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Avs Turn Table on Leafs
Unheralded Park Pots 2, Earns First Star in Blowout Win
Roleplayer Richard Park scored his 4th and 5th goals of the post-season, stepping up in Alexei Yashin's absence
August 30th, 2006. If Colorado's 8-2 blowout loss in game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals had some doubting the Avs, their performance last night down 2 game to 1 and missing one of their top players in Alexei Yashin might have some questioning their opposition. Like the Leafs in game 1, Colorado broke the game open with 4 second period goals, chasing Jocelyn Thibault to the bench, and ending up on the right side of a 7-2 decision. Richard Park led the way offensively with 2 goals, while Keith Tkachuk and Radim Vrbata each had a goal and an assist. As tends to happen in blowouts, things got a little ugly late in the game, and Leaf winger Erik Cole took a run at the Avs' Richard Zednik, who was injured on the play. While it looked innocent at first, replay showed what the ref caught, being that Cole unleashed a headbutt in Zednik's direction, with Cole being ejected from the game as a result. Zednik fell hard into the boards, leaving the game with an elbow injury, which is a letigimate concern for Colorado moving forward already without Yashin. Game 5 shifts back up north to Toronto with the series dead even once again. Expect Miikka Kiprusoff to make his series debut in goal for the Leafs.
Stajan, Sedin Star in Leafs Win
Linemates Produce Offensively While Thibault Holds the Fort
Matthew Stajan had the go-ahead goal at 9:31 of the first period, and it held up to be the winner
August 30th, 2006. With the series tied at 1, and the setting shifting to the Rocky Mountains of Denver, Colorado, the Avalanche had reason to be optimistic about their Stanley Cup aspirations. But last night's game certainly didn't go according to their plans. First, a shade over a minute into the game, Toronto's Jeremy Roenick ran over Avs star forward Alexei Yashin, leaving him in pain on the ice. The hit was assessed as clean, but in retaliation, Colorado defenseman Mike Komisarek charged into Roenick and was given 2 minutes for boarding. Yashin, meanwhile, left the game with facial lacerations from his collision, and it is uncertain at this juncture whether or not he'll be able to play again in the series. Things went from bad to worse for Colorado, as Roenick himself gave the Leafs the lead on the ensuing powerplay. Matt Cullen evened things up 5 minutes later, but from there on it was all Toronto, with Matt Stajan's goal at 9:31 of the first standing up to be the winner. Daniel Sedin added 2 third period insurance markers, and his 3-point night earned him the first star. Leaf goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, getting his third consecutive start, stopped 23 of 24 shots, while Avs goalie Martin Gerber wasn't quite as spectacular as the night before, but still made 28 saves. Colorado will look to answer with a win of their own once again tonight, but they'll be doing it without their second line centre in Yashin. It is also expected that they go back to the guy that got them here, meaning star netminder Tomas Vokoun should get the call in goal.
Gerber Gets Avs Back in Series
Makes 29 stops in Colorado's 3-2 Victory
Martin Gerber was named the game's first star as Colorado tied their series with Toronto at a game a piece
August 29th, 2006. Prior to the start of the Stanley Cup Finals series, Tomas Vokoun's sensational goaltending had been the story of the playoffs. However, in game 1 of the matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Colorado Avalanche, Vokoun seemed to lose his focus, and the Avs got pelted 8 to 2. For that reason, Martin Gerber was given the start between the pipes for Colorado for game 2, and he didn't disappoint. Gerber made 29 saves and was named first star as Colorado got right back into the series with a 3-2 victory. Colorado held a 2-1 lead going into the third period, but defenseman Janne Niinimaa erased that on a beautiful Bobby Orr-like end-to-end rush. Less than 7 minutes later, though, Vaclav Prospal gave the Avs back the lead with his first of the postseason, and they wouldn't look back from there. The win allows Colorado to effectively steal home ice advantage from the Leafs, as the split in Toronto sends the series to Colorado for game 3 tonight. It would be a safe guess to say that Gerber will get his second straigt start for the Avs, but who will start for Toronto is still to be seen. Normally the back-up goaltender, Jocelyn Thibault started each of the first 2 games of this series due to his stellar regular season performance against Colorado, and #1 Miikka Kiprusoff being fatigued.
