HNIC Star Selector - Conference Finals - Game 7 Preview - Bruins vs Lightning

Loyal reader, I have been given a gift much like Johnny Smith in the DeadZone.  I recently put my hands on Bruins jersey and could see the potential Bruins future of this game, likewise with a Lightning jersey.  I share my visions with you...

Bruins Jersey... 

The Bruins will get an early jump with a 1st period even strength goal compliments of David Krejci around the 5 minutes mark.  My crystal jersey sees the Lightning defence unable to handle a savage fore check coughing up the puck in the high slot to Krejci who rips a high glove slapper past Dwayne Roloson.   Steve Downie, will follow this up a few minutes later by taking an undisciplined tripping penalty, upending Brad Marchand in the neutral zone and then compounding the issue with an extra 2 minutes for roughing up Zdeno Chara.  Tyler Seguin will capitalize by tipping in a Tomas Kaberle point shot (yes he will actually shoot the puck) to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead heading into the intermission.   

The 2nd period will be dominated by the goalies.  Tim Thomas' 12 period saves will be highlighted a pad stacking, highway robbery, partial breakaway stop on Martin St. Louis.   Dwayne Roloson's quick glove hand will keep his team in the game by denying a Nathan Horton's point blank one timer and keeping the score to a reachable 2 goal margin.

Not looking to sit on the lead the Bruins fore check forces a brutal give away by Viktor Hedman, allowing Michael Ryder to bury a quick wrister over Roloson right shoulder extending the lead to 3-0.  The Lightning answer right back on the power play, with Martin St. Louis sneaking a puck out of a scramble and roofing a backhander past Thomas. 3-1 Bruins.  The rest of the 3rd settles into the Bruins D shutting the door on the Lightning attack stacking the blue line with 4 wide.  The Lightning get their shot at getting back into the game on a power play with 6 minutes left, but all 5 shots are rejected dashing any hopes of a come back.  The Bruins advance to the finals with a 3-1 victory.  


Lightning Jersey...

The Lightning needing to take the crowd out of the game early come out pressing generating two solid scoring chances but are not able to bury anything.  Their best chance, a breakaway from Steven Stamkos is easily turned aside by Tim Thomas.  Tampa carries the majority of play but only lead the shot category (11-4) at the end of the first period.

Martin St. Louis capitalizes on a Brad Marchand's early second period hooking penalty on Teddy Purcell staking the Lightning to a 1-0 lead.  The Lightning strike again 1:40 later when Simon Gagne steals the puck on the low boards from Denis Seidenberg, takes two quick strides and slides one under Thomas for the 2-0 lead.  Five minutes later, the Bruins benefit from an icing call creating a long series in the Lightning end against a very tired group of Bolt players.  A cycled puck lands on the stick of hard shooting Zdeno Chara and his one time blast puts the Bruins back into the contest.  A massive Nathan Horton hit separates Eric Brewer from the puck allowing a rushing Tomas Kaberle to slap home the game tying goal with 3:30 left in the 2nd.

The 3rd period is loaded with drama and excitement.  The Lightning get things started with a down low rebound power play goal. Tim Thomas' initial point shot save finds its way on St. Louis stick who promptly sets up Teddy Purcell in front giving the Lightning a 3-2 advantage.  The Bruins shoot themselves in the foot giving up another power play after Milan Lucic receives 2 minutes for roughing on Downie.  The Lightning wasting no time, score on a fully screened Tim Thomas by a point shot from Bergeron.  With 11 minutes remaining Boston gets one goal back benefiting from a valiant Tyler Seguin effort.  Streaking through the middle, the rookie forward undresses both Lightning defenders and roofs it over Roloson for a 4-3 score.  But, this as close as the Bruins will get, as St. Louis  will gain control of the puck in the Lightning zone, muscle his way down the ice and seal things with an empty netter.  The Lightning's 5-3 win advances to the team to the Stanley Cup final.

Now that you know the future, Star Selector should be a breeze.  Pick the goal scorers and off you go!

HNIC Star Selector - Conference Finals - Game 6 - Bruins vs Lightning

Dear Vegas, thank you for the foggy memories.  Dear Blog faithful, sorry for the few game lapse...

Here we are at Game 6 and I have to sit and ponder... The Bruins are up 3-2?  Seriously?  Let's do a quick series recap.   Game 1 the Lightning looked totally in control and game 2 was heading in the exact same direction until Tampa collapsed. Tim Thomas posted a shut out in game 3 then stole game 5 with Mike Smith unexpectedly winning game 4.

