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POSTED ON Monday, 11.04.2013 / 4:39 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

This long-awaited book by arguably hockey’s greatest defenseman/player of all time is solid. It is not as spectacular as Orr was on the ice, but then again, how could it possibly be?

This is the man who brought offense to the defense, and gave meaning to the term “possession game.” After all, rarely did Bobby Orr lose the puck, and what he would do with it was often breath taking.

The unfortunate thing was the length of his career: 657 games, roughly the equivalent of eight NHL seasons. He turned in six seasons with more than 100 points, and he took home lots of hardware.

He was the first defenseman to lead the league in scoring, and did it twice. He won the Norris Trophy as top defenseman eight times, was the Hart Trophy (MVP) three times, was playoff MVP (Conn Smythe Trophy) twice. To me, the most incredible stat you can attach to his name is the +124 he registered in 1970-71, when he also posted 102 assists!

As a hockey fan, the only time Bobby Orr ever disappointed me was in November of 1978, when he announced his retirement from the Chicago Blackhawks – just before I was to broadcast an LA Kings game in Chicago. So I never got to broadcast a game he played.

This book is not a tell-all. He does not spend a great deal of time on the man who defrauded him in his contract dealings, Alan Eagleson, writing “I didn’t want his name strung through the fabric of this book.” Orr added that Eagleson turned his trust into “something foul and regrettable.”

Orr gives all the background of his childhood in Parry Sound, Ontario (also the hometown of Predators’ broadcaster Terry Crisp) and his recruitment by Wren Blair and the Boston Bruins at an extremely young age.

His feelings for his teammates are made clear, and his thrill of being part of something special with the late-1960’s and early 1970’s Bruins are evident.

The theme that continuously appears is his passion for hockey and how he is grateful for the people who allowed him to play it the way he enjoyed it most. He took the chances that yielded spectacular results. There was nothing conservative about his game.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is “State of the Game.” Orr doesn’t like the changes that have made defensemen targets of forecheckers today, bearing down on the defensemen as they retrieve the puck and nailing them. He expresses his opinions on how youngsters should play and develop their games – and a great deal of that involves parental involvement.

Because the insights in this book are from (at the least) one of the greatest players or defensemen to ever play the game, it is worthy reading. If you have a great hockey fan on your holiday gift list, I whole-heartedly recommend it.

Purchase "Orr: My Story" here.

POSTED ON Wednesday, 10.02.2013 / 11:21 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

It was thirteen years ago that the Predators opened their season in Japan with two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. What similarity did that team have to the current edition of the Predators?

Scott Hartnell, the team’s first round draft pick that year made the team out of training camp at 18 years of age. Until this season, when Seth Jones made it as well, Hartnell was the only Nashville entry draft selection to start the season “with the big club.”

The trip to Japan was finalized during the previous season as the Predators, who won 28 games, were evidently set to be the “Washington Generals” against the Pittsburgh Penguins, or “Harlem Globetrotters.” For a glimpse at how the series of two games was promoted in Japan, check out this story from the Japan Times.

Even the ESPN Promotional announcements took on the same flavor, if not Red Klotz’s Washington Generals, the Predators were being treated like Rodney (“I don’t get any respect”) Dangerfield.

That Penguins team was without owner Mario Lemieux at the time (though he would make a successful comeback in December), but it was packed with offensive talent: Jaromir Jagr (who would lead the league in scoring with 121 points), along with Alexei Kovalev, Martin Straka and Robert Lang, each of whom had 80 or more points.

When owner Lemieux got back in his skates, he tallied 76 points in just 43 games and that Penguins team made it to the Eastern Conference Final, where they lost to the New Jersey Devils.

Contrast that to the Predators, who would rank 28th offensively and 7th defensively. Cliff Ronning led the team with 62 points. Scott Walker was tops with 25 goals. Mike Dunham and Tomas Vokoun split team duties in goals.

Had that trip been scheduled for the fall of 2001, it is highly unlikely it ever would have been made, so soon after the September 11th attacks on the United States.

The two games were the first major events held at the Saitama Super Arena, an incredibly versatile facility that can be used as either an indoor arena or outdoor stadium. Depending upon configuration, it can seat between 5,000 and 37,000 people.

As things developed, Cliff Ronning scored the first goal in the building and the Predators took the first game, 3-1. The Penguins won the second game by the same score. While ESPN carried the telecasts, Terry Crisp and I had the radio call, with the faceoffs coming shortly after midnight Nashville time (there was a 15-hour time difference, so some of us wore two watches, one on Japan time, the other on Central time.)

It was an incredible training camp and season opener for the Predators. The Predators had Japanese defenseman Yujiro Nakajimaya in their camp. “Yuji” played for the Kukodo Bunnies of the Japanese League, and would turn 30 shortly after the conclusion of the trip.

