Saturday Night Results: Eastern Conference Playoff Race Tightens?

  • Saturday, March 31, 2012 7:56 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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Tonight was huge for the two teams in the Eastern Conference locked in a fierce battle for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres both came into their games tied at 86 points with four games left to play in the regular season.

The Capitals own the tiebreaker with more regulation and overtime wins, but Buffalo had a chance to take a two point lead on the Caps as they faced off against the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Center. Buffalo is banged up on the blue line with Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers both injured and it showed tonight as the Leafs scored four goals to defeat the Sabres 4-3 and deal a big blow to their playoff hopes. And Toronto did it with young goaltender Ben Scrivens, who was called up from the AHL Toronto Marlies because both Leafs starters are injured. It goes to show you never know what can happen on any given night. What an amazing upset by Toronto.

In Washington, the Capitals faced off against the Montreal Canadiens, another team like the Leafs that has had a disappointing season. But just like in Toronto, when the season is winding down, sometimes the most dangerous teams are the ones not making the playoffs that want to be spoilers. The Caps were cruising with a 2-0 lead and their number one center Nicklas Backstrom finally back in the lineup after recovering from a concussion suffered from a cheap shot to the head from then Calgary Flame, now Hab Rene Bourque. But it would be no cakewalk as the Canadiens kept chipping away and tied the game in the second period. Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth made some crucial saves down the stretch and the Caps and Habs went to a shootout. Caps winger Alex Semin scored the game winner in the shootout and the Caps secured two points.

Not only did the Caps gain two points on the Sabres with three games left in the season, but the Caps also put pressure on the seventh place Ottawa Senators, who won their game against the Flyers today in a shootout, and the Florida Panthers, who lead the Southeast Division and are in third place but lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets last night. The Caps are now only two points behind the Sens and Cats, who are at 90 points. The Caps play a tough game at Tampa Monday night, and then it sets up what could be an enormous game against Florida on Thursday night at the Verizon Center in what could determine which team takes the Southeast Division title. The Sabres get a rematch with Toronto and then two tough games against the Flyers and Bruins.

Washington, Buffalo, Ottawa and Florida are now in a heated battle for the playoffs and it sets up an intense and emotional last week of the season for fans of these clubs.

Around The Rink: Leafs Shake Things Up

  • Sunday, January 31, 2010 8:08 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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Leafs-Ducks-Flames in huge deal

Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke had seen enough.

The storied franchise has been mired in mediocrity in recent years and this year has been particularly bad with the Maple Leafs sitting second to bottom in the league with a record of 17-28-11 for 45 points.

Toronto aims to get back on the right track with this blockbuster deal pulled off Sunday -- Toronto gets defenseman Dion Phaneuf from Calgary and Stanley Cup-winning goalie J.S. Giguere from Anaheim.

The rest of the seven-player deal with the Flames includes right wing Fredrik Sjostrom and prospect Keith Aulie to Toronto for forwards Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers and defenseman Ian White.

My opinion? This is a smart move for Toronto. They needed to shake things up and as the old saying goes -- defense wins Cups and the Leafs just added two stonewalls in back of their blue line. And Phaneuf has the ability to light the lamp often as well, which is always a plus with a defenseman.

Sale of Tampa Bay Lightning could come soon

The financial mess the Lightning face -- the NHL had to bail the ownership out to make payroll -- could soon be resolved, according to a report in the St. Petersburg Times.

The report says that talks are underway about selling the team to Boston hedge fund manager Jeff Vinik. The article says there is speculation that an NHL-brokered deal could happen swiftly.

Many Lightning fans are likely rooting for this deal because the current ownership is not very popular because of their non-hockey background and flashy Hollywood-type decisions such as hiring Barry Melrose as head coach. We all know how that worked out. On the other hand, Vinik is a minority partner in the Boston Red Sox so he knows about how to run a winning franchise. He also managed the Fidelity Magellan Fund in the 1990s so he is wise to the financials and would probably not get himself into a situation where he fails to pay his players.

But the most intriguing part of the story? The speculation from The Hockey News that Vinny Lecavalier may be traded in order for the team to cut costs. Lecavalier would have to waive his no-move clause. He is in his first year of an 11-year, $85 million deal. One potential place Lecavalier could end up is Los Angeles. To be continued ...

