Boston/Buffalo is going to be a painfully long, close series – they don’t have any).  It just so happens that the Canucks have the better ones.

Luongo finally took a step passed his “never won anything” reputation in the Olympics.  As shaky as it may have been, or whatever you may think of him, mentally, that’s huge for a guy’s confidence.  You want him in net over either of the Kings tenders, every time.

The Canucks will miss Willie Mitchell.  He’s a big part of that d-corps, but he’s not the only piece.  The Canucks will get it done, but the Kings will take a lot out of them.

PREDICTION: CANUCKS in SEVEN

*****

PHOENIX COYOTES (4)

vs.

DETROIT RED WINGS (5)

You may remember, eight or nine days ago, I wrote a column on how unfortunate (but inevitable) it was the the ‘Yotes would draw the Red Wings in the first round. 

Nothing has changed since then.

Love this picture....

{Well, one thing has – there’s the movement, started via Five For Howling‘s Travis Hair (@TravisHair) on Twitter, to have Coyote fans throw fake rattlesnakes on the ice, I think after warm-up (check out #ThrowTheSnake on twitter).  I know folks will be worried about it costing the ‘Yotes a penalty, but it rarely does after the first occurance at any given game. 

You’ll get a warning, so just don’t do it after the first “hey stop that” (if the team has half a marketing brain – and I think they do – they’ll embrace this.  They could sell them, jack the price up and cash in).  Either way, it’s a great bit of potential hockey culture down here in the desert.  I’m tellin’ ya man, the fans need something to call their own, and this can be the start of Phoenix’s first “own thing”.  I’m on board.  But anyways, back to the series….}

These are the two best coached teams in the NHL.  Babcock coached his team through a kabillion injuries and somehow got them to 100 points for the bloody TENTH STRAIGHT YEAR, while Dave Tippett took a team most people picked to finish one place behind last, and at times, teased being the conference’s best.

The Coyotes have rock solid goaltending in Ilya Bryzgalov, which was going to be their huge advantage in a playoff series.  Unfortunately for them, Jimmy Howard found his game at the NHL level, learned to battle, and got himself into MVP talk, somehow.  At the very least, he’s a Calder top two.

But here’s where I rehash that same old point – when a game needs to be broken open, Coyotes fans will bite their fingernails halfway off everytime Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk has the puck.  Scoring by committee isn’t impossible, you just hope that your committee doesn’t have a first round defensive opponent of Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and crew.

At the other end, guys like Lepisto, Vandermeer and Michalek (okay, and Jovo at the defensive end) – as good as their years were – probably aren’t going to be able to stop the mix of Datsyuk/Zetterberg skill with Franzen/Holmstrom grit.

Here’s the thing.  I WANT the Coyotes to win.  I want this team to look like a great “buy low” deal for the contemplating future owners.  I want a hockey culture here.  I’m jumping in an RV with about a dozen other guys, driving up an hour before the game, getting my white out on and cheering like everyone else (yes, for the ‘Yotes).  But as a sports writer, I have to be honest.  I’d be surprised if the Coyotes won.

But then again, Coyotes fans, you may recall…. I’ve been wrong about them before.  Here’s to hoping they surprise me again.

PREDICTION: RED WINGS in SIX

*****

(Leastern Conference picks later today)

Weekend Catch-Up: All Hockey, No Golf

 

This is going to blow your mind, and probably make you happy, but….. I’m gonna leave the Masters blogging alone for today (though I’m not quiiiite done with it).  I’ma do what I do best.  Nooo, not make fun of the WNBA.  I’m gonna write about hockey.

Sweet, glorious hockey.

It’s that time of year, people.

So let’s cover the exciting events of the weekend, starting with…..

He's, um, happy. Weee!

THE ROCKET RICHARD TROPHY

 GOALS

Crosby 51
Stamkos 51
Ovechkin 50

Though it’s sort of become what I do for a living, I hate “serious” sports arguments.

