Category Archives: NHL

The Grandest Of Finales?

First and foremost, I’d like to take the time to congratulate Fan Interference on celebrating its one year anniversary yesterday. Cheers!

Now, all I want for graduation is a Stanley Cup Final that lives up to the hype of the Conference Finals that come before it. In turn, not to be subjected to a similar fate of years past by having a curtain in the form of an anti-climatic close to what the NHL heralds as “a best versus best” series.

With that in mind it may be hard to duplicate the atmosphere of a  Chicago v Los Angeles or a Washington v Montreal match up with a trip to the Cup Final on the line. Considering how often those previous teams play one another. What may not be difficult to request is, having a Final reach a winner takes all game 7. Its been noticeably absent, in fact you have to go back to 2011 when the Boston Bruins went into Vancouver and came out on the other side 4-0 victors.

We, as fans have been robbed of such a luxury in the years between. In 2012, Steve Bernier plastered Kings defensemen Rob Scuderi into the glass, resulting in a major penalty. Los Angeles then bombarded Marty Brodeur on the ensuing 5 minute major on their way to a 6-1, game 6 victory. In 2013 Chicago tallied two goals in 17 seconds crushing Bostons late 3rd period lead in their last ditch effort to force a game 7 in Chicago. In 2015, Chicago yet again doubled down scoring the only two goals against Tampa Bay in game 6 to hoist their 3rd Cup in 5 years. Lastly, 2016 saw the a narrowly focused, much matured Sidney Crosby land his second ring, in a series where San Jose was never out of it but also never truly in it either.

Embed from Getty Images

For a multitude of reasons 2017 has been a year of interesting narratives, putting it lightly. But in terms of hockey, what it could potentially offer is that game 7 that has eluded fans for quite some time. Washington, who easily up to this point has established themselves as the best team in the league, beefed up by trading for Kevin Shattenkirk. Clearly the mentality is to win, now more than ever.

We’ve been teased with the notion that this is Washington’s year many a time in the past. But, with the additions of players like Justin Williams, TJ Oshie, Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and the recently mentioned Kevin Shattenkirk. It be difficult to argue that the road to the Cup, does in fact run through Washington. Much forgotten the years of repeated playoff disappointments which come as early as last years defeat at the hands of Sidney Crosby. Washington has reloaded, beefed up, and have a frightening mental infatuation with putting those less than fortunate seasons behind them, forever.

Embed from Getty Images

Chicago, since the 2008-09 season has established themselves as the poster child of consistency in the NHL. Currently running through their opposition as if they were constructed of wet tissue paper, including their eyebrow raising 4-1 victory Wednesday night over Pittsburgh. Patrick Kane is back to his form which saw him win league MVP last season, while Jonathan Toews has recovered from his mid season slump.

Go down the roster, if you fancy, and attempt to pick out a match up in which your favorite team has the clear cut advantage. Even Bill Belichick would quiver in his boots at the thought of a 7 game series against the NHL’s most formidable playoff foe. Home ice advantage for the Hawks means you best win every game on your home turf, something Chicago doesn’t always let their opposition do.

Chicago has the experience, bar none. With the lethal combination of Kane and Toews.

Washington has the firepower and the confidence to go shot for shot with anyone in the league. Not to mention that Ovechkin and Backstrom go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Washington versus Chicago is the series you didn’t realize you needed in your life until right now. For the Caps they have a charismatic captain desperate for the one piece of hardware needed to complete his star studded resume. For the Hawks, one more Cup would put them in the realm of immortality, along with Gretzky’s Oilers, and Bossy’s Islanders of the 80’s.

Separately the journey to this years Cup Final won’t be easy on either side. Washington will surely see Pittsburgh again, while Chicago will have to take care of Minnesota and Los Angeles. But a hockey nut can dream, right?

Embed from Getty Images

If, by chance these two organizations meet for the right to compete for hockey’s ultimate prize, you best not blink. As for those smiles? Surly they won’t last.

