Saturday, 17 May 2008

Feeling The Heat

If you've been watching any hockey at all this week, you know that there are several playoff series and championships going on across the land. Whether it be the Memorial Cup in Kitchener, the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, the ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs, or the IIHF 2008 Men's World Hockey Championship, there has been some spectacular hockey in the last few nights. Teams are facing elimination, and that always creates some dramatic, exciting moments. If you're a hockey fan, this is the best time of year, and I have been thoroughly entertained over the last 72 hours.

Let's start in the NHL. Dallas and Detroit faced off in Game Five of the Western Conference Final today, and Dallas had their backs against the wall again. Detroit leads the best-of-seven series 3-1, and were looking to close out the series and advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

However, Marty Turco decided to shake the gorilla off his back, and led the Stars to a 2-1 victory over the Wings in his first career win at Joe Louis Arena. Turco had been winless in twelve career starts before this afternoon, but he won the biggest game of his career at Joe Louis Arena thus far.

"That's probably the best I've felt in this building - ever," he told The Canadian Press after the win. "Your next game is always supposed to be your best and, for whatever reason, it just felt I was in total control. It usually works out like that when you have that feeling."

Trevor Daley and Jiri Hudler exchanged goals in the first period, and Joel Lundqvist scored the winner midway through the second period after converting a long pass from Turco into a goal.

With the win, the Stars live to play again. Game Six of this series goes Monday night in Dallas. The Red Wings will have plenty of motivation to close the door on Monday, while the Stars will look to complete the unthinkable and move this series back to Detroit for Game Seven.

AHL Update: In the Western Conference Final, the Chicago Wolves met up with the Toronto Marlies in Game One on Friday night. The Marlies looked a little tired as the Wolves capitalized on mistakes to win Game One by a 4-1 score. Game Two goes Sunday in Chicago.

Of course, Toronto may be a little tired. Having been down to Syracuse 3-1 in the North Division Final, Toronto rallied back to win the next three games and win the series over the Crunch. Toronto became just the 14th team in AHL history to win a best-of-7 series after trailing 3-1.

Chicago was powered by Jason Krog's four point night. Krog, who leads the AHL in playoff points with 21, scored three goals and added an assist. Darren Haydar had the fourth Chicago goal, while Toronto's Patrick Wellar had the lone goal for the Marlies.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Portland Pirates and Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins are tied at one game apiece. WBS shutout Portland in Game One by a 2-0 score, while Portland responded with a 3-2 victory in Game Two.

Game One saw goaltender Jon Curry record his first playoff shutout while Dave Gove and Ryan Lannon added goals for the Penguins. Game Two saw Portland forward Bobby Ryan score two goals including the winner. Portland's Andrew Ebbett had the other Portland goal, while WBS got a pair of goals from captain Nathan Smith.

Game Three goes Sunday in Portland as this series now becomes a best-of-five.

ECHL Update: One finalist has already been set in the Kelly Cup Finals as the Las Vegas Wranglers advanced to final with a sweep over the Utah Grizzlies in the National Conference Final.

"It's nice to come out of a tough conference, but the guys didn't lift the National Conference trophy today," Las Vegas coach Glen Gulutzan said to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "They left it on the table, so that gives you an indication" of the team's mindset heading into the final.

In the American Conference Final, the Cincinnati Cyclones have built a 3-1 series lead over the South Carolina Stingrays. Game Five goes tonight North Charleston Coliseum in South Carolina. It appears that the Stingrays need a serious infusion of power for their powerplay if they want to keep this series going.

"The power play has been the story of the series for us," said Stingrays winger Andrew Gordon to The Post and Courier. "We've had chances to score on the power play, but we haven't converted, and tonight was no different. Nothing seemed to work for us. It was one of those days. When you have seven shots on net and you don't score, that kind of wears on you mentally."

Only the Stingrays have won the Kelly Cup before out of the three remaining teams, turning the trick in 2001. Cincinnati is attempting to gain a berth in the Kelly Cup Final with a win tonight. Updates to follow tomorrow.

CHL Memorial Cup Update: Friday night saw the Memorial Cup kick off with the hometown OHL Rangers playing the QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques, and this game was fantastic! If you ever want an example of why hockey may just be the best sport there is, I suggest you get a copy of this game. The proof is on the videotape.

First off, a huge thumbs-up from this writer for the commemorative Memorial Cup jerseys that Kitchener wore for this game. These are gorgeous jerseys, and should be kept as an alternate jersey for next season. If there was ever a jersey I would want to own, it's one of these jerseys. They literally are a masterpiece on the hockey fashion front.

The reason for the jerseys is quite special. The town of Kitchener was originally called Berlin due to the number of German immigrants that settled there between 1870 and 1913. However, when the First World War began, the city's population sought to change the name in order to separate themselves from the countries that opposed Canada. In 1916, Berlin changed its name to Kitchener after Boer War hero Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener.