You know, some guy makes a point that’s supported by some random factoid he read somewhere, puts it in defense mode, and the conversation never advances.  This happens everytime you talk Richard Trophy.  Ice time!  Powerplays!  Games played!  Linemates!

Whatever.  They all had remarkable years.  Plus, this trophy shouldn’t leave much to talk about.  It’s black and white; based on totals. If we’re arguing about who the best goal scorer in the game is – that’s Ovechkin by a mile. 

But still, I feel inclined to make two points:

1)  Why isn’t there a tie breaker so someone can actually win it outright?  Give the trophy to the guy who had the least games played (Sid has one less), or to the guy who had less empty netters? (as has been mentioned a number of times, Puck Daddy included).  Orrr, am I just suggesting that because both stats favour Sid (only had one, to Stamkos’ three) and I was rooting for him “2 – 4 – 6 – 8″ style. (Who do we a-ppre-ci-ate!)

They're laughing at the play working.

2)  While on the empty-net / pro-Sid talk….. Let’s all admit it.  Stamkos getting his 51st on a set play from a d-zone faceoff was a little cheesy.  I seriously do like Stamkos (just wanted Sid to get at least one Rocket in his career), but come on.  Up 2-1, your centerman wouldn’t push the puck forward in a normal game, for fear of giving it to your opponents d-man, who’d bomb it back down your goalies throat.  So to call a play you wouldn’t normally call, strictly to get your linemate a goal – while I would have done THE EXACT SAME THING - is still corny.  We’re allowed to acknowledge that, while acknowledging the fact that Stamkos’ season was mind-blowing. 

Congrats to all.  Except Ovy, who’s a complete and total third-place failure.

*****

I’d be remiss if I didn’t quickly mention the Evander Holyfield Kane punch on Matt Cooke (video), because nothing says “justice” like getting knocked the eff out by an 18 year old.  In the cartoon version of that fight, Cooke would’ve held up a “HELP’ sign just before the punch, and absolutely would’ve had little stars and birdies floating around his mini-ice-nap.

Saved to my computer as "Kablammo!"

 *****

So, I sat down at my favourite pub after work on Friday, and Breezy joined me.  To my left, some chaps were chatting about hockey, so of course, I chimed it.  Turns out the gentleman beside me scored the first goal in Canucks history, and had a 15 year NHL career – Mr. Barry Wilkins.  Here’s our conversation:

- it's where you stop on your way home. Get it?

BarrySure I know you’re Dad!  He was on the Islanders team that beat us (Pittsburgh) when we were up 3-0 on them in the playoffs!

MeAh!  Oh.  Sorry bout that.

Barry: Not a week goes by without it bothering me.

MeMmm.  Um… probably doesn’t help that my father-in-law was on that team too, huh?  Clark Gillies.

BarryHe broke my shoulder/collar bone with a big hit.

MeThis isn’t going well.  ….I’ll text my Dad and see if he remembers playing you.

Barry:  He’ll probably remember me as a d-man with rock hands.

Dads Text: “BARRY WILKINS? LEFT-HANDED D-MAN, STONE HANDS?”

Me: Sorry, he’s not writing back for whatever reason….

  *****

Flyers get in AND avoid Washington.

The Flyers/Rangers play-in game was exciting, but Rangers fans… if Henrik Lundqvist makes 43 saves, you’re shooting on Bobby Boucher, and you can’t win… you don’t deserve to.  NY should ship Torterella and Sather out, grab an experienced GM and the best AHL coach, and just start over. 

Although, I must admit: as an Islanders fan, I think you guys should keep the same personnel and keep plugging.  You’re good enough.  You can do it Rangers, I promise.  No changes.  Just grab that shovel and start digging towards next season….

*****

Of all the eight teams to make playoffs in the West, only one team isn’t a plus in the “goal differential” category (which matters) – that being Nashville.  Their failure to get it done down the stretch buried their playoff hopes - now they play Chicago, who’s goal differential looks like my two round score if they let me try to make the cut at the Masters: +62.  Here comes a beat down from Chi town.