Game 1 Goes to Toronto
Vokoun's Loss of Cool Costs Avalanche
Zigmund Palffy recorded an incredible 5 points, while being named first star in Toronto's win
August 28th, 2006. The first ever MHL Stanley Cup Finals was set to be a clash of the titans. The best of the regular season, the Toronto Maple Leafs, against the most dazzling playoff club, the Colorado Avalanche. But all experts predicting a long, drawn-out, tight series might have been second-guessing themselves after last night's game 1 result. While the first period ended in a 1-1 draw, the Leafs errupted for 4 second-periold goals after Avalanche netminder Tomas Vokoun lost his temper. Vokoun had been complaining to officials about traffic in his crease area throughout the opening 20 minutes, but when no calls were being made, he took things into his own hands in the second. With a delayed penalty coming against him for charging, Daniel Sedin swept through the crease on a forecheck a little too close for Vokoun's liking, and the normally cool-as-a-cucumber netminder unleashed a hard elbow. Vokoun was assessed a major penalty on the play, negating what would have been an Avalanche powerplay, and from that point on, he seemed to lose his focus. Toronto got to him for 4 goals over the next 16 minutes, at which point he was pulled in favour of Martin Gerber. Unfortunately, this did little to stop the bleeding, as the Leafs would add 3 more goals in the third, blowing out the Avs 8 to 2. Zigmund Palffy led the way offensively for Toronto, scoring 2 goals and adding 3 helpers for 5 points. His 22 point total makes him the playoffs' leading scorer to date, one point ahead of teammate Daniel Sedin who also had a good game with 1 goal, 1 assist, and a +4. If the Avalanche stand any chance of winning this series, they'll need to send a message with a big victory in game 2 tonight in Toronto.
Leafs Knock Out Lightning
Daniel Sedin's Third Period Marker Sends Toronto to the Finals
Daniel Sedin broke a 2-2 tie with his goal at 3:54 of the third period, which held up as the winner for the Leafs
August 26th, 2006. The Toronto Maple Leafs had a chance to finish off the Tampa Bay Lightning on the road last night, and they took advantage of it. The first two periods of play were fairly even, with the Leafs getting goals from Patrik Elias and Janne Niinimaa, and the Lightning from Marc-Andre Bergeron and Shawn Bates. Even the shots on goal were tied at 12 a piece. Early in the third period, Leafs defenseman Patrice Brisebois sprung Zigmund Palffy and Daniel Sedin on a 2-on-1 break with Sedin converting a pass past Marty Turco to give the Buds the lead. From that point on, Tampa pummelled Toronto netminder Mikka Kiprusoff with another 11 shots, trying desperately to stay alive, while the Leafs reverted to defense mode, adding only another 2 shots themselves, but hanging on all the same to win the game 3-2, and the West Island Conference Finals series 4 games to 2. The victory makes the Leafs the inaugural MHL Clarence S. Campbell Trophy winners, and leaves them just 4 wins away from capturing Lord Stanley's Cup. They'll have to wait and see who their opponents will be for that final series, as Shawn Horcoff was the hero yet again as the Calgary Flames forced game 7 in their matchup with the Colorado Avalanche. That game will go tonight, with the winner beginning the Stanley Cup Finals series on the road against the Toronto Maple Leafs tomorrow.
