Sunday, June 15, 2014

PRIDE

Dad & Espo with the Stanley Cup
First and foremost, a very happy Father's Day to my Dad and all Dads' out there. I'm sure we all owe our Dads' something and I'm no exception. In addition to all the things my Dad has done for me he introduced me to the great game of Ice Hockey. I won every game he attended. I got my passion for all out effort to win from him.

OK, hello New York and everywhere else, I'm Bird and you're in the Birdcage at hockeybird.com. Just days ago the los Angeles Kings defeated the New York Rangers in game five of the Stanley Cup finals in double overtime. It was the second double overtime of the series and the third overtime, all in L.A. Unfortunately the Rangers lost all three. The Pundits and talking heads I taunted on twitter proved to be right, Kings in 5. You were right and I was wrong. Feel better now? But you have to admit, a bounce here or there and not only would we be looking forward to a game six, the Rangers could have been leading the series. None of you saw that coming.

Congratulations to the L.A. Kings for one hell of an historic Stanley Cup championship. To come back in round one down 0-3 was incredible. They won game seven on the road to capture the second round. Follow that with a game seven win in Chicago to knock off the defending champs and you have a history making trek of epic proportions in a quest for the Cup. While at times the Kings made mistakes they earned their "bounces" with tremendous effort. They fought for every puck, competed in each battle and at times outplayed the Rangers. They worked hard for it, deserved it and won it it outright. The Kings are the Stanley Cup Champions.

It is with great pride that I look at this 2013-14 New York Ranger season.

There will be time to discuss Richards, Dan G's tough final performance and the other topics some fans have already been violently tweeting and posting. Right now I'm going to concentrate and appreciate the positives about this season. Face it, after the opening road trip and the struggles early on, did any of you think we'd be playing in June? Be honest. I know I was preaching patience as the new coach and system had to be fully absorbed by the players and that takes time but it sure didn't look like a Cup run team.

I for one didn't support the firing of John Tortorella. The coaching change added too many variables for me to feel a warm and fuzzy about a championship. It was going to take time and I wasn't convinced it would happen quickly enough. Heck, I wasn't sure they'd make the playoffs during the early part of the season.

So, why am I feeling pride about our New York Rangers?

1. Cam Talbot - I didn't know much about this kid and "good" Marty Biron had been pretty steady as a back up. Turns out I felt as if there was little to NO drop off when the kid was between the pipes. Quite the opposite, Talbot seemed to give the team and it's fans a lift. That's not something a back up keeper normally does. With the compressed schedule and the King representing Sweden in every one of their Olympic games Cam would become a very important reason the Rangers won home ice in round one.

2. Ryan McDonagh - We knew he was good but it was this season that ryan emerged as a legit Norris kinda D-man. His confidence level combined with the coaches system change allowed for some offence and more often than not, in a big spot. Mac D is becoming a leader and a go to player on this team. Despite the shoulder injury, Ryan was a warrior and will get even better.

3. Henrik Lundqvist - He's is worth every penny of the contract he signed in the opening weeks of the season. Those who complained then about the dollar amount or the length as arm chair GMs are silent now. Despite some early trouble employing a tweak to his style, the King set all kinds of New York Ranger records for a goaltender surpassing Mike Richter and Eddie Giacomin in various stats. I noticed that Hanke now will come out and challenge a shooter at times previously spent deep in his crease. A wonderful addition to an already awesome toolbox Lundqvist brings to each game. If only he could improve his stick handling, the only area of weakness left.......he could still be getting better!

I've mentioned many times that this is Hanks' team, I don't care who wears the C or A. He is the leader and inspiration of the Rangers. It's his post game comments that speak for the team and he is quite the intelligent interviewee. To get this close to the only thing in life that eludes him should only make him more dedicated and determined next season. The King is not done with his quest for the Grail.

4. The Trade - It's not a comfortable discussion when describing the effect the trade of New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan had on the team. Cally didn't become the captain and the fan favorite at the Worlds Most Famous Arena by accident. His hard work ethic was indeed infectious. He lead by example. His smaller physical stature was overcome by his giant heart......and the fans connected. During the first half of the season I struggled to identify the team identity. Who were they? What kind of team are they? Cally was as close to an identity as the Rangers had (besides save by Lundqvist). At the time of the trade I was of the opinion that the Bolts had clearly won with the picks being the poorest part of the deal. I stated that St. Louis "was not the Butch Goring of 2014".

