Friday, May 29, 2009

Stanley Cup Finals Preview: Marian Hossa's Worst Nightmare

For the first time since 1984, and the first in any sport since 1998, the Stanley Cup Finals will have a rematch as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings will do battle once again. This matchup was the last one on people's minds back in February when they last met. Back then, the Penguins were struggling to even make the playoffs and fired coach Michel Therrien and hired Dan Bylsma. Since then, and after they traded for Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin and got Sergei Gonchar back from injury, the Pens have been arguably the hottest team in the league.

The defending champs also had an inconsistent stretch toward the end of the season as they played a bunch of games where they lost 8-0 or in that neighborhood. They still finished as a 2-seed in the Western Conference but were only going to go as far as Chris Osgood could take them, according to the experts. Well Osgood has been great in net and the Wings are on the cusp of their fifth title in thirteen years. So who wins the series between the a team that trying to learn how to win against a proud champion that's not willing to giving up the Cup. It's time that I give a complete breakdown.

Offense: When you think of offense and the Pens, obviously Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin come to mind. And with good reason, they both have 28 points to lead all scorers and almost certainly will be the first players to score 30 in a playoff season since Joe Sakic in 1996. It's more than just that their scoring, but they have been dominant almost every night. Their dominance in turn is giving guys like Guerin, Kunitz and Ruslan Fedotenko the ability to have big postseasons. As for Detroit, what can you say, when the Datsyuk is hurt, someone else always steps up. Johan Franzen is now a proven go-to-scorer, Dan Cleary and Darren Helm have been scoring out of nowhere. Add Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg and the Red Wings have the most balance scoring attack of all the playoff teams this postseason. Advantage: Detroit

Defense: In a normal situation, the Red Wings win hands down, but with Nick Lidstrom banged up, it makes the matchup closer to even. However, Detroit can still come out with Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and Brett Lebda. Pittsburgh counters with Gonchar, Mark Eaton, Rob Scudari, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang. Even though the Red Wings allowed more regular season goals, in the playoffs, it's not even close. Advantage: Detroit

Goaltending: Osgood has played very well during the playoffs, but Marc-Andre Fleury has as well. Both goalies basically have to play well enough and not necessarily stand on their heads to win. I have to say though that Fleury has been impressing me, particularly against two of the better offensive teams in the league in the Flyers and the Caps. Osgood should be in the Hall of Fame when his career ends, but Fleury is showing everyone why the Pens drafted him at number 1 in 2003. Advantage: Pittsburgh

Wings Power Play vs Pens Penalty Kill: One one hand, you have a PK that is above average and the other you have a PP that can be as good as Derek Jeter's batting average. There was a time the Red Wings were at a 30% clip on the power play, now they are a solid 25%. Big advantage: Detroit

Pens PP vs Wings PK: As good as the Red Wings PP is, their PK is just as bad. Only Columbus and Calgary did worse than Detroit's 74% kill. The Pens PP is at about 20%, should increase during the series. Advantage: Pittsburgh

Coaching: Mike Babcock is making his third Finals appearance and is looking for his second Cup win. Dan Bylsma has only coached in the NHL since February. Babcock even handles the press conference well; he said that everyone talks like the Pens won last year. Advantage: Detroit

Schedule: It matters this year as the first two games are tonight and tomorrow (thanks Conan) and Game 3 is on Tuesday. If either Conference Final went six, the Finals would of started Friday and the Red Wings would of had more time to rest. The fact is, Lidstrom's banged up, Datsyuk and Kris Draper are missing games and the Penguins are relatively healthy. Big advantage: Pittsburgh

Superstition: Last year both teams followed the silly superstition and didn't touch the Wales and Campbell trophies for winning their conference. Since the Pens lost, Crosby decided to switch it up and and carry the Wales trophy. Hey, carrying it didn't stop Mario Lemeiux from winning Stanley Cups. Advantage: Even

History: If you're Pittsburgh, you look back to 1984 when two emerging stars faced a venerable dynasty on its Drive for Five and won in five, which is in a way what the Penguins are attempting to do. The Red Wings are looking back at their February meeting when they dominated them at the Igloo. However, that Pittsburgh team is a lot different than they are now. Advantage: Pittsburgh

Maggie the Monkey: On of TSN's gimmicks is to have a monkey named Maggie make picks using a spinning wheel. Her pick for the Stanley Cup Finals is Pittsburgh. Maggie is 0-5 in Stanley Cup Final picks. On the bright side, she's retiring and she's due to be right. Right? Advantage: No one.

Final Prediction: A more spaced out series would help the Red Wings and if they can make it through the first four games with a split, they will be hard to beat once the extra off days take place for the sixth and seventh games. However, I think the Pens will steal one of the games at the Joe and will take a 3-1 lead in the series. Detroit will win Game 5 at home, but Pittsburgh wins the Cup at home and take this series in 6 games.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

How to End a Title Drought?

The Cleveland Cavaliers were trailing 3-1 in their series with the Orlando Magic entering tonight's game in need of three straight wins. They are currently the city of Cleveland's best chance to win a championship for the first time since 1964 when the Jim Brown-led Browns won the NFL Championship, before the Super Bowl-era.

This has been probably the most heartbreaking drought with events like Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, and The Error. Two years ago, the Cavs were in the NBA Finals and were promptly swept by the Spurs, while the Indians led the Red Sox 3-1 in the ALCS and lost the last three games, including Game 7 when Kenny Lofton was held up by third base Joel Skinner when he would of scored the tying run in the 7th inning. The Red Sox went on to win 11-2 as they scored eight runs in the last two innings and the drought continued. This also includes the Indians forty years missing the playoffs in a row until 1995, the reign of terror by Ted Septien in the early 1980s almost ending the Cavs franchise, the failure of the NHL's Cleveland Barons, the last major sports team to cease operations and the 1995 Browns move to Baltimore by Art Modell.

So with all that baggage to work with, how is it possible for the years of losing to end? The fact is that years of losing create the thought of "curse" in the minds of the team/cities fans psyche. There is always the feeling that the other shoe is about to drop. You can see it anytime a nervous energy takes over a stadium/arena and the team you root for is suffocated by this. It happened to both the Mets and the Cubs last season; same goes for the Vikings in the playoffs. Unfortunately, it seems like that conventional ways to win never work, there needs to be a moment where a team is seemingly "destined" to win.

Most of the recent "curses" that have been foiled had a moment where a collective fan base no longer thinks the worst will happen. It could occur anytime in the playoffs, and usually comes at the lowest point in the season. The best example of this theory is the Boston Red Sox; they reached their low point after Game 3 in the 2004 ALCS against the N.Y. Yankees when they were down 3-0. As any Bill Simmons reader knows, the Dave Roberts steal is considered that turning point for the Red Sox, mainly because the next play, Bill Mueller knocked Roberts in with a single off Mariano Rivera. After that, and a couple of game-winners by David Ortiz, the Red Sox steamrolled their way to breaking the Curse of the Bambino.