Acting as a de facto ambassador of Japanese hockey, he played in a pre-season game in Nashville.

He was small even for the Predators’ team at the time, at 5-10 and weighing around 150 pounds. He then accompanied the team back to his native Japan and was given a thunderous ovation by the fans at the Saitama Arena.

It was an incredible trip for the entire traveling party, visiting the Ginza in Tokyo and some took in Japanese baseball games as well.

The Penguins and Predators flew back to North America together, from Tokyo’s Norita Airport to Minneapolis-St. Paul before parting ways. All in all, it was 14 hours in the air again, crossing the International Dateline, and an exhausted group slowly deplaned at Nashville International Airport.

After about five days were allowed for recovery, the Predators opened with home games on back-to-back nights, beating Washington and Carolina, to start the season 3-1.

Yes, all of that with an 18-year old rookie in the line-up. 13 years later, Scott Hartnell has done alright playing 875 games!

POSTED ON Wednesday, 09.11.2013 / 1:20 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

Twelve years ago – the memories are still so powerful.

Yes, British troops once set fire to the White House, and the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but this was entirely different. It was an attack of undetermined origin, at the time, on U.S. soil. It is something that will remain on the minds of all who lived through it.

I remember where I was when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Five years later were the double tragedies: the fatal shooting of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles. Those instances provoked mourning.

The 9/11 attacks were also accompanied by shock and disbelief. We could see the bodies flying out of the Twin Towers and the video of the second plane going into the World Trade Center was replayed so often, it took on the quality of a horror movie.

Personally, I was driving into the arena, as it all unfolded. It was training camp check-in day for the Predators, about to begin their fourth season.

Hopes were high heading into that year. The team had just completed its first 80-point season. The four-team NHL expansion was now complete, as Atlanta had played two seasons, while Columbus and Minnesota had just completed their first. Ray Bourque had won his Stanley Cup, playing for the Colorado Avalanche.

As I drove in, I was tuned into WNSR Radio in Nashville. Steve Selby and Ron Bargatze were on the air, as I was hoping to catch up on the baseball scores, updating the races. It didn’t take long before my attention to those matters would be totally distracted.

“There’s a report that an airplane has collided with the World Trade Center in New York,” Selby announced. I turned up the volume, and it seemed like moments later when Steve said: “and now an airliner has crashed into the other tower!”

That was when all of us realized that this was no accident. I quickly tried to reach some of my New York friends by cell phone, but communications were already difficult. Shortly thereafter, I pulled into the garage at the rink and went down to the player check-in area.

I will never forget looking slack-jawed at the television downstairs, when 20-year-old Martin Erat walked in, looked at me and said: “I guess this means war?” That was the first time that thought had entered my mind! A young native of the Czech Republic had a far better grasp on the situation than I did.

As the day went on, we learned of another airliner crashing into the Pentagon, and then United Flight 93, forced by passengers to crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The shock and horror of that day seemed to have no end, and it echoes to this day.

Three months later, the Predators got an up-close look at this example of “Man’s Inhumanity to Man.” The Predators had a mid-December game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. The team chartered a special bus to take us to Ground Zero. Never have I been with a group of that size which instantly when silent.

Captain Tom Fitzgerald told the story of his father on 9/11, traveling from Boston into New York, and walking to the World Trade Center for a meeting as the towers came tumbling down. He lucked out by timing. There were many who did not.

As we were escorted on our walk around the site, embers were still burning. There was a stench to the atmosphere. Dust was all around. It turned out that more bodies were discovered that December day. The bus was just as quiet heading back to the hotel as it was entering Ground Zero.

That experience gave us the sense of what many have experienced around the world in other war-torn areas. The terrorists got the attention of the whole world on 9/11, and the thought of another such attack will likely be with us forevermore.

POSTED ON Wednesday, 09.04.2013 / 3:34 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

After the first season, nothing much changes at this time of year. As a broadcaster, you run over the depth chart, make your own pre-camp decisions on what you think the composition of the team will be, and break down the schedule.

I have found it is usually best not to read anyone else’s evaluations – at least until you have made your own determinations! That’s not arrogance, but rather a way to ensure the thoughts are entirely your own.

Sixty players – 34 forwards, 19 defensemen and 7 goaltenders are expected when camp check-in time comes on September 12th. Keep in mind; a maximum of 23 can be on an active NHL roster at any time.

There is very little room up front to make the team. While the combinations certainly are not set, after the free agent signings of Viktor Stalberg, Matt Cullen, Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom, that lessened the chances for several young forwards.

On defense, Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Kevin Klein are all expected to get big minutes. Then the competition: much is expected of first-round pick Seth Jones. This camp will serve as litmus tests for Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Victor Bartley earned a shot with his play at the end of last season also.

In goal, it’s simply a question of Pekka Rinne’s health. He had off-season hip surgery, much the same as Tim Thomas had before he backstopped the Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup. I don’t think that surgery comes with a “Cup Guarantee,” but it isn’t a bad indicator, either.