I was wrong.

When Marty walked into the locker room, the effect it had on each and every player was something that is hard to articulate without a prior point of reference. I'm sure it was a "you had to be there" kinda moment. But it's effect was clear as day. In that moment, Marty became a New York Ranger and the New York Rangers became a team. I wrote sometime during the second half of the season that the team needed a "chip on their shoulder" and when Rick nash visited his old mates, had a few goals and a fight, I thought that might do it. It didn't. Even Dom Moores' courage wasn't enough to galvanize this team. Marty walking into that locker room did just that.

The Game Six win on Mother's Day vs the Pittsburgh Penguins was as an emotional event in the game of hockey as I have witnessed. The video that went viral where Marty talks about being a Ranger says it all. His loss and subsequent support from his teammates transformed the Rangers into a band of brothers, focused on the mission and fighting for each other. Had the Rangers won the Cup you could have put an exclamation point on this trade. While this was a good a hockey related feeling I've had in quite some time, the picks still bother me a bit.

5. Beating Pennsylvania - Division realignment doesn't bother me much and the playoff format seemed to work great this season, league wide. Hockey fans were treated to one of the best playoff season in years as fan as excitement goes. I loathe the name Metro-Division but I'll get over it I guess. Rivalries with the Islanders and Devils remain very healthy and the Outdoor Classic's were a hit (except that the NHL and Rovio stole the name Hockeybird from me). Unlike many fans of the Rangers, it's the Flyers whom I despise the most. Read this post from before the season even ended. I correctly predicted exactly how the season would end and the result of the first round. Well, I got one thing wrong. the Rangers lost game six. The first round win over the Flyers would have been satisfying had that been the end of our run right there. There is no team on the planet that I take greater pleasure seeing lose. It's only better when the Rangers do it.

The Ice Chickens on the other hand are a different story. Some of you may know that I lived in Pittsburgh and worked at WXXP 100.7 back in the mid 80s. I loved it there and still have friends in that great city. My original dislike for the Pens stemmed from jealousy and frustration. The Lemieux years I guess. The Graves suspension. But since Sid the Kid came and the ice chickens became the team they are now my disdain has fomented and multiplied. Most of the hockey world had already penciled in the Penguins in the eastern Conference finals before the series even began. It would be quite sweet to knock the Mighty Penguins off. Falling behind 1-3 was deflating to say the least. I'm sure like most of you when we heard the news about Marty's Mom, not only was the series lost but it was no longer important. Winning game seven completed a dramatic comeback for the ages. The series itself could be the focus of a book or movie. Emotionally drained yet oddly satisfied the Rangers and the fans were going to the Conference finals. Beating both teams from Pennsylvania in game sevens made this a great season for me. Had nothing else good occured, it was a great year!

6. The Stanley Cup - Canada's only playoff team was already in the finals after knocking off the big bad Bruins in seven. After all, they had the gold medal winning goalie and they're the Montreal Canadiens fer christs sake. It's their birthright. OK, in fairness.......had Price not been injured it's very possible the Habs win but in no way did the kid they played lose the series for them. The injury changed the series but in the end the Rangers won in six. For the first time in 20 years, the Rangers were headed to the finals!

Look, it hurts. To get this close and not win is a bit painful. The Rangers should have won game one. It was the one game they held an advantage as the kings had just won an emotional game seven vs the Blackhawks.....the defending Cup Champs. Sure, Quick stopped the puck but there were chances, goals to be had. After game two the Rangers had not lost in regulation but had nothing to show for it. A bounce one way or another and the series could be different. That's hockey.

Game three leaves a bad taste in my mouth as the refs blew a call that changed the game and the series. While not fair it is over and done with. Game four allowed for the team to give it's fans (and themselves) something to be proud of. They won a Stanley Cup playoff game at Madison Square Garden. They prevented that Cup being awarded on home ice. they extended the series and brought hope when there was none. The Rangers showed pride. Yes, the Kings scored in double overtime in game five to win the Cup but you and I both know that game could just as easily been won by the Rangers.

