Bobby Orr had such a short career but he transformed the game of ice hockey. I feel privileged to have watched him play. The book, I fear, may be another thing altogether.
This was the joyous scene on St. Catherine street in Montreal last night as the Canadiens defeated the Washington Capitals 2-1 in game 7 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
While the Caps’ collapse — losing a 3-1 series lead as the No. 1 playoff seed — was historic, the Habs (short for “les Habitants”) deserve high praise. They controlled the NHL’s highest-scoring offense and allowed only one power play goal from a team that had averaged 25% scoring all year. The Canadiens are the longest continuously operating professional ice hockey team and have won 24 Stanley Cups (including their first in 1916, before the NHL existed), more than any other team. But it’s been 18 years since they last won the title, a painfully long drought for a proud franchise.
The Canadiens, on goals by Marc-Andre Bergeron and Dominic Moore, hung on in the dying seconds to upset the President Trophy winning Capitals. It marks the first time an eighth seed manages to come from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the league’s top club. The story’s beginning goes back seven seasons, when at the World Junior under 18 tournament, a pair of Canadiens scouts watched in amazement as Slovakian goaltender Jaroslav Halak repeatedly shut the door of Russian snipers Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Malkin. The impressed scouts took note, and chose Halak in the ninth round of the 2003 draft, and the rest is history
The Canadiens finished 33 points behind the Capitals in the regular season and scored a whopping 101 fewer goals than the Caps, but none of that mattered Wednesday night. The Caps were unable to find the net and continued to take costly penalties that Montreal gladly capitalized on. Such excitement over a first-round series would once have been unthinkable in Montreal. This is a city that celebrated eight Stanley Cup championships in 12 seasons between 1967-68 and 1978-79; but, since their last Cup win in 1993, it’s become a rare occurrence for the Habs to make it past the first round.
So maybe Montreal’s new dreams of a restored dynasty will become real? Who knows where this improbable upset will lead.
I have ranted before in this space about the tremdously stupid moves made by the Washington Capitols and their supposedly fan-friendly owner Ted Leonsis. Well, yesterday the Caps traded their all-time leading scorer Peter Bondra. It’s not just that he leads all NHL players in hat tricks over the past 8 seasons, or that he has spent his entire career with the team, or that by the end of the season Bondra would have played more games in a Caps uniform than anyone else. No, it’s that Leonisis got only a 20-year old minor leaguer and a future draft pick — nothing — in return for a real star.
Mike Wilbon comments that Bondra cried when he heard the news of what Wilbon termed the “liquidation sale” going on in DC. He also cogently points out — as I personally told Leonsis last Spring — why my 5th row season tickets to the Caps will not be renewed next year.
Goodbye, Bonzai. Pleasant travels.
So after Ted Leonsis traded Jaromir Jagr, he caught the Caps first home game and promptly beat the crap out of a 20-year old fan who started a cheer that rhymes with “shucks.” The NHL has fined Ted and suspended him for a week, and both sides are now playing nice. Leonsis Suspended One Week, Caps Fined $100K [FOXSports.com].
Gee, I have flamed Leonsis in this blog, even generating a response from the man himself. Does that mean Ted is now going to come after me? Well, at least he would be picking on someone his own age. As our Pres said, “Bring him on”!!
When the Capitals finally traded Jaromir Jagr to the Rangers Friday, it was as if a veil of honesty finally dropped down on the team. For months ownership and management had denied any intention to make major changes to team chemistry. But at the same time they were actively looking for some way to “escape” Jagr’s $11 million per year salary, just dumping costs no matter what. [canada.com].
Well the “no matter what” is about to come home to roost. Without Jagr, the Caps have no star power and little scoring ability. Their defense and goaltending are already horrid. So Ted Leonsis’ plan is apparently that if a team is losing games and money, it should lop off its good players to go with cheap, inexperienced youngsters and lose some more games. This is a shambles. Jagr’s acquisition was designed to put Washington on the map and get the Caps to the “next level.” But Ted & Co. never did anything else and left Jags virtually alone. For most of the time, Jagr played his heart out as a leader. At the end, you could see he did not care anymore. Of course, neither did Ted or the Caps, so who can really blame him?
After the Washington Capitals scored a rare victory (and even rarer shutout) last night, the Edmonton Sun observed that “only the lowly Penguins have a worse record than the Caps, but Pittsburgh is incompetent for half the cost of the Caps’ $50-million payroll.” Outspoken Caps owner Ted Leonsis, who is in “the fifth year of what was supposed to be a five-year plan to build a champion,” admits it’s not going to happen, and is eternally grateful to the 12,000 fans who still show up for the games. “I’m amazed anybody is coming,” he said.
Last year’s amazing NHL second-year All Star Danny Heatley faces a possible 15+ years in prison for vehicular homicide after teammate Dan Snyder was killed when Heatley’s Ferrari crashed into a tree late at night. Thrashers Say Farewell to Snyder [The Globe and Mail]. Even more poignant, though, is this account of today’s Ontario funeral for 25-year old Snyder.
With young players tapping their sticks on the street in tribute, Dan Snyder was buried in his hometown Friday, five days after he died in a crash in a car driven by an Atlanta Thrashers’ teammate. Dozens of mourners hugged each other at the cemetery. Heatley, the driver in the crash, had a cast on his right leg and red flower in the lapel of his dark suit.
Heatley still faces surgery on his knee and nine months of rehab. What a tragedy on so many levels. David Vecsey of Sports Illustrated writes that last year he smiled and said “It’s good to be Danny Heatley.” Not any more. Heatley will have to live with this forever, whether or not he comes back — and especially if he does — to play hockey again. His life sentence has just begun.
I ranted in April about the stupidity of the Washington Capitals’ consideration of trading superstar Jaromir Jagr. I ended then by saying “Ted Leonsis, listen up! You want fans to pack MCI Center, get a good team, a consistently winning team. Don’t send players away and go with two-bit has beens and unproven rookies.” What follows is a verbatim e-mail exchange between myself and Caps majority owner Ted Leonsis from yesterday — following news reports that the Caps are trying to trade Jagr to the New York Rangers — in which he offers a rather opaque, and completely unenlightening, response.
Ted, the press has glorified you as the most responsive owner in the NHL, crafting personal responses to fans’ e-mails. That’s all you have to say on the most significant issue facing your franchise? Very dissapointing.
Few (except me) gave the Anaheim Mighty Ducks a chance to win the NHL’s Stanley Cup championship this season. But they can tonight in Game 7, and the finals have been a truly dramatic series.
Surprisingly, NHL Finals Near Dramatic End [NYTimes.com]. Not only is it one game take all, but there’s some real emotion in this series after the thunderous (some say dirty) open-ice hit by New Jersey Devils’ Scott Stevens on Anaheim star Paul Kariya in Saturday’s game. As Devils’ coach Pat Burns said, “Hate builds up” in these long series. Gotta love the hate!
With Detroit, Colorado and Dallas all eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, I am transferring my loyalties to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Ducks Leave Wild, Lemaire Frustrated Again [SI.com].
Last night, Jean-Sebastian Giguere recorded his second consecutive shutout, fourth this year against the Minnesota Wild, to spearhead the Ducks to a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals. Can you spell i-n-t-i-m-i-d-a-t-i-o-n?