*****

Though you may not have been following my fantasy hockey league (okay, you haven’t been.  Like, at all), I made a late season charge to grab the last playoff seed (8th in a 20 team head-to-head league).  Then I won round one.  Then I won the semi’s.  And last week was the finals, where I……

Got SMOKED.  Badly.  Congrats to Pat of “The Kindrachuckers”, to whom I know owe a bottle of Crown Royal.  Curses.  Thanks for playin’ everyone, that was a blast.  I’ll be doing it again next year (a pay league, so I can buy the winner something cool…. or just give him/her the cash), and mayyyy end up doing something for playoffs if I have time to set it up.

*****

 Henrik Sedin won the Art Ross this year, with 112 points.  I have nothing to say except congrats.  That, and I’d like to subtly imply he’s a cyborg by asking people if anybody has ever actually witnessed him bleed blood.  Just a question, that’s all.

*****

Number one of five. Count it!

Congratulations are also due to Boston College, who beat Wisconsin 5-0 to win the NCAA National Championship.  After watching Wisconsin play RIT, I was pretty sure they could handle the Maple Leafs with relative ease, so I was a surprised they got thumpled so bad.  But then I realized “is being better than the Maple Leafs that great of a measuring stick, at any level?”

 

*****

Okay, THAT’S ENOUGH.  Especially since playoff predictions are baking in the oven.  The deliciousness shall be ready soon!

 

Masters Thoughts From Thursday + Wisconsin/RIT

 

First and foremost, all golfers using yellow golf balls are disqualified (even though I like you, Furyk).  This is Augusta, not a course you can play in jeans while drinking a Bud Diesel.  You might as well be carrying a ball retriever to fish other people’s stray’s out of Rae’s Creek.

Instead of jamming up everyone’s Twitter feed yesterday (which would have been SUPER easy to do, considering that I’m a smart-ass, and was watching the golf alone.  You have no idea how nice it is to have an outlet for my sarcasm.  Without Twitter, just my friends would think I’m a dick.  Now all the world gets to know.  Okay, 600 or so of you.), I just put all my “tweets” into a blog post for today.  Which is twice as awesome, cause I avoid the 140 character limit. 

But first, I’m off to do my taxes.  Sighhh…. 

Hereeee we go!

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(-4) 68 to start for Le Tigre

 Sometimes I forget I’m supposed to be rooting against Tiger, which means I’m probably not.

What it does tell me about myself (and apparently all the patrons in attendance), is that I’m probably more interested in watching greatness than I am into reading gossip magazines.  If Mozart was a sleazy a-hole too, his music would be no less beautiful.

Please don’t read that as “I condone what Tiger did”.  I just happen to like watching Picasso paint. (Also – there’s seems to be a gender divide on those type of thoughts.)

Nice kicks, brah.

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 My boy Freddy Couples bad back kinda killed his style Thursday, huh?  I thought he was rocking a pair of Vans at first, but turns out he’s wearing no socks and spike-less ECCO’s.  Hey, whatever it takes, dude. 

The second I finished that sentence, Freddy rolled in a long curling birdie to go to -3.  You win, buddy.  You win again.

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Favourite text I got yesterday (after Tiger rolled in the birdie on nine):  “Tiger is immortal.”

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A little known fact about yesterday: Shingo Katayama pants and shoes were actually a magic eye.  If you blurred your vision, you could vaguely make out what I think was a cowboy hat.

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Every time I saw David Duval putting, I thought the wind was blowing and filling up his shirt.  Seriously.  It was only later I saw him standing beside someone else, and realized he was filling it up all on his own.

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A Freddy Couples things I like:  Just like me, his mustache looks like it grows in about five times as fast as the rest of his facial hair.  Then there’s the salt n pepper hair, which I’d start rocking at about 30 if I could.  And last - I like his buttery swing…. just a smidge.