#MakeAmericaHockeyAgain

Advertisements

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Make no mistake, Claude Julien was the best thing the Boston Bruins had going for them in 2017. Over the last decade he was able to take underachieving teams and consistently put them in a position to succeed at a higher level than they were capable of.

However, as of Tuesday, February 7th, Don Sweeney and company decided going in another direction was best for the team over 50 games into the season. Following soul crushing defeats, most recently at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night, it was almost a foregone conclusion that something needed to change.

Embed from Getty Images

That being said, it may come as a welcomed surprise to some that the man who has been single handedly blamed for Peter Chiarelli’s miscalculation of the salary cap and questionable player movement, is gone. But for most, it is normal to feel a sense of emptiness. Being the most winningest coach in franchise history doesn’t come by accident and his decade long helm behind the bench which made him the longest currently tenured coach will not soon be forgotten. Giving the city its first title since 1972 and reinvigorating the passion that only Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque before him were able to create.

With inconsistencies in the playoffs and less than ideal performances come season’s end being the direct source to the decision that was made. Claude Julien may be a lot of things, but he is not a bad coach. Granted his reluctance to adapt to an evolving game at times was inductive to ripping your own hair out, but I digress.

Anyone can be successful with the right players in the right environment, but Julien never had complete control of player movement, and salary designation. Internally, the discourse between management and coach became more than apparent over the last year or so. And for better or worse as they say, a decision had to be made and a difficult one at the very least. With Cam Neely noticeably absent from the press conference held Tuesday morning, it has become outrageously obvious that the glaring issues with the organization weren’t just the coach.

Embed from Getty Images

Filling in the now vacant position is Bruce Cassidy. The 51 year old played professionally for the Chicago Blackhawks and more recently was named as Julien’s assistant entering this season. Cassidy commented that the promotion has felt like anything but, considering it has come at the demise of a friend. Now it should be noted that the promotion is on an interim basis, which more probably than not means yet another change at head coach may loom on the horizon. Through 55 games this season the Bruins have managed to keep themselves in playoff contention in a less competitive Atlantic Division. Sitting 26-23-6 places them 4th in that respective division, now only the top three teams per division make the playoffs with the possibility to qualify for two wild card spots.    

Personally I take issue with how management handled the removal of Claude Julien from the organization. Waiting until the Patriots championship parade to make the formal announcement, in what I can only imagine was a lackluster attempt to take attention away from the severity of the situation. On the other side, perhaps it was an attempt to allow Cassidy some practice time to prep his team for San Jose Thursday night. Whatever the reason Cam Neely, the president of hockey operations not even making a public appearance at said conference is laughable at best. Leaving Don Sweeney to deal with the press alone. It felt like a major disrespect to a man whom the bulk of the players had nothing but the utmost respect for. A man who for all his flaws, and there were quite a few, managed to keep himself in the discussion as one of the league’s elites.

hehehhaahhahahho

Claude Julien’s era is over in Boston and for what it’s worth he deserves to go out with respect and a sense of decency. Not with the covers thrown over his head and kicked out the back door. It doesn’t feel professional, nor does it seem like something that one of the NHL’s most sought after franchises should be doing. Don’t shed too many tears for dear old Claude. The 56 year old now free agent coach has more than enough experience to take a bubble team and make mold them into a contender. With Boston in 2007 as a prime example of just that. Winnipeg, St. Louis, Florida and now Las Vegas have all been rumored to be in the market for a new coach. Also don’t rule out a return to Montreal or even New Jersey, the teams he manned prior to Boston.

Au revoir monsieur Julien, I look forward to seeing you behind a bench in no time at all.

Same Song And Dance

Leading up to NBCSN’s broadcast of Wednesday Night Rivalry, the Boston Bruins had won three games in a row. Which when you consider how the regular season has gone up to that point was impressive. The level of inconsistency seen from the Bruins had left even the most die hard fans deflated. And the Capitals resembled an admirable opponent to go through to get their 4th win in a row.