Caps aim for franchise record Tuesday

Speaking of the Lightning, the Washington Capitals beat them 3-2 in a matinee affair at the Verizon Center Sunday on a game-winning third period tally from Alex Ovechkin. The win was the Caps' 10th straight, which ties the franchise mark set in 1984.

The red-hot Caps have a chance to set the franchise record for most consecutive regular season wins on Tuesday when they face off against the struggling Boston Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden.

And while Washington's explosive league-leading offense has propelled the team to victory after victory, solid penalty killing and clutch saves from Jose Theodore and Michael Neuvirth have contributed as well.

I've been saying for awhile that the Capitals are one shutdown defenseman away from being a Stanley Cup contender. I still believe General Manager George McPhee will be shopping for a veteran sacrifice-the-body-in-front-of-the-net blueliner to put the final piece of the puzzle in place for a Stanley Cup run.

The goaltending situation I believe to be resolved as this past winning streak has shown. Number one goalie Simeon Varlamov is nearing a return from injury and has been getting some important schooling from Caps goaltending coach Arturs Irbe. Varlamov is sure to match his high skill level with more maturity when he returns. That said, veteran Jose Theodore is playing his best hockey since he became a Cap, and rookie Michael Neuvirth has been playing solid under pressure. Plus there is highly touted prospect Braydon Holtby, who has been tearing it up in Hershey but has yet to play an NHL game. Needless to say, the future between the pipes for the Caps is a bright one.

Jonathan Quick with save of the year?

I expect to be watching a replay of L.A. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick's unbelievable save on the ESPY Awards.

On Sunday in New Jersey, the talented young netminder was sprawled on the ice with bodies in front of him blocking his view when a Devil lifted the puck off the ice into an open net only to see Quick's glove hand rise up and snap the puck out of the air. All this while Quick's eyes were probably staring at the skate blade of one of the players in front of him. It was spectacular and one of the reasons the Kings rallied with two goals late in the third period to win 3-2 and go 5-0 on their road trip.

The Kings are certainly ready for the playoffs and could potentially ride their hot goalie deeper into the postseason than many pundits think they will go.

Here are the game highlights. Quick's spectacular save is at the 4:35 mark:

Breaking News: Don Cherry likes Alex Ovechkin

  • Monday, December 14, 2009 1:08 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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Could there be a thaw in the Cold War between Canadian commentator Don Cherry and Russian hockey player Alexander Ovechkin?

In a shocking revelation during the first intermission of the Leafs-Caps game last Saturday night on CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada," Cherry actually had some positive things to say about the Great Eight. The comments came after Ovie's 87 mile-per-hour cannon that scorched the back of the twine at Air Canada Center.

For those who aren't familiar with the plaid suit-wearing personality, Cherry has a jingoistic view of hockey players. In other words, he prefers farm-bred boys from Saskatchewan over finesse-bred boys from Sweden.

And he has gained a reputation for having a particular dislike of Ovechkin. This was evident after Ovechkin's celebration following his 50th goal last year in which he pretended his stick was on fire and was too hot to touch. On CBC, Cherry defended the "Canadian way" and derisively compared Ovie to the "goofy" celebrations soccer players make after scoring a goal. He then predicted that someone was going to hurt Ovie by "cutting him in half."

Fast forward to last Saturday night.

Cherry still went on his same tired routine about the curve of Ovie's stick (as if the stick is the reason for AO's lighting the lamp every five seconds) and that Ovechkin is getting a "free ride" because he plays a physical game and finishes his checks but never has to drop the gloves (as if there is a correlation between the two).

But then the anti-Euro provocateur actually had something positive to say about Ovie when the topic turned to his two-game suspension for a knee-on-knee hit. When asked if Ovechkin should change the way he plays Cherry said this:

"You don't get it, I love the way he plays. I love that he is hell bent on banging and smashing and everything. I think he's great. I hope he keeps it up. All I'm saying is he's going to get hurt doing it. But you can't change your bull terrier. Your bull terrier's got to play like a pit bull. That's the way he is, that's the way he plays -- like a pit bull ... don't get me wrong, I like Ovechkin."

