Monday, April 23, 2007


Flames Continue OT Legacy

Well, another spring and another early exit for the Flames. This is hardly surprising, but what's even less surprising is the fact that the Red Wings polished them off in overtime. Calgary has an esteemed tradition of failure when the game is on the line after 3 periods of play. Lets have a look back:

This tradition dates back all the way to the days of the Atlanta Flames, Calgary's predecessor. In their very first playoff appearance in 1973-74, the Flames were swept by the eventual Cup-champion Philadelphia Flyers. The decisive Game 4 ended 5:40 into OT on a goal by Dave "The Hammer" Schultz. It was one of 8 career playoff goals (in 73 games) for a man more well-known for fighting than scoring.

The Flames made the playoffs several more times while in the American south, but never managed to get out of the first round. Their final season saw them pitted against the New York Rangers in the opening round best-of-five. Game 1 went the Rangers way via a Steve Vickers marker just 33 seconds into the OT. The Flames went on to lose the series 3-1, then packed their bags for Calgary.

After going deep into the playoffs in their inaugural season in Calgary, the Flames had high hopes for the 1982 playoffs. But an opening round 3-0 sweep by the Vancouver Canucks ended things quickly. The Canucks won Game 2 in OT thanks to the heroics of Dave "Tiger" Williams. Williams ended his career with 12 goals in 83 playoffs games, none bigger than this one, as it was his only OT goal.

Next year, the Flames got revenge by taking out Vancouver in OT in the first round, but they were punished severely by the hockey gods for this, as Edmonton blasted them out of the second round, winning two of the games by the embarassing scores of 10-2 and then 9-1 in the season-ending Game 5.

The hard-luck Winnipeg Jets only won two playoff series' in their history, both of them against Calgary. The first of these was in 1985. The Jets' Brian Mullen got the party started in Game 1, beating the Flames in OT and giving the Jets a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

In 1986, the Flames reached the finals for the first time after defeating St. Louis in Game 7 of the semi-final. But they almost didn't get there after Doug Wickenheiser capped off a miraculous Blues comeback in Game 6. His fourth and final career playoff goal gave St. Louis a 6-5 win despite Calgary holding three-goal advantage in the third period. By reaching the finals, the Flames allowwed themselves to become the answer to a trivia question: Who scored the fastest OT goal in playoff history? The answer is Brian Skrudland, who's goal gave Montreal a 3-2 victory in Game 2 after just 9 seconds of extra time. Yvon Corriveau (Hartford) and Joe Sakic (Colorado) have scored goals 24 seconds into OT since, but nobody has come any closer to this record that may well stand the test of time.

By 1988 the Flames were considered a Stanley Cup contender. They faced the Oilers in the Smythe division final, and many expected them to knock off the defending champions from Edmonton. But Wayne Gretzky scored short-handed in OT in Game 2 to send the Oilers home with a 2-0 series lead, paving the way for a humiliating four game sweep.

The Flames finally won the Cup in 1989, but Ryan Walter scored for Montreal in double OT in Game 3 of the final to give the Habs a 2-1 series lead that Calgary needed to overcome.

And now things begin to get exciting or excruciating depending on wether or not you like the Flames. Until this point, failures in OT had been experienced, but nothing any worse than most other teams go through from time to time. But after winning a Stanley Cup, things took a turn for the worse.

The Flames defense of their '89 Cup was short-lived. They played Los Angeles in round one, and the series turned in Game 3, where Tony Gronato's OT tally gave the Kings a 2-1 series lead. The Flames were back in LA for Game 6, where former Oiler Mike Krushelnyski floated a shot over a sprawling Mike Vernon to eliminate Calgary.

1991 was the last time the Flames and Oilers met in the post-season, and is considered by many to be one of the best series ever played. Calgary forced a game 7 after Theo Fleury scored in OT in Game 6, but that was as much OT magic as Calgary was going to experience. In Game 7 the Flames gassed an early 3-0 lead before Al MacInnis scored to tie the game 4-4 and send it to OT. But Esa Tikkanen's hat-trick goal gave the Oilers the series 6:58 into the fourth period.

