Hershey Tied with Manitoba
The Hershey Bears lost a heartbreaker Tuesday night in Winnipeg to the Manitoba Moose giving up the winning goal with less than a minute to go in regulation. The Moose would add an empty netter to close out the Bears, 3-1, in game two to tie this best of seven series at one game a piece. The next three games are in Hershey on Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday. If either the Bears or Moose don’t sweep the three contests then the series goes back to Winnipeg for games 6 and 7 (Friday, June 12th and Sunday, June 14th). I’ll be covering games 4 and 5 so please look for blogs after those contests with quotes from players, coaches, and possibly even Caps personnel (GM George McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau will be in attendance).
Meanwhile, some good news out of Hershey today as defenseman Karl Alzner participated fully in practice for the first time since he was injured in the second round of the playoffs against Wilkes-Barre Scranton (Penguins farm team). Tim Leone of the Patriot News has a good write-up on today’s practice at http://blog.pennlive.com/patriotnewssports/2009/06/defenseman_karl_alzner_concuss.html.
Forward Oskar Osala (Caps 4th round choice, 97th overall in 2006 NHL Entry Draft) has had a very good regular season with the Bears notching 23 goals, 14 assists and was +11 in 75 games and in the AHL playoffs he has continued to play well scoring six goals and four assists in 18 games while going +8. Osala had two goals in Hershey’s thrilling Calder Cup Finals game 1 victory, 5-4, in overtime. Check out yesterday’s chat transcript with the 6′ 4″ and 220 pound left winger at http://www.theahl.com/headlines/index.html?article_id=10177. Osala confirms, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, that he needs to improve his skating if he is to consistently play in the NHL.
Also, John Walton, who is Senior Manager of Communications for the Bears and is the team’s radio play-by-play voice, posted a nice blog on the Calder Cup finals travel situation at http://johnwaltonhockey.blogspot.com/2009/06/thursday-thoughts-heading-to-game-3.html. Neither team seems to have gained any advantage over the other based on their respective long journey’s from Winnipeg this week.
For those who don’t know much about the Moose, they are the AHL farm team for the Vancouver Canucks. One of their most familiar NHL prospects is their goalie, Cory Schneider, who came up to the big club back in late November when superstar Roberto Luongo went down with a groin injury. Kelly Hrudey of Hockey Night in Canada Radio thinks that Schneider (Vancouver’s 1st round draft choice in 2004, 26th overall) is the real deal and will one day be a regular starter for an NHL team. This year Schneider went 28-10 in the regular season for Manitoba and is 13-4 in the current playoffs. The 23 year old net minder, who was 2-4-1 in eight appearances with the Canucks, is an American born in Massachusetts and he played at Boston College for three seasons. Their other top prospects are 19 year old center Cody Hodgson, who was a first round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry draft (10th overall), and 21 year old right wing Michael Grabner, who was also a first rounder in 2006 (14th overall).
The Moose are a much older bunch than the Bears with some familiar hockey names like 42 year old Mike Keane (current team captain who won Stanley Cups with Montreal, Colorado, and Dallas), 34 year old Jason Krog (22 goals in 220 games at the NHL level), 33 year old defenseman Nolan Baumgartner (Caps first round pick in 1994, 10th overall), and 27 year old forward Michal Ouellet (played for the Penguins, Lightning, and Canucks).
Winning this series will be a tough task for Hershey because of Manitoba’s experience.
Stanley Cup Finals Analysis
As I predicted in this blog on Monday night, the Penguins were victorious in game three and put themselves back in the series. Thursday night, Pittsburgh took things another step further by striking for three goals in five minutes in the second period to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead and eventual victory. The Pens power play is a blistering 4 for 9 in the Stanley Cup Finals while the Red Wings went 0 for 4 in game four and gave up a short handed tally to Jordan Staal that tied the game at two. That play seemed to be the turning point in the series as Staal badly undressed Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski en route to the goal that got Mellon arena rocking and gave the Pens some serious momentum.
I am not happy about saying this but right now Pittsburgh looks like the better team, especially with 2008-09 Hart Trophy finalist Pavel Datsyuk still out with a foot injury for Detroit. Chris Osgood, who was outstanding in goal in games one and two gave up some softies in the next two contests at the Igloo while his counterpart in net, Marc Andre-Fleury, turned in superb performances in Pittsburgh. Game five is Saturday night at 8pm on NBC.
Home ice has been a real advantage in this series because the host coach gets to put his players out on the ice second and that worked well for Wings coach Mike Babcock in Detroit when he was able to put top defensive pair Nicklas Lidstrom and Rafalksi out against Sidney Crosby. In Pittsburgh, head coach Dan Bylsma had the last change and he had the luxury of putting either Crosby or Evgeni Malkin’s line out against the players he desired. Malkin leads the NHL playoffs in scoring with 35 points but right now Crosby is my Conn Smythe winner for playoff MVP. His passing has been incredible and it seems every time he is involved in an odd man rush the Penguins score. He rivals Wayne Gretzky for scoring efficiency on two on one breaks, in my opinion.
I think the game five winner takes the Stanley Cup and if I was in Vegas would wager on the Pens at this point, despite my pre-series pick of Detroit in six games. Pittsburgh appears faster and they continue to do a very good job of protecting the front of their net, something I thought they might have more trouble with against the Wings.
Other Hockey News
The Colorado Avalanche have hired former Capital, Joe Sacco, to be their head coach next season. Sacco played three seasons (1999-2002) in DC. The Avs, once one of annual members of the NHL elite, have been a mess the last several seasons. Ian Ceverny, who covers Colorado for the Denver Examiner, has an interesting read on this situation at http://www.examiner.com/x-7651-Denver-Page-One-Examiner~y2009m6d5-Avalanche-tab-Sacco-as-next-fall-guy. Still no word on whether soon to be 40 year old Joe Sakic will be back with the Avalanche in the fall.
Finally, I had mentioned in one of my blogs recently that an NHL scouting director told me that the best head coach available but not behind an NHL bench was Jim Playfair. Playfair, who is extremely loyal to Flames GM Darryl Sutter, has been named head coach of the Flames farm team, which just moved recently from Iowa to British Columbia. You can read the story at http://theahl.com/news/league/index.html?article_id=10179