Noon o'clock mustache shadow. I feel ya brother.

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College hockey:

"Great play by... uh.. the guy in orange wearing a cage!"

RIT has no namebars.  The intent of which is to show unity amongst the team – that it’s about the name on the front, not the one on the back.  Hey, the Yankees do it.

Difference is, the Yankees aren’t trying to get to the “next level”, like kids who play college hockey.  And the Yankees play 162 times a year, not 40, so it’s a little harder for fans to know who’s who over 20 home games.  The cages don’t help.

All in all, it’s a really, really silly thing their program thinks has a point, but doesn’t. 

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If you’re the underdog – as in RIT – turnovers aren’t good.  D-zone turnovers, then?  Like, more turnovers than a bakery, in your own end?  You lose 8-1.

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The stupid Wisco goal song still hurts.  I’ve been on the wrong end of an eight-goaler there.  Pretty helpless feeling.

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Despite the beatdown from Madtown, I think I enjoyed watching the college style of play more than any NHL game I’ve watched this year.  Totally surprised that I forgot how fun the college game is.

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The Phoenix Coyotes came from behind to beat the Kings last night, leaving LA in a tie with Detroit for fifth.  PHOENIX: STOP BEATING LA AND NASHVILLE NOW, SO YOU CAN DO IT IN PLAYOFFS. 

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I love watching guys go out in a big way.  There’s nothing worse than careers ending on a whimper.  It’s like a bad handshake at the end of a good day with a buddy.  Taints it.

So I do wanna see Modano retire.  If he’s not an offensive threat, he’s not that valuable – this year, he was still that threat.  And man…. watching that game last night, you couldn’t help but have a few tears.

He’s a talented, classy dude that had a great career.  The game will miss him.

 

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I’m a writing fiend today.  Bri’s lappy on lap (somehow I still don’t own a computer), snacks nearby, and the Masters in the background.  Game on.

Tigers New Commercial, Masters Predictions

 

Ahhh, beautiful Masters morning.  Can you smell those Azaleas?  (You really love this golf stuff, huh Chubbs?)

Just add Jim Nantz

Shall we talk golf (as 80% of my readers “x” out this screen)?  I think we shall.

First, here’s the f**ked up re-release of Tiger Woods 2.0, as decided by Nike.  Oh, the poor, tortured soul.  Of course, that’s the voice of his deceased father, Earl Woods:

Spooky, awkward, and about the only option Nike had to shove this guy back into some level of marketability.  I still think Tiger should have gone the opposite way with this thing – you know, admit he’s not a family man, take up condom sponsors and start talking trash like a WWE heel.  It’s Bill Simmons idea, but it’s just such a good one.  Opponents would have been reminded: he’s a killer, a hitman, and you should fear him.

Now it’s just uncomfortable.

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PREDICTIONS:

FAVOURITES

Tiger – He’s gonna miss the cut or win the golf tournament, with the first part being the most likely.  But even you Tiger haters don’t want him to miss the cut.  This sideshow is too good to miss, and lets face it - if he isn’t involved, my interest – like yours – will probably be cut in half.

Phil – I’d love to see Phil in the mix too, of course, but the guy has struggled in Tigers absence (one top ten in seven tournaments), because of his own personal reasons.  That being, his wife and his mother recently discovered they have breast cancer.  Kinda tilts the scales in who you root for in the Tiger vs. Phil matchup of old, right?

Padraig Harrington – With three majors under his belt, a great personality and a solid game, if you don’t cheer for him you’re not allowed to enjoy St. Patty’s Day from now on. 

Anthony Kim - America’s best hope.  Anyone who can wear a huge belt with their own initials in rhinestones (hell, it may be diamonds, who knows… he’s rich) on it has the confidence to close out if he gets in the mix on Sunday.