Who will back up Pekka this season? Will it be former Blackhawks’ farmhand Carter Hutton, or will 22-year old Magnus Hellberg rotate into that equation as well?

So, there are some questions that need to be answered in this training camp…and it will all begin to unfold in a few days! All of which will help determine how
well the celebration of Season XV will go!

POSTED ON Monday, 08.19.2013 / 11:48 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

At this time 15 years ago, I still didn’t know that I would be moving to Nashville in just a few weeks, that I would be on a flight on September 11th to get me here for the first day of the first training camp on the 12th.

From the time the four provisional franchises in Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus and Minnesota had been announced in 1997, I had decided I wanted to try for the position here.

Some don’t like the idea of the pain inherent to an expansion franchise, but I truly looked forward to being part of “the birthing process.”

I had already worked for an NHL franchise in a “non-traditional market,” having teamed with Hockey Hall of Famer Bob Miller on the Los Angeles Kings’ broadcasts, so I had first-hand experience with those challenges.

Why Nashville? Two reasons.

First of all, I was familiar with the city, thanks to my years of doing baseball. I had come here to attend Baseball’s Winter Meetings in 1983. Beginning in 1985, I began making three-four trips per season with the Buffalo Bisons into Greer Stadium for games with the Sounds.

In addition, my in-laws had relocated to Knoxville years before, and those visits would be a lot easier (and more frequent) from Nashville than they would from Buffalo.

Downtown Nashville in 1985 bears very little resemblance to the Nashville of today. Second Avenue was virtually barren compared to what it is now. The building of what is now known as Bridgestone Arena began before the spring tornado of 1998, but the Arena spurred so much additional development, culminating in the Music City Center, which just opened.

All of that could not have been foreseen then. Was major league hockey going to work? The city had housed the game before, to varying results.

The Eastern Hockey League’s Dixie Flyers brought the professional game to Municipal Auditorium in 1962, folding in 1971. Ten years later, the Sounds’ Larry Schmittou tried it again with the Central League South Stars; they stayed for another season, but in another league, the Atlantic Coast Hockey League. (Think about it, Nashville’s baseball team is now in the Pacific Coast League?).

From 1989 through 1998, there were the Nashville Knights of the ECHL, followed by the Nashville Knighthawks and Nashville Ice Flyers of the Central Hockey League.

So the challenges facing this new franchise would be considerable. Yet, I welcomed them and have enjoyed every minute of it for 15 years. (Certainly, I never dreamed I would be here for so long!) I will continue to share some of these memories with you as this anniversary season rolls out.

POSTED ON Wednesday, 08.07.2013 / 12:13 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

We are in the process of celebrating the anniversary of not only one of hockey’s biggest transactions, but also one that ranks among the top, if not at the top, of all sports history. As a matter of conjecture, we can argue that the Nashville Predators might not even be in existence had it not occurred.

On August 8, 1988, the Edmonton Oilers shocked the hockey world by trading Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. This was a trade that impacted far more than those two teams, but the sport itself.

Ultimately, it played the critical role in the expansion on the NHL’s footprint across North America. It spread well outside the areas thought to be the only spots where most thought the sport could thrive.

Adam Proteau of the Hockey News covers this thoroughly in his oral history of the transaction from virtually every angle.

Clearly, it was a deal that shocked the hockey world, but as with most moves, finances were at its base. New York Yankees co-owner Jacob Ruppert was able to take advantage of a difficult financial time for Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee when he purchased Babe Ruth for $200,000 cash and a loan of $300,000 in 1919. That deal clearly changed the course of baseball, as the previously second-rate Yankees dominated baseball for much of the 20th Century.

Years later, it was the money problems of Edmonton Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington that led to a similar situation. You can read about them and what led up to the ultimate trade from Pocklington’s perspective in his 2009 book, “I’d Trade Him Again.”

In 1988, the Oilers had just wrapped up their fourth Stanley Cup title in five seasons, with Wayne Gretzky leading the way. They were the dynasty that followed the New York islanders and Montreal Canadiens. Runs of dominance do fade, but the outlook for that Oilers team indicated no such fall off in the foreseeable future.

The idea that Gretzky’s marriage that summer to actress Janet Jones (unfairly called “Yoko Ono” in some circles) was the impetus for it was a convenient smokescreen for Pocklington.

There was no reason to call this anything but an accommodation of Pocklington’s difficulties with not only the Oilers, but his other businesses (and there were many) as well. He owned the best team in hockey, but was cash poor, and Gretzky could have become a free agent in 1989. So, he used his most significant asset to try to ease his situation.