A better example on a personal level was the 1994 N.Y. Rangers when Mark Messier guaranteed victory in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Final series with the N.J. Devils. They trailed the series 3-2 and the game 2-0 when Messier assisted on a goal, then scored a hat trick and the Rangers won 4-2. Unlike the Red Sox, the Rangers didn't steamroll their way to the Cup and actually gave Rangers plenty of reasons to believe it wasn't coming. But, they fought through a late-tying goal by the Devils in Game 7 followed by Stephane Matteau's OT winner and the great Howie Rose call put the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals. Then, the Rangers took a 3-1 series lead, lost the next two games and held off a final charge by the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup after 54 years.

Those aren't the only droughts that needed the perception of a team of destiny for it to be broken. The Chicago White Sox stole Game 2 of the ALCS against the Angels after a controversial when the umpire said Josh Paul dropped a third strike with two outs to A.J. Pierzynski when he actually just threw it back. Joe Crede would win the game on the next at-bat and the White Sox swept their way to the World Series, their first since 1917. The Phillies ended the 25 year Philadelphia championship drought and their moment of destiny was a 4-run 8th inning in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers when Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs hit two 2-run HR's that turned a 5-3 deficit to a 7-5 win. They also had a bases-loaded infield single in Game 3 of the World Series to further the team of destiny role. The Detroit Red Wings ended a 42 year Cup drought in 1997, plus being labeled chokers for recent flameouts in the playoffs. In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Steve Yzerman scored on a 60-ft shot and the Flyers were done in four games.

The Cavs ended up winning the game to make the series 3 games to 2 in favor of the Magic. LeBron had a part in 32 straight points but that's in my eyes isn't a turning point that makes the Cavs a team of destiny, which means something needs to happen in Game 6 that changes the fortune of this team, whether it's another game-winner from LeBron, a great block or even LeBron announcing he will stay in Cleveland tomorrow. Whatever it is, there needs to be a sign that this drought will end very soon if the Cavs are going to win this championship, or this season will be known forever in Cleveland as The Letdown (unfortunately I can't come up with a better name than that).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Idea of the Dream Matchup.

Today was the championship match in the UEFA Champions League as the top two European club teams faced off. Manchester United, the most popular and most hated soccer club in the world, came in to this match having just won their third straight English Premier League title and as defending champions in the UEFA Cup. FC Barcelona was this year's champion in Spain's La Liga. Christiano Ronaldo of Man U won Player of the Year, while Lionel Mussi of Barca finished second in the voting.

The Detroit Red Wings just beat the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. They will meet the team the faced last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Last year, the Red Wings beat the Pens in a harder-than-thought-but-ultimately-easy six games. The stories for this series include the leading scorer in the season and playoffs with Evgeni Malkin, co-leader in the playoffs and face of the league Sidney Crosby and their fight for playoff MVP, Marian Hossa who rejected a 7-year offer from the Pens to sign a 1-year deal with the Wings so he can win the Stanley Cup and a city in Detroit who while the economy has been disastrous, the team continues to be a symbol of pride. Basically, it's the face of the league against the glamour franchise for the past 15 years.

The subject of dream matchups has been much discussed in the NBA as everything has been focused on Kobe vs LeBron. The Cavs and the Lakers finished as the top two teams in the NBA and it seemed like an inevitability that these two would meet in the NBA Finals. So much so, that Nike and Vitamin Water have already started to prepare with their own Kobe vs LeBron ad campaigns. However, funny thing happened along the way, the Orlando Magic lead their series with Cleveland 3-1 and are a win away from ruining the dream matchup. Meanwhile, the Lakers just finished a hard earned victory tonight over the Denver Nuggets and they now lead 3-2 in that series, that should end up going seven.

So there in lies the issue, how beneficial is the dream matchup and more importantly, if it doesn't come about, is the real matchup good enough? Let's take a look back through all sports for the past decade to see how they have faired in getting their dream matchup.

The NBA should be first as it seems most people think the league will stop at nothing to get their series. Last season, they had the biggest rivalry in league history resume with the Lakers-Celtics series and it still wasn't the highest rated series even on ABC; that honor belongs to the final Shaq and Kobe Lakers in 2004 when they lost to Detroit. Of course, no one ever moved the meter in ratings like Michael Jordan, who was able to make Chicago-Utah in 1998 the all-time high for the NBA in ratings. However, with the San Antonio Spurs being the dominant team in the decade, along with a particularly weak Eastern Conference turning the NBA Finals into formality, ABC has still been unable to do will with ratings. The best ratings tend to occur in years an East team win, since it's not expected.

The NHL has had more trouble finding their dream scenario. The best ratings the NHL has received this decade was the Devils-Stars series in 2000 which averaged a 3.7. Detroit and Pittsburgh is currently the dream matchup because of the players on the Pens and the history of the Red Wings. It also doesn't hurt to have two markets that will do ratings in the 30's for the Cup finals. The NHL has been too often stuck with the Anaheims and the Carolina's in their finals. They have, however, had three years of a Canadian team in the Cup finals helping their CBC ratings. Still, no series has come close to getting the one game rating Game 7 in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals had when the Rangers beat Vancouver. While not a dream matchup, since Detroit was the West's number 1 seed that year and Toronto made the Western Finals, that game ended up being the highest rated NHL game in North America and hasn't been topped yet.

Since the Super Bowl never fails in the ratings and I would assume 200 million people will watch the Champions League final regardless who's there, the World Series is the last one that has to worry about dream matchup. Baseball back even twenty-five years ago would get ratings between 23 and 32 on average and Game 7 of the 1986 Mets-Red Sox series got a 38.9, very Super Bowl-like. Even more Super Bowl-like is that Philadelphia and Kansas City in 1980 is the highest rated World Series.

But now, the World Series now has to worry about outdrawing the NBA Finals. They need the dream matchup more than anyone, but can never get it. The closest they came was in 2003 when the Yankees faced the Red Sox in the ALCS and the Cubs faced the Florida Marlins in the NLCS. If the Cubs would of held their lead, a series with the Yankees would have been tremendous because of the Cubs title drought and their position as a national team, like the Yanks and Sox. The best series matchup in the 2000's has to be the 2004 World Series between the Red Sox and the Cardinals, but that ended way to early. The only other dream matchups since the strike were both series between the Braves and the Yankees.