Washington embodies the polar opposite when it comes to consistency. One of the leagues hottest teams, faces a team that still needed to find its identity. Going off that point even further, Boston only has two players to reach the 20 goal mark so far this season. In fact, they only have five players with goals in the double digits.

Embed from Getty Images

Washington has 8 players who have scored at least 10 goals so far this season with Alex Ovechkin leading the way with 25. Furthering my point on the differentiating seasons.

Waking up Thursday, following the 5-3 loss to the Capitals, the Bruins clutched to the final playoff spot in the Atlantic for dear life. Having learned nothing new about the team that has spent a significant portion of the season soul searching.

Embed from Getty Images

Brad Marchand remained Boston’s hottest scorer, but one player can’t win you a hockey game. Along with Marchand’s two goals, David Krejci also got his name on the score sheet while David Pastrnak chipped in with three helpers. Which is all well and good, but it continues to prove a point, which is Boston lacks significantly with depth scoring.

The expectation going into the season is that your top six forwards will manufacture the bulk of your offense. While your bottom six forwards contribute sparingly along the way. Outside of those top six forwards, Boston’s next highest goal scorer is their 4th line center, 36 year old Dominic Moore.

Players such as Riley Nash and Matt Beleskey were brought in to be very productive third line players with the potential to crack the second line. Both of which to this point have not lived up to the expectation.

Now more than ever, the Bruins need those who play in the latter half of the lineup to get involved offensively. Especially with Brandon Carlo, Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask being banged up across the last two games.

If Boston is going to hold on to the playoff spot they currently possess, a move must be made at the deadline. A deal with more magnitude than swapping a 3rd round pick for a bottom six defense  man such as Wade Redden, or another aging veteran who’s best offensive days are well behind him like Brian Rolston.

 

 

Top 4 League All-Star Weekends

Ah, the All-Star games. While nobody is ever lining up outside a bar to get in and watch the All-Star game, it provides for a somewhat entertaining event. The constant battle between fans wanting athletes to take it seriously while also wanting six Hail Mary touchdowns in one quarter makes for an impossible scenario in which to enjoy the game.

One of the issues with these games is the leagues’ inability to pin down exactly what fans want to see. It seems like every year, they switch up the formula to try and get people to pay attention, just to confuse casual fans with a bunch of nonsense.

Some leagues do it better than others, but all four need some work. Here’s the big four U.S. sports leagues’ All-Star Weekend festivities, based on entertainment value:

  1. NFL Pro Bowl

The NFL Pro Bowl has never been known for holding anyone on the edge of their seat. For years, fans have complained that there is no defense, no competitive spirit and no effort. On top of that, many of the NFL’s actual pro-bowlers end up rejecting the offer to play in the game. Back in 2013, the league tried to spice things up by allowing former NFL stars to draft their own teams. This continued for several seasons, but in 2016 they reverted back to the traditional AFC v. NFC format. This year, the teams actually played some defense, and it still wasn’t that interesting. The AFC won 20-13, with Travis Kelce winning the MVP.

For the first time, however, the Pro Bowl wasn’t the only event of the weekend. This season, the NFL added on a Pro Bowl Skills Challenge. While it didn’t offer quite the same excitement that the NBA Slam Dunk Contest or Three Point Contest provide, the NFL may have something worth keeping around a few more years to see if it catches on. Any time you can get grown men to compete against each other catching footballs from a drone, it might be worth another look.

It seems odd that the most popular sports league in America has one of the least interesting “All-Star” events, but with the popularity of the NFL, the ceiling is very high if they can find something to latch on to.

  1. NHL All-Star Weekend

The NHL All-Star Weekend is probably the weirdest out of all four major sports. Instead of one game, the NHL plays three 20-minute games in a 3-on-3 elimination tournament, with a semi-final and final round occurring after elimination play. In addition to this, the NHL has a skills challenge similar to the NBA.

