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The Final Is Dawning On Us…‏

PenaltykillWhat a couple of weeks it’s been.

I know I’ve been a little quieter than usual, but a damaged wrist ruined my ability to type for longer than a couple of paragraphs. Now it makes a lovely cracking sound when I stretch it, like reaching for a sieve, or changing gear in my car, and all to the disgust of my girlfriend, who cringes at the wet crunchiness of it all.

Anyway…

The Sharks celebrations at ditching Detroit were short lived. They fell at the next hurdle, losing 4 games to 1 to a Vancouver team who look to be gaining in confidence. The Canucks are one of those teams that are obviously players of the highest calibre (after all, they’re always there or thereabouts in the Western Conference), but seem to lose out in the playoffs. All I can imagine is the issue they face is one of mentality, and the belief that even if they win a couple of games, they’ll still drop out at the 1st or 2nd round. This year’s team looks different, in that there seems a genuine belief that the Canucks can win.

Bieksa’s OT goal was indeed and oddity, with Edler’s round-the-boards play hitting a stanchion, and angling back across ice. The only person who seems to have anticipated this is Bieksa, who hit a slapshot towards goal. Everyone else on the ice is looking for the puck either behind the net, or has assumed it has gone out of play, and nobody is looking at the puck. Bieksa’s knuckling shot bobbles past Niemi’s left leg, into the goal, and Bieksa is celebrating at center ice before anyone else realises what’s happened.

The Sharks have a right to feel utterly dejected, whilst the Canucks are looking like a very strong and powerful opponent right now.

As for the Eastern finals, well it’s anybody’s guess. The Bruins and Lightning are currently at 3 games each, and some of the trials and tribulations in the previous 6 games have been surprising the say the least.

The Bruins looked a little lost after their 5-2 beat down in game one, whilst the Lightning seemed to have the measure of Vezina candidate Tim Thomas. Yet in game two, the previously solid Dwayne Roloson was pulled after two periods, due to allowing 6 goals on 27 shots as the Bruins destroyed the Tampa Bay defence, winning 6-5 after a nervy 3rd period where the Lightning potted twice to set up a tense finish. With honours even, game 3 in Tampa was an almost stalemate. The Bruins ran out 2-0 winners, with both goalies showing how they’ve managed to get their teams this far. Boston’s 1 game lead was levelled again when Tampa overcame a 3-0 deficit after the 1st period of game 4, and rallied to a 5-3 win. Again Roloson was pulled early, with Mike Smith shutting out 21 shots to keep the Lightning in with a chance, which they duly took with both hands.

Game 5 took another turn, as Smith started in goal, but still found himself losing 3-1, even though Gagne have given the Lightning the lead in the first. Finally, last night’s game 6 saw the Bolts turn up the heat once again. 3 Powerplay goals helped them overcome the Bruins in a back-and-forth affair as Boston led 2-1 after the 1st, Tampa led 3-2 after the 2nd, and won 5-4 overall, with Tim Thomas being pulled for the extra attacker for nearly 2 minutes.

Game 7 looks to be the kind of game hockey fans like me drool over. For the winner, a place in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins have been absent from the finals since 1990, and haven’t won the cup since 1972, whilst the Lightning have only ever made one appearance in the finals, winning the cup in 2004. Whoever wins, they’ll be meeting the Vancouver Canucks, who have only ever made the finals twice (1994, and 1982), but have never won.

None of the teams still in with a shot have had an easy ride, with all three teams having shaky first round games, with Boston and Vancouver only progressing due to an OT game 7 goal. Let’s see if their luck can hold.

As an aside, the off-season is a time when players recuperate, have a bit of a holiday, repair injuries, and start training for the pre-season. It’s also when many players consider their future, be that with a new contract, a new team, or decide to retire. This week saw the retirement of Red Wings and USA defenceman Brian Rafalski, as well as Islanders and fellow USA international Doug Weight.

Weight was drafted in 1990 and took to the ice for the Rangers, Oilers, Blues, Hurricanes, Blues (again), Ducks and Islanders, winning the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006. He played 1238 NHL games, tallying 1033 points, and represented his country at 2 World Cups, and 3 Olympics.

Rafalski on the other hand, was never drafted, and played in Sweden and Finland before being picked up by the New Jersey Devils in 1999. He moved to Detroit in 2007, much to the reluctance of Devils’ fans, who didn’t want to lose him. Rafalski won the Stanley Cup 3 times, twice with the Devils, and once with the Red Wings, racking up 833 NHL games, and 515 points. The defenceman also played for the USA in the 2004 World Cup, and 3 Olympic games.

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