It's obvious that this decade in sports have been unsuccessful in creating the matchups the causal sports fans want to see and it appears that they simply won't tune in and get to know new stars. Does this mean that if the NBA Finals is Denver and Orlando, no one will tune in for Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard? I don't know, but I do know the NBA doesn't want to find out, even if they can only keep one of them in. Because as we learned today from the Champions League final, if the two best teams and the two best players are involved, the world will stop and watch.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My Enemy's Enemy is My Friend Weekend

Once again its that time for interleague play and as always for every Royals-Cardinals series, we have a Diamondbacks-A's. That's the biggest problem with interleague play; way too many series that have absolutely no cache in order to fight through and get a Cubs-White Sox or a Mets-Yankees. However, this isn't one of those weekends here in New York.

At Yankee Stadium this weekend, the Yankees invite the World Champion Phillies into town, while the Mets are headed up to Fenway to take on the Red Sox. That's right, it's a bizarro rivalry weekend. Both matchups have history; the Whiz Kid Phillies were swept by the Yankees in the 1950 World Series and the Choke in '64 prevented another Phillies-Yankees matchup. Meanwhile, every baseball fan knows about the 1986 World Series, a story that's rarely told as a Mets victory, but as a Red Sox loss. Everyone seems to forget that the Mets won 108 games that year and were the prohibitive favorites to win the World Series due to the lofty record.

The point of this article wasn't to give a history lesson, but to point out the irony of Mets and Yanks fans rooting for the crosstown teams. I, as a Yankee fan, have no problem rooting for the Mets to beat the Red Sox. However, my father, as a Yankee fan, is pulling for the Red Sox because he can't stomach the thought about rooting for the Mets. This is a man who rooted for the Red Sox in the '86 Series and took the Boston fan approach after the Buckner play in Game 6, he walked out on a wedding party.

Meanwhile, it would seem easy for Mets fans to root for the Yankees because the Phillies are the Phillies. But, according to Gary Cohen, his view of the Yankees-Phillies series is that it doesn't matter who wins. My best friend Rocky falls in that category, going so far as say "I hope a plane crashes into the Stadium." Well then. Still, Subway Squawker Met fan Jon wrote, "Now this bad week is about to get even worse. This weekend, I will find myself rooting for the Yankees and against the Red Sox" in his post explaining why to root for the Yankees this weekend.

It's also a chance for Yanks and Mets fans a chance to do things they wouldn't normally do. When this post is finished, Johan Santana has finished pitching tonight, giving Yankee fans a chance to root for the man that should be wearing pinstripes, marvel without guilt in his brillance and to feel bad when the Mets make it harder on him to succeed, instead of showing amusement. Mets fans get a chance to see A-Rod from the Yankees perspective...well, I guess they can watch Derek Jeter and see how a shortstop is supposed to carry himself on the field. Of course, you can be like me and give both series a quick glimpse and focus on the NBA and NHL playoffs this weekend.

But for those of you who feel they must watch all powerful and almighty baseball, then don't worry about violating NY baseball law and root for both home teams.

Monday, May 18, 2009

McMahon vs Kroenke in a Steel Cage Match

Now usually I don't put up multiple posts on a given day, but this is the best story that's not part of my randomness post. The Denver Nuggets double-booked the Pepsi Center for Memorial Day as they have WWE Raw taking place there on the same night as supposedly Game 4 of the Lakers-Nuggets series. Vince McMahon isn't ready to give away the Raw event without a fight:

Wow, this is amazing video, especially if you're aware that Jonathan Coachman worked with the WWE for almost decade. Honestly, Stan Kroenke is at fault with this as the NBA has the playoffs scheduled basically years in advance, particularly during the last two rounds and they always have the conference final series that airs on ESPN/ABC play Memorial Day and every other year, it's the Western Finals on ESPN. Kroenke essentially made his bed by agreeing to the date in August and not giving an out clause in the contract should the Nuggets needed the court. Vince McMahon has every right to show up there on Monday and the most important thing for him is that Raw is live and the WWE can't lose face here. Any other day (aside from a PPV) and McMahon, I'm sure, goes away quietly. Kroenke's a lightweight here, so the real question is in what way does David Stern gets involved.

Randomness while laughing at James Harrison's reasoning for not seeing Obama

- I could write a whole column based on this story basically going over things that you can say "as far as I'm concerned" and say facts like James Harrison did. His full quote is here. I could say: As far as I'm concerned, the Magic played better than the Celtics last night. Or as far as I'm concerned, a player should be credited with a home run if they hit in fair out the the field of play.

- Does anyone else change the channel when ESPN has a "story" about Brett Favre, or is it just me. Fortunately, there is good news; ESPN will for a few days follow around the release of Michael Vick and make that the biggest news in the history of sports and give us a break from Favre.

- As I write this, 24 is recording on my DVR and I won't find out until about midnight, but it seems to me based on last week's episode and the "next week on 24" scenes, there is some sort of cliffhanger ending that might go right into Season 8. However, after watching Bill Buchanan die this season, I still haven't gotten over the fact Jack Bauer was exposed to a pathogen that will kill him. Or will it? Remember Jack Bauer is in the same league as Chuck Norris, Joel Quennville's mustache and Bill Cowher's chin; no longer mere mortal, but in fact larger than life in a Paul Bunyan sense.

- Speaking of Cowher, Pittsburgh fans should immediately disown him if he chooses the Hurricanes over the Penguins. If he only coached the Steelers, then I wouldn't mind if he roots for Carolina, but he's born and raised in Western Pennsylvania and despite living in NC, he should be rooting for the Pens. So, Bill, you can no longer "sound the warning siren" at least for this series or you can no longer show up in the city that made you famous, or at least get cheered. Besides, Mike Tomlin's a better coach anyway.

- I am tired of these former players who are analysts continuously say that a team is never better without a star player. The obvious example is whenever I hear someone say that the Rockets aren't a better team without Tracy McGrady, even though they performed better this year then any other year they had T-Mac. I won't say that the Rockets are better without Yao Ming, some matchups are better than others. But Tracy McGrady has been the most overrated NBA player this decade. His value was higher back in the early 00s when the iso offense's was everywhere, but his skills have decreased along with his durability. Add all his postseason failures, the success the Rockets had this season and the fact that the he still gets treated as if he's one of the ten best players in the league, which he never was during his career, and you have the most overrated player in the NBA.

- It might sound blasphemous, but I'm tired about hearing baseball talk in April and May. Everyone overrates everything in baseball during the first two months, especially when you live in a baseball-centric city like New York. That's the real tragedy of the Knicks terrible decade and the Rangers free-spending lunacy, that us New Yorkers are forced to follow baseball or do what I do and actually still follow the sports that my teams fail at when they get eliminated. I never remember baseball being as front-and-center back in the 90s because the Knicks always played well into May, either ending around this date in May or a few weeks later and the same for the Rangers during the first Messier era.