And considering how popular Ovechkin and the European-stacked Caps are in Canada, Cherry would be wise to tone down his inflammatory and provincial comments. The demand to see Washington is so high that they were featured on "Hockey Night in Canada" four times in the past five weeks, which is more than the Canadiens, Senators, Flames, Oilers and Canucks.

TV, Web Offer Hope To Priced Out NHL Fans

  • Sunday, October 11, 2009 10:21 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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The sad story of professional sports pricing out the average fan is well documented.

ESPN.com recently ran an Outside the Lines feature story on the sparsely populated Legends Suite at the new Yankee Stadium. It turns out Wall Street hucksters aren't even willing to spend the $1,200 in this down economy to get so close to the field they can see the brand of sunflower seeds being spit out of Derek Jeter's mouth.

So it is with some NHL franchises. According to the New York Times' SlapShot blog , by the time a family of four buys tickets, parks and eats at Air Canada Center for a Toronto Maple Leafs game they will have spent a whopping $585.57. The Leafs raised their ticket prices by 10.2 percent followed by Pittsburgh at 8 percent and the Rangers at 7.1 percent.

This with the United States unemployment rate at a 26-year high of 9.8 percent and 7.2 million jobs lost since the recession began in Dec. 2007. The unemployment rate in Ontario is down slightly but still at 9.2%. And while Pittsburgh's unemployment is better than the national average at 7.8 percent, the state of Pennsylvania is at 8.6 percent. And the epicenter of the financial crisis -- New York City -- experienced a 10.3% unemployment rate in August mostly due to all the layoffs on Wall Street.

So how can the Leafs, Penguins and Rangers justify their ticket price increases? They can't. Thankfully those three franchises don't reflect the whole picture of NHL ticket prices. The cost of admission overall stayed level at an average of $51.41 for non-premium seats -- only 0.3 percent higher than last season.

Still, even with NHL ticket prices stabilizing this year, it is still too expensive for many fans who are financially suffering right now.

So what is a poor puckhead to do? The options for watching games on television and the internet either got a whole lot better this year or will improve soon.

DirecTV dropped Versus in September due to a carriage dispute and so far there has been no progress in adding the channel, but hopefully this will change soon. However, Dish Network added Versus for three months and possibly longer. To demand DirecTV add Versus immediately call 1-800-531-5000. To thank Dish Network for adding Versus and ask them to make the channel permanent, call 1-888-686-2388.

All of this would change of course if Comcast, which owns Versus, buys NBC Universal from General Electric. The cable giant is close to a deal with GE to merge with the TV and movie studio. And according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Comcast is very interested in expanding their sports programming to compete with ESPN. A partnership with NBC would mean Versus would instantly up its game through NBC's NFL, NHL and Olympics coverage. Versus would no longer be seen as a niche channel but part of powerhouse NBC Sports. That means more hockey coverage and that also means Dish Network and DirecTV will be forced to carry Versus on basic cable. All great news for hockey fans.

But right now the best option for hockey fans on a budget is NHL GameCenter Live on NHL.com. The website really upped their game this year, providing a great deal for twenty bucks a month or a one-time payment of $160.

NHL GameCenter Live offers all the out-of-market games not nationally televised on Versus or NBC. The best thing about the subscription is how portable it is -- you can log on from any computer with internet access anywhere in the world to watch games.

New features include an adaptive video option which automatically controls the bitrate of the video quality depending on the connection speed to prevent buffering and choppiness.

Also, DVR functionality offers the opportunity to rewind and fast forward by 10 seconds at a time to see that amazing goal again if you missed it. After replaying the game you can switch to live mode at any time.

The picture-in-picture function places another game within the frame of the larger game and multiview allows up to four games to be watched simultaneously.

Archived games are also available to watch so if you miss the game live you can check back the next day and watch it.

But perhaps the best feature is that it is commercial-free. NHL GameCenter Live does its best to cut off advertisements before they start airing so it is only the action on the ice that you get to see.

Viewers are certainly catching on as orders for NHL GameCenter Live are up 70 percent compared to last year at this time.