After John Scott in 2016, the NHL was fighting an uphill battle if they were trying to increase popularity with their All-Star Game. The bizarre concept that an unknown enforcer from the Phoenix Coyotes could get voted in, win the MVP and actually play well baffled minds everywhere, and made a lot of headlines in the process.

This year, there were several interesting storylines. A few days before the weekend was set to get underway, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella told the Colombus Dispatch that he had a family matter to attend to and would not be able to coach the Metropolitan Division. In his place, Wayne Gretzky stepped in. Gretzky’s last official coaching experience came from 2005-09, when he was head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes for four seasons.

However, the real talent here was Ilya Bryzgalov. For those unfamiliar with him, he’s the one who brought us this gem:

Also, the dude has some deep thoughts on everything from the universe to Russian booze, as we see in this clip from Episode 1 of HBO’s 24/7 Flyers v. Rangers from the 2012 NHL Winter Classic:

This year, they let him be a guest reporter for All-Star weekend, and the results were exactly what you might expect:

And of course, he asks the universally unknown question: is a hot dog a sandwich?

  1. MLB All-Star Weekend

The MLB is the only league to put a real stake in their All-Star game, and they usually end up being pretty damn interesting. In recent years, the retirements of Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz have given the All-Star Game more attention, and the Home Run Derby almost always delivers on our expectations.

The Home Run Derby has given us plenty of action the past few years, with Yoenis Cespedes going back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, and Todd Frazier and Giancarlo Stanton followed up the following years.

The MLB also has the advantage of holding their All-Star festivities in July, the worst month for sports. Because of this, it’s one of the only interesting things going on all month, and it looks a lot better.

  1. NBA All-Star Weekend

The NBA does a great job promoting All-Star Weekend, and despite the lack of stars in the Slam Dunk Contest, it almost always ends up being a great show. Plus, there was that time last year that Kevin Hart accidentally beat Draymond Green in a 3-point contest.

Hopefully we get the same great theater this year. The league has been using #NBAVote to allow fans to have a say this year, but now players also can chime in. Some players have been campaigning with fans in order to secure a nomination, while others don’t seem to care as much.

The Three-Point Shootout will be interesting this year as well- Steph Curry won in 2015, while teammate Klay Thompson took the crown the following year. Who knows, maybe KD will take it now? NBA All-Star Weekend is only a couple weeks away, and while nobody is really out here getting pumped up for an All-Star game, let’s just hope it will at least be.. mildly entertaining.

What you might have missed?

The past weekend has been crazy. Rumors are swirling in the NBA, Super Bowl Media week started, two tennis legends are back on the mountain top, and the NHL and NFL all star game ensued.

NBA

BASKET-GBR-USA-NBA-MILWAUKEE-NY : News Photo

Rumors continue to swirl about Carmelo Anthony, but just how true are they? Well…unfortunately, for Anthony, it looked like his stock is way down and the Knicks are looking to get rid of him for next to nothing for the caliber of player he is. The Clippers, Celtics, and Cavaliers have been linked as potential suitors for Melo. The Celtics have come out and said they weren’t interested, but they might be interested in being the third team  in a deal to help the Knicks and Clippers complete a trade. The stumbling Cavs are likely out as well as the combination of Lebron, Kyrie, and Melo would probably sour in Cleveland very quickly.

Chicago Bulls - Miami Heat : News Photo

The rumor mill is also firing up with Jimmy Butler’s name in the center of it. Rajon Rondo’s comments about the Bulls on his Instagram page didn’t go unnoticed. Tempers are flaring and what was thought to be a contender in the East, has fallen a long way off. NBA analysts have talked about the Bulls calling the Celtics in regards to a trade between the two teams involving Butler.

NHL

2017 Honda NHL All-Star Tournament Final - Pacific vs. Metropolitan : News Photo

The NHL All star skills competition and game took place this weekend in Los Angeles. The Atlantic came out on top in the skills competition with 9 points, but the highlight of the night was when Ryan Kesler’s son took part in the final shootout competition. Kesler’s son took the puck down the ice and dangled Montreal goalie Carey Price and slid the puck 5-hole, then followed it with an even better celebration.

