Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sea of Red April 20, 2008

Game Six
Playoff Blog

It might not be the out-of-body experience that it was during the 2004 Stanley Cup final, but the pre-game ceremony is the highlight of the playoffs.

We’ve seen this movie many times before. The Flames elimination hangs in the wind. History has shown the team is either out in the first round or it goes all the way to the final. It’s never in between.

Four minutes in and Flames’ head coach Mike Keenan has gone with three defenseman – Jim Vandermeer seems to be a linemate for RW Jarome Iginla and C Daymond Langkow.

C Jeremy Roenick is absent from the Sharks’ lineup. That will likely not impact the San Jose threat. Coach Ron Wilson says he was resting him for this game so he would be fresh for game seven.

I think C Patrick Marleau plays like a shark – of the Great White variety.

LW Kristian Huselius (who was replaced by Vandermeer on an earlier shift when on the Iginla line) worked hard to get the puck over to RW Owen Nolan at the side of the net to put the Flames ahead 1-0 at 11:33 of the first.

Vandermeer was immediately put back as a forward with C Matthew Lombardi. No doubt Keenan is shaking the trees trying to find every possible angle that works. Keenan says Vandermeer is one of the few NHL players that has the capability to play both defense and forward. He has done it before. He thinks that is testament to the Flames’ depth at forward. “He’s the boss (Keenan),” adds Vandermeer, “and he tinkered a bit. I don’t know if it was me playing forward that got it going a bit.”

D Adrian Aucoin almost gave away the farm when he tripped as he was coming back to the net for the puck. RW Jonathan Cheechoo was inches away from recovering the puck. At the other end, LW Eric Nystrom nearly squeezes through for a breakaway until he is hauled down by LW Patrick Rissmiller, who gives the Flames the first power play of the game at 16:37 for hooking.

Iginla was sooooooooooo close. He got the puck just inches ahead of D Brian Campbell, who hooked and held him as he took the shot, which tricked just wide of the post.

End of first period: 1-0 Calgary; shots on goal – 11 for Calgary, five for San Jose

LW Kristian Huselius gives the Sharks a power play on a trip away from the play at 2:38. Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo hover the doorstep of Miikka Kiprusoff. Not quite.

It kind of makes you wonder if the Flames walked into the rink today KNOWING they were going to win or whether they were hoping they would win.

According to Iginla: “We have a lot of respect for San Jose. Every game has been close. We’re thinking of ourselves and we think we can find a way. Coming into this game, it was strictly about forcing a game seven. Every guy was positive and extremely determined and we need the same, probably even more because we know they’re facing it now, too.”

RW Devin Setoguchi is a noticeable find for the Sharks and has factored well in this series, especially his being on a line with Cheechoo and C Joe Pavelski. He had a reasonable chance about nine minutes into the second. Certainly Owen Nolan has stepped up his game on the Flames’ side. That said, LW Alex Tanguay looks like a ball and chain. This is the first time in the playoffs that Huselius has been a factor, meanwhile Tanguay gets on the score sheet with a hooking penalty at 12:05. The Flames do not need guys like Cheechoo, Marleau, and C Joe Thornton on a power play. Setoguchi has also earned his way into a power play position. Also, Eric Nystrom is turning into a fun player to watch.

Tanguay redeems himself and wins the battle along the boards against D Marc-Edouard Vlasic to get the puck to C Daymond Langkow, who makes no mistake with a minute to go in the third.

End of second period: 2-0 Flames; shots on goal – Calgary eight for a total of 19, San Jose 9 for a total of 14.

Maybe they should put D Dion Phaneuf on forward. He usually has better chances than most of the Flames’ forwards anyway.

RW David Moss’ penalty for hooking at 2:03 with a two-goal lead can’t make Keenan a very happy man.

Flames are called for icing when clearly on the reply it was the Calgary man who touched the puck behind the Sharks’ goal. Although, it was okay for the camera angle, not an angle the official would have seen it at.