This is the trade that was fashioned by Pocklington and Kings’ owner Bruce McNall to masquerade the money concerns at its base: Gretzky, along with enforcer Marty McSorley and center Mike Krushelnyski, were traded to the Los Angeles Kings. The Oilers received $15 million US cash; center Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas (whom the Kings had drafted in the first round that summer), plus the Kings’ first round picks in 1989, 1991, and 1993. Those picks brought defenseman Corey Foster (in a trade with New Jersey), forward Martin Rucinsky (who played just two games with Edmonton), and defenseman Nick Stajduhar (who also played just two games in Edmonton before finishing up with the Idaho Steelheads in 2000-2001).

The Gretzky trade was the sure sign of the Edmonton fire sale. While defenseman Paul Coffey was dealt to Pittsburgh the previous summer, after Gretzky was traded, it wasn’t long before the Oilers’ other five Hockey Hall of Fame players were moved out of Edmonton.

In 1991, center Mark Messier was sent to the Rangers and Jari Kurri joined Gretzky with the Kings. Also in 1991, goaltender Grant Fuhr and forward Glenn Anderson were traded to Toronto. Defenseman Kevin Lowe was sent to the Rangers in 1992. Pocklington finally sold the Oilers in 1998, and General Manager – Head Coach Glen Sather hung around another couple of years after that before joining the New York Rangers in 2000.

So Bruce McNall saw his chance to bring hockey’s greatest star to the city that thrives on stars, Los Angeles. The Oilers were still able to win the Cup in 1990 with what was left behind. The Kings got to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 1993, losing to the Montreal Canadiens.

McNall’s financial empire began to crumble after that, (see: McNall’s Story from 2003: “Fun White it Lasted: My Rise and Fall In the Land of Fame and Fortune”) and Wayne Gretzky was traded again, to St. Louis, in 1996, before moving yet again, and finishing his career with the New York Rangers in 1999.

Gretzky’s arrival in California showed that the game could draw consistent sell out crowds in Los Angeles. The Kings became a huge draw on the road as well. Three years later, the NHL returned to Northern California (San Jose) in 1991.

The move to the Sunbelt began in earnest in 1992, when the Lightning began play in Tampa Bay, followed immediately by the Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim the following year. Also in 1993, the Minnesota North Stars franchise was moved to Dallas.

The Panthers made it to the Stanley Cup Final in their third season. The next spring, the NHL announced it had awarded conditional franchises to Nashville, Atlanta, and Columbus and was returning one to Minnesota. In 1999, the Dallas Stars won the Cup and went to the Final again the following year.

This had another effect – spreading the game to youngsters all over the map. Admittedly, the 1980 Miracle on Ice for Team USA in the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid also played a role in this. As the demand for players has become greater, products from California, Tennessee, Texas and other Sunbelt areas are now playing junior and college hockey and being drafted by NHL teams. Did Gretzky’s trade accomplish this singularly? Perhaps not, but it was a major step. Along with the Miracle on Ice 8 years before, it expanded the base of youngsters taking up the game in the United States.

Babe Ruth transformed the Yankees into a championship team, and his power-hitting, go-for-broke, style of play had a positive impact on baseball. However, it didn’t result in the expansion of baseball, or even the move of franchises into new cities (it wasn’t until almost 20 years after the Babe’s retirement, when his last team, the Boston Braves, moved to Milwaukee).

Ruth and Gretzky were historically two of the dominant performers in their sports. Both were moved because of the financial instability of their franchises. This is not unique to sports, it just points out that sports has become every bit a business.

Just as another difficult time for a franchise almost resulted in a Stanley Cup champion defending its title in Music City. In 1995, as the movement was already underway to build what is now Bridgestone Arena, the Devils had just won their first Stanley Cup. Owner John McMullen was trying to get a better lease at the Meadowlands and had serious flirtations with Nashville. Those dealings caught the attention of the NHL, and though the Devils did not move out of New Jersey, Nashville suddenly became an attractive landing spot for an NHL team.

Even after that, there were stories of the Edmonton Oilers moving to Nashville (as Pocklington was about to sell the team).

My conclusion: hockey is a much bigger business because of the impact of Wayne Gretzky’s trade from Canada to Los Angeles. The NHL capitalized on that, and one way or another, the interest in Nashville was going to result in a team setting up here. For those reasons I say: “Thank you Wayne Gretzky!”

POSTED ON Tuesday, 06.25.2013 / 9:22 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

When we left you last Saturday, both the victorious Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins were limping out of the United Center following Chicago’s 3-1 victory.

The Blackhawks left with a 3-games-2 series lead, but Jonathan Toews had spent the entire third period sitting on the bench after absorbing a second period hit from Johnny Boychuk. Defenseman Brent Seabrook also was temporarily hobbled blocking a shot in the third.

Then there was Bruins’ Center Patrice Bergeron – arguably Boston’s most effective player throughout the playoffs, who was taken out of the building via ambulance during the game for observation.

