Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Hockey Season Continues!

Wow. Just when I had declared hockey dead, we see quite possibly the greatest Stanley Cup Finals game in years and years. I still highly doubt the Penguins can save us from a Detroit Cup, but if you watched the game, you saw a much better Sidney Crosby and Geno Malkin that might have you thinking they have figured something out…and the longer the series goes, the better they have become.

So your telling me there is a chance?

By the way, we would like to apologize to the buildings and vehicles of Detroit for the lack of fires last night. Sorry.

Penguins Stay Alive – Pitt Gazette

This game was supposed to be nothing more than a 60-minute formality.

The Penguins had been penciled in as props, a 20-man ensemble charged with offering just enough resistance to keep TV viewers and the Joe Louis Arena crowd interested until Detroit earned the opportunity to parade the Stanley Cup around their home rink.

Did anyone expect genuine suspense? Yeah, right. About as much as a typical North Korean election.

These Penguins apparently didn't understand their season was destined to end last night.
And it didn't.

They earned one of the most dramatic victories in franchise history by defeating Detroit, 4-3, in triple-overtime of Game 5 to slice the Red Wings' lead in the Cup final to 3-2. Game 6 will be at 8:08 p.m. tomorrow at Mellon Arena.

"It's a huge game," winger Petr Sykora said. "We just wanted to get this one and go back to Pittsburgh."

Sykora scored the winner at 9:57 of the third overtime -- the fifth-longest game in Cup final history -- when he threw a shot past Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood from the right dot.

"I hated to see Petr Sykora get that puck," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "You just know it's going in."

The goal was Sykora's sixth of the playoffs, but his first on the road.

The power play that led to his goal was made possible when Detroit forward Jiri Hudler smacked Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi in the face with his stick and received a double-minor.

"I was just praying for blood," Scuderi said.

Although Sykora ended the game, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is the primary reason the Penguins won it. On a night filled with heroic efforts by both teams -- like Ryan Malone who earlier took a puck in the face, throwing himself in front of a Detroit shot in the waning seconds of regulation -- his might have been the most spectacular.

He finished with 55 saves -- a number of them breathtaking -- and came through with one of the most clutch performances of his career in his most important game as a pro.

"He stole the show for us," Malone said.

The Penguins won despite losing defenseman Sergei Gonchar because of an unspecified injury he received late in the second period. Gonchar left the ice long before Max Talbot scored with 34.3 seconds left in regulation to put the game into overtime, although he was on the bench for the third overtime and assisted on Sykora's winner.

Talbot's goal was a season-saver for the Penguins and was the payoff for coach Michel Therrien's decision to use him as the extra skater in a late-game situation for the first time this season.

Ryan Malone takes a puck in the face

Detroit News

Party postponed. Put the Stanley Cup back in the box, for now.

On an incredible night of emotional swings, when the game seemed won and lost and won again about a dozen times, the Red Wings lost in crushing fashion, in the third overtime. As the clock ticked toward 1 a.m., Penguins right wing Petr Sykora fired a shot past Chris Osgood to beat the Wings, 4-3, in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Monday.

All of sudden, the pressure grows. All of a sudden, the Wings' lead is only 3-2, with Game 6 Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

The winning opportunity was set up when Wings right wing Jiri Hudler was called for a four-minute high-sticking, giving the Penguins the power play.

It was an unbelievable turnaround, after the Wings fired shot upon shot, after they carried a lead into the final minute of regulation, on the verge of celebration.
The Wings had their chances -- oh, my, did they have their chances. But Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stole the game and killed the party, thwarting the Wings' furious flurries. The Wings outshot the Penguins by an astounding 58-32, but couldn't get the clincher.

How do the Wings shake this one off?

"We got no choice," Henrik Zetterberg said. "We're still confident. Game 6s have been very good for us. We just have to get fluids in, get our bodies ready and regroup."

Maybe the size of the moment hit the Red Wings flush in the face. Or maybe thoughts of parades and trophies danced too early in too many heads.