- I must give credit to Brett Gardner though, for his inside-the-park home run after visiting a sick girl, putting himself in the elite company of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Paul O'Neill. Well, almost.

- I just watched the end of the 1993 Cowboys-Giants game on NFL Network made famous by Emmitt Smith playing through a separated shoulder to win in OT. As a staunch Giant fan and thus Cowboy-hater, I must say, that was the most impressive, gutsy and clutch performance I ever saw in my life watching football.

- I haven't weighed in on the Phoenix Coyotes situation and I actually plan on devoting a full blog post on items like the NHL in the Sun Belt once all the playoffs end, but I happen to agree with Gary Bettman on one thing, if the Yotes move, they should go to Winnipeg and go back to being the Jets. I disagree with him about trying to keep the team in Phoenix or that Jim Balsallie shouldn't own a team in Hamilton. Once again, I will elaborate more about it once sports settles down.

- Now that I wined and dined you with the randomness, it's time that I give out my Conference Finals predictions. Now the NHL CF's have already started and I used The Cycle's Twitter page to make my picks. I have the Red Wings over the Blackhawks in six games and the Penguins winning in five. My reasons: unfortunately, I have to use the experience argument against the Hawks, which I hate and I generally believe is overrated. But the Wings are too good to just show up in your first playoff appearance in 5 years and beat them. They make you play their game. If the Hawks could possibly force the RedWings to play Chicago hockey, then they have a shot, but I think it's Detroit to win. As for the Penguins, I think Crosby is on a role and now they play Game 1 and the Hurricanes played a much more competitive game than they did in the previous series. That I think will benefit Pittsburgh, because they might not take them for granted. Add the fact that Marc-Andre Fleury is as good as Cam Ward, and you have a series the Penguins should win.

- Which leaves me with my NBA picks. Starting with Cleveland-Orlando, I don't see how the Magic win the series. They have no answer for LeBron and they have no go-to-guy at the end of games. Now they will have some success in this series as they beat the Cavs twice in Orlando and when they are hitting their three's, just like in Boston Sunday night, they are tough to beat. My pick is the Cavs in six games that will be a little tougher than most people I assume believe.

- As for the West, the Nuggets-Lakers series will be a very good one, depending on how the Lakers play. They should have never gone seven with the Rockets and if they played every night, it's over in five. The Nuggets have played the best of every team in the playoffs, including the LeBrons mainly because we expected the Cavs to get to the East Finals rather easy, while some people, including me, picked the Hornets to beat Denver. As for the matchup, Derek Fisher won't have to worry about running around like he did against Aaron Brooks, but Chauncey Billups will go more physical with him. The key to this series though is that the bigs on Denver (Nene, K-Mart) are tougher than the ones on the Lakers (Pau, Bynum) and the Denver bench is better. So while, the NBA, Nike and Vitamin Water are clamoring for Kobe vs LeBron (and if the refs get in the way, then this pick is moot), I believe it will be the Nuggets winning in six games and we get LeBron vs Melo, which if you remember back in 2003, that was the matchup that the NBA envisioned would occur to be like Magic vs Bird.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Series-clinching Thursday Live Blog

Huge night in sports as the NBA had must-wins for the Magic and the Rockets in their Game 6's. Meanwhile, the NHL had dueling Game 7's with the Red Wings hosting the Anaheim Ducks and the Hurricanes faced the Bruins. Thus, I decided to use my Twitter page to do a running diary.

7:02- We are live in the headquarters of The Cycle where I've cracked open my first Bud Light choosing drinkability for the night. Stay thirsty, my friends.

7:10- Pregame picks: Both Bostons, Lakers and Red Wings win tonight.

7:17- Osgood matching Marc-Andre Fleury from last night with a great save early in tonight's Game 7, Ducks on the power play.

7:20- Wow, 5 on 3 Ducks for a minute, doesn't the NHL want their glamour teams winning? The NHL, "Where meaningless teams get to win happens."

7:23- Wings survive the Ducks push early, Ducks look much better to start, while the WIngs look a little like the Caps last night. Wings power play.

7:25- WHOA... How dare Mike Tricio steal Gus Johnson's "Rise and Fire" line for a Lewis jumper. Soon he'll be saying "I'm Al Harrington and I get buckets."

7:28- Another stick save by Osgood, still holding the fort. Celtics by 3.

7:30- Both games on commercial, a chance to watch CC get out of the 1st with a good catch by Damon. When he carries this team, their in trouble.

7:36- Three's by Scalbrine (the benefactor of the KG injury), Pietrus then a House jumper to end the 1st. 25-22 C's. Nothing special yet.

7:38- This is the wrong series for Pavel Datsyuk to play in. The Ducks are just too physical for him to create.

7:40- The Red Wings are always in the right spot, Franzen shot, deflected by Hudler, 1-0 Detroit.

7:42- Worst part of the tonight's Game 7's, that I have to watch B's-Canes with Jack Edwards. The best part, I get to listen to Andy Brickley.

7:48- End of the 1st Period, Wings 1 Ducks 0. More importantly, no continuation fights from Tuesday.

7:57- Mike Tricio seems to say something and the opposite happens. Tirico: "Celtics offense has hit a rut." "Turkoglu hasn't hit a shot...until now", now if only he could say Keith can't find work?

8:01- This night of sports is helped by The Sports Guy's chat. Well done Simmons.

8:04- Now that I'm watching the C's-Magic for a while, it's clear Orlando has checked out of this series, aside from Mickael Pietreus. Even the Caps had Ovechkin be the only player showing up last night.

8:06- Now's its time to real showcase my remote skills as B's-Canes is underway. O/U goals I miss in person: 2.5. I have to take the under.

8:08- Also clear, the Magic are better and if they play better and SVG puts the right guys in, they should dominate.

8:16- Well I wish I had taken the over, Darren Helm scores, just saw the replay. 2-0 Wings.

8:19- Halftime in Orlando, 46-45 C's. Magic go on 11-2 run then two Pierce FTs and one by Alston.

8:23- Another Red Wings power play, Ducks can't stop using the stick on players. Wings close to taking full control.

8:24- Another goal missed. Bruins 1-0, not even a replay. Excuse me while I stick my head in the toilet.

8:28- BYRON BITZ!!!! He scores the goal? That's like if Colton Orr scored for the Rangers in Game 7 of the Caps series.

8:35- Great job by Datsyuk to kill the 5 on 3 and the less than sellout in Detroit is very loud right now.

8:38- About time I saw a goal for myself, Teemu Selanne after taking a crushing hit, with the nifty move to make it 2-1. My thumbs are safe for another minute.