But what has happened?

First, Tyler Seguin is reassuring the Bruin faithful that they are SET for the foreseeable future.  He has 6 points in 5 games despite averaging only 12 minutes of ice per night.  His unexpected production has forced the Lightning to readjust their game plan which is opening up space for Lucic and Horton to score more points.  Game 5 exemplified the 'Seguin' impact as the youngster was held off the score sheet but the big guns made key contributions.

Secondly, Dwayne Roloson has fallen back to earth a little.  I hesitate to say crashed because, as my Dad always said there are 5 mistakes before the puck get's to the goalie, but for every game Rolly has stolen in the first two rounds he has given back in the Conference Finals.  The team as a whole has loosened up and lost a little of their physical swagger but some pucks that are getting to the net should be turned aside.  His GAA has gone up .50 points due to this series alone, going from 2.01 to 2.51.

Finally Tim Thomas has decided to get serious and show why he dominated the Flyers in round 2.  Game 3 = shutout, Game 5 = one goal highlighted by one unbelievable stick save.  In every game he has faced more than 30 shots and has all 11 of the Bruins wins.  If Thomas stays focused and really keeps his angles along with not drifting to the shooters low on the sides, he will dominate once again.

I do see this series going 7 with the Bruins finishing off the Lightning at home but this game will be very physical and not short on beauty goals.

Star Select it Yo!  I had some solid picks ( Shout out to Keesje on
his killa picks too ) last week, make these my shoe ins of the week;

Michael Ryder - has been solid all playoffs and will continue to excel in game 6.
Martin St Louis - home game, conference finals, 2 goals, captain, werd
Tyler Seguin - always ride a winner and with the Lightning still focusing on Lucic causing the Segway to shine.
Eric Brewer - not sure why i feel this pick but i do, will be good for 2 points and some sort of tongue swallowing hit.
Simon Gagne - Like a silent assassin, he waits for times to kill, this game he shows up big time.

HNIC Star Selector - Conference Finals - Game 5 - Canucks vs Sharks

  Where should I start with this one?  Should I begin with discussing how Vancouver is one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Finals?  I could write about how the majority of EA Sports NHL Hockey on line gaming community (let alone 95% of active players) do not have necessary skill set to mimic Hank Sedin's pass on the fourth Canuck goal Sunday night.  Or that Ryan Clowe should put forth more energy on the ice than he has in either the post game news conference or post whistle scrums?  All are decent topics worthy of article's unto themselves but given that this is our first post since game 2, I am going to use this forum instead to detail some of my thoughts about this series to date.

1.  Vancouver's scouting staff has played an intricate role in this years Stanley Cup run.   The Canucks have a tremendous amount of depth especially on the blue line and haven't missed a beat when losing starters Christian Erhoff and Aaron Rome.   Trade deadline acquisitions Chris Higgins (3 game winning goals) and Maxim Lapierre (second in hits with 58) have been extremely effective for the Canucks and minimized the impact of Manny Malholtra's season ending eye injury.

2.  Don't look now but Henrik Sedin is quietly leading the post season scoring race and his play has steadily improved this series.  I wonder how much this has to do with not matching up against the Keith/Seabrook or Weber/Shuter shutdown parings?

3.  There have been far too many power plays in the last two games which is taking away from this series flow and speed.

4.  San Jose can blame their special teams for losing this series especially game 4.  In a must win game, on home ice, you have to capitalize on any power play opportunities and going 0-5 to start the contest is totally unacceptable.

5.  Raffi Torres is extremely effective when he plays on the edge and he has been a physical force this series.  Great playoff beard as well!!

6.  Joe Thornton has erased any doubt about his ability to perform under pressure and has been far and away San Jose's best player.  He will play hurt tonight and my call is that he plays his heart out.  The same can't be said for Dany Heatley.  Heatley has been invisible this entire series mustering a measly one assist and 8 shots.

7.  I prefer the green men to the Vancouver flasher (it is a family show after all) but I do think that the spandex duo needs to start hitting a treadmill.  The playoffs is a haul and you can see the impact on their physique with each passing round.

8.  True Canuck fans could care a less that the rest of Canada isn't jumping on their bandwagon.

9.  Ryan Kesler wants you to play NHL 2K11.

10.  My Star Selector starting five tonight:  Henrik & Daniel Sedin, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler and Patrick Marleau.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your Star Selector picks tonight oh and yes if you can't already tell Vancouver will close out this series tonight.  I'm calling for a 5 - 2 win!