1994 would provide the pinnacle of OT playoff failure in Cowtown. The favoured Flames took a commanding 3-1 series lead on Vancouver, and looked poised to win their first series in 5 years. But ex-Oiler Geoff Courtnall, Trevor Linden, and Pavel Bure took turns burning the Flames in OT as Vancouver stormed back with three consecutive OT wins to take the series on Bure's breakaway goal in double OT in Game 7, leaving the Saddledome in stunned disbelief.

The Flames soldiered on into the spring of 1995 looking to finally shed the label of choker and do some damage in the playoffs. But San Jose's Ulf Dahlen struck in extra time in Game 2 to give the Sharks a 2-0 series lead heading to California. Over the next three games the Flames peppered the Sharks for a whopping 20 goals to grab a 3-2 lead in games. But Calgary blew their wad too early, and San Jose came back to force a Game 7. Again the final game was in Calgary, and again it went to double OT. And again the Flames lost. The hero this time was Edmonton native Ray Whitney.

By 1996, the Flames were a team in decline. The great regular season teams of the early 90's had performed shamefully, so little was expected this time around. And little was given, as the Chicago Blackhawks swept Calgary in four straight games. Still, as if their fans hadn't been punished enough, the Flames teased them in OT again in Game 4. The Flames hung on as the game dragged long into the night. Finally in triple OT ex-Oiler Joe Murphy did them in, marking the third consecutive year the Flames had been banished from the playoffs in OT on home ice.

Calgary took a long break from the post-season after this, not seeing the playoffs again until 2004. The Flames were looking to close out the Bertuzzi-less Canucks on home ice in game 6, but history struck again in the form of a Brendan Morrison triple OT goal. So it was back to Vancouver for Game 7, where in a single showing of mercy by the hockey gods, Calgary actually won the game in OT. They marched all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, and won game 5 in OT in Tampa Bay to come home with a chance to win the Cup on home ice. But in exchange for this brief repreive of OT disaster that the Flames enjoyed, they would pay dearly.

In perhaps the single most agonizing loss in team history, the Flames had their cup dreams dashed in double OT by Martin St. Louis of the Lightning, a player who was cut loose by the team just four years previous. Calgary couldn't recover and lost the Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay two nights later.

After the lockout, the Flames were back at it in 2006. Many expected them to walk all over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, their first round opponent. They had a chance to take a 3-1 series lead in Game 4, but Sean O'Donnell (5 playoff goals in 65 games) scored in OT to tie up the series. Calgary was shut-out at home in Game 7 a few days later.

And finally we reach the final chapter of a seemingly endless saga. April 22, 2007: Despite being dominated by Detroit in almost every conceivable way, the Flames still found themselves at home for game 6 in OT, with a chance to force a Game 7 back in Detroit. But who was kidding who? An unheralded Swede by the name of Johan Franzen struck for Detroit a few minutes into double OT to send the Flames to the golf course for another year.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Western playoffs

The West should prove to be a battle, with 7 teams earning over 100 points.

#1 Detroit vs #8 Calgary

History: The teams met in 2004, with the Flames upsetting Detroit 4-2 in the West semi-final.

Interesting Fact: You have to go all the way back to 2000 for the last time Detroit lost a playoff series where their opponent had home ice advantage. They've been favoured in every other series loss.

Outlook: Calgary got a great draw in the Red Wings. Despite finishing in first again, nobody will be surprised to see Detroit falter again. They are skilled, but woefully soft. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and the like are great regular season talents, but disappear time and again in the playoffs. Detroit has Hasek this year, but since Calgary has Kiprusoff in net, the goaltending advantage is nullified. The Flames will play the Red Wings physical, and Detroit will only have Chris Chelios and Todd Bertuzzi, who've been known to take a dumb penalty or two, to counter. Until the Wings prove otherwise, they are too soft to win in the playoffs, though I hope I'm wrong in this case.