Or more likely, Fleury was just magnificent. The puck bounced crazily all night, off sticks, off crossbars, off skates. And yes, again and again, it hit Fleury, as the Joe Louis Arena crowd shrieked and gasped.

This was terrific drama, if you're into heart-stopping entertainment and ridiculous saves. The Wings overcame early nerves and a two-goal deficit with a furious rally and a relentless array of shots, but they couldn't get the winner, no matter how desperately they pressed.

Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary and others all had prime chances in overtime, and with every save, the exhausting tension mounted.

Another day, and more crazy stories out of Valley Ranch.

For instance, how about signing your soon to be 35 year old WR to a 4 year deal?

According to multiple sources, the Cowboys and Owens on Monday agreed to a four-year deal worth $34 million, including $13 million guaranteed. An official announcement is expected today.

Owens, who turns 35 in December, was scheduled to receive a $3 million roster bonus today as part of the three-year, $25 million deal he received when he joined the Cowboys in 2006. Instead of making $7 million this season, Owens will earn roughly $13.7 million.

Owens' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, declined to comment.

The contract compares to the three-year, $27 million contract Randy Moss received from New England in March, although Owens is three years older than Moss.

In two seasons with the Cowboys, Owens has 166 catches for 2,535 yards and 28 touchdowns. He holds the team's single-season record with 15 touchdown receptions, set last year.

And of course, Pac Man is reinstated (sort of)

Nearly 14 months after he was suspended by the NFL for repeated violations of the personal-conduct policy, cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones can return to the football field.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated Mr. Jones on a limited basis Monday, allowing him to participate in the Cowboys' organized team activities, minicamp, training camp and preseason games. A final determination on a full reinstatement will be made by Sept. 1, six days before the season opener at Cleveland.

"This limited reinstatement is a step in the process," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said in a team statement. "Adam is aware of the things that need to be done in order to take the next step."

Efforts to reach Pacman Jones and his agent, Manny Arora, were unsuccessful.

Mr. Jones was acquired April 27 in a trade with the Tennessee Titans. He will begin practicing with the Cowboys today as the team begins its third week of organized activities.

Mr. Jones – who had a meeting with Mr. Goodell two weeks ago in Atlanta – and the Cowboys were hoping for some sort of resolution so that the cornerback could work out with new teammates, study a new scheme with coaches and join the team's player-development program, which teaches life and financial-management skills. Former Cowboys player Calvin Hill is a consultant for the program.

According to the league, Mr. Goodell told Mr. Jones that "his continued participation in the NFL depends on demonstrating that he can conduct himself in a lawful and reliable manner. Jones will be expected to continue the personal conduct program established for him by the NFL and the Cowboys and to avoid further adverse involvement with law enforcement."

The Cowboys' decision to acquire Mr. Jones was met with concern because of his history – he has had 11 off-field incidents since being selected sixth in the 2005 draft by Tennessee – and the uncertainty of when, or whether, he would be reinstated.

Most recently, Mr. Jones paid a Las Vegas casino $20,000 after failing to repay three markers, or loans, he received in September. Felony theft and fraud charges had been threatened before he sent the payment.

Jerry Jones has taken risks on players before, with varying degrees of success.

One who worked out was wide receiver Terrell Owens, who agreed with the Cowboys on Monday to a new four-year deal worth $34 million, according to multiple sources. But the risk was less successful with defensive lineman Alonzo Spellman, who was battling a mental disorder. His skills had diminished when he joined the team in 1999.

Last year, the Cowboys signed Tank Johnson to a two-year contract while he was serving an eight-game suspension for violating the league's personal-conduct policy.

"The maturation process is slower for some," Mr. Johnson said last week. "But once you reach that point, it's kind of the point of no return. You don't digress. You keep going forward."

Mr. Jones, who signed a four-year, $13.3 million contract with the Cowboys that included no guaranteed money, has said he understands this is a final chance.