HNIC Star Selector - Conference Finals - Canucks vs Sharks

It will be a completely different looking San Jose Shark team tonight when the puck drops for Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.  With an extra day of rest, some much needed preparation time, and a very effective up tempo practice yesterday San Jose is in a much better position to compete against the top seeded Vancouver Canucks.  San Jose appeared to run out of steam during the third period in their game 1 loss which isn't a surprise considering their tough seven game series against Detroit.  Given the importance of tonight's contest expect a very physical, emotionally charged effort led by centre, and best player, Joe Thornton.

Historically, game 2 has been Vancouver's playoffs Achilles heal.  Dating back to the 2002-03 season the Canucks have posted an underwhelming 4 - 7 game 2 series record including this years second round loss to Nashville.  Vancouver has the opportunity tonight to grab a stranglehold on the Western Conference Final and I expect them to play with a tremendous amount of energy and poise.  A key match up advantage for the Canucks comes from the lack of shut down defensemen on the San Jose roster and coincidentally the Sedin twins played their most effective playoff contests to date when not competing against the tandems of Seabrook & Keith or Weber & Suter.  Look for the back to back Art Ross trophy winning brothers to lead the Vancouver offensive attack.

Star Selector's should however look to load up with San Jose Sharks for the first period.  This isn't to suggest that I think the Sharks are going to win tonight (my call by the way is a 4 - 2 Vancouver) but rather my inclination that they will look to quiet the Rogers Centre Crowd with an aggressive first period effort.  Strategically, I would consider starting Roberto Luongo given the amount of shots I think he will face in the opening frame as well as adding a couple of multi star selector point producing players (those that do more than score points through goals and assists) to compliment Joe Thornton, my captain pick for tonight's game.  If and when Vancouver survives the first period adjust your roster accordingly by adding Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

Star Selector Starting Five:
Joe Thornton - Captain
Roberto Luongo
Ryan Clowe
Dan Boyle
Devin Setoguchi

Thanks for reading and I look forward to competing against you on Star Selector tonight!

HNIC Star Selector - Conference Finals - Game 2 - Bruins vs Lightning

Tampa Bay is for real... Not sure if you are still in denial like me, but they are FOR REAL.  They played the Penguins very tough coming back from a 3 - 1 deficit to win the series, they STEAMROLLED the Caps with a 4 game sweep, and in game one of the Conference Final turned the Bruins into a speedbump rather than a wall.

Look at the 3 Stars for the game last week. Dwayne Roloson, Brett Clark and Domenic Moore, uh WHO?  You look at this list and think they will crash to earth soon enough.  Well, I have to tell you Bruins fans, you better get nervous and FAST!  The Caps thought the same way and whoops, they are playing Bocce Ball for the rest of the summer.  As we are quickly learning in these playoffs, the Lightning are deep and can hurt you from any angle.  Whether it is Eric Brewer shutting down the top line, or Sean Bergenheim lighting the lamp, and while you are line matching against Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis... Steve Downie, Brett Clark and Steven Stamkos are sending you packing.  The Bruins need to start dominating the boards and winning the tough battles cause the confidence level for the Lightning is through the roof.

Star Selector for Game 2 looks like this for me.

1) If Tyler Seguin is in the line up, play him, especially in the 1st period.  He is the only chance on the PP and had lots of jump in game 1.
2) Sean Bergenheim is a must start, could be a captain... He has 8 goals so far and is playing against the weaker Bruin defensive pairing.
3) Nathan Horton is too good to be off the score sheet for long, start him and if you are feeling Bruins yellow tonight, captain him
4) Dwayne Roloson's GAA is 2.01, holy crap!  That is worth a look and a start.  The Bruins are weak on the PP so it will be mainly even strength chances which means lots of shots from the outside, great for a goalie who has superior angles coverage.
5) Martin St. Louis is a must start in the game in my opinion, he has not been silent, but he has not dominated.  Having to play against Zdeno Chara does not help but I see him getting 2 points tonight, a goal and a helper.

Best of luck, and we hope you can come play on http://hnic.starselector.cbc.ca.

HNIC Star Selector - Conference Finals - Game 1 Preview - Canucks vs Sharks

One Western Conference Final pre-series article dubbed this match up as the battle of the psyches insinuating that the Canucks and Sharks history of playoff collapses would somehow play into prominence over the course of the next seven games.  While no one can debate both franchise's have suffered through their fare share of stinging playoff defeats there is an argument to be made here that each organization has made a significant culture shift during the first two rounds of this years Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Both have rebounded from blowing a 3-0 series lead by winning game 7 against formable competition.  For Vancouver, defeating Chicago represents a playoff hurdle that Roberto Luongo equated to Team Canada's Gold medal victory during the 2010 Winter Olympics while in defeating Detroit San Jose finally rewarded the Shark tank faithful with a clutch performance in a must win atmosphere.  With all due respect to the Eastern Conference Finalists this series match up represents the most difficult opponent for each franchise in their Stanley Cup aspirations.  

