May 1, 2001
The Sporting News
At this time of year, it's often hard to keep track of the winners
and losers, the haves and have-nots, the goons and the goners. So, in
the name of simplification, here are the main stories collected so
far in what has been one heck of a wild playoffs.
Home cooked. Forget everything you've read about teams finishing
first in their conference or division to gain home-ice advantage. In
the first games of the second round, road teams won all four games.
The reason? These days, with your cookie-cutter architecture drawn
from the same computer program, all the new rinks look the same.
There are no more Boston Gardens, Philadelphia Spectrums, Montreal
Forums or Maple Leaf Gardens that teams can call their own. Every new
rink, from the Pepsi Center to the Staples Center to the Air Canada
Centre to the Savvis Center, is the same except for the sponsor name.
Each has its high-tech scoreboard telling the crowd to make noise,
each has its outstanding selection of expensive corporate seating in
the lower bowl and each is as antiseptic as the next. No advantage.
Mighty Moose. Penguins netminder Johan "Moose" Hedberg is topping the
charts on everyone's feel-good story meter as a rookie salvaged from
the depths of the Sharks' minors. One minute he's a Manitoba Moose,
the next he's a Pittsburgh Penguin. Now that's evolution.
Heck, even the owner likes him.
"You could see right from the start that when he won his first game
and played very well, (he) gained a lot of confidence," Mario Lemieux
said in a conference call. "You could see the team, as well, getting
a lot of confidence in front of him. It's been a great surprise, but
I don't think it is a fluke. He's a very sound goalie, and he's very
quick, very aggressive, which you need to be in the NHL to be
That, and a really catchy nickname.
Net defectives. Speaking of goaltenders, who would have guessed after
the first few games of the second round that legends-in-waiting
Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Ed Belfour and, to a lesser extent,
Dominik Hasek, would be playing on a less-than-stellar scale?
So far, this is what has happened in the playoffs to these guys: Roy
was been beaten four times on 25 shots in the opener against the
Kings; Brodeur has been beaten five times -- in one playoff game!;
Belfour has looked ordinary; and Hasek has been beaten by softies
that ordinarily wouldn't have gotten past his Slinky of a spine. Who
would have guessed the goaltenders you could count on for wins would
be named Hedberg, Potvin and Turek? Not me.
Crowning achievement. If there's a better story than the Kings have
written in these playoffs, it's still in rewrite. This is a club made
up of more castoffs than a garage sale. Chief among them is
Felix "The Cat" Potvin, who is in his fourth life and making the most
of it. Out of the bright spotlight of Vancouver, Potvin has emerged
as a solid reason the Kings made it to the second season. (Just don't
look at his save percentage.)
Adam Deadmarsh and Aaron Miller can't be forgotten, either. Brought
over in the Rob Blake deal, this duo has turned the Kings into a club
with depth and character. Two months ago, anyone would have said the
Kings would be working on their tans by now. Instead -- with
Deadmarsh, Miller, Potvin and all the Kings' men -- they're working
on their playoff beards. If the Kings somehow make it to the Cup
final, it would be a Hollywood ending.
Maple Leafs forever. Speaking of hyped endings, can you imagine the
bedlam that would ensue if the Maple Leafs make it to the Stanley Cup
final, never mind win hockey's holy grail? It would be the biggest
thing to hit Toronto since electricity. Fans who have chanted "1967" -
- the last year the team won the Cup -- are going gaga with the mere
thought the Leafs might win their second-round matchup against the
"It would be unbelievable," former Maple Leafs captain Darryl
Sittler, now part of marketing and community relations for the team,
says. "It's something the fans have been waiting for for a long, long
time. Most fans who are 20 years old or 30 years old weren't around
when the Leafs won the Cup, so they don't know what it's like.
"It would be fun. I'd like to be around to see it."
The way Curtis Joseph has been playing, Sittler might see it sooner
Turning point. Last Saturday's overtime loss to the Devils in Game 2
will further build character for the underdog Leafs. Their four-goal
third period comeback in Rutherford, N.J., is the perfect antidote to
the infamous November 29 collapse in which the Leafs blew a 5-0 lead
against the Blues at home to lose 6-5 in OT in one of the worst
collapses in NHL history. Before that the Leafs were living up to
high expectations, and the beginning of their spiral back can be
marked to that date. Even though they lost Game 2, the Leafs showed a
great deal of character and grit in fighting tooth-and-nail to get
back in it. Watch out.