Both Toews and Bergeron were expected to play going into Monday’s Game Six. They complied, no matter their pain.

Much had been made about the Bruins scoring 9 goals to Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford’s glove side. As it turns out, eight of Chicago’s previous nine goals had been scored with Boston Defenseman Zdeno Chara on the ice.

Awaiting the faceoff, the tension was palpable. “The Blackhawks think they have you tired out,” said NBC’s Pierre McGuire to Chara. “We’ll have to see about that,” said Chara. Would Rene Rancourt be singing the last national anthem of these playoffs?

The Bruins tried to establish their hitting game from the outset. Patrick Sharp appeared to be an early victim, shaken up about five minutes in. Jaromir Jag was hurt shortly thereafter, taking a hit from David Bolland.

With about seven minutes gone in the first, the Paille-Kelly-Seguin line did an outstanding job applying pressure in the Chicago zone, but Crawford kept them off the board. The good move by Boston Coach Claude Julien was to leave that unit, in theory his third line, on the ice after a television timeout…and Kelly scored on an outstanding three-way play, claiming the go-ahead goal at 7:19.

That “third line” was on the ice for Boston again after the next break. They narrowly missed scoring again, and drew a penalty in the process. The Bruins man-advantage unit produced five shots on goal, and after short shift, a departure to the dressing room for Jagr.

As time ran down in the first, Shawn Thornton took a shot, which deflected off Andrew Shaw’s stick and struck Chicago’s Shaw in the face. Shaw immediately went down to the ice, stunned. Seabrook was slow to get up after getting rammed from behind by Boston’s David Krejci. The Bruins received a later powerplay when Michal Rozsival high-sticked Brad Marchand to the side of the Chicago net. The Bruins missed on a perfect chance on a two-on-one, when Marchand beat Nik Hjalmarsson down the left side and Krejci missed the open net at the right post.

It was a desperate and dominant first period by the Bruins, the outshot the Blackhawks, 12-6, and had 12 more shots blocked and another 7 missed the net. Yet, the lead was only a goal. That happened to Chicago in the first period of Game Two. Their 1-nothing lead became a 2-1 loss in overtime.

Both Shaw and Jagr were on the bench to start the second. While Shaw almost lost his face late in the first, he lost his head on his first shift of the period, giving a shot to Chris Kelly in a scrum after the whistle. Ultimately, that set up a shorthanded chance for Jonathan Toews to tie it up. Toews took a chip from Rozsival, stepped around Chara and took the shot while breaking in with Patrick Kane to his left. It was officially an even-strength score, since it entered the net as the penalty time expired.

The Bruins received their fourth powerplay of the game when Seabrook was called for tripping at 5:12. Chicago killed that, but the Bruins kept it in the Chicago zone.

With Jagr shaken, Julien moved Tyler Seguin up with Marchand and Bergeron. Seguin later took the first Boston penalty of the night, a hook at 13:57. Kane just missed cashing a rebound to Rask’s left early in the advantage, thanks to Chara.

It was a much more even second period, as Chicago outshot Boston, 9-6 and heading into the third, tied at 1, with Lord Stanley’s Cup about to enter the building – just in case!

The “Skating Wounded Report” going into the third, Bergeron had played 11:30, had won 3 of 7 faceoffs and had no shots on net. Jagr had played only 4:24 with no shots. For Chicago, Toews had a goal and 12:13 of playing time and had taken 7 of 12 faceoffs.

Kane had a good early chance for the Blackhawks. Jagr took an early shift for the Bruins with Kelly and Paille, and then Seguin returned, replacing Jagr.

With 7:42 gone in the third, Crawford made a brilliant left pad save on a backhander by Paille, cutting across in front. Later in the period, the Bruins had two men in front as the Bruins pressed the attack. Horton couldn’t get his stick on it, Milan Lucic did, and flipped it in at 12:11 to give Boston a 2-1 lead with his seventh of the playoffs.

The Blackhawks earned a powerplay chance at 14:21 when Chris Kelly was called for high sticking Nick Leddy. The Blackhawks had scored just once in 18 previous powerplay chances in the series. It soon became 1-of-18 for Chicago. Toward the end of the advantage, Chara drilled Toews into the goalpost and crossbar.

With Crawford on the bench for an extra attacker, Bryan Bickell tied it at 18:44 and seemingly, we were headed for another overtime…but David Bolland took a rebound off the left post and in just 17 seconds later to put the Blackhawks on the brink of their second Stanley Cup title in four seasons.

So much for Corey Crawford’s glove! Zdeno Chara had been on the ice for 10 of the last 12 Chicago goals, a large part of Chicago’s success story. The Chicago Blackhawks wrapped up their 5 Stanley Cup championship with a scintillating come-from-behind effort.