Okay, with 11:24 left to go in the third, it’s come down to who wants this more? Yes, it’s still 2-0 for the Flames, but that can change in an awful hurry.

Both LW Ryane Clowe and D Christian Ehrhoff admit they didn’t shoot the puck enough or take enough chances.

The atmosphere in the arena from the fans’ perspective is electric. They seem more hyped for this game six than they were for games two and three.

Wayne Primeau is tripped as he raced in for an attempted shot. Christian Ehrhoff goes off for tripping at 10:35.

Five minutes left and the fans are on their feet cheering. Standing ovation for the Flames regardless of the outcome. The noise meter reads at 112 decibels. This place is going to explode.

The Flames obviously wanted this more. Pulling goalie Evgeni Nabokov for the extra attacker hadn’t changed the momentum.

Mike Keenan’s assessment of the game was, “I was pleased about the effort but I was more pleased about the execution and the attention to detail. Small one-on-one battles for example, or the details along the boards, the board work and particularly our hard fore check, I think that if you look after those details we’re a better team and we perform on a more consistent basis.

“You have to respect their (Marleau, Thornton, Cheechoo) skill and it’s not a secret but the best solution for us is to be able to put them in check and that’s what we tried to do.”

Heading into game seven, to some, it looks like the pressure is on San Jose a bit more, given the fact of where they finished, and that (according to D Robyn Regehr), the team was touted as a potential finalist.

D Brian Campbell comments, “I think home ice advantage doesn’t mean much until you get to game seven. You can’t go out there and expect it to be won. We’ve got it in ourselves.”

When asked about the pressure on his team and if they need to play with more desperation, coach Ron Wilson replies, “Well it’s the seventh game, if you don’t win you’re out. If I have to manufacture desperation we are in dire straits. Our players know what’s at stake. This is a great opportunity. These are the situations that you should enjoy; a seventh game and especially when you get to play at home. So our crowd will be picking us up just as their crowd picked them up. We just have to go out and get the job done, play with a little more passion, a little more aggression and we’ll be fine.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sea of Red April 15, 2008

Sea of Red April 15, 2008
Game 4: San Jose at Calgary
Playoff Blog

Young hockey players line up with Alberta, Flames, and Canadian flags. Harvey slides across to center ice to kick start one of the most impressive pre-game introductions the National Hockey League has to offer. The lights darken, the fans begin its “Go Flames Go” chant, the red glow emanates from the electronic banner circulating the rink -- bouncing off the red jerseys that fill every last seat, save for one or two in most sections. It is something to see.

“It was impressive,” says Curtis Joseph, the star of game three after he took over for Miikka Kiprusoff, who had been pulled after just three minutes. “I had a chance to skate around the warm up (before game three) and take it all in. The Sea of Red is no understatement. It’s pretty impressive.”

Just prior to the opening puck drop, San Jose’s LW tough guy Jody Shelley gives notice to Flames RW Owen Nolan and the two are reprimanded by the officials. The Sharks are fired up with having D Christian Ehrhoff back in the lineup. Coach Ron Wilson believed he would add the extra element they need.

That said, at 3:19 – early in the first, after a couple of back and forth passes back and forth in the faceoff circles, Flames RW Jarome Iginla takes the bite out of the Sharks and banks a goal – letting the shot go as he lost his balance. A rare sight to see Iginla lose his balance, but the fans erupted at the site of the goal lamp. The goal being the club’s second shot on goal. History has shown, as goes Iginla and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, so do the Flames, but it’s early.

Wayne Primeau gives the Sharks its first power play (hooking) at 6:37. It’s unsuccessful.

Guy has a cool sign: I see red people.

Eight thirty-three left in the first and only four Sharks have shots on goal (5 in total), Marc-Edouard Vlasic has two of them.

Four forty-seven left in the period; the Flames only have two shots and are still leading the game.

The play is kind of choppy. The puck is bouncing all over the place, making it hard to keep control, which is probably why the shot count is still only 2-6 Calgary-San Jose with 2:50 left.