Flames Hand Avs Second Loss
Horcoff the Hero Once Again in 5-3 Victory
Flames Shawn Horcoff and Ryam Smyth each had a goal in Calgary's game 5 win
August 25th, 2006. Coming into their playoff series with the Calgary Flames, the Colorado Avalanche had a perfect 8-0 record. A 3-1 Calgary victory in game one of the East End Conference Finals had fans in Colorado a little concerned. Had their team run out of gas? The Avs silenced the critics by rattling off 3 straight wins to take a stranglehold on the best-of-7 series, and had a chance to end it last night in game 5. But being down 3 games to 1 was not a new challenge for Calgary, who upset the Nashville Predators just one round earlier after trailing by that same score. And the same man who was the hero in game 7 against Nashville stepped up again last night, as Shawn Horcoff scored the go-ahead goal in the second period, and added 2 assists, earning first star recognition. With the game tied at 1, and Calgary on the powerplay, Horcoff picked off a cross-ice pass and broke in alone, beating the MHL's hottest goaltender, Tomas Vokoun, glove-side. The Flames would hold the lead for the rest of the game, adding 3 insurance markers and then holding the fort as the Avs fell short in a third period comeback attempt, with Calgary finally winning the game 5 to 3, and keeping their playoff run alive, now trailing 3 to 2 in the series. The Flames' backs are still against the wall, but the win allows them to return home to play game 6 tonight, and to keep the dreams on the Red Mile alive.
Four Clubs Hire New GMs
Buffalo, Boston, Columbus, and Philadelphia Bring in Fresh Blood Before Draft
The MHL's first annual entry draft will take place on Sunday, September 10th, with the Atlanta Thrashers holding the top pick
August 23rd, 2006. After disapointing seasons of either missing the playoffs or first round exits, four MHL clubs have fired their GMs and announced replacements who will start on the job immediately. First, the Boston Bruins hired Eric Spencer to take over as the architect shaping their club. Even with the GM only being in office for a few days, there is talk that he doesn't see eye to eye with netminder Curtis Joseph, and that Joseph may be shopped at some point this off-season. The Buffalo Sabres announced the hiring of Justin Parohl as general manager. Parohl has already made his first moves, which were to hire Dave Lewis to be his head coach, and to appoint defenseman Wade Redden captain, and forwards Brian Rolston and Slava Kozlov assistant captains. In Columbus, meanwhile, Mathieu Desbiens has been brought on as GM. Things have been quiet on the Columbus front, but it is no secret they'd love to get young winger prospect Evgeni Malkin over from Russia to join them in the MHL. Finally, James Ahearn was chosen as the man to replace former GM Pasquale Ruggiero in Philadelphia. Things have been quiet in Philly as well, but with a team that took its first round playoff matchup to 7 games, and features young stars like Dany Heatley and Dustin Brown, the required tinkering may be minimal. All of these announcements coincided with the announcement of the MHL draft order, and its time. The draft will take place at 5:00 PM EST on Sunday, September 10th, 2006, live from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The Atlanta Thrashers, having had the worst record during the regular season, maintained hold of the top overall pick in the draft after the lottery was held. The Buffalo Sabres leapfrogged the Minnesota Wild to grab the second overall selection, while pick number 4 belongs to the Boston Bruins. Who they will select remains a mystery, but with names like Erik Johnson, Jonathan Toews, Jordan Staal, Nicklas Backstrom, and Phil Kessel available, they are all sure to walk away winners.