Prediction: Flames in 6.

#2 Anaheim vs #7 Minnesota

History: The Ducks swept Minnesota in the conference final in 2003.

Interesting Fact: The Wild overcame two 3-1 series defecits in 2003, the only team to do so in the same year.

Outlook: Anaheim was early season favorites, and could certainly still win it all, but they are being discounted by some because Brian Burke failed to make any trade deadline upgrades. Toughness is crucial in the playoffs, and the Ducks have it in abundance, but this crew is a little too lunch-pail for me. If Jacques Lemaire's boys, the #1 dfensive team in the league, can shut down Teemu Selanne and Andy McDonald, the Ducks will be in trouble. Despite employing the trap, the Wild are still able to generate chances on the counter-attack, and Marian Gaborik was a beast with 17 points in 18 games four years ago. This is my big upset pick.

Prediction: Minnesota in 7.

#3 Vancouver vs #6 Dallas

History: The Canucks defeated Dallas in the 1994 Western semi-final.

Interesting Fact: Every regular season game between these two was 2-1 in favour of the home team.

Outlook: Dallas has gassed it early the last two years, while Vancouver has usually done the same thing. Marty Turco is really under the gun to perform well, and even though the Stars are underdogs (although that's debatable in itself), coach Dave Tippett's job could be on the line. The Canucks rely heavily on Roberto Luongo's heroics, and will need him to steal a couple of games for them in they're to advance. Both teams are quite low scoring, but Vancouver has all their eggs in one basket with Markus Naslund and the Sedin's, whereas the Stars' offense is much more spread out. Defensemen Sergei Zubov and Phillippe Boucher are two of Dallas' top point-producers, and it's strange to think your checking line might need to shut-down defensemen. Every year there's one series that should be close, expected to go 7 games, but is over early, and I think this will be the one in 2007.

Prediction: Stars in 5.

#4 Nashville vs #5 San Jose

History: They met last year in round one, with the #4 Preds losing 4-1 to the #5 Sharks.

Interesting Fact: This is the only rematch from last year's playoffs.

Outlook: The Predators are in a tough position. They pretty much have to win this series to save face after making the Forsberg trade and looking like the favorite to win the west for most of the year. But San Jose is very good, well-balanced team that looks like they have what it takes to win the Cup as well. In my opinion these are the two best teams in the conference, but one will be going home early. Nashville will miss Steve Sullivan badly, as he's been injured for two months and there's no clear date for his return. Forsberg is a playoff beast, and he'll have to be again for Nashville to win. Joe Thornton desperately needs a strong showing in order to shake the playoff choker label. This series should be a war of attrition. Whoever loses will have failed to live up to pre-season expectations, and whoever wins could have too much taken out of them to go much further.

Prediction: Nashville in 7.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Leafs suck, Habs suck, Eastern playoffs

Just a week ago, it looked like almost certainly one of Montreal or Toronto would make the playoffs, and if things really went bad, both of them might get it. At that point I probably wouldn't have even bothered to watch the playoffs. But luckily, the New York Islanders came through to save the post-season after all. On Tuesday I went over the remaining league schedule, and figured out that 5 games had to go just right. The odds were long, but there is always hope. The Rangers came through by beating Montreal, 1/5. The Islanders kept the dream alive with a victory over Toronto, 2/5. The took care of more business by beating Philly on Saturday afternoon, 3/5. Things were looking good, but I knew it would likely come down to the evening's contest between Montreal and Toronto. The Leafs had to win to keep New York's hopes alive, and they did so in a wild back-and-forth game, also eliminating Montreal in the process, 4/5. So it all came down to the Islanders at the Devils. The Isles looked headed to the post-season, yet New Jersey somehow tied the game with less than a second remaining. Jubilant leaf fans lept up from Easter dinner to watch an OT and shoot-out that would decide their fate. The teams traded goals in the first round, but Viktor Kozlov gave the Isles the lead with a second round goal. Ryan Smyth had a chance to bury the game, but missed, putting all the pressure on rookie third-stringer Wade Dubielewicz. Dubie delivered with a poke-check save, and with that, the Leafs and Habs were headed to the golf course, 5/5. Crack out the champagne, because them both being out is my Stanley Cup. But there are in fact two months of playoff hockey ahead of us:

#1 Buffalo vs #8 NY Islanders

History: Not much when it comes to the playoffs. These teams last met in 1980.