The All Star game took place Sunday afternoon in the new 3v3 format. The Metropolitan division took the crown with a 10-6 victory against the Atlantic, with Wayne Simmonds getting the MVP award.

Tennis

Embed from Getty Images

 

Roger Federer and Serena Williams made history this weekend in Australia taking home the men’s and women’s title in the Austalian open, the first major championship of the year.

Roger won his 5th Aussie open title and 18th major championship overall, the most in the open era. Federer took on his longtime rival Rafael Nadal and took him down in an epic 5 set match.

Embed from Getty Images

Serena Williams cruised through the competition winning her 7th Aussie Open title and her 23rd major championship overall, a record in the open era. Williams took on her sister Venus for the first time in a final since 2009. Serena coasted to a 6-4, 6-4 victory.

NFL

Pro Bowl : News Photo

The NFL held their first skills competition since the mid 2000’s and it was an extreme waste of time. If you didn’t watch it, you did not miss out. The Pro Bowl however was a much more entertaining game with the AFC edging out a victory 20-13. It was a rare defensive battle where there was multiple turnovers and somewhat entertaining football, something we have not seen a lot from in past Pro Bowls.

NFL: JAN 30 Super Bowl Opening Night - Patriots : News Photo

On top of the Pro Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots made their way to Houston. Media week is under way and the rest of our NFL coverage including predictions will be posted later this week so be on the look out!

Broadcasting Beauties on NBC

Canada has “Hockey Night In Canada”and the United States has “NHL on NBC”. When it comes to sheer games being broadcast over the course of a season, Hockey Night is clearly the victor.

With that being said, hockey fans in America have been the beneficiary of some fantastic games this past week. That is if they happened to tune in.

While Jared Spurgeon may not be unanimously considered to be within the top 100 goal scorers in the league, he absolutely dazzled the fans with this insane hand-eye coordinated thing of beauty.

My goodness, perhaps the Twins ought to give this guy a call to add some depth to their batting order.

Alex Ovechkin is no stranger to grand stage theatrics. The “Great 8” has been notorious for getting fans out of their seats and into the action right away. With a matchup last Wednesday against bitter rival Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, sparks were sure to fly. Especially when a specific milestone was within reach for my generations most lethal goal scorer.

Just 35 seconds into the game, Ovechkin’s toe drag-roof job set the tone for the rest of the night as the Caps cruised to a 5-2 victory. His early tally was his 1,000 NHL point. At just 31 years old and no prior injury concerns, Ovechkin has the opportunity to conjure up some instant magic.

Just 5 nights later, Crosby and Ovechkin would exchange pleasantries again. This time in Pittsburgh. The Caps leaped to a 3-0 lead early in the second, but the lead didn’t last as the Penguins riffled 6 straight goals before the start of the third period. Remarkably, the scoring didn’t end there for either side. As the Caps would tie the game at 7 late in regulation, only for the Penguins to take the decisive second point in overtime.

Your final score, 8-7.

When two original 6 teams face off against one another, it’s often must watch television. In the case of the Bruins vs. Red Wings game this past Wednesday, I’d certainly have to agree. Following an embarrassing defeat at the hand of the anemic Islanders, the Bruins looked for a confidence building team victory in Detroit. Boston’s young guns shinned early as Frank Vatrano nailed two goals and Brandon Carlo’s missile saw the Bruins up three goals on Detroit. An answer from Dylan Larkin cut Boston’s titanic lead to just two. Shortly there after, Patrice Bergeron’s deflection put the Bruins back up by three.

While three unanswered goals by Detroit would tie the game at 4 a piece, McQuiad and Nyquist would each score for their respective teams to force overtime. 5 pulse pounding minutes later, a shootout would decide who would possess the all important second point in the standings.