Ian Poulter – an uber talented, crazy dressing SOB who once claimed that when he got his game together, it’d just be him and Tiger.  Since then, I’ve grown to like him, and think he’s just about ready to peak.  Or burst into actual flames, judging by those outfits.

Retief Goosen – I mean, come on.  Watching that guy swing is like hearing a lullaby.  He can win any week.

Ernie Els – See notes on Goosen.

DARK HORSES:

Ryo Ishikawa – “The next one”… and we all know Tiger came roaring out of the gates.  He also looks like a female pop singer.

Fred Couples – He’s been my favourite player my whole life, and it’s no different now.  Maybe mopping the Champions Tour and getting healthy is enough for him to grab another green jacket in his 50′s.  Okay, probably not.

Obligatory Canadian Mike Weir mention here – he’s a golfer, and in the tournament.

….AND THE WINNER IS….

Me.  It’s always me.  I have no freaking idea who’s going to win.

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Dear NHL on the Fly – can you stop talking about Seguin and Hall long enough to cover the race for playoff seeds?  Thanks.  We’ll address those kids when it’s time.  They’re exceptional, we’ve heard.

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Short one today, folks.  Gotta get some work done before the coverage starts.  HAPPY Thursday!

“SHOOOOOOT!”

 

“SHOOOOOOOT!” yell half of the 18,000 people in attendance.

Meanwhile, at ice level, braindead bums like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith are moving the puck around on the powerplay, looking for an opening.

The shoot-yellers, one would think, realize that the players ears aren’t exactly tuned to listening to advice from them – so it’s worth asking: why are they yelling it?  Maybe it’s cathartic?

Hawks powerplays often end like this.

I guess I can see the logic of the bellowing-Bowmans (Scotty, not Stan) – when guys take big, booming slapshots through the crowd, it seems to go in like, a third of the time.  THEN JUST SHOOT IT, right?

Wrong.

There’s a reason those shots have a high success rate.  There’s a reason they aren’t shooting, so settle in and take notes – those guys are seeing something your view may not allow.

To take it from the top, NHL goaltenders are really good.  That’s some breakthrough journalism right there.

If you gave, say… Duncan Keith, 100 unscreened slapshots from the blueline, and all the leagues goaltenders rotated through to play goal one shot at a time, I’d be boggled if he scored more than twice (Toskala… was that you Toskala?  He scored didn’t he, Vesa?).

For a shot from the blueline to have any hope, you need to make the goalie move, which opens up holes.  It means he’s facing the shot without getting set.  It means he starts to lose where he is in his net, unless he stays deep in his crease (which is ideal for shooting anyways).  It tires him out so he doesn’t have the legs to get across as quickly later in the powerplay.  You gotta make that goalie move.

Then there’s the screen.  The defenseman in front has one main focus – when the puck is up high, he has to clear the man out in front so the goalie can see.  Being an NHL defenseman, he’s huge, strong, and probably angry – even guys like Holmstrom need some time to get decent body position on a guy like Chara.  You’re simply not scoring on Marty Brodeur if you don’t take his eyes away.  Just ask Sean Avery.

2%, unscreened?

Then there’s the penalty killers.  They’re keeping their sticks in as many lanes as possible, to take away passes, but they know what you want to do.  They’ve been taught to attack the guy with the puck on the half-wall by coming from the top – in translation, he’s taking away the pass to the point, but letting you pass it low, where your team is less of a threat.  It takes a little time getting those guys out of position before you can make that pass. 

Even then, the weak-side forward is assigned the job of getting in the shooting lane.  So if the pass does come through the strong-side guy, the other forward is standing in the shooting lane. 

For those of you who’ve seen a short-handed goal, you know about half of them come from a bomb into the defenders shinpads, the puck going the other way, and the guy who blocked it facing forward, while the shooter isn’t.  Getting your shot blocked up high gets you kicked off the powerplay, because frankly, the guy was RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.

Then the pass has to be in the wheelhouse to be able to take a one-timer.  Stopping the puck means the goalie has had time to set, the d-man has had time to move your forward, and the forward has time to get in the lane.