We have had two 48-game, lockout-shortened NHL seasons. Those have produced the latest date the Stanley Cup has ever been decided: June 24th. In 1995, when the New Jersey Devils concluded a shocking 4-game sweep of the President’s Trophy champion Red Wings. This year, again on June 24th …only on this occasion, the President’s Trophy winners take home the Cup. For just the third time in the last nine seasons, a team has taken both.

Stay tuned – the 2013 NHL Entry Draft is Sunday!

POSTED ON Sunday, 06.23.2013 / 10:26 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

Following what was a highly entertaining Stanley Cup Final game Wednesday night, what could the fans expect heading into Game Five, with an extra day of rest thrown in?

Would the focus still be on the glove hand of Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford? “In the LA series, they were talking about his blocker side,” said ‘Hawks coach Joel Quenneville before the game.

One thing for certain, Wednesday’s game was an aberration. Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask had the lowest GAA (1.83) in the playoffs, and Crawford (1.86) was second!

The Bruins meanwhile, were concerned that their captain, All Star defenseman Zdeno Chara, had been on the ice for five of Chicago’s goals on Wednesday.

Boston did make a change to add some more offense to their line-up, pulling Kaspars Daugavins, and inserting Carl Soderberg, his first appearance of the playoffs.

The starting pace was similar to Wednesday’s, with outstanding chances for both sides, but both sides missed the net.

At 17:27 of the first, the Blackhawks broke through, Patrick Kane tucking in the rebound off the broken stick off defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. When the stick broke, it turned the initial shot into a “change-up,” and allowing the soft hands of Kane to put it in behind Rask. The first period ended, 1-0, Chicago.

The Blackhawks top line tallied again at 5:13 of the second. Bryan Bickell and Jonathan Toews worked a give-and-go down the left side against Seidenberg. Bickell took the shot, gathered in his own rebound, and carried behind the Boston net. His fluttering pass beat Zdeno Chara and was backhanded into the net by Kane for his second of the game.

Meanwhile, one of the main cogs for the Bruins, Patrice Bergeron, was on the bench and only briefly on the ice in the second period. Bruins’ Coach Claude Julien told NBC’s Pierre McGuire: “Let’s just say right now, we’re going to give him a little bit of time.”

The Blackhawks took that 2-nothing lead into the third and David Krejci had a pair of good chances early in the period, only to be foiled by Crawford.

As the third period began, the youngster making his first appearance of this post-season, Carl Soderberg was put into Bergeron’s slot. Bergeron wasn’t on the bench to start the third. The CBC reported (later confirmed by the Bruins) that Bergeron had left the building in an ambulance, off to the hospital for observation.

The Blackhawks had their own problems as the third began. Jonathan Toews was absent for his shifts on the top line with Bickell and Kane. Initially, Michal Handzus moved up between them. Johnny Boychuk had blasted Toews late in the second, and the Blackhawks’ captain apparently had not recovered from that hit.

Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara scored, blistering one over Crawford’s glove at 3:40 from Krejci and Lucic, cutting the Chicago advantage in half. At this point, the Bruins had taken the offensive initiative away from the home side.

As the Blackhawks attempted to respond, Patrick Kane gunned one from the left circle, which Rask gloved down at 8:31 of the third.

There was more carnage as the third period unfolded, as Brent Seabrook was hurt while blocking a shot and struggled getting back to the bench. At that point, there was no information on Jonathan Toews’ situation. Toews was on the bench, but appeared done for the night after playing 12:56 with two assists over the first two periods.

The surviving members of the two teams continued the struggle with time winding down. Bickell carried in on a two-on-one with Kane, and rather than risk a pass on the chopped-up ice, took the shot. Ultimately, Boston pulled Tuukka Rask from the net with a minute to go.

Chara tried to help the attack in front of the net, but the Blackhawks muscled the puck out of their zone down the right side and David Bolland fired the puck into the empty net for the 3-1 Chicago victory.

Now, back to Boston for Game Six at TD Garden. Who will be left standing and able to play? Can Boston keep this wonderful series alive for a Game 7? It all gets started at 7 o’clock CT Monday on your local NBC affiliate.

POSTED ON Thursday, 06.20.2013 / 9:40 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

There were two over-riding questions heading into Game Four Wednesday night at Boston’s TD Garden:

Will Marian Hossa be able to play?

Will this be a short or a long series?

Obviously, a positive answer to the first could play a significant role in answering the second.

NBC’s Pierre McGuire reported that Hossa didn’t look well in the pregame warm-up. After Monday’s surprise, when Hossa was a late scratch, careful observation of the warm-up was mandatory.

The early returns (not always THAT important in a Chicago election) were positive for the Blackhawks. They pressured the Bruins in their zone, made them play all 200 feet, used short passes and attacked the net. Hossa had a couple of good chances, one from in close.