Jody Shelley skated by Kiprusoff and ever so casually let his stick trip him up after the play was dead. Shelley gets two for roughing at 17:18. Not sure what that proved but Wilson can’t be very pleased. A bonehead move like that only fires up the opposition.

That’s a wrap for the first. Shots still 2-6.

The Sharks drew the first shot just under a minute into the second. The Flames better get more shots or this game will be over soon. Kiprusoff held the puck after the 10th shot, seemingly to send a message to his team – “stop them in the neutral zone.”

It’s halfway through the second period and the Flames have mustered one more shot. The Sharks big guns are starting to hit the net and now, hooking to Craig Conroy at 9:43. The odds should be in San Jose’s favor.

Pretty hard to live up to the excitement and intensity from Game 3 and so far it hasn’t.

Well, you saw that coming: a power play goal by Ryane Clowe from Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton at 10:56. Thornton worked Aucoin out of the way, which looks like he may have screened Kiprusoff. The shot came from between the circles. Tie game.

Coach Ron Wilson was pleased after the game. “I think Pat Marleau has been our best player by a country mile. He’s skating, competing, leading by example, but Clowe’s a close second. He’ll be our freshest guy. Mentally, he wants to help his teammates so he’s very motivated, and I guess Calgary, with a big physical defense, he can handle anything and then dish out some, too.”

Sadly, at the timeout, a group of drummers received a larger applause than the Flames of late.

Christian Ehrhoff made the score sheet at 12:18 with a hooking penalty. At least the Flames got one shot on goal.

Not good. 4:01 left and the Flames are out shot 16-5 with no offense in sight.

Another thing, this game doesn’t seem anywhere near as physical as game three.

But – none of that matters at the moment. On the seventh shot on goal, Dion Phaneuf takes a one-timer from the face-off and banks it past Evgeni Nabokov at 18:29. Two – one Flames.

Kiprusoff makes a glove save to end the period. Total shots in favor of San Jose: 18-7 and 2-1 Flames.

Into the third, The Flames’ eighth shot seemed to hit the crossbar. Claude Rivet gives the home team a man advantage at 4:41 with a delay of game penalty.

Patrick Marleau is tripped beside the Flames’ net. It’s Craig Conroy’s second penalty of the game at 7:36. Wondering if there is another Shark player, other than Jeremy Roenick, who has faced so much bruising in his career.

The physicality of the game has certainly picked up tenfold.

Marleau tries to squeeze one in beside the lower post, but Kiprusoff’s leg held tight against it.

Calgary on another power play as Torrey Mitchell goes off at 10:18 for high sticking. Flames do pressure. Up to nine shots on goal with only 7:24 left. But Joe Thornton and Marleau are pressing, too. One can feel the tension as the whole building sits on the edge of its seats, fans holding their collective breath Calgary holds the lead. When the Jumbotron says it’s gut check time – not sure if that’s for the team or the fans.

Well, the Sharks answered back to quiet the building. Jonathan Cheechoo from Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi at 15:16.

Thirty-eight seconds to go in the third and still only 10 shots for the Flames. Then after a flurry of activity around the net, Joe Thornton ties up the series with seven seconds left in the game, giving the Sharks the 3-2 win.

“Doug Murray made a great shot and I just happened to get my stick on it. It was a pretty easy shot to take.”

Coach Wilson admits Thornton struggled mightily for two periods. “I thought we played a tremendous game. Here on the road, and a huge game, and everything about you has been questioned, you only give up 10 shots, I can’t ask for anything more. And Joe hung in there and found a way; I’m very proud of him.”

After the game, Mike Keenan wasn’t impressed with his team’s play. “I am sure that the team has to revisit their thinking in terms of offense. We didn’t go to the net nearly often enough, and we certainly didn’t shoot the puck as often as we should. We had five or six close opportunities in the first period where we missed the net completely, but when you have an opportunity to really make it difficult, we carried some play early, and then it was all San Jose after that. They completely outplayed us after we failed to really generate the offensive chances after we scored the first goal. We could have really pushed at that point. We had a couple of good chances, missed the net and then we really didn’t follow the game plan after that.”