Here are a few reasons why:

1. Vancouver and San Jose finished 1 - 2 respectively in the tough Western Conference regular season standings.
2. Strong home ice play.  The Canucks posted a 27-9-5 home record while San Jose wasn't too far behind at 25-11-5.
3. Deep down the middle.  Both have elite level centres highlighted by the much anticipated Joe Thornton versus Ryan Kesler match up.
4. Balanced scoring.  Coaches Todd McLellan and Alain Vigneault each enjoy the luxury of scoring beyond their first two lines.

From a Star Selector perspective this series is an InGamer's dream as there is a plethora of talent to choose from.  My best advice to you is stay engaged and do not fall in love with the same five players as there will be plenty of momentum shifts throughout the course of this series.  So let's beak down some player selections with the help of some 'Jaws' characters and quotes.

Quint, "This Shark, swallow you whole."
Much like the great white in Jaws there are a few stars that have emerged through the first two rounds that can strike instant fear into the opposition.  Vancouver's Ryan Kesler is the first to come to mind.  Not only is he the leading playoff scorer but by dominating the face-off circle and playing physical he scores you star selector points almost every time he steps on the ice.  Joe Thornton is playing a very similar style for San Jose and is playing his career best playoff hockey leading the Sharks to the Western Conference Finals.

Mayor Vaughn, "Fellows, let's be reasonable, huh? This is not the time or the place to perform some kind of a half-assed autopsy on a fish."
It is easy to get caught up in stat lines and start questioning whether or not to  include Daniel & Henrik Sedin, Dany Heatley or Patrick Marleau in your starting lineup.  Granted the aforementioned list of stars under performed during the first two rounds of this years playoffs but each has had a few days to refocus and prepare.  Keep in mind that everyone from this group sees a tremendous amount of power play minutes and all are way too talented not to elevate their respective game.  

Brody: "You're gonna need a bigger boat."
All right so this quote is a little bit of a stretch but come on I can't recite famous Jaws lines without including Brody's famous observation.  So in this spirit, I give some other players that must be considered for your starting five.  Goalies, Roberto Luongo & Antti Niemi, are both solid choices as goals in this series will be tough to come by.  Rookie Logan Couture, second in Shark's playoff scoring, is playing well beyond his experience level and Canucks defenceman, Alex Edler, anchors Vancouver's power play.  

This series is going to be a tough fought battle which will more than likely go the distance!  Good luck with your picks and thanks for playing Star Selector!

Top 10 Playoff Thoughts - HNIC Star Selector

With all Star Selector Hockey Night in Canada games on hiatus for a few days it has given me the chance to;  relinquish control of our TV remote control to my wife, catch up on some sleep and reflect on the playoffs to date.  I'll preface this by saying that while these thoughts are somewhat random in nature they all centre around this years Stanley Cup playoffs and are not listed in any particular order.

Here we go!

1.  Ryan Kesler has been without a doubt the best skater in this years playoffs and if the Canucks go on to win their first Stanley Cup in their franchises forty year history he will become just the second American born player and fifth non-Canadian player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.  Can you name the other American and three European winners?

2.  Jim Hughson is far and away the best play by play man in the business.  

3.  Philadelphia is in desperate need of some stable goaltending.  You'll notice I didn't say a solid number 1 tender as that need is glaringly obvious but with 3 different starters and 6 in game changes I'm willing to bet Flyer fans will undoubtedly settle for stable first.  

4.  I really hope that the playoff energy in Smashville helps that organization turn the corner.  Nashville is an extremely fun town to visit and the rink is a stones throw away from Broadway Avenue making it a favorite destination for players, media and fans alike.  The NHL is better off with a team in Tennessee although I am not completely sold on the see of yellow quite yet.

5.  While HBO's 24/7 provided the NHL was some of the best PR hype they have had in years I get the feeling most teams will politely say, 'thanks but no thanks' if they are asked to be featured in upcoming seasons. The show will need a few more years to rival the dreaded Madden Curse (for you non EA Sports football enthusiasts the Madden curse happens to the cover player who either gets injured or has an off year directly after being featured on the games cover) but take a look at what happened to Pittsburgh and Washington's Stanley Cup aspirations after the show finished airing.  It might be too early to apply an HBO curse at this point but hockey players are notoriously superstitious so I wouldn't be surprised if some teams take a pass next year.