The Bruins were granted an early powerplay when Johnny Oduya was called for interference at 5:18. All that did was set up a shorthanded goal by Michal Handzus to give Chicago the lead. Saad stole the puck from Tyler Seguin, broke down the right side into the Boston zone and slipped a pass to his left to Handzus for the score at 6:48. That ended the shutout streak of the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask at 109:14, truly a remarkable run.

In his bench interview midway through the first period, Boston Coach Claude Julien wasn’t happy with the way his team wasn’t moving its feet, feeling that the Bruins were doing more to frustrate themselves than were the efforts of the Blackhawks.

That frustration came out later in the period with Boston’s Peverly line mixing it up with Chicago’s Shaw line. That followed a botched 2-on-1 when Paille’s return pass went behind Peverly breaking in on Corey Crawford. The Bruins were granted their second powerplay after that skirmish. The Bruins finally got a shot on net during that powerplay, following Torey Krug ringing one off the pipe. The Bruins tied it with :03 left on the advantage when Saad, who had set up the shorthanded goal for Chicago, could not clear. Peverly picked it up and beat Crawford’s glove. That silenced the Boston Boos with cheers, and put the attack back in the Bruins. It was a vulnerable point in time for Corey Crawford and Chicago.

A penalty on Boston’s Nathan Horton for slashing the stick out of Oduya’s hands, resulted in a shorthanded breakout for Boston, and Duncan Keith got called for tripping Rich Peverly. The first period ended 1-1, with the Bruins coming back after a slow start, Chicago had the first eight shots in the game, and at the end of the period, the shots were 12-9, Chicago.

After three straight low-scoring games, all of a sudden the clock was turned back to the “lively puck era” of the 1980s.

Early in the second, Horton narrowly missed from Crawford’s right on the powerplay. Back at even strength, the Blackhawks bounced back from the end of the first period. It wasn’t long before a Michal Rozsival shot was tipped in by Jonathan Toews to give the Blackhawks the lead again, 2-1. Later, Rask was challenged by Patrick Sharp, but made the stop. On the next Chicago rush, Patrick Kane backhanded a rebound of Bryan Bickell’s shot over Rask to make it 3-1 at 8:41, prompting a basketball-style time out by Claude Julien and the Bruins.

It was perhaps the most hectic period of the series for Rask; he faced numerous rebound chances in addition to odd-man rushes, including a Handzus-Sharp attack later on. He stopped that one, giving his teammates a chance to come back. They did – forcing the ‘Hawks to scramble in their end. With Milan Lucic in the slot, two swats at the puck resulted in the goal which cut the Chicago lead to one, 3-2 at 14:43.

That produced some more run-and-gun – not to the Bruins’ benefit. David Bolland put the puck off the left boards to produce a 2-on-1 into the Boston zone with Michal Frolik and Marcus Kruger. Rask stopped the initial Kruger try, then Kruger flipped in the rebound to make it 4-2, 49 seconds after the Lucic goal.

No time to relax for Chicago: a hooking call on Patrick Kane produced a crazy powerplay chance off the end glass and the top of the goal cage, which came down for Patrice Bergeron, and he beat Crawford’s glove to make it a one-goal game yet again at 17:22.

Chicago survived another near miss late in the period (as a matter of fact, the TD Garden goal horn sounded in error), It was a period applauded by the fans, yet loathed by the coaches. Chicago outscored Boston, 3-2, and outshot them, 13-11. Consider this: in 40 minutes, they produced 7 goals. Game One required 112:08 to do the same.

Early in the third, the Bruins got back to even; Bergeron from the right circle ripped one by Crawford to tie it with 17:55 left in regulation. It required 4:43 to erase the deficit, and Crawford was looking like the weak link, each of his four goals against to his glove side.

With the teams playing 4-on-4, Patrick Kane broke in on Rask, but David Krejci took a hooking penalty to prevent the shot. Kane had a pretty good argument for a penalty shot, but it was not granted. On the ensuing powerplay, the Blackhawks tallied. Patrick Sharp got the rebound of a Hossa try. That was the first powerplay goal of the Final for Chicago (in 15 opportunities), as they took a 5-4 lead.

That was short-lived. Crawford gave up another one to the glove side, as Johnny Boychuk drilled one from straight away, above the circles. It was 5-5 with 7:46 left in the third.

This game was such a departure from the norm, that it seemed as if Edmonton and Los Angeles were reprising their 1982 playoff series. That featured a 10-8 game, along with a 7-4 final, and the memorable 6-5 OT “Miracle on Manchester.”

So off to overtime it went, for the third time in four games, with Chicago outshooting Boston, 41-28 over the 60-minute term. How long would this one go? The teams have played 319:47 (the equivalent of five-and-a-third matches) to complete the four games.

Heading into extra time, Chicago may have had the more tired defense corps, as Nick Leddy had played only 2:37, though he remained on the bench. Meanwhile, forwards Kaspars Daugavins and Shawn Thornton had played just 5:53 for Boston.