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Necks gain momentum in playoff race

With two games left of a somewhat lethargic season, the Calgary Roughnecks once again find themselves in a must-win situation. The challengers are the usual suspects: the Edmonton Rush, to whom the Necks finally took their first win against on Saturday night (April 12). Although, the Rush do have an extra game in hand. It’s also no surprise that Colorado has wrapped up the West Division with San Jose immediately behind. Portland is also amongst the Rush and the Roughnecks, vying for a playoff spot.

Newcomer Josh Sanderson has found his way as a nice setup man, but losing Lewis Ratcliff in exchange (Ratcliff and a conditional 2009 second round pick were sent to Toronto in exchange for Sanderson and a 2008 first round pick) could significantly hamper the scoring punch the Roughnecks desperately need.

Ratcliff’s stats still top the team after two games gone. The next closest scorer is Scott Ranger, who is still six points behind. Radcliff led the Necks with seven hat tricks and is the all-time point leader.

One of the storylines to Saturday’s contest was that Edmonton owner Bruce Urban bought 650 tickets for Rush fans to travel to Calgary to lend their support. His money as good as anyone else’s, Urban actually brought a contingency of about 1,000 people.

Nolan Heavenor – the all heart transitional player who was moved to starting center this year – was rushed off the field with a face injury (seemingly a broken nose) then came back to score back-to-back goals to help cement an 18-7 victory over the Rush.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Iginla Factor

There is some argument as to who is the quintessential “Cam Neely” power forward: Vinny Lecavalier or Jarome Iginla. You could say Lecavalier is more finesse, while Iginla is grit and grind. Cam Neely was both.

They can both fight their own battles. They’re both media darlings. They both have scored enough to challenge for the NHL scoring lead. They both have faced adversity in that their teams have struggled to make the playoffs over the years.

Which player gets the nod depends on which conference you reside in. I happen to reside in the west, so Iginla is my choice on the matter. While it’s doubtful any team would turn down a chance at Lecavalier, if they had a choice, I think Iginla would have the edge due to the extra grit factor.

He might have been an afterthought for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. (He was called in by Wayne Gretzky after the September 2001 evaluation camp had already started.) That was before he took ownership of the 2001-02 NHL season, when he won the Art Ross Trophy as the leading point getter, the Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy for leading goal scorer, and the Lester B. Pearson Award as the Players’ Association most valuable player. He missed out on the league MVP – the Hart Trophy – by an eastern conference media vote.

And still, he faced trade rumors.

In 2003-04, there was no question of Iginla’s leadership. His team traveled the unlikely journey straight to the Stanley Cup final and pushed for a seventh game in the series, only to come out on the short end. He won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership qualities on and off the ice plus humanitarian contribution. He tied Ilya Kovalchuk and Rick Nash for the Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy.

With all this history, it’s hard to believe there was a time when the Calgary Flames’ acquisition of Jarome Iginla had people thinking “bust,” where he didn’t fulfill immediate expectations. He was touted as the next coming of Theoren Fleury when he arrived at the Pengrowth Saddledome in time for the 1995-96 playoffs – the last time the club would see the post-season until 2003-04.

During his tenure thus far, Iginla has gone through seven head coaches, three team presidents, and three general managers. The team traded an icon in Joe Nieuwendyk (along with Corey Millen) to acquire Iginla December 1995, which is likely why he’s faced so much criticism. But you could say they ultimately traded one icon for another.

This season, 2007-08, marks another milestone year for Iginla. He was named captain of the Western Conference All-Star Team, netted 50 goals on the season, and became the franchise all-time goal scoring leader. He received the team’s J. R. McCaig Memorial Award for extolling the virtues of respect, courtesy, and compassion for all individuals he encounters in both his professional and every day life.

With yet another chapter to go to finish the season, there is no doubt Jarome Iginla has proved his worth, and the naysayers have been noticeably silenced.