Netminder Thibault Continues to Surprise, Impress
Regular Season's Top Performer Posts Shutout in First Start
Jocelyn Thibault made 25 saves in a 3-0 Toronto win last night
August 22nd, 2006. In Mikka Kiprusoff, the Toronto Maple Leafs boast one of the best goaltenders in the MHL. However, in winning them this year's President's Trophy, it was back-up Jocelyn Thibault who had the better numbers of the two, with a league-best 2.37 GAA and .913 save percentage. His just 39 games played kept him off of the award winners list statistically, but it has made a strong case for his Planters F'ing Nuts Award nomination. Coming into the playoffs, Kiprusoff remained the Leafs' go-to guy, but following a 3-2 loss two nights ago, Thibault was given his first playoff start last night. And he didn't disapoint. The 29-year old stopped all 25 Lightning shots, while Mike Peca, Matt Stajan, and Alexander Mogilny provided the offense, leading Toronto to a 3-0 victory, which knotted their Conference Finals series at a game apiece. Thibault has 3 games to his name thus far in the playoffs after twice relieving Kiprusoff in the late stages of matches, and this is relevant because it allows him to be ranked statistically amongst the league leaders, where his numbers outclass even the incredible stats of Tomas Vokoun, who yesterday also recorded a shutout - his fourth in 10 games. It is believed that Thibault will get a second consecutive start tonight as the Leafs visit the Lightning for game 3.
Strong Second Helps Lightning Bolt Leafs
Defenseman Salo, Winger Havlat Score Key Markers
Sami Salo recorded 1 goal and 1 assist in a 3-2 victory last night
August 21st, 2006. For two-thirds of last night's series-opener between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs, things went as an outside observer might expect, with the higher seed and home team taking it to the visitors. The game started with the President's Trophy-winning Leafs scoring the first 2 goals, and outshooting the Lightning 10-7 in the first. Toronto would also outshoot Tampa Bay 7-2 in a scorless third period, but it was the middle frame that made the difference. That is when the Lightning's offense came alive, and goals from Shawn Bates, Sami Salo, and Martin Havlat propelled the club into the lead. From there, goaltender Marty Turco came up with many big stops, allowing Havlat's marker to stand up as the winner. Sami Salo's great defensive play, team-high 26 minutes of ice time, +2 rating, and goal and assist earned him first star honours for the night, as the sold out Air Canada Centre left the building disapointed, but not hopeless for the rest of the series. And the Leafs will get their shot at payback tonight in game 2.
Horcoff, Flames Burn Preds, Advance
Second Line Pivot Pots 4 in Decisive Game
Shawn Horcoff scored 2 goals in each of the first and third periods in Calgary's game 7 win over Nashville
August 20th, 2006. If you're looking for a feel good story remaining in this year's playoffs - a true underdog rising to the task - it would have to be the Calgary Flames. The East End's 7th seed - by far the lowest ranked team remaining in the playoffs - comepleted its comeback last night over the East End's top seeded Nashville Predators, with a blowout 6-2 victory in game 7. The Flames had previously trailed in the series 3 games to 1, but fought back from the bring of elimination, and eliminated the Preds last night thanks to a little magic from center Shawn Horcoff. Horcoff, 26, who centers winger Gary Roberts and Michael Ryder, had just 3 playoff goals coming into last night's action, but he would proceed to tally the game's first 2 markers in the first period, and the last 2 in the third period, giving him a total of 7, the game's first star honours, and most importantly the win for his team. For most of this series, Alex Kovalev had been the Flames' go-to guy, but when everything was on the line last night, it was Horcoff, an overtime hero in the final game of the first playoff round against Philadelphia, who again stepped up and played the hero in a decisive match for the second time. Next up for Calgary will be the Colorado Avalanche in the East End Conference Finals. Once again, it won't be an easy task for them, as the Avalanche have been dominant thus far in the playoffs, owning an 8-0 record with sweeps of the Washington Capitals and Quebec Nordiques. The series opens in Colorado tonight.