Bergeron almost ended it early with a redirection of an Andrew Ference shot. In the high pace early in the overtime, Rask stopped Kane breaking in the right side.

It took a three-shot volley by the Blackhawks to end it and tie the series as Brent Seabrook got it by Rask, with Jonathan Toews tied up in front with Zdeno Chara, at 9:51. At least two games remain!

Now it’s another well-earned extra day off, the series headed back to Chicago for Game Five at the United Center. It all gets started at 7 o’clock CT Saturday on your local NBC affiliate.

POSTED ON Tuesday, 06.18.2013 / 9:14 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

After taking the equivalent of three games to arrive at decisions in the first two games on the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins beat the Blackhawks, 2-0 in just 60 minutes Monday night, taking a 2-1 series lead.

Two potentially significant injuries developed prior to the game.

During the warm-up, Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara collided with fellow behemoth, Milan Lucic, but Chara did start, though he left momentarily in the first period.

However, there was a major surprise as the teams came out for the opening faceoff: Marian Hossa was not in uniform for the Blackhawks. In his place was 24-year-old Ben Smith, a Boston College product, who had spent most of the season with the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs. There was a report that Hossa was injured by a shot during the pre-game.

Not so said Head Coach Joel Quenneville afterward. Even captain Jonathan Toews said the team “knew all day long” that Hossa might miss the game. Hossa is now listed as “day-to-day” with “an upper body injury.” The unfortunate thing: everything was so hush-hush that Ben Smith’s mother drove in from Connecticut to visit her son and left before the game because she was under the impression that he had no chance of playing.

This forced a massive restructuring of forward lines by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, including the move of Captain Jonathan Toews to left wing from center, with Marcus Kruger in the middle and Michael Frolik on the right. The latter two have spent much of the season playing on Chicago’s third and/or fourth lines.

Kaspars Daugavins took a bad penalty at 9:57 of the first, an elbow to the head of Andrew Shaw. That gave the Blackhawks a chance to take the lead by breaking their 0-15 powerplay stretch. But, Chicago did not manage a shot on Tuukka Rask with the advantage.

Shawn Thornton took a questionable roughing penalty on Andrew Shaw at 14:15. That produced some shorthanded chances for Peverly and Paille against a very shaky Blackhawks “powerplay,” which managed just one shot on goal. The first period ended 0-0, with the Bruins outshooting the Blackhawks, 11-10.

Daniel Paille broke through at 2:13 of the second period off a Chicago turnover. Paille has now figured in the last three Boston scores, with two goals and an assist. The question before the house now: will the team the scores first be the one to take the loss yet again?

The Bruins were awarded their first powerplay at 12:00 of the second when Dave Bolland crosschecked Chris Kelly from behind. Paille was pulled down by Hjalmarsson, creating 0:11 of a 5-on-3 for the Bruins, shortly after the first penalty expired, Patrice Bergeron scored from Crawford’s right side on an exquisite pass across by Jaromir Jagr.

The Blackhawks then when with a new forward combination: Bickell – Toews – Stalberg. Following a commercial break, it was Sharp – Toews – Stalberg. Frolik – Kruger – Shaw were up next, then Smith – Bolland – Kane. Bolland took a tripping penalty before the next shift at 19:00 of the second. The Bruins ended a dominant second period with a 2-0 lead.

Keeping in mind the Bruins had a pair of two-goal leads in Game One, you could have thought it possible Chicago would tie it at some point take a run at tying it in the third, but that simply didn’t happen.

The third period began with a full minute of powerplay time for Boston. After killing that off, the Blackhawks, had to try something. So Quenneville began with Sharp – Toews or Handzus – Kane, then Bickell – Shaw – Smith; Kruger - Bolland - Frolik; and Smith – Handzus – Bickell.

Quenneville also mixed and matched with his defensemen, putting Keith with Hjalmarsson; Oduya with Seabrook; and Leddy with Rozsival. All of those alterations didn’t do much, and many didn’t last that long.

A third period powerplay created by Kruger’s speed on the attack (McQuaid for tripping) did not help Chicago. When Dave Bolland took a tripping penalty at 13:55 of the third, the Bruins were in position to put it away. Toews and Kane had a shorthanded chance, and soon thereafter, the Blackhawks got a powerplay when David Krejci hooked Brandon Saad on a semi-break in from center ice. While the ensuing powerplay looked better, it netted not a thing.

Crawford got to the bench for the extra attacker with 1:45 to go in regulation. The frustration was clear with less than 12 seconds left. Bickell and Chara scrapped in the slot, as Shaw and Marchand did so at the same time.

For Tuukka Rask, it was a 28-save shutout, putting the pressure on the Blackhawks to produce some offense after scoring just one goal in the last two games

Stay tuned for Game Four Wednesday night from the TD Garden, which goes back onto your local NBC over-the-air affiliate.

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