Back in High School my team began each practice and game warm up with PRIDE jumping jacks. A reminder that if you try your best, no matter the result you hold your head up with pride.

The New York Rangers and their fans should and can hold their heads up with pride. It was a great season. It was a great playoff run. It was great hockey.

Thanks guys, I had a blast sharing the season with you here and on Twitter.

----}- Bird

Sunday, May 11, 2014

MARTY'S MOTHER'S DAY

20 Bent Lane in Levittown where Mom raised us
Hello NY and everywhere else, I'm Bird and it's Mother's Day 2014. By now you all know that Marty St. Louis lost his Mom a few days ago and that the NY Rangers rallied in Pittsburgh to force a game six which is tonight.

Those of you who have lost your Mom like I have understand what Marty is feeling. I don't have words to explain what it's like. What I can do is explain what my Mom meant to me.

Mom saw me win at lacrosse, football and wrestling while I was in high school. She listened to me on WLIR 92.7 in NY. She like your Moms was everything to a Levittown kid like myself. But in 1993 the cancer came back and took her from us. I was devastated. It's fair to say I didn't deal with it very well. It took a priest to sit me down and make me realize that I had 19 bonus years with her, something others didn't get. When I decided to return to the ice after the '94 Cup, I did so without Mom's presence. So I decided to include her in my pre-game ritual. I spoke to her on the way to the rink. Once dressed and through warm ups I'd again think of her. Then, just before puck drop I got on one knee in my crease and tapped the post with my glove. Then I'd tap my heart. "Just me and you Mom, just me and you". I said that each and every time I played including four championships.

I am sure Marty will be thinking of his Mom tonight as he takes the ice.

I'd like to think that the rest of the NY Rangers played for Marty and his Mom in Pittsburgh and I expect they will do the same tonight at the worlds most famous arena. The emotional trip Marty is on can be made just a little bit easier if the Rangers can force a game seven. I for one hope and pray that they do just that.

Win or lose I am proud of our Rangers for the game they played on Friday night. It would be fitting if on Mother's Day they could pull off one more win. Do it for Marty......do it for your own Moms. Do it for all Moms.

Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there and the rest of you, give your Mom a hug. You never know when you'll not be able to.

----}- Bird

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NY RANGER PLAYOFF CHANCES i am not a jinx

Hello NY and everywhere else, I'm Bird and you're at Hockeybird.com here for the last SIXTEEN years for no reason at all. I'm going to jump the gun and preview a possible playoff preview between your beloved NY Rangers and the league wide hated, Philadelphia Flyers. There it is, I said it. No taking it back.

Let's get this out of the way now. I AM in fact JINXing the New York Rangers with this post. I know that, you know that. I am doing it on purpose. It is in fact an anti-JINX JINX. By even typing these very words I am taunting the hockey gods with each keystroke. It's April 1st as I type this but it is no joke, I am talking about the Rangers vs the Flyers in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoff first round. Go ahead, curse at me now. It's ok, I'll understand that it's something you need to do. Go ahead, I'm waiting..........................Send your nastygrams to @hockeyangrybird or email to bird @ hockeybird.com.

I know what I'm doing, I'm a professional. Please, do not try this at home.

OK,

I'm assuming a 2-3 match-up with NYR having secured home ice. (Oh boy have I done it now!) The Flyers have enjoyed quite a turnaround since a rough beginning to the 2014 season. They ousted "Pete from Uniondale" Laviolette and promoted Craig Berube who was the consummate Flyer. He was hard nosed, big, aggressive, edgy, intimidating and could play. That is Flyer hockey. He has turned the team around into an impressive (3-2) metro Division finish. His captain is the first focus.

Claude Giroux:

I really thought the Flyers went nuts when both Richards and Carter were essentially dumped by the Flyers. I still scratch my head as those guys HAVE won a cup. I distinctly remember writing here on Hockeybird that the Flyers would be a team to deal with as Richards and Carter were gonna be scary. I truly enjoyed the Dubinsky - Richards battles. Once gone it was no longer just goaltending that would limit the Bullies. Then of course this kid with a chip on his shoulder pops up and once again we have to deal with those of Broadstreet. As a fan of hockey, pure and simple, Claude Giroux is everything one could ask for in a hockey player. If he wasn't a Flyer I'd have one hell of a man crush on this guy. To make matters worse, if you look at him these days he reminds you of a certain number SIXTEEN who once danced around the Spectrum. Praise aside, Claude has yet to lead his team all the way and until he does I for one will not publicly praise him. Crap, I just did.