Detroit sent the hometown fans off with an excellent group victory. For Boston they continue to lick their wounds and search for an answer to their struggles. Emerging discussions about the future dealings of the head coach are once again at the forefront. With time being the only indicator of what course of action will be followed through on, a win against Chicago could prolong the process.

Embed from Getty Images

While it may be old news now, the Montreal Canadiens got smoked by the Minnesota Wild last Thursday, 7-1. I’ll admit, entering this season there were some questions I had in regards to their locker room chemistry. Those concerns were quickly squandered. Montreal looked like the real deal for a significant portion of this season. Attribute it to the lingering affects from the World Cup of Hockey or the pressures of playing in Montreal. But Carey Price has looked aside himself this past month. Granted Montreal currently is in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic, you need to play your best hockey at this juncture of the season. Expect Montreal to make it to the spring tournament, and be a nightmare matchup for whatever team they get in round one.

Embed from Getty Images

On the other hand, aside from filling the net against Montreal, Minnesota has also been filling in the win column. Playing arguably their best hockey since becoming a professional team. Since acquiring Parise and Suter in the same offseason, Minnesota has had their eye on a Cup. With the changes that have been made to tweak the roster in the last 365 days, that dream is looking attainable.

 

New faces in familar places

Doc Emerick once said, “it’s often the third and fourth line guys”. In terms of cultivating a championship caliber team, the latter portion of your lineup often is the most important. That being said, finding the proper components is easier said than done.

In the case of the Boston Bruins, since their 2013 run at the Cup, finding those players has proven to be difficult. Recently that trend initially appears to be changing. In fact they didn’t have to go very far geographically to find them.

Both Frank Vatrano and Tim Schaller went undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts and Providence College respectively. Vatrano signed a deal with the Bruins entering 2015-16 after a strong training camp, but was assigned to the AHL affiliate Providence. From there, he was nearly a goal per game player. The East Longmeadow Massachusetts native possesses the skating ability and heavy snap shot to compete at the NHL level with ease. While short in stature, there is no lack of heart when it comes to “Frank the Tank“. Off season surgery sidelined him for the bulk of the early portion of the 2016-17 season, but since his return, he’s added another scoring threat on the power play. Also, allowing head coach Claude Julien some flexibility with his line mixing in game.

Embed from Getty Images

Merrimack, New Hampshire product Tim Schaller may have raised some eye brows when he chose the Friars rather than committing to his hometown team. In four seasons at Providence, Schaller’s most productive season came in his last as a Friar tallying 23 points. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, it was enough to be signed by Buffalo. In three seasons between the Sabres and the Rochester Americans, he was far more effective at the AHL level than the NHL.

Unlike Vatrano, Schaller didn’t impress the brass with his first shot at professional hockey. So, when the Bruins signed the free agent this past off season, not a whole lot was expected of him. Especially when you consider it was only a one year deal. Regardless of the logistics, to the contract one thing is for certain, Schaller has made the best of his second shot at the NHL.

Embed from Getty Images

Since being a relatively obvious choice to crack the opening night lineup, he’s posed as another cog to allow Julien some breathing room with his lineup. You don’t have to ask twice when it comes to Tim as he’ll most likely do what he’s asked of. He’s fought, gone to the dirty areas on the power play, and most notibly shown chemistry with the Bruin’s top offensive weapons.

Boston currently owns the second playoff spot in the Atlantic, with absolutely no cushion separating them from just about everyone else below them in their division. At this point of the season, every team has its laundry list of injuries, as points reach its highest premium. It’s the players like Vatrano and Schaller that need to shine brightest in order to solidify Boston’s appearance in the playoffs.

On the edge of missing the playoffs for an unprecedented third season in a row, it’s all hands on deck for Boston. Collecting 6 out of a possible 8 points on the road in four games, it’ll be a mad scramble to the finish line. With the injuries suffered to key players on the four game road trip, the previously mentioned players may be leaned on more than ever.