8:39- Wings answer after Datsyuk took a HUGE hit on the boards but somehow threw it back to Mikael Samuelsson to make it 3-1.

8:42- And naturally I miss the Canes equalizer. Dennis Seidenberg makes me wrong with my O/U.

8:43-Corey Perry scores for Anaheim to make it 3-2 Wings.

8:45- OMG!!! Chris Osgood is playing the game of his life. Making save after save. Coming from a man who's won 3 Stanley Cups, I'm impressed.

8:46- End of 2, Wings 3-2. Meanwhile, it's 1-1 in Boston, time to watch the Magic-Celtics.

8:50- Remember when J.J. Redick went to Duke and we all hated and feared him. Now with Orlando, I no longer hate him nor fear him. I miss it.

8:55- I wish I could do a better job writing the Celtics-Magic, but this game is pretty boring. Plus, the hockey games are more on my mind.

8:59- I flip back on the Celtics game, their 9-point lead is cut to five.

9:01- If Dwight Howard is supposed to be the best big man in the league, you don't let Rondo get 14 boards before the 4th quarter.

9:03- Now Tirico steals "Helter Skelter" from Doc Emrick. But avoids using Bill Raftery's "And a Kiss" when Skip to my Lou kisses the ref's head.

9:05- Now if only the Magic can keep running the alley oop play with Howard all night.

9:07- All of a sudden, Starbury is beginning to play well. BTW, gotta keep writing my book in the 2000s Knicks. It will be called Truck Parties and Lawsuits, the Fall of the Knicks.

9:12- WHAT!!! The Wings whistle the "Potvin Sucks" chant. How dare they? Its bad enough the Devils do it and change the target, but Detroit? I'm pissed.

9:16- Ducks tie it. Bobby Ryan makes it 3-3. Versus biggest nightmare is OT and no one can watch the Canes-B's game, unless they paid the $79 on NHL Center Ice, like Bill Simmons did.

9:18- Finally saw a goal in the Bruins game. Sergei Samsonov makes it 2-1 Carolina.

9:22- Rajon Rondo bringing back the Magic Johnson act: 17 points, 16 boards, 6 dimes. OMG, how can all 3 be on commercial now?

9:30- Hard work leads to glory, Dan Cleary scores with 3 min left to give Detroit a 4-3 lead.

9:33- Ducks have trouble getting out of their end, now its in the Wings zone and Hiller leaves for an extra skater. 30 seconds left.

9:38- After a great stop by Osgood, the Red Wings win it 4-3. Chicago-Detroit West Final. Bettman pisses himself in joy. At the same time, the second period ends in Boston with the Canes still up 2-1.

9:40- Turkoglu hits a three to make it Magic by 6. Is there a comeback left in the Celtics?

9:44- This looks about done. And the Celtics can only look at themselves in the mirror as they gave a team who was ready to quit some life. 22 turnovers is inexcuseable. Also, Dwight Howard played his best game of the series.

9:46- Game over, series tied at 3 as the Magic win 83-75. Almost time for LA-Hou and the Bruins-Canes 3rd Period.

9:49- Save of the year by Aaron Ward as he puts a stick on the puck before it goes in the net. And no, he doesn't play goalie for the Bruins. Bruins are still alive.

10:00- Good start by the Rockets, however, they started well on Tuesday.

10:04- Milan Lucic ties it up in Boston. Great goal for the poor man's Cam Neely.

10:06- Lakers look like they showed up the same way as they did in Game 4. Hence, they trail 17-1. Bruins are buzzing right now.

10:11- Tonight's Game 7's have gone much better for the NHL. All they need is the Bruins winning and they will have a TV-friendly Finals matchup.

10:17- I feel tense watching the Bruins-Canes game and I don't care about either team. I don't even have the typical Boston hate with the Bruins to have me root against them.

10:23- Tim Thomas with the header, taking the wrister off the mask, then makes another save. The fact is the hockey goalie is the toughest position in sports, more pressure than any other.

10:27- OT in Boston, Kobe's 3-11 to start with six points, not a great sign for the Lakers. 33-21 Rockets.

10:34- Nervously awaiting OT and this Laker game isn't helping. I'll be back when the OT starts.

10:46- The puck is dropped!!!

10:49- Another great save by Thomas. Certainly, he should win the Vezina this year.

10:51- Bruins-Canes now gets the DVR treatment, now I won't miss the goal if I wander away. It's like giving a two-year old a playpen.

10:55- Aaron Ward first saves the game, then crushes Tuumo Ruutu. Why couldn't he play like this when he wore a Rangers sweater.

10:58- Rockets by 16 at halftime, hopefully the hockey game ends before the 2nd half begins, so I can focus.

11:00- WE WANT IT has to be the lamest chant you can say at a sporting event. Come'on, think of something clever. If not, stick with "Let's go Bruins".

11:07- Even Simmons has slowed down with his chat, and he's a professional writer.

11:10- There is nothing as pulse-pounding in all of sports as a Stanley Cup Playoff Game 7 in OT. Nothing!!!

11:17- Scott Walker seals himself as the ultimate Boston villian, first the sucker punch on Ward, now scores the winner as the Canes take the series.

11:23- Back to Houston, where it's all of a sudden 54-45?

11:28- Now it's 54-50, 14-2 Laker run. What the hell happened to the Rockets? Once again, the Lakers turn it on and off, their trademark.

11:33- Huge sequence: Kobe gives the ball away to Battier, leads to Landry 3 pt play. Kobe responds with a jumper.

11:37- Aaron Brooks hits 3, Rockets back up by 8.

11:51- Rockets keep their heads above water, and lead by 9 after 3. Kobe to start the 4th on the bench

11:59- Timeout on the floor, the Lakers without Kobe haven't sunk the team, Kobe has the chance to win this series.

12:03- David Stern roots for the officials. Everyone who reads this should come up with a comment about this. Especially if you follow the NBA like I do.

12:05- Carl Landry has been huge in this game, Kobe's waiting to go in, and the Rockets are starting to open it up midway thru the 4th.

12:11- Looking at the statline, if this score holds up, it's because of Scola and Landry scoring and nothing outside Kobe and Pau for the Lakers.

12:13- Something new for everyone to emulate, Kobe biting his jersey when going for the ball. Don't know what I think of this.

12:17- Aaron Brooks is rightfully proving me wrong for not including him with Scola and Landry. He's been amazing in the last two home games.

12:22- I guess it's about time to prepare for two Game 7s in the NBA on Sunday. No way I do another live tweet/blog this soon. Too much work and not enough words.

12:27- Show of hands, who thought there would be a Game 7 in this series once Yao went down? I know I didn't.