The low levels of anxiety and frustration that listening to people yell shoot probably isn’t helping the decision making process.

So “SHOOOT”, you say?

I say maybe just hold that thought, and let your NHL TEAM’S TOP SKILL GUYS make that call.

I dunno.  Just a thought of my own.

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If you feel like learning about a little bit more Bourne, here’s an interview I did for SB Nation.  It includes a compliment for my (mostly) funny, sharp readers!

Special Treat – An AHL/ECHL Song

 

Got a special treat for Bourne’s Blog readers today - this song is about the life of an AHL/ECHL player… My buddy sent it to me today, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Death Is Better Than Wheeling

Original by Curtis Patrick, performed by Dan Taylor

Heckling Tiger, Huet vs. Niemi, The Frozen Four

G’mornin!

For those of you who prefer my writing in “column form” (y’know, with a coherent thought process, and usually some point to make beyond the “I THINK GUY FIERI BLEACHES HIS HAIR!” blog format), you can check out my latest for USA Today, on Why the Coyotes are nervously watching the Red Wings progress

Cool.

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Today is the Masters Par Three tournament warm-up thingy, which you’d have to be a pathetic, desperate fan of the Masters to watch, so I’ll probably set my DVR and go by some extra bags of Orville Redenbacher’s salt and pepper popcorn.  Which, by the way, is to popcorn what the Masters is to golf. 

Le Tigre

Deadspin makes it’s case for someone to heckle Tiger at the Masters like he rightfully deserves.  At first, I was all nose-in-the-air, gasp, not at the Masters-ey about it.  But man, when you write a convincing article, you write a convincing article.  Check out the link… and as always with Deadspin, if my blog is rated R, theirs is…. whatever’s worse than that. (Read: he doesn’t put asterisks in the word f**k…. how uncouth).

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Duke beat Butler to win the National Championship.  In other news you don’t care about, my cats breath still smells like cat food.

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Looks like Chicago’s going with Niemi for the stretch run here, hey?  He’ll make his fifth straight start tonight versus Dallas.

Huet

I understand that he had back to back shutouts in that stretch, so it’s impossible to not let him run with the ball for a bit.  But I’d be starting Huet.  Here’s my logic:

At this point, it’s hard to make the argument that Niemi is that much better than Huet (or vice versa).  Niemi may be better in future years, but as of the 2009-2010 playoffs, he’s not.

You’ve committed to Huet with a big contract.  He’s earning the big dough, so there’s obviously a reason for that.  At some point in his 277 NHL games (or 16 playoff ones) with Montreal, LA, Chicago (and I think briefly Washington), he’s shown flashes of multi-million dollar brilliance.

The experience I just referenced helps.  He’s 34 years old.  Annnntttttiiii (sp?) Niemi is 26 – prior to this season, he had 3 NHL games under his belt, which brings his total to 38, career.

I’m all for playing whoevers best on any given day, but if you’re having trouble deciding, give the reigns to the guy you put all your chips on before the roulette ball started spinning.

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I slid a “Go RIT!” in at the end of yesterday’s blog, but it was kind of a joke.  I’m glad to see other lesser-known programs going deep, for sure, but at heart, I’m a WCHA loyalist.

Sooo... Geoffrion got good since I left, I hear....

See, when you’re record is like, 14-28 every year, you tend to explain to people that it’s because the league you play in is the best in college hockey (yes, CCHA and Hockey East-ers, you have some argument).  The fact is, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association has won 36 of the last 58 National Championships, and there are six college conferences.  My second year in college, of the (something like) 58 Div. 1 college programs, the frozen four was ALL WCHA teams.

These are the things I cite to defend myself, and thusly, let me slowly, in all caps, type out my hope and pick for the National Title this year:

WISCONSIN BADGERS

My playoff record against those Badgers is 3-3 — had Pavelski and Robbie Earl not single-handedly earned NHL contracts in the third period of game one my sophomore year, it would be a lot better.  But then…. I guess those guys were on their team, so it is kinda fair…. crap.