If Claude catches fire his passion will spread and the Flyers will be dangerous. He makes players around him better. His success is infectious within that Flyer locker room. Stop him and you beat the Flyers. If not......good luck. In my opinion, the way to stop him is to make him play run and gun. The Flyers can't match the speed and Claude is only one guy. Look, I know he's barely 5-10 and 175 lbs but when he started popping his 25 goals and 78 points the fly Guys started winning. Simple as that. That's my two cents on that.

Scott Hartnell:

C'mon.....the guy LOOKS like a Flyer even with his new short hair. I'm could be wrong but I think he's better the longer his hair is. Honestly you have to keep this guy quiet and that means walking away from his yapping. You can't let this guy get into your head........ignore him. Well, his mouth any way. His 20 goals and nearly 50 points speak for themselves. Another passion guy who needs to be kept quiet.

Vinny Lecavalier:

I watched this guy drop his gloves with Jerome Iginla in the 2004 Cup finals and I watched him carry the Cup around that rink in Tampa, 2004. He's still got game. His 18 goals does NOT tell the story in my opinion. Factor in a new team, injuries and not being played 1st line minutes and that's a lot to digest. His 18 goals so far tells me that he will score in the playoffs. He wins faceoffs and is a big body who knows the game. Be wary of this guy. 4th line my ass.

Flyers Defense:

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

No really.

OK, they have some size. They have some vets. They have Kimmo. Hey, he's got 37 points.

As far as I'm concerned the Flyer defense is only off the hook if their goalie sucks. I'm not impressed nor intimidated. (In fairness, I'm not playing either) A decent fore check beats these guys in 60 minutes.

Flyers Goaltending:

Um,

Ah......

Well, one can..........ah, um.........

Steve Mason.

He won the rookie of the year in like......eight years ago. He doesn't suck. The 25 year old has 31 wins as of now. That's not freaking bad eh? But his GAA is 25th in the league and I'm not remembering his last big playoff accomplishment, can you? In other words, he's ripe for the Flyers Goalies Sucks syndrome. If I didn't dislike the Flyers it would be considered cruel to watch. Trust me on this.....the Flyers will NOT win the Cup this year and at some point, it will be the keepers fault.

A look at our boys......

Henke:

There is a difference in his game this year. I noticed it when he was losing but it was a positive change. And, it's continued and improved as this season has progressed. Hank comes out to challenge shooters more than ever before. And, farther out too. I love it. It's the one area I can complain about and with all the records and statistics, it's hard to find fault. But I've always suggested that Hank went down too early and too often. He waits a bit longer now. He stays up on a few more shots than before. I think we might be seeing his best yet. I'm confident that Lundqvist can stymie Claude and his boys.

Defense:

Can Ryan McDonough get any better? The guy has actually inserted himself into the Norris discussion. His 47 points are only eclipsed by his heads up plays in the D zone.To hear a national broadcast team give Montreal the business for the Scott Gomez trade yet again is just icing on the cake. I sure hope he and his agent took notes from the Cally debacle as I must see 27 in Ranger blue for years to come. His partner Girardi is no slouch himself. It's Mark Staal that I'm most grateful for. He's a 1-2 guy who currently plays 3 type minutes. Not bad eh? Diaz the trade deadline acquisition has impressed many with his shot, ability to play on the power play and the depth he adds. Hands down I like the NYR D in a seven game series vs the Bullies.

MSL & The Beast:

Here is the only question I have about this series. Will these guys play a big role on the score sheet? Despite the numbers there are few who skate with the same desire as Marty St. Louis. 26 gives his all as he always has. I'm not the only one who expects a bunch of goals from this guy once he gets back his mojo. The streaky Rick Nash has yet to leave his mark on a playoff series in a career that's not getting any younger. Now would be a good time for a hot streak Mr. Beast. If he does get hot, look out Flyer goalie.....

