Friday, February 16, 2007

To Crush A Predator

In the mixed-up world of the the NHL, the Nashville Predators aren't actually the predators, but more like the prey once we look at the Western Conference standings and see where the Detroit Red Wings are perched.

So, the Predators are NOT the predators -- and that might be a tad confusing to those of us who spend less than 15 minutes each week watching NBC (the home of "The NHL on NBC") and its Dateline task force working in conjunction with Perverted Justice to foil some 46-male-vs.-13-female/male love scenes in the presentation we know as "To Catch A Predator."

Makes ya wonder why NBC hasn't had any Predator games in its Saturday package.
All we get is some beer-bellied hick or a pencilneck pedophile telling Chris Hanson, "I wuzzint gonna do nuthin'. I jus' wanted to talk to her/him ..."

Powerful journalism aside, the newest, trendiest Stanley Cup hopeful is the team in Nashville with the sabre-toothed cat logo on the sweater. The trendiness just got ratcheted up a bit now that the Preds have landed Peter Forsberg from the goin'-nowhere Philly Flyers.
Seems weird, doesn't it? This is usually the time of year when the locals are obsessing with their Tennessee Titans' draft needs, the Vandy b-ball team which'll get knocked out in the first round of the NCAAs and the "real" TV talent show to determine Americans' idols ... "Nashville Star."

No doubt about it, the talent on that show is abundantly more-obvious than the FOX show which serves up wayyyyy too much Ryan Seacrest each week.
Besides, our hostess is Jewel.
And that's wayyyyy better than Seacrest, who a lot of us wish was the one --and not Billy Joe -- who jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

Back on point, Forsberg is now the new Nashville star, taking over for Paul Kariya, the guy who everyone forgot played for the Preds ... that is, 90 percent of hockey fans which walked away following the lockout.

So, the deal is that Hockeytown's biggest obstacle to the '07 Stanley Cup is what awaits in Honky Tonk Town. Back in the days when Stevie Y was wearing the captain's "C" and Shanny had the alternate-captain "A," this was a "no biggie" predicament.
Now, Stevie Y is at The Joe every night, outfitted in $1,000 suits as he sits in his asst. VP box upstairs.
And Shanny's playing for the NYR in MSG.
So, much for the "C" and the "A" that we grew up with.

Ever since the LOCKOUT left a lot of us with some icy feelings about the sport after we'd had our hearts Zambonied, we don't get to worked up, positively or negatively, about the Western Conference standings.
Actually, we never have.
The regular season -- at least, in Hockeytown in the mid- to late-'90s -- served as nuthin' more than an opportunity for the Wings n' Avs to unleash some serious aggression (goalies Vernon and Roy squaring off in the middle of the rink in '97 and then Osgood and Roy performing the same feat in '98 ... or was it '96 for those two?) as a prelude to the intensity of their annual playoff showdown.

Speaking of netminders, the regular season serves as little more than an ice-time tuneup for the masked men to sharpen the skills that they'll need for the 2-month meatgrinder which is the Stanley Cup playoffs.
That's about it, as we've learned from recent adequate goalies on nowhere teams (see: last year's finals with the Hurricanes' Colin Ward and those two Edmonton goalies whose names we can't remember if you put a gun to our head ... OK, so it was Dwyane Rolloson and Ty Conklin ... but, then what ever happened to Nikolai Khabibulin -- "The 'Bulin Wall" -- from the year before the lockout ... or, who was the Calgary goalie from that season? Kiprusoff? ... and who was the goalie for Anaheim which got the Ducks to a Finals Game 7 vs. Brodeur and New Jersey in '03)?

In the words of Groundskeeper Willy as he rakes his pile of lonely leaves ... "Willy hears ya. Willy don't care."

Commissioner Batman's NHL is mighty forgettable -- but since he has no huge TV deal such as the ones which the three major sports have, Batman needs to generate revenue by filling up arenas as often as possible.
Batman would have a 100-game regular season if he could and add an extra round of playoffs wityh the No. 4 seed playing the No. 12 in the first round with the winner of that best-of-9 series meeting the conference's No. 1 seed in the best-of-11 series in Round Two.