Leafs Comeback Almost Complete
Second Straight Win Ties Series at 3
Zigmund Palffy had the game winner in a 4-2 victory over Pittsburgh last night
August 19th, 2006. At this year's MHL trade deadline, the Toronto Maple Leafs decided that their position atop the league standings meant that with just a little more help, they could be Stanley Cup favourites. After weighing their options, they felt the move that made the most sense was to pick up forward Zigmund Palffy - who at the time was on the longterm IR - on the cheap from the Atlanta Thrashers, sacrificing only prospect Konstantin Glazachev and a 4th round entry draft selection. There was no guarantee that Palffy, now a strong Bill Masterton candidate, would play again this season, though all were aware that he just may be able to get back into action come playoff time. Palffy's trade value was on the low due to the combination of that fact, and his earlier announcement that he would hang up the skates at the end of this seson. But the gamble has paid major dividends for the Leafs, as last night, Palffy's goal at 11:34 of the third period was the winner, as Toronto went on to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4 to 2, evening their best of 7 series at 3 games a piece. Palffy ranks 4th on the team in points, with 10 in 11 games, and is tied for second in goals, with 5. Though he was held off the scoreboard last night, Toronto's playoff leader remains veteran winger Alexander Mogilny, whose 8 goals are tops in the league, and 13 points have him tied for third. Toronto's win last night capped a comeback, as the Leafs had been down 3 games to 1 in the series, and found themselves facing elimination on the road. But the victory makes tonight the do-or-die decisive game, and it will go in T.O. at the Air Canada Centre tonight.
Role Players Chip in To Give Sens Lead
4th Liner Brown, 3rd Liner Radivojevic Score Huge Goals
Center Curtis Brown has been Ottawa's secret weapon these playoffs, with 4 goals and 6 assists
August 18th, 2006. When the Ottawa Senators blew a very early 2-0 lead to find themselves trailing 3-2 after the first period, it would have been normal for them to get down on themselves, and be concerned about how the rest of the game might go. And indeed, over the course of the next 2 periods, they would be outshot 22-12, and their top 6 forwards would all be shutout. However, thanks to 2 perfect periods from goaltender Dominik Hasek, and key goals from typically roleplayers Curtis Brown in the 2nd and Branko Radivojevic in the 3rd, Ottawa emnerged victorious, moving into a 3-2 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning. For Radivojevic, the winner represented his second goal of the playoffs, to go along with 5 assists, and his 7 points in 10 games are miles ahead of his regular season output. Brown's play this season has been even more remarkable, with his goal giving him 4 on the playoffs, tying him for the team lead with stars Todd Bertuzzi and Marian Hossa. He also has a team-high 6 assists, giving him an also team-high 10 points in 10 contests. Not bad for a guy usually thought of as a defensive specialist, getting 3rd and 4th line ice time. With the Sens now just one win away from advancing to the conference finals, the series shifts back to Ottawa tonight, where a packed Corel Centre will greet its heroes. But as we've seen these playoffs, the heroes might not be who you'd expect.
Back-Up Getting the Job Done
Snow Sensational as Preds Take 3-1 Series Lead
Garth Snow made 23 saves and earned first star honours in a 3-1 victory last night night
August 17th, 2006. When former NHL New York Islander teammates Rick Dipietro and Garth Snow made the jump together to the MHL's Nashville Predators, it was fairly clear what their roles would be. Dipietro, 24, is a young stud goaltender, with the potential to be one of the league's best as he matures and improves. He was expected to be the #1, carrying the bulk of the load, and he has done so throughout the season and into the playoffs. Snow, 36, who shocked the hockey world only a few weeks ago announcing he would end his playing career at the end of the season and take over as the general manager of the NHL's New York Islanders, was expected to be a mentoring, responsible back-up to Dipietro this year. However, to a certain degree, it has been Snow that has stolen the spotlight these playoffs for the Predators. Last night, Snow got the start for the Preds, and made 23 saves while earning first star honours in a 3-1 victory over the Calgary Flames, which gives Nashville a 3-1 series lead. While Dipietro's 4-2 record, 2.38 goals against average, and .911 save percentage are nothing to scoff at, last night's win boosted Snow's to a truly impressive 3-0 record, 1.53 goals against average, and a .936 save percentage. Snow's numbers trail only those of Colorado netminder Tomas Vokoun, whose play has kept his team at 8-0, the story of the playoffs thus far. With game 5 tonight in Nashville, it is still unclear whether Dipietro or Snow will get the start. But I'm sure even though it's summertime, Preds fans will be calling for Snow.