6.  Like a bear, Milan Lucic's playoff hibernation ended in game 4 against the Flyers.   Watch out Tampa Bay and good luck handling the premier power forward in hockey.  Lucic is going to play a major role in leading Boston into the Stanley Cup finals.

7.  P.K Subban is a superior hockey player when plays right on the edge of cockiness.  There were stretches during the regular season where the first year defenceman toned down his act a little and his play suffered.  During the playoffs, Subban played right on the edge and was extremely effective for the Habs.  His game 7 tying goal celebration said it all - a subtle shrug to quiet the Boston crown but nothing over the top.

8.  Roberto Luongo is playing a lot better than most critics and pundits are giving him credit for.   For whatever reason Luongo elite level status has been questioned consistently through most of this postseason but his stats are telling a different story.  8 wins, 2 shutouts, 2.25 goals against average and .917 save percentage and these include the Chicago blowout loses.  Name me one player on the Canucks roster with the exception of Ryan Kesler that played well during games 4 & 5 before you start hanging those games on Bobby Lou.

9.  The Joe Thornton vs Ryan Kesler matchup will not be one to miss.  My gut feeling is that the winner of this head to head battle will determine whose team moves on to the Stanley Cup winner.  You'll see my choice in the next point.

10.  It is going to be a Boston vs Vancouver Stanley Cup final with the Canucks winning in 6 games.  

By the way if you haven't figured out the answer to the question in my first thought the players are American - Brian Leetch and Europeans - Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Evgeni Malkin.

HNIC Star Selector - Game 1 Preview - Lightning vs Bruins

I freaking love the conference finals as it is the last obstacle for each of the final four teams before they can play for the Holy Grail.  The players fight for every inch of ice knowing full well that the player across from them stands between them and a chance for glory.

The cup finals may be the one who takes home the prom queen but making the conference final isn't like taking home 'Ugly Betty'.  'Return' was a great finale but 'Empire' was the sh*t.

The Lightning and Bruins are not going to disappoint and this has all of the ingredients for making a great series as it is a classic case of hot goaltending versus explosive scoring and size vs speed.  The Lightning having some of the most explosive offensive talent in this years playoffs while the 'Big Bad' Bruins rely on their physical dominance and superior defence led by their captain  Zdeno Chara.

Star Selector for Game 1 should be pretty thrilling and there are a host of players to choose from that could light the lamp (Steven Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier, David Krejci, and Chris Kelly to name a few).  A mandatory pick in my opinion is Nathan Horton, he has 10 points in 11 games including 2 game winners and would be a great captains pick.  Milan Lucic is showing signs of life, looking solid while playing 19 minutes a game tallying 5 points most of which came in the series clinching win over Philadelphia.  Hands up if you have ever seen Eric Brewer play like this before?  He is a machine!  He owned the Caps  (Oh and the Lightning beat the Caps in 4 games, FOUR games!) and I suspect he will continue his dominace in the playoffs.  Martin St. Louis is going to have his work cut out for him playing against the top defensive pair for the Bruins but with the proper match-ups he will produce.  And finally Sean Bergenheim (this years version of John Druce), while averaging only 14 minutes a contest has 8 points in 11 games and is playing way above expectations.

Might as well throw out my series winner as well... I think this one goes 7, and I think in the Bruins win just because Tim Thomas stands on his head, but watch for the "limited pressure = victory" for the Lightning to keep it crazy close.

The Elite of the Elite - The NHL Top 6!

Here is a prediction: The biggest movie of Xmas 2012 is going to be titled: Seal Team 6. Hollywood Studios kicked into over-drive the second the Osama news flashed across the wire. HUGE news. HUGE Movie. It’s so easy right?

Now I could get all movie-geeky on you and tell you whom I think would be my all-star Seal Team 6 cast, but I won’t. Instead I’m going to select my ultimate NHL Seal Team 6 (yes there were 30+ members of Seal Team 6, but come on, isn’t this a fun ride to be on?)

The goal here is to select the SIX players you would want to build your ultimate franchise around. 3 Fwds (position dependant), 2 D and 1 G. Remember AGE is key here. Yes, Tim Thomas is (cough) awesome, but he’s well-aged. Get it? Good…

Here goes nothing.