He recently moved to Dallas and has met most of his teammates, while becoming close with two former Cowboys, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders. Mr. Jones took part in Jason Witten's charity bowling event last month and was part of a workout Mr. Sanders held at Southern Methodist University with several NFL and college players.

"I've been working with him daily, and he's my new fishing buddy," Mr. Sanders said. "He's thankful and eager to prove he's worthy of a second chance."

Rangers pitchers are not missing bats

The Texas Rangers' lineup continues to score at a league-leading pace, and just about anyone who comes to the plate seems immune to recording an out.

Unfortunately, the same can be said about much of the pitching staff the past two days.

Rangers pitchers surrendered four home runs, 16 hits and nine walks as the Cleveland Indians opened a four-game series Monday with a 13-9 victory at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Spoiled in the messy pitching performance were a grand slam by Marlon Byrd and a two-run shot by Josh Hamilton. The Rangers have scored 17 runs the past two games, but opponents have scored 26.

"You've got to pitch," manager Ron Washington said. "I've been saying that since Day One. Our offense is a pretty good offense, and they're going to score runs. But their runs are no good if we don't hold the other team down."

The Rangers have the highest ERA in the American League and have allowed the most runs, hits and walks. The numbers the past two games aren't pretty, either.

The 26 runs came on 27 hits with 15 walks and seven homers. Ten pitchers the past two days combined to throw 408 pitches, and only relievers Josh Rupe and C.J. Wilson didn't allow a run.

Cleveland saw 224 pitches Monday. The Indians entered the game with the worst batting average in the American League at .233, and only Kansas City had scored fewer times.

But Cleveland jumped on Doug Mathis, who was making his third career start and second against the Indians. He didn't make it out of the fourth inning.

Casey Blake victimized the right-hander for two two-run homers and a three-run double as the Indians jumped to an 8-3 lead.

"That's what happens when you fall behind," said Mathis, has a 9.00 ERA. "You fall behind big-league hitters and you get the ball up in the zone, it's easy to hit."

Hamilton hit his 16th of the season in the third, giving him homers in three consecutive games. He enters today as the leader in the three triple-crown categories.

The Rangers forged an 8-8 tie with a five-run fifth, four of which came on Byrd's fourth career grand slam and the fifth for the Rangers this season.

Cleveland, though, took the lead again in the seventh. Ben Francisco clubbed a two-out two-run homer in seventh on the first pitch from Joaquin Benoit, who had relieved Eddie Guardado (0-1).

Problems mounted for Benoit in the eighth. He surrendered another home run, this one to David Dellucci, and walked four of the next five hitters.

Josh Hamilton switches agents …right before his extension is done? Hmmm.

Josh Hamilton's negotiations for a long-term deal may be held up a little by his decision to switch agents during negotiations that appeared to be progressing. Hamilton, a born-again Christian after returning from bouts with his drug addiction, explained to friends that he wanted to be with a Christian stable, so he switched agents from Matt Sosnick to Michael Moye as he seemed to be closing in on a long contract.

Devin Harris speaks about Avery

In Dallas, they're still debating the relative merits of Jason Kidd -- and by extension, the wisdom of the not-so-dearly departed Avery Johnson, who allegedly has a selective memory over his role in the execution of the deal that helped submerge the already-sinking Mavericks.

Devin Harris doesn't really know what to make of it.

But it is remarkable that the Nets point guard, whom the Mavs admittedly loved, tends to side with Johnson after knocking heads with the coach for much of their 3 1/2 years together.

"It's good to know," said Harris, referring to Johnson's claims of protesting the historic deal of Feb. 19. "But there's not a lot we can do about it now. We were close, and this is his way of showing his allegiance to me. I don't think he was a big contributor to the trade talk when it was going on. He was giving his output -- a little bit, here and there -- to show it wasn't something he would have liked to do, just something he was compelled to do."

In other words, Harris actually thinks owner Mark Cuban and GM Donnie Nelson pulled the trigger without Johnson's full support?