Number Twenty One:

Derek has to play like a number one center in the NHL. He is fer chrissakes.  Stephan doesn't have first line center numbers this year and that's not good considering he held out for cash. That said, Derek can erase that ugliness with a solid playoff performance. Watch his face off numbers and his match up. If he can shut down Giroux and be involved in the Rangers offense it's a five game series.

ZuccaPrucha and the Mighty Mights:

OK, the Flyers are bigger and meaner than the Rangers. I get it. AV has improved the power play and it behooves the Flyers to stay out of the box. That means it behooves the Rangers to turn the other cheek and skate away from the normal playoff intimidation tactics invented in Philadelphia or so it seems. Secondary scoring for the Rangers is a must if they are to advance as I'm suggesting they will. Not only must the Rangers make the Flyers pay on the power play but they'll need to add a few timely 3rd and 4th line goals. If not it'll be a long and painful series.

In a nutshell what I'm saying here is two fold. A, I know full well I am tempting the wrath of the hockey gods by posting this. I am a professional of 16 years, I'm trained. Do not try this at home.

And Three, the Rangers will defeat the Flyers in six games (yes they win it on the road) in the first round of this years playoffs. Please send hate mail here hate @ hockeybird.com


So, that's a really long winded, bloviated (my word) way of suggesting that your New York Rangers can and should beat the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs this year.

----}- Bird

Sunday, March 23, 2014

NOT EXACTLY WHAT I THOUGHT

So, Marty St. Louis got his wish and is now a NY Ranger. Frankly, I'm happy for him and his family which is what this is about. But I'm confused. What do the Rangers get out of this. Since it been a little while since trade deadline day my thoughts are quite clear here. I expected another all out "Going For The Cup" trade and picking up a 7th D man is NOT all out.

This means one of two things. Slats had a move planned and it didn't work out (my guess) or 2, this was his only planned trade. I don't think moving Cally for MSL straight up is a bad deal. My problem with the trade is that we didn't do anything else that makes us a contender. I know, that's easy to say this far out.......I can see the same stats you can and Marty has yet to put the puck in the back of the net. We weren't one guy away from a cup unless you added Marty and KEPT Cally. I also hate the draft picks given up. A # 1 in 2015 which is by all accounts a very deep draft is a hefty price.

Bottom line here is of all the trades Slats has pulled off, this one is his worst. That's not to say it's horrible. It's just that Slats has done much better and I think the Bolts win this one. Cally will resign somewhere this year and if the Bolts make the playoffs and win a round guess where I predict he will sign? The owner there has bucks and will spend them if he thinks he'll get a return. Cally will give a return no matter where he goes, that's his DNA. The likelihood of him resigning in NY is about as high me scoring in the 70s on a legit golf course. It could happen but I wouldn't want to bet my kids life on it.

I also haven't seen enough from this team to suggest they are peaking at the right time and will run deep to the finals. Again, it could happen. But I love my kids too much to bet 'em here. So I'm going to go with scenario number one. Slats had additional moves in mind but couldn't pull the trigger because the deals as asked for, cost way too much and would have left the Rangers unable to compete in future seasons or they didn't make the Rangers good enough to feel good about a finals appearance.

I no longer get the inside info that was once enjoyed here back in the heyday of Hockeybird. Living in Florida and not being at the rink every day tends to do that. It's OK. I'm now a fan like most of you are. I root like hell for my favorite team and enjoy the great hockey that is now available on our TVs like never before. But I'd love to know what Slats had in mind and why it didn't go down. The window for a NY CUP is not getting wider.......it's the other way around.

See ya for the playoffs

----}- Bird

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

CAPTAIN CALLY TRADED FOR MARTIN ST. LOUIS

Just a quickie: Cap. Cally was moved today for Martin St. Louis and the Rangers also gave two draft picks including the #1 pick in 2015. Unless there is another move today it'll be the first time Slats has been beaten in a trade this badly.

More later and hopefully a HockeyRodent Hockeybird radio show in a few days. Tonight's game vs Toronto has now become must watch television as Marty will play tonight.

I do expect another deal by NYR....stay tuned.

----}-