Interesting Fact: Islanders coach Ted Nolan returns to face the team that fired him 10 years ago.

Outlook: The Isles celebration might be short-lived. Buffalo has a top-notch goaltender and incredible forward depth. The defence is the only possible weakness, but when you can score 6 goals with ease, that shouldn't matter. New York will be riding high, but it would be a big upset. But as we we've been shown the last few years, just get into the playoffs and anything can happen. You can bet that's what Ryan Smyth will be telling the boys in the locker room. Still, the Islanders may be spent after charging hard just to snare eighth place.

Prediction: Buffalo in 5.

#2 New Jersey vs #7 Tampa Bay

History: The Devils defeated Tampa in the 2003 Eastern semi-final.

Interesting Fact: The Devils won the Cup in 2000 after a late-season coaching change.

Outlook: These teams are polar opposites. The Devils are low-scoring and dependant on goalie Martin Brodeur to win games for them. The Lightning have 50-goal scorer Vinnie Lecavalier and former Hart Trophy winner Martin St. Louis, but their goaltending might be the worst of the 16 playoff teams. It's generally safer to bet on good goaltending over high scoring, but I've had the feeling New Jersey was cruising toward an upset for some time now. The coach firing wont save the Devils this time. Tampa Bay will be hungry after winning the Cup and losing early last year.

Prediction: Tampa Bay in 6.

#3 Atlanta vs #6 NY Rangers

History: None to speak of

Interesting Fact: The Thrashers are in the playoffs for the first time ever; New York hasn't won a playoff game since Gretzky and Messier led them in 1997.

Outlook: The Rangers are quietly on a roll heading in, without a lot of fan-fare. The team looks more mature after last year's post-season debacle against the Devils, and Brendan Shanahan's presence cannot be under-estimated. Atlanta is in a similar position to that of the Rangers last year. They struggled down the stretch and almost missed the playoffs entirely, but righted the ship just in time. The concern has to be the fact that they're led by Ilya Kovalchuk, Keith Tkachuk, both selfish individuals, and Marian Hossa, who has a history of choking with Ottawa. Atlanta is more skilled on paper, but the playoffs are a different animal.

Prediction: New York in 6.

#4 Ottawa vs # 5 Pittsburgh

History: They've never met in the playoffs.

Interesting Fact: Will the Ottawa playoff choke show carry on another season?

Outlook: This series has been highly anticipated, given the fact that it has been probable for about a month now. It's the same old story in Ottawa: will guys like Alfredsson, Spezza, Redden, and Heatley come through after great regular seasons? Sidney Crosby is good enough that he'll almost certianly deliver, but it will be interesting to see how other youngsters like Malkin and Staal handle the playoffs. The Penguins were not even expected to make the playoffs, so they've really got no pressure to speak of. Marc-Andre Fleury vs Ray Emery in goal may be the deciding factor in a series that is very tough to call, but you can't help but overlook the inexperience of Pittsburgh's blueline.

Prediction: Ottawa in 7.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Opening Day Part 2

The National League is clearly the weak sister in the major leagues. It's very wide open because a .500 record might be good enough to make the playoffs in one or more divisions.

NL East

This is the only division where there's a clear favorite, that being the NY Mets. New York will be without injured Pedro Martinez for a while to start the season, but the rest of the staff is capable of picking up the slack. A star-studded roster with the likes of David Wright, and Carlos' Delgado and Beltran, the Mets should top the NL.

The Phillies will hope to push the Mets and return to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. They will be without two of their top pitchers to start the season with Freddie Garcia and Jon Leiber both injured, so the hitters, led by MVP Ryan Howard will need to come through early on to keep them in contention.