Kitchener is, of course, huge on their OHL team, and they've produced some notable NHL stars over the course of time: Darryl Sittler, Scott Stevens, Dennis Wideman, Paul Reinhart (check out that helmet!), and Don Beuapre.

Friday night saw the Rangers defeat Les Olympiques 6-5 in overtime in what might have been the best third period of hockey I have witnessed in a long time. Jason Akeson, Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk got the Rangers out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, but the Olympiques closed the gap with goals by Michael Stinziani and Paul Byron to end the first down 3-2. Mikkel Boedker and Halischuk replied in the second period to rebuild the Rangers' three-goal lead, but Darryl Smith cut the lead to two before the end of the second.

In the third period, the game really opened up. The Olympiques, not intimidated by the crowd or the Rangers, tied the game up with two late goals by Nicholas Valliere Mayer and Alexandre Quesnel. The pace of the third period was frantic, and the action was end-to-end with both goalies making some incredible saves.

In overtime, Justin Azevedo, the OHL's Most Outstanding Player, scored the winner on a powerplay at 6:59 to give the Rangers the win, and add a little legend to the new jerseys.

"We wanted to get a win for the fans and for ourselves," Azevedo said to the CHL's Aaron Bell. "It was crucial to get the win, especially in the first game and we did that."

By the way, the online bidding for those Kitchener Rangers' jerseys looks more like a car auction. Just 12 hours after scoring the overtime winner, online bidding on Justin Azevedo’s commemorative jersey was already above $2,000.

This afternoon's game saw the WHL's Spokane Chiefs and the OHL's Belleville Bulls square off. This game was a more tight-checking affair, but, like the game last night, it too went to overtime before anything was settled.

Drayson Bowman scored two first-period goals, and Mitch Wahl added another as Spokane jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the first intermission. Bryan Cameron, Shawn Matthias and Cory Tanaka knotted the game at 3-3 in the second period with their goals for the Bulls. Tanaka scored his second of the game to give the Bulls a 4-3 lead midway through the third period, but Spokane responded with the hat trick goal by Drayson Bowman with just under three minutes to play to send this game to an extra period.

In overtime, Levko Koper scored the winning goal at 4:46 to give Spokane the 5-4 OT decision over Belleville. Kopar slid the puck through Belleville goaltender Mike Murphy's five-hole on a rebound to pace the Chiefs to the win.

"That was definitely the highlight of my career so far," Koper said to the CHL's Aaron Bell. "To be up 3-0 and then give that up, our teams was a little down. Getting that overtime goal lifted our spirits back up."

Kitchener and Spokane face off tomorrow at 4:30pm EDT, while Belleville and Gatineau tangle on Monday at 7pm EDT. More Memorial Cup highlights as the week progresses.

World Championship Update: The bronze medal game went today in Quebec City for the IIHF 2008 Men's World Hockey Championship. Sweden and Finland squared off in the all-Scandinavian match, and this game saw an incredible performance turned in by a Minnesota Wild player.

Goaltender Niklas Backstrom stopped 36 shots in the 4-0 Finland win over their neighbouring country. Backstrom made a number of incredible stops to preserve the shutout, and give Finland its first win over Sweden at the World Championship since 2001.

Antti Pihlstrom had a pair of goals in the second and third periods, while Janne Niskala scored in the second, and Mikko Koivu added the empty-net goal. The win has given Finland medals in three straight World Championships after taking silver last year and another bronze medal in 2006.

Sweden, however, lost a second consecutive world championship bronze medal game. Last year, they lost 3-1 to the Russians in Moscow. With the loss, the Swedes also drop in the IIHF rankings, allowing Canada to move into top spot again.

Tomorrow, the Canadians and Russians will meet for the first time ever in the IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship when there is a gold medal on the line. The game starts at 1pm EDT, and can be found on TSN if you have that channel available. Canada is attempting to become the first host nation to win the gold medal since the Soviet Union did it back in 1986.

Canada has indicated they will start Carolina Hurricanes' goalie Cam Ward in net tomorrow against the powerful Russians. He'll be trying to shut down such names as Ovechkin, Fedorov, Semin, Morozov, Kovalchuk, Radulov, and Afinogenov.

"You've got two teams that have a lot of good young dynamic players," said Canadian head coach Ken Hitchcock to The Canadian Press. "As much as we're excited, we're also curious to see how our good young players play versus their good young players."

This game should be fast, exciting, and up-tempo. You know where I'll be tomorrow afternoon, and I will not be answering phone calls whatsoever.

That's all for today. I have some other stuff to finish, but keep this page bookmarked for more playoff updates and tournament results!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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