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Time to wake up the houseguests!  Enjoy what NHL.com is calling “Super Tuesday” (is that even a thing?)  Who’s Detroit playing?  Can I bet my kid’s yet unearned college fund on them winning tonight?

Best Week Ever – The Sportsgasm

 

ITS MASTERS WEEEEEEEK!

And every other great sports week.  Let’s dive in:

The twenty-team BBHL (Bourne’s Blog fantasy Hockey League) is down to two, and somehow, someway, I’m still alive (didn’t expect to add that to my BWE {best week ever}), did ya?  And that’s with Carey Price as one of my two goalies.  Yeesh. 

I’ll admit, I got muchos lucky in the semi-finals – drew the guy who wasn’t paying attention enough to start the right guys or even have a chat (read: make a bet), but I’ll take it.  Also, if you’re the dude who wasn’t paying attention, you have no chance of being invited back into the league next year (…without heavy bribery).

But whatever, I’m still happy.  On to the finals!

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Le Tigre has a press conference at 11:00 a.m. my time (2 EST) – I’m not going to live blog it, mostly cause I have other stuff I’m supposed to be doing (like, um, my job), but still, expect a tweet barrage.  Expect that all week, really.  I predict Tigs to announce Dr. Drew as his new caddy.

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The funniest thing George Lopez does is call himself a comedian.  Sorry, I had to get that out of my system.  Back to being positive…

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Sick camera angle.

The Detroit Red Wings are only two points out of fifth in the West, just behind the Nashville Predators – If they catch them, Phoenix plays them in round one, which would but about as lucky as Ben Stiller in Meet The Parents (that poor guy just can’t catch a break!). 

 …..Oh god I just checked the schedule… Phoenix plays Nashville on Wednesday.  Who’s Phoenix’s ECHL affiliate?  Can they call those guys up?  Can I sign a one day deal to help them lose?  Can we dress reader “zyllyx”?  Make the Coyotes wear rollerblades?  SOMETHING?!?

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The worst thing to happen to the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup hopes is drawing the Flyers in round one, which as it stands right now, they would.

If it’s Boston or Montreal (Montreal especially), they’ll breeze through that first round.  Philly, unfortunately for the Caps, plays a bit of a physical game, and is suffering from the frustration of earning the awful moniker ”best team that never gets it done” in the East (maybe the league – San Jose has had a couple playoff collapses, but the Flyers have been legit contenders for a decade and never got it done).  It’d suck (for them) to have their dangly skill team to face a group of hungry, aggressive dudes.

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I got the right guy in the picture.... right?

This whole “Henrik Sedin leading the league” thing is pretty awesome.

Nobody in the league has chemistry like him and his brother, as evidenced by his highlight reel.  When you watch Sid or Ovy’s, for the most part, you get the miraculous one man rushes, nifty moves, clever dekes and the lightning shots.

Henrik’s reel is far more impressive from the “utilizing your teammates” standpoint.  He fires behind-the-back no-lookers that end up directly resulting in goals.  Not neat “almosts” or plays that guys go to the bench and say “that woulda been awesome”, but tape to tape, spinning, no look, tap in goals.  They (Daniel and Henrik) almost never have to shoot the puck through a goalie, since they can just dish it around him.

Very impressive stuff.

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THE MASTERRRRRSSSSSSS!

The par three tournament is tomorrow, the press conferences are today, my orgasm is Sunday and the tournament starts Thursday.

For last years list of “Why I Love The Masters“, follow that link – that was puked out stream-of-consciouness style, so I’m sure I could add even more to it. 

Expect Tiger to start slow, but be a threat if he can find a way to make the cut (even when he’s been active, his first round at the Masters is his worst, with a stroke average above 72 on day one).  I’m pumped!  I’ll be live blogging it Sunday from one of those Cover It Live things if you want to watch it with me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Predictions coming Wednesday.