Center: Ryan Kesler
Listen, you can argue Steve Stamkos VERY easily here, but there is NO better 2-way center than Kesler, and he was the NUMBER ONE overall player in the league this year according to Star Selector stats (which give a great look at overall player value). Plus, with my 2 sniping wingers, I can go 2-way value here.

Right Wing: Corey Perry
Actually, the easiest pick for me. Dude is 25, a sniper and a pest. Most other top RW’s are getting up there in years and for me Perry brings WAY more to the table than Giroux and Kane. Easy.

Left Wing: Alex Ovechkin
Ok. This pick was pretty easy too. Before looking at their ages, and because of his playoff performance, I actually tried to talk myself into Ryan Clowe. I honestly thought he was a kid. NOPE. He’s actually 4 yrs OLDER than Ovy. OK 2 easy winger picks…NOW to the tougher picks

Defense: Shea Weber
My 1st gut was Drew Doughty. He didn’t have a great year but, man, was he huge in the last Olympics. And how the heck did he turn in a +13 season while Jack Johnson was  -21? Then, Keith Yandle, with the most boring name in Hockey. It just sounds old. He had a great year, but I just don’t think he has the potential to be the BEST guy in the game. Shea Weber does. He has a complete game, a rocket of a shot and a great name.

Defense: P.K. Subban
Here it comes…Call me a homer all you want, but this kid is 21 (21!) and in 3 years we will be talking about him as one of the top 3 D-men in the game. His playoff performance kicked him to a new level in my mind. It’s a tough call…but think future and PK has to be in the discussion now.

Goalie: Carey Price
It HAS to be right? He’s 23. TWENTY THREE. M.A. Fluery (26), Cam Ward (27), Pekka Riine (28), should all be in the discussion, but I don’t think you can make a different call here. He showed glimpses this year of a true workhorse backstop. He has the body, technique, and puck awareness of an all-timer. The ‘head’ will come.

PLUS: Don’t all of you (even the non-Habs fans) wanna see the Carey-P.K. post-game low-five ritual for the next decade and a half? Ha!

OK there you have it…debate away…and Coming Soon, my ultimate Seat Team 6 casting call (Sneak Peek: Team Leader: Michael C. Hall…he kills).

HNIC Star Selector - Game 4 Preview Flyers vs Bruins

These look like a different group of Bruins from a year ago... there was a smell in the air last year, of fear, of "do we belong?"... this year it smells like Horton's determination, like Thomas's game stealing saves, like a new car.

These look like a different group of Flyers from a year ago... there was a smell in the air last year, like the goalies had something to prove, like Pronger lifting the team on his own... this year it smells like confusion, like the goalies are squeezing the stick too tight, like the washroom at Lee's Palace....

----------------------

When the Flyers secured a playoff spot by winning a final game shootout against the Rangers last year, I recall saying to myself and my buds, "Any win from here on out is gravy."  The reality was their first round opponents from New Jersey had owned them throughout their recent playoff history and I started quoting Dante from the movie 'Clerks', "I'm not even supposed to BE here today"! How did they win that one?  We are not even supposed to BE here today?  15 playoffs wins later and the last team to get their ticket to the play off dance were one shot away from winning the Stanley Cup.

Fast forward to 2011.  The Flyers finish 2nd overall and played the last 2 months waiting for the playoffs.  I found myself saying "They need a fire under their asses!" Some teams need a scare to get them jump started.   The Flyers, with a the terrible game in Boston, countless goalie changes, a horrendous game 3 start and an anemic power play can now played scared.  Maybe, if they win tonight, Game 5 can be the start of another, "We are not even supposed to be here today" moment.

Now I am rambling but maybe teams perform better when the expectations are lowered?  Look to at the Caps, Sharks and the Canucks over the years, lots of pressure and nothing to show for it. Well the pressure is off the Winged P, they just have to win tonight and maybe, just maybe... hmm lets leave that for the potential Game 6 preview...

Star Selector tonight for me is a no brainer.  Nathan Horton and Zdeno Chara HAVE to be in your starting lineup.  I would sit Tim Thomas with a desperate Flyers team on the doorstep.  I would also start Chris Kelly if you see a sweep.  James van Riemsdyk has to get a start as he has been the best Flyer overall and Danny Briere always has a chance to go off.  But I feel like tonight, for the 1st time in the series, Mike Richards will show why he wears the 'C'.  At least that is what I hope in my heart of hearts.