So, whereas two of the Original Six (Toronto and the NY Rangers) are completely unrecognizable, at least the Leafs (which haven't won a Cup since 1967) and the NY Rangers (which have won one Cup since 1940) play before packed houses.
Sadly, teams such as the Rangers, the L.A. Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks play in the three largest media markets, so unless Batman can work out a 150-game, regular-season schedule and several rounds of best-of-15 playoff series, America's never gonna meet the stars in those cities.
Sorry, Gretz, Mess and psycho Eddie Belfour.
Snocrossin' with snowmobiles at the Winter X Games has more identifiable stars than the Rangers, Kings and 'Hawks combined.

At least, Hockeytown's bid for the '07 Cup will have familiar faces between the pipes -- albeit those faces will be obscured by customized masks.
Now that the Curtis Joseph/Manny Legace Experience is a thing of the past at The Joe, it's up to The Dominator and Ozzie ... goalies who have won the Cup while wearing the winged wheel on their sweaters.

Has it really been five years since Hasek lost Games 1 and 2 to Vancouver at The Joe, then notched four wins in a row vs. the pesky Canucks?
Doesn't it seem like only last year (instead of May '02) when Hasek lost Games 4 and 5 to the Avs (hard-fought though they were) in the conference finals, then turned up his play a notch and blanked Colorado, 2-0, in Game 6 (on the road) and then, 7-0, in Game 7 at The Joe?

Then, there's Ozzie ... the baby-faced puckstopper who could've wilted under the pressure of what was expected of him in '98 -- one season after Mike Vernon won the Conn Smythe Trophy while leading Hockeytown to its first title since 1955 ... a jubilant time in Motown which lasted all of one week once that pot-smokin' driver crashed his limo which was carrying Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Fetisov and Sergei Mnetsakanov.

Ozzie seemed to take that "Believe" battlecry to heart, particularly in the playoffs when he allowed that shot from center ice by Al MacInnis to get by him and give St. Louis a cheapie win.
Ozzie bounced back ... especially after what happened in Game 5 of the conference finals against Dallas when he, once again, allowed a ridiculously-soft goal (memory seems to say that it was off the stick of Jamie Langenbrunner) that allowed the Stars to stay alive instead of Detroit clinching the series, 4-games-to-1 at home.
Instead, the Wings went on the road and Ozzie notched a shutout in Game 6.

The thing we remember about the Finals sweep against Washington that year is how Yat Yzerman said that the first person he was going to hand the Cup to was Ozzie, just as a way of saying that the team never lost faith in him.
But, then Vladi was in his wheelchair on the ice and, well ... you know.

Those were some great memories ... but Detroit's ready to carve out some new ones with a meaningless game next Saturday at Nashville, then, with three pointless encounters with the Preds in an eight-day span within the first two weeks of March (in Hockeytown on the 6th, then, a home-and-home on the 13th and the 14th).
With the drawn-out playoff format, being a No. 1 seed doesn't carry any more clout than a No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 seed, really -- further substaintiating the claim from this end of the blogsphere: "A playoff system simply does not work!"

But, since a playoff is the format, Detroit probably isn't losing much sleep over the prospect of facing Predator goalies Tomas Vokoun and/or Chris Mason in March ... or in May in the conference finals.
The Wings are (probably) hungrier this year than last year when four of their stars -- Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Tomas Holstrom and Niklas Kronwall -- were more amped about winning the Olympic gold medal for Sweden.
Thus, an NHL-best 58-16-8 record went down the drain.

So, no need to bludgeon the opposition with the President's Trophy.
The Stanley Cup playoffs (on Versus!) are where stars are made. Still, it remains a mystery to Batman as to why ratings for last year's playoffs were so dismal when the Cinderella story of Colin Ward was evolving.

Ward had a 5-6 record (with a goals-against greater than 4.00) during the final month of the regular season, then was (appropriately) zoning out on the Hurricanes' bench during Game 2 of the first-round vs. Montreal when (suddenly!) his mediocre, no-talent ass was called into action when the super-crappy Martin Garber allowed three goals to the Canadiens in the game's first 15 minutes.

Apparently, most of America doesn't want to see mediocrity gettin' hot because it reminds most of us that we'd be No. 3 on the 'Canes goalie depth chart.
And it reminds us of watching Rex Grossman attempt to play quarterback.

So, we've still got two more months to determine nuthin' in the NHL.
It should be fun ...

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