12:30- Wow, Mark Jackson took Kenny "The Jet" Smith to task for wearing a red Rockets blazer and bow tie on Inside the NBA. Even used "fellow New Yorker" to put him in further shame. As a native New Yorker like the two of them, I have to go with Mark Jackson.

12:34- Final in Houston, 95-80 Rockets. Sunday at 3 will be Game 1 of Hawks-Wings, 3:30 Rockets-Lakers Game 7, then the deciding game between the Magic and Celtics. Goodnight everybody.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Remember ten years ago, the Yankees were going through their latest dynasty, with a group of likable guys who would die on the field if they need to. They were managed by the perfect man who could shield the pressure from the media and their owner. Built by a couple of GM's who, instead of just getting the biggest free agents available, used the farm system and made the right trade or signing that fit with the team.

A lot has changed since then, particularly after 2001, and the Yankees have still been unable to replace the best players of the era. A decade of signing flashy names and veteran pitchers have been unsuccessful in leading the Yankees to a title since 2000 and back to a World Series since 2003. However, all these failures are familiar to the failures that the 80s Yankees had. This year, however, the front office has now gone out of its way to screw the fans over and that is a trait that Jim Dolan has been doing for many years at MSG.

If you look at both the Knicks and the Rangers, both teams have had success in the 1990s as the Rangers won the Stanley Cup and the Knicks made two NBA Finals. Both erred in how they got rid of their best players as the Rangers let Mark Messier walk too soon while he still could have a few good years left (also compounding it by re-signing him when it was clear that his skills diminished) while the Knicks decided to trade away Patrick Ewing and take on big salaries from lesser players, when the more prudent plan would of been to have him play out his final year under contract.

The Rangers spent the next seven years after Messier left signing busts like Valeri Kamensky and Stephane Quintal, trading for a finished Pavel Bure and an overrated Anson Carter, trading away all-star Marc Savard for a draft pick which they used to draft a flat bust Pavel Brendl. From Neil Smith to Glen Sather, the Rangers have failed in personnel moves except three: drafting Henrik Lundqvist in the seventh round in 2000, trading for Jaromir Jagr and getting him for half-price and trading for Sean Avery in 2007 which catapulted the team to the playoffs and almost to the East Finals that season. Now with a salary cap, the Rangers have overextended themselves on mediocre talent (aside from Lundqvist) and are trapped in cap hell.

Cap hell is a place the Knicks are very familiar with, but that has stopped them from making moves. For them, it really starts with the 1999 NBA Draft when they picked Fredric Weis over Ron Artest, a man who's only claim to fame is getting dunked on by Vince Carter in the Olympics. They acquired an over-the-hill Glen Rice in the Ewing trade, which they in turn traded for Howard Eisley and Shandon Anderson. Under Scott Layden, the Knicks routinely brought in undersized forwards and guards who could drive the ball (plus they gave Allan Houston a max contract). It seemed like a godsend when they fired Layden, but when Isiah Thomas took the job, he made things worse, as hard to believe as it was. He would acquire plenty of questionable players to put it mild and each guy proved why he had a question on him to begin with, whether it's Eddy Curry's laziness or Stephon Marbury's selfishness.

The worst part about the Isiah era goes beyond their record, as the franchise became an embarrassment off the court. The sexual harassment lawsuit involving Anucha Browne Sanders and the truck party with intern Kathleen Decker made the team a punchline. The Rangers had their run of embarrassment this playoffs when John Tortorella attacked a fan with a water bottle and a stick, then the open letter Glen Sather wrote to the league. The Rangers also got into a lawsuit with the NHL for rights over the team website.

So what does this have to do with the Yankees? Because through all this, Jim Dolan continues to keep prices for both teams among the highest in each league and basically continue to steal our money without caring at all about the team. Granted, he did replace Isiah and maybe the Knicks part in this will change, but Glen Sather is almost locked in for life and the Rangers won't be any better than a second-round team under him. Meanwhile, all of a sudden, the Yankees have opened a new stadium and have priced out their fans. Even though Rangers game report sellouts and the Knicks at least report 19,000 a night, it looks like it's less on any ordinary night. The Yankees report 43,000 every game that is clearly not the case when you watch on TV.

Add to that the fact that guys like Randy Levine and Lonn Trost basically rub in it the fans faces by claiming the reason no ones allowed by the dugout during batting practice because they liken the suites to a house and Trost is quoted as saying "If you purchase a suite, do you want someone in your suite? If you purchase a home, do you want someone in your home?" Of course, he mentions the Legends Suites, not the rest of the field level seating that the same rule applies. Now the Yankees are selling off the rest of the old Stadium to more ridiculously high prices for seats, grass, etc. Another problem the Yankees had was the game against the Red Sox when their security guys and "May I Help You" people told fans that the game was going to be rained out, then when it wasn't, refused re-entry.

There are some differences between the Yankees and the MSG teams such as the fact that there won't be any Glen Sathers staying in power too long. Brian Cashman is under the gun this year, though continues to live off the last years of the Yankee dynasty. His failings as a GM lie mostly with his putrid job of building a farm system. This is one area that is the single biggest reason that Theo Epstein and the Red Sox are better than the Yankees. There are a whole list of trades and free agent signings that the Yankees have missed this decade. Some of the blame does go to George Steinbrenner, but Cashman has held control of the decisions since the end of the 2005 season and the team has periodically been worse since. We don't know how much Hal Steinbrenner will stand, but I can't see Cashman stick around if the Yanks continue to decline.

So basically, the Yankees are a flawed team despite its $200 million+ payroll. They are old at too many positions, are weak defensively, have no bench and depend to heavily on free agent pitchers because they haven't developed many pitchers on the big league level since the mid-1990s. They still have a long way to go to lower themselves to their fellow NY teams. They could start missing playoffs yearly, have lawsuits that disgrace the team (with A-Rod, there's always that chance), or have either the Steinbrenner sons not care or sell to someone else who won't. That's why, Yankees this is your wake up call. Don't turn into the Knicks or Rangers. Either break up this team and start over, or stop trying to win a fantasy league and start trying to win World Series. Being a tweener in this sport is infuriating, and your fans will see through it, at least the real ones who will show up to the park even if they can't afford it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Randomness while being thankful I never played basketball at Queensbridge

- Ron Artest has proven to be the most interesting player during the playoffs. Whether it's calling Brandon Roy the best player he guarded (aside from someone who's in jail), claiming Charles Barkley was overrated, sitting in the stands and joking about it, giving Yao Ming some personality, bringing back the Anthony Mason hair cut with a mohawk, getting into it with Kobe or talking about a friend of his who died on the court in QB; Artest is appointment TV whenever the press talks to him.

- As for the Lakers-Rockets series, it looks like the Lakers have things back in control. Especially with Yao out for the playoffs. And if Artest keeps getting himself ejected from games. But, this has been a good series, very 80s or early 90s like with the physical play.