The Braves should be in the mix as well with pitchers John Smoltz and Tim Hudson leading the way. They missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years last season, but should at least have a chance at getting back to the dance this year.

The Florida Marlins stunned everyone last year by nearly making the playoffs after being pegged to lose over 100 games. They have not made any upgrades, and for some bizarre reason saw fit to fire their manager. They have a solid young duo of Dontrelle Willis and Annibal Sanchez on the mound, but it's doubtful they will over-achieve twice in a row.

The Washington Nationals looked bound for the basement with a no-name pitching rotation for the moment and nobody resembling an all-star out in the field. To top it off, injuries have already hit them fairly hard. The former Expos are definately contenders for the worst team in baseball right now.

AL Central

The Cardinals are coming off an unlikely World Series championship, and few are picking them for a repeat. They will still be favored in the Central with no other teams clearly ahead of them. Chris Carpenter leads the pitching staff, but it gets thin in a hurry after him. Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and Albert Pujols will need big years to keep the Cards in the post-season.

If anybody can unseat the Cardinals, it's likely the Milwaukee Brewers. They boast a solid pitching rotation with Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano, and World Series MVP Jeff Suppan that should be able to win low scoring games. That will have to be the case since the Brew Crew is a little lacking in the hitting department.

The Astros look destined to slip back into mediocrity after losing Andy Pettitte to the Yankees and Roger Clemens to retirement (unless he comes back again in mid season). Still, their staff is good enough to win some ball games, especially with power hitters Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee in the line-up.

The beloved losers of Chicago, the Cubs, come into the season hoping to avoid the distinction of being the first major North American professional sports team to go 100 years without a championship, a record that the Toronto Maple Leafs are still 60 years away from breaking. Derrick Lee and Alfonso Soriano will give them the ability to score runs, but the pitching staff is once again shorthanded due to annual injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. History is in the making here.

The Cincinnati Reds surprised last year by nearly making the playoffs. In the wide-open central it may be possible to do so again, but they will need all hands on deck. Adam Dunn can belt the ball, and a healthy Ken Griffey Jr. would be a nice surprise. Pitchers Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang need to repeat strong seasons of last year.

The Pirates are hoping to avoid extending a horredndous 14-year streak of losing seasons. They will be hard-pressed to do so, but the outlook is a little better than in previous years. Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez will need to repeat strong 2006 campaigns.

NL West

The Dodgers will be favoured ot prevail out west. Their pitching rotation as well as the batting order are both deep, even though they lack star power. Scoring by commitee and consistency from their hurlers could make them into NL pennant contenders.

The Padres have made the playoffs the past two seasons, but they have also been in baseball's weakest division. San Diego will rely heavily on their solid pitching staff, because their batting order isn't inspiring fear into enemy pitchers.

Randy Johnson returns to the desert of Arizona after a largely unsuccesful stint with the Yankees. He will compliment Brandon Webb and Livan Hernandez to form a pitching staff that will give the D-Backs a chance.

The Colorado Rockies might finally have a pitching rotation good enough to bring them back to respecability. Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis will give them a chance to win every time out, so as long as they continue to find offensive at the launch pad that is Coors Field, they could surprise a few people.

In following with the division trend, the San Fransico Giants also boast a deep pitching staff, headlined by free agent Barry Zito. Scoring runs might get a little problematic if oposing pitchers continue to work their way around Barry Bonds, however. Here's hoping that for baseball's sake the Giants flounder and Bonds suffers a career-ending injury.

NL Prediction:

New York, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, St. Louis with the wild card.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


MLB Opening Day

The snow is falling and the temperature is once again sub-zero, so that means it must be time for some

AL East:

The Blue Jays have beefed up again and look to finally make it back to the playoffs. With the addition of Frank Thomas to a line-up that already features Vernon Wells, Troy Glaus, Lyle Overbay, Alex Rios, and Reed Johnson, the Jays should have no trouble scoring runs. The key will be to keep their pitchers healthy. Last year they finished in 2nd place, 10 games back of the Yankees, but top-3 pitchers Roy Halladay, AJ Burnett, and Gustavo Chacin all missed significant time. If those three can stay healthy and pitch effectively, Toronto should be able to contend with New York and Boston for the division crown and a playoff spot.