"Possibly. They are the owner and GM, he's just the coach," Harris said. "I mean, you don't know. Obviously I'm just throwing it out there. I wasn't in the war room or behind the scenes when the move was going on."

Johnson, who was fired immediately after the Mavs were pummeled in the first round against New Orleans, had also claimed that Harris was "like a son to me." Harris validated that assessment.

"It developed into that" kind of relationship, Harris said. "The first year or two was a little (contentious). We didn't always see eye-to-eye, he was a little harder on me than I think he should have been. This last year, we developed a relationship that way."

So how does a "dad" trade his "son"?

"It is a business," Harris said with a shrug.

Another Hamilton Story – this one from 2004

Are the Sharks close to dealing Patrick Marleau? …wow. I hope they do. Big Mistake, but it would likely be done to allow them to keep Brian Campbell.

An NHL source — not connected with either team — advises that the Sharks and Columbus are indeed close to a deal. San Jose would send Marleau and another player (unspecified) to the Blue Jackets for their first-round draft pick — 6th overall in the NHL entry draft later this month — and right wing Nikolai Zherdev.

Now, of course, it’s hard to analyze the prospective exchange when you don’t which one of Marleau’s teammates would be accompanying him to the Ohio capital.

And I’m fully aware that 90 percent of the trade rumors out there never materialize. But this one might make sense if indeed Doug Wilson has decided he wants to start 2008-09 minus both his old coach and his old captain, and is willing to take a chance that Zherdev has overcome the bad rap that dogged him his first three season in the NHL.

First, Columbus could see Marleau as the skilled center who makes its big gun, Rick Nash, even more of a scoring threat. And in a deep draft year when the top 12 players are touted by some as ready to make the leap to the NHL, the Sharks would get their highest pick since 2003. As of now, San Jose doesn’t have a pick until the 4th round.

As for Zherdev, a year ago he was in Coach Ken Hitchcock’s doghouse and generally considered a selfish disappointment after being picked 4th overall in 2003, two spots ahead of Milan Michalek. But he seemed to get his act together most of last season, scoring 26 goals and a career-best 61 points –more than any player in a Sharks jersey other than Joe Thornton.

Still, Columbus simply may see that as improving his trade value.

On the financial side, Zherdev has one season left on his contract and will earn $3.25 million — less than half of the $6.3 million that Marleau will make each of the next two seasons under his new deal. That would certainly end any discussion of whether there’s enough money around to make a competitive offer to re-sign Brian Campbell.

Anyway, enough speculation for now. We’ll all know by July 1 whether Marleau is back for another go-round as that’s when his no-trade clause kicks in.

More Don Cherry Photos

Commercial with an Upper Decker?

Papelbon teaches Okajima dice


Andy D. said...

A few observations:

After Det scored on the 3rd period PP to tie the game, that buzz saw that they unleashed was some of the coolest hockey going. That was a miracle that Pit tied it. Cup delayed a few days. Sorry Pit.

Love Papelbon
Love T. O.
Pac Man will be reinstated when the time is right.

Lance said...

I'm not so sure I'd call last night's game "great" at all, it was more like "amazing" instead. Detroit overwhelmingly dominated the Penguins in virtually every way a team can, but still somehow managed to lose. All of the credit for that goes to Marc-Andre Fleury in my opinion.

Pittsburgh's defense was absolutely horrid all night, but he bailed them out time after time. All it did was delay the inevitable though, but it sure was amazing to watch and I was glad to see the Detroit fans go home without seeing the Cup.

Flaco said...

The question, is did Bob watch the game live?

I love me some late night hockey

Jake said...

Last night's game was pretty exciting but I wouldn't describe it as great. This series feels eerily similar to the Dallas series before it.

Interesting stat from Freakonomics:

"Road (NHL) teams have won 10 of the past 12 overtime games in the finals and are 15-4 since 1990."

Small sample set but pretty interesting nonetheless.

Get your popcorn ready.