My Starting Five:
Nathan Horton
Zdeno Chara
James van Riemsdyk
Mike Richards
Danny Briere

Good luck tonight to all our Start Selector players

HNIC Star Selector - Game 3 Preview - Flyers vs Bruins

Well we have been here before.  Flyers down 2-0,  goaltending being scrutinized, Boston looking tougher & stronger with their goalie stealing the show.  But there are also other similarities in this series from last year.  If you recall, it seemed like the Flyers threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Bruins, could not get a bounce and were patiently waiting for the hockey gods to shift the tides allowing for one ugly goal to go in.  Last year, The Flyers got spanked 4-1 in Game 3 (much like Game 2 this year), looked defeated, but there was sense the series momentum was shifting.  In game 4, Boston continued scoring goals but the Flyers also capitalized on their chances, and in OT Simon Gagne finished a great feed from Matt Carle for the game winner.  I have know idea what the air felt like in the two dressing rooms, but I have to believe the smell of fear was abundant around the Bruins.

Every sports fan looks for a moment when things tilt the right way for their team, and in this series maybe that will come tonight. Maybe it has already happened with the stone show Thomas has put on?  But, I think we will see in the next 2 games if one team can fire up the bus and tilt the series one way or the other.

Star Selector fans this is going to be a wild one. If the Flyers get down early look for the flood gates to open up.  James van Riemsdyk is a MUST start as he has been the Flyers best player and if not for Tim Thomas would be the star of the series. Nathan  Horton is proving that the he likes playoff hockey, something he never got to experience in Florida.   Chris Kelly has been told to keep the full shield on as it is his new M.O and Danny Briere is a force.  Briere's line will be on the ice A LOT tonight so maybe a Ville Leino or Scott Hartnell pick could be a good call as well.

Here is my Star Selector starting 5 and captain for tonight.

Zdeno Chara
Nathan Horton
Danny Briere
James van Riemsdyk - Captain
Ville Leino

Oh and by the way have I mentioned how much I miss seeing Jeff Carter in the Flyers lineup yet?

Post Game Drink? Keesje Knows Where...

Real Sports in Toronto was recently named by ESPN as the best sports bar in North America and if you have ever enjoyed a night there you would know why.  The place has 199 HD televisions including a two and half floor big screen that certainly enhances the viewing experience, a diverse menu along with any draft beer you could possibly name.  What it doesn't have is a playoff team for  patrons to rally around but it did get me thinking about the remaining teams broadcasted by Hockey Night in Canada.  Now, I want to preface this by saying I don't need corporate alcohol counselor Warren Scheppel and acknowledging how fortunate I am to have been able to visit all of these great towns.  Each is unique in their layout, vibe & population but united in their mutual love of sports and a good time.  So in this spirit I give you my favourite place to grab a drink.  This is not to suggest that these are the best sports bars, trendiest clubs or serve the tastiest food but rather through my first hand experience the places that left a lasting foggy memory.

Let's start with Vancouver.  I could go with Richards on Richards, or as local's like to refer to it Dix on Dix's, as they price (or at least use to) their game day draft beer based on the Canucks teams goals against average or Coal Harbour's Cardero's because of their outstanding ambience but will instead put forward the Roxy!  The Roxy is legendary!  Live bands and good looking crowd makes this the place to be for your post game Granville street destination!  Just beware as there is a plethora of 'hungry eyes' so be careful or dress your best depending on your nights expectations or intentions.

Boston's bar choice is tough for some many good reasons as Beantowner's have done an outstanding job combining their love of booze and sports into some of the best pubs in North America.  Just ask anyone who has ever experienced Quincy Market, Beacon Hill or walked the area surrounding Fenway Park.   But for consistency sake and to limit those readers who are thinking that I might have a problem, I'll put forth to you only one suggestion, Sullivan's Tap.  Sully's is the quintessential dive bar wreaking of old beer served to you by bartenders coming from the Moe Sislak school of customer service.  This cash only establishment is located a mere five minutes away from the Boston Garden and if the walls could speak would certainly regale celebratory championship tales of years gone by.

Did you know that in the old Veteran's stadium in Philadelphia you could get arrested, charged and convicted of a crime without every leaving the facility?  That's right folks, the stadium was fully equipped with a holding cell, Judge, lawyer's and more than enough boozed up fans to justify the cost associated with maintaining this makeshift judicial arena.  Now, I know most of you are thinking,  "good work Keesje what was your sentence?" and given the topic of my blog today I don't blame you for the assumption (for the record I have never been charged with a crime).  My point is any city that needs to invest in such a system is obviously one that doesn't shy away from some pre or post game libations.  My favourite?  This seems somewhat ironic given the above introduction but the post game atmosphere (especially after a big win) within Wells Fargo Arena's AT&T Pavilion is electric.  Fired up fans fuelled by Bud Lights and house DJ's tunes top off an exceptional sporting experience.