The Yankees will smash the ball as always, but starting pitching is a question mark. Carl Pavano has missed a year and a half due to injury, while Mike Mussina is starting to get older. Chien-Ming Wang is still somewhat unproven after being New York's top pitcher last season. Still, the Yankees will be the team to beat in the AL East.

Boston will contend as well, but the batting order gets a little thin after David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, especially if free-agent JD Drew gets injured again. Their pitching is solid, but not spectacular with 40+ year old Curt Schilling as the ace. Japanese phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka could be excellent, but is unproven in North America.

In Baltimore, the Orioles have a respectable pitching staff and Miguel Tejada can put up huge offensive numbers, but the line-up might be a little thin to compete with the big three ahead of them.

The hapless Tampa Bay Devil Rays will need everyone to perform up to their capabilities to avoid 100 losses this year. You have to feel sorry for Carl Crawford who is an all-star talent stuck in a horribly run organization.

AL Central:

This division might be the best in baseball, possibly only rivalled by the AL East.

The Detroit Tigers come in as defending AL pennant winners, but might have over-achieved last year. They have great depth in the batting order as there is not a single easy out 1 through 9. The pitching staff is young and powerful. The Tigers should be able to win games 2-1 or 8-7 and they're definately a threat to get back into the playoffs.

Minnesota stoll the Tigers' division title on the final day of last year, but were swept in the playoffs. The Twins will be in tough this year with two pitchers gone. Fransico Liriano will miss the entire season after having surgery last year, and Brad Radke retired. But with Cy Young winner Johan Santana, MVP Justin Morneau, and catcher Joe Mauer all back in the fold the Twins will be a tough opponent.

Chicago missed the playoffs last year after winning the World Series, so they should have renewed hunger. They are a similar team to Detroit with a great balance of hitting and pitching. Hurler Mark Buehrle rebounding from a disappointing 12-13 season will be key for the White Sox.

The Cleveland Indians won 93 games two years ago, but were a big disappointment last year. They will look to return to form, but might be just a step below the aforementioned three teams. DH Travis Hafner can hit home runs with ease, but the Indians are devoid of any other stars in their batting order. They have good enough pitching to win low scoring games, however. But the playoffs might be a stretch in the Central.

Simply put, it sucks to be the KC Royals at this point. They have improved their squad over last season, and the pitching staff could surprise and be effective. But still it seems unlikely that they'll avoid the AL Central basement.

AL West

The West is the most wide open division in the AL heading into the season.

The Angles will compete as always with Vladimir Guererro putting up MVP-type numbers. The strength of the pitching staff might actually lay in the bull-pen. The starters are not as strong as in recent years, but decent enough that the Angels should be able to build leads and turn them over the releivers to nurse home.

Oakland lost another big free agent in Barry Zito, but they always find a way to be competitive. Pitchers Harden, Haren, and Blanton give them the best 1-2-3 punch in the division, while the batting order features a solid depth of players who can score runs by grinding out singles and doubles, even though they lack power.

The Rangers have taken the approach of loading up on long-ball hitters to win high-scoring games for years, and things look the same this year. The pitching staff is not at the level of the Angels or Athletics, but Mark Teixiera, Michael Young, and Hank Blalock will try to make up the difference with home runs. As always, they have a chance, but the all offense and limited pitching strategy has failed them repeatedly, so it could be another year of no playoffs.

The Mariners also have a chance this year. Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson, and Ichiro should score some runs, and their pitching staff doesn't get much credit, but could actually be fairly decent. After a few 90+ win seasons, Seattle has struggled the last few years. Don't expect big things from them, but .500 isn't out of the question.

AL Prediction:

New York, Chicago, Oakland, and Toronto with the wild card.

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