- Once again Dallas Mavericks fans, I feel your pain. Bennett Salvadore's crew strikes again just like it did in the 2006 NBA Finals as there wasn't a foul called before Carmelo Anthony's Larry Johnsonesque three-pointer to win Game 3. The Mavs had a foul to give and if called, the Nuggets have about 3 seconds to inbound and shoot. Denver was going to win the series anyway, but now there's no doubt.

- Not much to say about the Cavs since they are still on track. As for Orlando-Boston, the Magic need to win tomorrow night, if they lose, they won't win in Boston. Both series aren't worth watching, as the Cavs are MUCH better than Atlanta, its like fishing with dynamite. And the Magic-Celtics series is just like the Heat-Hawks last round, no close games.

- On the other hand, it's nice to know Rafer Alston reads this blog as he knows it was okay to slap Eddie House.

- Alright I'll say, can we get rid of the hype man at NBA arenas. And that is one of about 467 ways that I would make the NBA better if I was the commissioner.

- On to hockey, where the Pens have rallied to take a 3-2 lead in the series over the Caps. Crosby and Ovechkin have been huge, but Malkin scoring the big goal is finally playing better. By the way, Alex Semin, where are you? You're as missing right now as Andrew Bynum. Ovie can't do it all, though he comes close to doing it.

- Eric Staal has taken over his series against the Bruins as Carolina can win the series tomorrow night. Cam Ward has played well and Jussi Jokinen is this year's Johan Franzen. Of course, Carolina is in the process of ruining the NHL's wet dream of a season. Ratings are up, Chicago and Boston are back and vibrant, but if Carolina goes to the Finals, it would kill the momentum the league is having.

- The Anaheim Ducks would do the same thing and God forbid it's Ducks-Canes in the Finals. Ratings would plummet back to 06-07 numbers. The good news, the Wings look like they finally got to Jonas Hiller. If they win in Detroit tomorrow, they should take the series.

- Continuing on the ruining the playoffs department, I would like to thank the Vancouver Canucks for playing the games in Chicago with the trap. When we are watching a new, exciting NHL games that are bring fans back, they have to come out with the defensive system responsible for turning fans away in the first place, along with overexpansion and the 94-95 lockout.

- In classic A-Rod fashion, he returns with a home run on his first pitch of the season. The reason it's classic A-Rod fashion is because it's his way of teasing us. Of course, the Yankees need every bit of it. Plus more games like CC Sabathia pitched last night. What they can't have is starts like Phil Hughes tonight, and homestands where the Red Sox and Rays sweep because of no timely hitting and a bad bullpen. A more pertanent question, are this year's Yankees last year's Mets? We'll find out if there's a collapse in the forecast.

- Speaking of the Mets, they seem to finally have some rhythm as they have started to hit in the clutch, and their starters are pitching better. In a related story, Ollie Perez is no longer in the rotation.

- Many thanks to Zack Greinke for his blistering start, making the Royals and My Cousin Yuri in the fantasy world look good and better than they could be, respectively. Even though he looks like he's going to lose his game 1-0 (this is being written Saturday night).

- Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will have their fight in November, assume Juan Manuel Marquez does right and loses in July. It could also be in October or December. Regardless, I will do everything in my power to watch that fight.

-The final word goes back to the NBA. LeBron James has clearly passed Kobe as the best player in the league. Kobe has shown some age and now relies on his jumper while less and less drives to the basket. Don't view this as a knock on Kobe and he's still an assassin and when the game's on the line, he's still my first pick to take that shot. But LeBron continues to perfect his game and the Olympic experience has matured his game; made him more focused and grounded. LeBron is rightfully the best player in the game and the rightful MVP, so Laker fans, you can stop chanting M-V-P for Kobe.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Let's Stop Vilifying Steroid Users

I'm sure when you woke up this morning, you flipped on ESPN like I do everyday and saw the breaking news that Manny Ramirez was caught using performance-enhancing drugs and will be suspended for the next 50 games. You also saw all the talking heads like Peter Gammons, Buster Olney all giving their opinion on what this means, does he make the Hall of Fame, etc. Then we read guys like Kevin Kernan and Mike Lupica who condemn steroid users as if they commit murder.

The mistake Manny made was getting caught when baseball doesn't test for HGH. Why risk suspension by taking a masking agent when almost anyone who looks for the edge goes for HGH or designer steroids that aren't detechable. The excuse that a doctor gave you something that's banned doesn't fly when it's woman's fertility drug.

Having said that, I've got a newsflash: It doesn't matter!

We have become too accustomed to players testing positive or being caught with PED's and since it's quite clear that a sizable amount of players used steroids at one time or another, it has evened itself out. Talent is talent and the good players who did/do PED's are talented baseball players. The scrubs who used steroids and did almost nothing in his career were supposed to do nothing.

The biggest argument I hear when people want to kill these players who used PED's say they "tarnish the game" because Babe Ruth didn't use them and Sandy Koufax didn't use them. Well, Babe Ruth never faced black players, and Sandy Koufax pitched on a taller mound that was a benefit to pitchers. They claim steroids is bad, but when Gaylord Perry used spitballs and Phil Niekro would scuff the ball, no one cares and they get put in the Hall of Fame.

What also hurts for those who vilify all the steroids users is the fact that most fans don't join in. Yes, fans will turn against PED's user, but rarely ever for their own players. Barry Bonds was hated throughout the league, not just for steroids mind you, but in San Francisco, he was an icon. Yankees fans still loved Jason Giambi after he tested positive and have defended A-Rod much more than I thought they would, crystallizing the love-hate relationship Rodriguez and Yankees fans have. It helps that the Yankees are struggling without him, though. And if you ask Red Sox fans today, now knowing Manny's possible steroid use in 2004 and 2007, if they would do it all again, I'm certain 99 percent would. Finally, when he comes back with the Dodgers, he will most likely maintain their support, making them just like their archrivals in San Fran.

Failing a drug test for Manny is more serious than the A-Rod's, Roger Clemens' and Mark McGwire's of the world because baseball didn't have drug tests and suspensions when they are alleged to have used and Rodriguez, Clemens and Bonds never failed a drug test. Personally, I've always said in the past that those who did steroids and caught before 2003 played when there weren't rules against it. Manny unfortunately knew the rule and he's paying the price. However, you look at the NFL, they have had plenty of players test positive for steroids, yet no one cares. For example, Shawne Merriman in the year he failed a PED's drug test ended up third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting and made the Pro Bowl (though the league made a rule banning in-season drug test failed players in the future).