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What a way to start the baseball season – with a Yankees loss (in Fenway).  Ahhh, spring.  Inhale, exhale that loss…. smells fresh.  Go Mets!

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My buddy Nick gets to my place tonight, so I don’t expect a lot of double blog entries, even though this is the ultimate week for it.  But, like I said, expect the tweet barrage.  You’ll be hearing from me!  (Go RIT!)

“8th Seeds, Who Wants Some 8th Seeds?”

 
White rabbits!

Anyone else say that at the start of every month for luck?  I’m gonna say my family’s been doing it for like, 15 years – the earlier you say it on the 1st, the better the luck that month.

Also, throwing perfectly good money into a well is good luck.  Mutated clovers are too.  Totally makes sense.

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Speaking of luck – with a little of it, could you see Calgary or St. Louis sneaking ahead of Colorado for eighth in the Western Conference?

Yeesssssss you could.

Colorado’s remaining six games see them play the Flames head-to-head once (tomorrow!  Ooo), the Sharks, the Blackhawks, the Kings, the Canucks and a freebie against the Oilers (or is it?!).

They’re up two points on the Flamers (with a game-in-hand… at-hand?), so for conversation sake, lets say Calgary beats them tomorrow.  They’d both have 89 points, and I could see Colorado being below .500 in those last five games, since, y’know, four of the five teams are ahead of them in the standings.

Weee, winning is fun!

Calgary, admittedly, doesn’t have a much easier schedule – Blackhawks, Sharks, Wild, Canucks – but all they’d have to do down the stretch is win three to catch the Avs.  Exciting stuff.

I’ve included the Blues in the hunt too – six points out with six games to go, largely because they seem to be turning it around, and you never know.  After winning three straight, they’re schedule includes games versus the Predators, the Stars, Blue Jackets, Ducks and Blackhawks.  Five wins isn’t completely impossible, and might be enough to get it done, if the two teams ahead of them act like it’s the Eastern Conference.

So here’s to a great finish out West!

As for the East….

All I’m wondering is, “the Isles are three points up on the Maple Laffs, and play Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Pittsburgh to end the season.  Could they fall far enough to steal the increased lottery odds?”

A fair question, no?

I think they can, only cause the Laffs can’t do ANYTHING right this year.

On a more relevant note, Boston, Montreal and Philadelphia all have 82 points while the Thrashers have 80 and the Rangers have 78.  What a mess (congrats to Tampa for being 3-7 in its last ten, taking the title of “biggest blown opportunity” away from the Rangers at the last second).

Montreal has one less game left, but a joke of a schedule coming home (After the Flyers they have the Islanders, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs and an SPHL team, I think).

So wait… Boston/Montreal won’t be a 1-8 or 2-7 matchup this year?  But it’s always like that….

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The NHL’s biggest “I can’t believe that guy doesn’t wear a visor” has to be Ruslan Fedetenko, right?  Baby face, happy guy, plays a skill game, seems afraid, gets hurt (but not injured) a lot….  Everytime I see him I’m surprised.  Who else is on this list?

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The NHL’s biggest “numbers-inflating roster spot” has to be A) Alex Burrows spot with the Sedins  B) Steve Downie’s spot with St. Louis/Stamkos line  or C)  ???  Whatchu got?  (Getting to wear a Capitals jersey?)

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The guy pumping it out in the picture below (Nick Lowe) is here for a golf weekend, then a few days at my place.  You may remember his picture from a previous blog.  In this pic, he just tied the game up with minutes left – I score on the next shift to beat North Dakota (that years version of the Sioux had Toews, Stafford, Smaby, Zajac, Oshie, Brian Lee, and was goaltended by Lamoureux or Jordan Parise), the weekend my Dad was in Alaska.  Special times.

Solid one-knee pump.

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Happy Thursday.  I wish it were Friday.

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