Leetch Brings Hope to Red Mile Faithful
2 Goals in 10 Seconds Give Flames Important Win
37-year old defenseman Brian Leetch looked no worse for wear last night
August 16th, 2006. The Calgary Flames found themselves trailing 2 games to none to the regular season East End Conference champion Nashville Predators, and the outlook was bleak. But last night, an unlikely hero rose to the challenge and breathed life back into the Flames players and fans alike. Well, perhaps he isn't an unlikely player to be in such a situation, as he has been looked at as a go-to guy many times during his career, but what makes it unlikely is that he is still managing to do it at his age; 37. With the game still scoreless, defenseman Brian Leetch scored 2 goals incredibly only 10 seconds apart at the 10:07 and 10:17 marks of the second period to instantly build the Flames a solid lead. The markers gave Leetch 4 for the post-season, and his 6 points rank him 5th amongst all blueliners. But what was more important was that from there on, Calgary held the lead, and goaltender Dwayne Roloson was up to the task, stopping 11 of a barrage of 12 shots in the third period to preserve a 2-1 victory. Out on the Red Mile after the game, it was clear who was the hero in the fans' perspective, as spontaneous chants of "Brian! Brian! Brian!" rang out late into the night. The series stays in Calgary for game 4 tonight, as the Flames look to even things up.
Avalanche Keep Rolling Along
Extend Playoff Win Streak to 6
Netminder Tomas Vokoun has been a dominant force thus far for the Avs
August 15th, 2006. The Colorado Avalanche may have entered the MHL playoffs as the 3rd seed in the East, but their thrilling 4-3 overtime victory last night extends a remarkable playoff win streak to 6 games. Mathieu Schneider's winner at 15:12 of the first overtime period allowed Colorado to remain the only team in the league yet to drop a post-season contest. They outscored the Washington Capitals 13-3 in a 4-game sweep in the first round, and hold an 8-3 goal advantage over the Quebec Nordiques thus far in round 2. The team has been led offensively by Robert Lang and Keith Tkachuk, who each have 8 points, while goaltender Tomas Vokoun - this year's James T. Kirk Award winner - has been nothing short of sensational between the pipes. The Avs will look to keep the drive alive as game 3 goes tonight in Quebec City.
Walker, Kovalchuk Unlikely Pair
True Odd Couple Finding Playoff Magic
Winger Scott Walker has exploded offensively opposite Ilya Kovalchuk in the post-season
August 15th, 2006. If you were to compare the lives, attitudes, and careers of Penguins' wingers Scott Walker and Ilya Kovalchuk prior to this MHL season, you would struggle to find any comparisons. Walker is a 33-year old 11-year NHL veteran whose highest season point totals in that league were 67, 54, and 40 respectively. Kovalchuk, meanwhile, is just 23, and in only 4 seasons in the National Hockey League managed to put up years of 98 and 87 points. In fact, Kovalchuk's 4-season total of 303 points outmatches Walker's 11-season total of 291. Walker, born in Canada, is, to his credit, a real team-first guy, who works hard at both ends of the rink, and was an assistant captain on the NHL's Nashville Predators. Kovalchuk on the other hand is often seen as a prototypical "cocky Russian," demonstrated by a lengthy holdout and threat to spend a year playing in Russia, and a pointing incident with young phenom Sidney Crosby. Walker finds himself playing for just $1.5 million a season, while Kovalchuk - even at such a young age - is already earning $5 million per year. Yet, somehow, when put on the same line, the two have been tearing up the MHL playoffs, propelling the Pittsburgh Penguins into the second round. Kovalchuk's 3 goals and 8 assists, and Walker's 4 goals and 6 assists, place both in the top 4 in scoring thus far. They'll look to stay hot, as the Penguins head home for game 3 of their Conference Semi-Final matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, with the series knotted at a game a piece.