The main reason that people care about the baseball steroid users is because of the records. Stats matter in baseball than any other sport. 61 and 755 are important to baseball fans. Emmitt Smith's rushing record and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's point total aren't to the standard fan (hence I don't give a number). But now that we have seen so many players test positive, it's about time we stop treating the latest PED user as a huge story and a chance to easily demonize an individual who makes a mistake.

These players shouldn't live with a scarlett S for the rest of their lives when football players get to hide behind their helmets. Manny Ramirez shouldn't miss out on the Hall of Fame any more than A-Rod or Barry Bonds because they were talented enough in the first place to be in the Hall of Fame. In Bonds and Clemens case, steroids lengthened their career's, while A-Rod and Manny are great hitters who may have hit more home runs than they probably would of.

What I wanted to do was not to excuse the use of steroids by baseball players, but to give them opportunity to redeem themselves. The best idea I heard was from Ken Rosenthal, to create a cheaters wing of the Hall of Fame. This can be put in the basement in Cooperstown, include the likes of Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Clemens and Manny along with the other steroid users worthy of induction if he played he whole career clean. You can even include Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson and anyone else who decides to gamble. Personally, I wouldn't give them the glory of giving a speech, though they do get to sit behind with the other Hall of Famers.

There is a problem if all of these baseball writers keep refusing to induct steroid users. We would have a generation of players who wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. And in twenty years, I bring my son to the Hall of Fame, do we ignore the 1990s happened. I say no; put the users in a place where they can be separated for their actions, while included for their talent.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Greats Come to Play in the Nation's Capital

This was the series the NHL was waiting for.


Since both players were drafted and started their careers after the lockout. Since Sidney Crosby was hailed the savior scored 100 points in his rookie year. Since Alex Ovechkin scored 50 goals, took home the Calder and got everyone's attention in a night in Phoenix. Since Sid the Kid won the Art Ross and the Hart in 2007, leading his young Pens to the playoffs. Since Alex the Great scored 65 goals, won the Art Ross and the Hart in 2008, leading his young Caps to the playoffs. Since Crosby took the Pens to the Stanley Cup finals last year as well. And most importantly, since Crosby and Ovechkin had a war of words back after a tough game in February.

Before the Feb 22nd showdown, both players were clearly the biggest stars in the league and certainly we wanted to see them play against one another in a playoff series. But, there wasn't an indication of hostility from our perspective as fans. For the Caps and Pens, the personal rivalry seemed to be Alex Semin and Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Ovechkin. After that game and the fact that Crosby invented the phrase "like it or lump it", the battle lines were drawn, sides needed to be chosen and an matchup everyone wanted to see became a matchup everyone needs to see.

That's the best thing about sports, whenever the two best players matchup, it's always better if you're forced to take sides. During the Ali-Frazier trilogy, you rooted either for Muhammad Ali or you rooted for Joe Frazier. When Magic Johnson and the Lakers played Larry Bird and the Celtics, you rooted for either the Lakers or the Celtics. Same goes for the Pats with Tom Beady and the Colts with Peyton Manning. There was no middle ground when they played/fought one another. And that's the compelling part, which is missing in my opinion when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play, and would never happen in golf because a golf gallery doesn't root against anyone. So not only do Crosby and Ovechkin play different ways (Crosby more distributor/playmaker, Ovechkin straight shooter), but the snarl added in make rooting for both sacrilege.

So when Marty Brodeur gave up two goals in the last 80 seconds of Game 7 against the Hurricanes made me happy as a Rangers fan to see the Devils choke their series worse than the Rangers did, I'm positive the NHL was even more happy and excited as that would lead to this series between the two faces of the league and a battle to see who is the best. The non-hockey fan would come aboard for the series (provided they have Versus on their cable/satellite system) and everyone would want to know a) who would have the better series, Crosby or Ovechkin and b) would they get into a fight during the series.

Through two games, these are the many ways that this series is exceeding the hype. First, Simeon Varlamov has continued his great play that he had against the Rangers, and stepped it up a notch against Pittsburgh. His save in Game 1 is legendary already after two days, with bonus points from the magnificent call by Doc Emrick. Also, we have a choker factor as Geno Malkin (despite two assists through two games) we all agree has not shown up in Washington, and took a very costly penalty in the third period tonight. Now, we will be hearing and reading stories about when will Malkin show up which is a bad thing if you're a Penguins fan, but a great thing if you have no allegiance since it's a buzzworthy story to keep the series on the front-burner.

Of course, the main reason the series is exceeding the hype is the mano-a-mano battle going on between Ovie and Sid. The fact that the two stars of this series have stepped their game up in a way non-hockey fans notice is the most important aspect of the first two games. Hockey fans can tell when someone is playing well and don't need it to be in the box score to be so. The best example is Blair Betts of the Rangers who, despite 10 points in the regular season, was one of their top 5 indispensible players, thus a huge loss when knocked out by Donald Brasheur. And every team has one of those guys and hockey fans know instinctively to look beyond the box score for a gauge on how well they play. The non-hockey fan or causal fan doesn't view things like that. They look at who scored to see who the best is.

So what do we get from Ovechkin and Crosby? Game 1 both men score and it would be a Tomas Fleischmann goal to win it for Washington. In Game 2 tonight, as I'm sure everyone reading has watched SportsCenter saw both men got hat tricks. This is akin to Kobe and LeBron going for 40 in the same game when they play in the NBA Finals. Ovechkin in particular using the Malkin penalty and scored four seconds into the power play with a shot Matthew Barnaby claimed was harder than any one of Manny Pacquiao's punches of Ricky Hatton last weekend. He followed that up with another laser while using the defenseman as a shield. Crosby though, wouldn't be outdone as he would clean up the messes for his hat trick, the third one with 30 seconds left he hit in the air, as good hand-eye coordination as any baseball player. Now I know this will upset some people, and even I don't like what I'm about to write, but, I've been impressed with Crosby in this series. He has shown up, hasn't whined as much as usual, and makes an impact for the Penguins and they wouldn't have played as close as they have been playing. However, Ovechkin has put his mark on this series and most importantly, has the two wins in the Phone Booth.

Now the series will move on to the Igloo in Pittsburgh. As I wrote before, this series has already exceeded the hype, at least in the first two games. We never saw Gretzky and Mario faceoff in the playoffs, Bobby Orr didn't have a comparable rival and Original Six would devalue any uniqueness of watching Gordie Howe against Rocket Richard or Bobby Hull. This is the NHL's first true glamour series. But now that the Caps lead 2-0, the Pens need to come up with some wins on home ice. If they don't, regardless what we've seen, this series will ultimately be remembered for falling short and ending too soon. But if the Pens take their home two and go back to Washington tied, then we have potential of one of the best playoff series ever.

And perhaps no right answer to a new age old question: Crosby or Ovechkin?