I've saved the best for last.  Nashville, while probably the least well known within hockey fans, has probably the best per capita bar scene of any the four cities highlighted in this article and has long been a favourite destination for scouts, broadcasters and media alike.  Broadway Avenue, roughly two blocks from the Sonnet Center, is the honky tonk epic centre of the world and it is not uncommon for establish country music stars to quietly try out new material in front of unsuspecting patrons.  Tootsie's World Famous Orchid Lounge is a must visit post, pre or on non game days.  This split level establishment is designed to allow for simultaneous live bands who, for the right incentive, will play any tune you can imagine!  Tootsie's flat out rocks and lives up to its world's famous title or at least I think it does memories from those nights are still somewhat hazy!

So what does this article have to do with Star Selector or helping you choose your starting five for upcoming Canuck, Bruin, Flyer or Predator games?  Truthfully not much but given that our game is sponsored by Crown Royal I thought it would be fun to look at these series from the perspective as to who I think will square off in a Stanley Cup based on my bar experiences.  TSN has the monkey and I give you my HNIC bar inspired final.....Tootsies vs Sully's or sorry Boston vs Nashville!

Just Be Cauz - Do Politics and Sports Mix?

Do sports and politics mix?

That is the question that has been bouncing around ever since Dan Shulman announced that Osama bin Laden was dead during ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball game.

I was watching when the news broke and like everyone else was stunned and immediately turned over to news for more information.

My own feelings on his death are irrelevant for this piece but needless to say it was a mixture of emotions. Happy to hear that he is dead but also this news was a reminder of just how long this “war” has been going on and how many people are dead as a result.

Listening to the ‘Bryan Hayes Show’ today on TSN Radio the topic came up on whether or not sports and politics should be allowed to hang out together. I understand the argument for why not. Sports are supposed to be a refuge from reality and would anyone really want to get any political insight from people in Sports Media.

However sports and politics do mix, they have walked side by side in our society for as long as sport has existed.

In fact some of the most memorable and poignant moments in sports are not about the game but the bigger issues that surround them.

Do you remember U2 performing ‘Streets with No Names’ at the 2002 Super Bowl as they paid homage to the victims from 911? I bet you do.

I doubt you can watch it without getting a little bit emotional.

Politics defines our athletes for better or worse. Jim Brown would rush head first into issues of social equality while Michael Jordan would run away from it with asinine statements like “Republicans buy shoes as well.”

When you think about Muhammad Ali's narrative his politics were just as important as his pugilism.

Carlos Delgado refused to stand for God Bless America in 2004 during the 7th inning stretch to protest the war while Tommie Smith & John Carlos stood up for Black Power Salute at the 1968 Summer Games

Steve Nash lost a lot of popularity with his anti war feelings over the years while his owner Robert Sarver once had the Phoenix Sun uniforms change their name to Los Suns as a protest against the State of Arizona passing tougher immigration laws.

How about the greatest spectacle in sports, The Olympics? The lead up is often more about policy than athletic performance. Wasn’t the Beijing Games sold as a way to help bring Western ideals about democracy to China?

Finally there’s Pat Tillman, he gave his life for political ideals.

So don’t tell me the two don’t belong together. When done right (Steve Nash) they can make sports better. Yes I know sports are entertainment and they are a wonderful escape. I would rather lose myself in box scores than the horrors in Africa. But sometimes we need a hefty dollop of reality and sports helps deliver it to many of us that can’t stand what we see on the evening news.

The negative side is the uniformed athlete who will spout off ignorant claims and suddenly we need to boycott athletes opinions on issues more important than the BCS.  Hey we see that example in every facet of life, from clueless actors to teachers who bring too much of their own agenda to the classroom. I think we can all agree that from Tom Hardaway to Lindsay Lohan there are many people who should heed the advice that silence is golden.

I would rather live in a world where an athlete can openly and publically cheer for the death of a terrorist but also weigh in with educated thoughts about taboo topics such as abortion, immigration or how to educate our kids. Of course professional leagues and an army of public relations people will try to stifle the latter opinions, which is a shame.

We don’t live in a world where these two institutions can both exist in their own separate vacuums, they’re in bed together so we may as well not only accept that but find the best way to make they’re relationship work.


Ps: I hope everyone voted!
 
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