05/15/2008 3:12 PM
By Chad Huebner
Is it me, or are the NHL Conference Finals a mere tune up for the Stanley Cup Finals?
After some pretty good series in the first two rounds, now it’s like preseason out there for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings. Despite all that the Dallas Stars and Philadelphia Flyers have accomplished to get this far in the postseason, those two clubs are playing like “B” teams in a scrimmage game against the starters. Yes, the Stars staved off a series sweep in their impressive win in Game 4, and yes, the Flyers will probably do the same thing, the inevitable fact is that the Pens and Red Wings will be playing for it all in a week.
So where can a hockey fan find excitement in the postseason? How about the minors? The IHL and CHL both completed their seasons, but that still leaves the ECHL and AHL.
In the ECHL, five out of the 17 series played so far have “gone the full limit”, meaning the full five or seven games depending on the length of the series. Out of the 81 games played in the postseason, more than a quarter of those have gone into extra frames, including a 3OT affair between the Fresno Falcons and the Utah Grizzlies.
But the ECHL can’t hold a candle to the AHL excitement. Thirty percent of their games have been OT affairs, and a third of their series have gone the full seven games. In fact, the longest game in AHL history was played this postseason, a 5OT, 142-minute marathon between the Albany River Rats and the Philadelphia Phantoms. In the six games played between the Syracuse Crunch and the Manitoba Moose (I’m telling ya, ya gotta love the minors just for the wacky team names), five had to go the extra period to determine a winner. It’s crazy, man, cra-zee.
I would also assume the Memorial Cup should be just as exciting. That’s the end-all, be-all of championships in the Canadian junior ranks, and it holds even a higher place than the Stanley Cup in some areas. Considering no Canadian team has won Lord Stanley’s contribution to hockey in 15 years, that’s not hard to fathom. Thanks to the NHL Network, the entire Memorial Cup Tournament will be shown in the States. I’ve always been a curious sort about the Canadian junior leagues, wondering if some of those players are as good as they’ve been touted, now I’ll be able to see what the fuss is all about.
Speaking of the minors, let’s move on to the playoff notes:
-As the Chicago Wolves move on in the AHL playoffs, let’s take a moment to thank the Rockford IceHogs for going so far in their first season in “the AAA of hockey leagues”. Okay, since I write for them, I’ll do most of the thanking (can’t help brown-nosing, I just can’t). Still, the IceHogs have proven they can compete with the best of them, and they know how to develop talent for the NHL journey. I can’t wait to see Jack Skille in a ‘Hawks uni this fall, though I’m sure IceHog fans wish this wouldn’t happen. Or, are you fans just so used to the idea of the best players on your team being called up that this is routine by now? Well, thanks for giving us the very best, even if down deep you don’t want to.
-So the Paul Maurice Era in Toronto didn’t work out too well, eh? Not that he had much to work with in the first place; it’s a wonder that he had the Maple Leafs in playoff contention that late in the season. But his leaving might actually bring the Leafs some sort of success. After Maurice got canned in Carolina, the ‘Canes would go on to win the Cup. And after he left the Toronto Marlies (Leafs’ AHL affiliate) to take the Leafs’ main position, the Marlies had their first 50-win season, first division title and first trip into the conference finals all this season. I’m not saying there’s a Paul Maurice Factor to all of this, but. . .
-And the Ron Wilson Era in San Jose came to a close, though at least he led his club into the postseason, which was the problem, as they never went far enough. I’ve heard Joel Quenneville, who left the Colorado Avs (which is a rarity when someone leaves a job in this business of their own volition) is a possible candidate, and probably a pretty good choice, even though his postseason record is “sketchy”. But why not go in house and hire Assistant Coach Tim Hunter? He goes back a long ways with Wilson, all the way back to the Washington Capitals and their unbelievable run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. He also probably knows the Sharks system inside and out, thus making for a smoother transition into the head coaching role. But I’m betting the Sharks’ organ-I-zation is looking to get out of its postseason rut, hence do the outsourcing thing.
-Watching the Pens and Red Wings play is like watching the same team with two different jerseys on every night. They combine physical with finesse. Phinesse?
-The Stars should be bounced out of the playoffs on their bland jerseys alone. Did they run out of money before designing those drab unis? What happened to the green in the team colors? I thought the unis the Stars wore before the lockout were one of the best in the league, with the green star covering the top of the jersey. Now they look like a traveling club from the Yukon or something.
-Enough with “Chris Osgood not getting his due” already! It’s been drummed into my head so many times, I feel like yelling at the TV when they show him “I’m soooo sorry! I’m very, very sorry for doubting you! Please, forgive me!!!” It just happens in sports when a player has the tools and talent, but gets overlooked for someone that’s a tad bit better than they are. Just appreciate what Ozzie has done when he can start and leave it at that. Or just look at the numbers he’s put up over his career, doing this despite stints with the New York Islanders and the St. Louis Blues when those two clubs were not at their very best.
-Wait a second; did I just praise a Red Wing? I must be losing it. These playoffs drag on seemingly forever. Let’s just start the Finals now, okay?
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