The National Hockey League playoffs begin early next week and the fact the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens are both battling for Lord Stanley’s mug has created enormous interest across the Island.
Although the Maple Leafs have been badly outplayed and outshot in many of the their games during the past three weeks, they have received sensational goaltending from James Reimer to secure a playoff spot for the first time in nine years. Toronto plays a tough, physical playoff-type brand of hockey and it is not unreasonable to think they could get past the first round of the playoffs, especially if they play Montreal or the New York Rangers, teams the Leafs think they can push around.
Had the season been a normal 82-game schedule, the Leafs may not have made the playoffs, at least that’s what anti-Leafs and Canadiens fans believe.
In this country and in the NHL, there is no greater rivalry than a Stanley Cup best-of-seven series between the Montreal Canadiens and hated rival Toronto Maple Leafs. In the 1960s it was the “clutch and grab” Leafs against the fast skating Canadiens and 50 years later, not much has changed. Toronto will bang and pound the Canadiens and try to intimidate them while Montreal will play the skating and discipline game.
I have long been a believer in adding a physical presence to protect a team’s skill players, but I don’t see that in this edition of the Canadiens. In the glory days of the past, the Habs had the likes of John Ferguson, Pierre Bouchard and Chris Nilan and I don’t see any of those types with the 2013 Canadiens. This will be a physical series and right now, one has got to give the Leafs a huge advantage.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Leafs, has rewarded their loyal fans with a 75 per cent ticket hike which should tell you how much they really care about the little folks that buy season tickets. Nevertheless the tickets will be sold out with a long waiting list, that’s how much Leafs fans love their hockey.
If the Penguins get any kind of quality goaltending, they should easily win the Eastern Conference outright.
Washington and Alex Ovechkin have been on a torrid pace down the stretch, but they have never made any noise in the playoffs. Maybe this is the year.
The Canadiens have been terrible of late, as has goaltender Carey Price while neither the Boston Bruins nor the Rangers have shown any scoring or consistency. Ottawa has the goaltending and toughness and although they lacked scoring for most of the year, superstar defenceman Erik Karlsson is back and he’s their Bobby Orr. Ottawa is a dangerous opponent. As for the New York Islanders, they are just happy to be in the playoffs.
In the West, Chicago appears to be in a class by themselves but the playoffs are a whole new story. The defending champion L.A. Kings and the playoff tough St. Louis Blues bolstered by the addition of Jay Bouwmeester could make it difficult, especially if their goaltending holds up.
If Detroit gets in, they could surprise a first-round opponent. Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver and Columbus have all played well down the stretch and are hot heading into the playoffs. Minnesota is 4-5-1 during the last 10 and even with their big additions look like just another team. Minnesota, Detroit and Columbus are battling for the remaining two playoff spots and from this group Detroit is by far the more dangerous first-round opponent. From here, it looks like Pittsburgh and Chicago in the Stanley Cup.
Football is in the spotlight Saturday, May 4 when the P.E.I. chapter hosts its annual gala dinner at 6 p.m. at the Jack Blanchard Family Centre. Hubert “Sock” MacDonald will be inducted into the Football P.E.I. Hall of Fame joining his former mid-1970s teammates Mike Lyriotokis and Vernon Pahl.
Ex-CFL great Jim Foley, who starred at St. Dunstans in the late 1960s and at UPEI in 1969, was the first player ever inducted into the Hall.
Sock was named UPEI Panthers football rookie of the year in 1977 and during the next three years was named all-conference defensive back. He played both ways on a very solid Panthers club that also included the likes of Gary Kennedy and Shane Dowling.
Sock also excelled as a wide receiver and kick returner, and in fact signed a contract with Montreal Alouettes and was the last player cut at the team’s camp in 1980. Ironically, at that camp, the Als moved Sock to defensive back and kick returner as they had another more experienced wide receiver in Oakland Raider great Fred Biletnikoff.
As for the dinner, Hamilton’s own Dave Stala, who came right out of the Steel City’s Cathedral High School and was recruited by the St. Mary’s Huskies a little more than a decade ago, will be the guest speaker. Stala broke in with the Montreal Alouettes in 2003 but for the past eight seasons has been a standout with the Tiger-Cats, having a career year with eight touchdowns in 2011. He is signed with the Tiger-Cats for this season.
Tickets for the gala dinner, which doubles as a fundraiser for Football P.E.I. as well as the P.E.I. Celebral Palsy Association, are available at $45 per person with corporate tables at $350. For tickets and/or further information, call Glen Flood at 368-4262 or email gflood@ sportpei.pe.ca.
Avondale Golf Course is hosting the UPEI men’s basketball golf tournament fundraiser Wednesday, June 26 with a 1 p.m. shotgun start.
The first 30 teams registered. The cost is $500 per team or $125 per individual, and that includes green fees, two power carts, various prizes and steak dinner. For further information call coach Tim Kendrick at 566-0562, Lyle Huggan at 566-4967 or Panther Central 566-0368.
Local harness racing continues tonight at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park with a 6 p.m. start. The $1,800 feature goes in Race 11 and the Darren Trainor-trained Le Fegueur (Marc Campbell) is the morning-line favorite against a tough field that includes Blue Star Outlaw (Jason Hughes), Pembroke Fella (Brian MacPhee) and Every Day (Brian Andrew). Others in the field Casual Motion (Joey Pineau), Outlaw Positivcharg (Terry Gallant) and Artners in Crime (Ron Matheson).
Deuce Man, who won last week for the Neal Moase Stable, has changed hands to trainer/owner Mitch Tierney. He goes in the Race 12 finale and can win with Mike Stevenson aboard.
James MacDonald had a driving hat-trick Monday night at Woodbine and one of his wins was with North American Cup-bound Urbanite Hanover and the colt looked awesome in winning in 1:53, last panel in 26 and change with lots left. Mark MacDonald posted a hat-trick last Saturday night at The Meadowlands, the last night of the spring meet. The Big M opens its summer meet this Thursday night. Stormont Lancelot, previous owned by James MacDonald and John MacKinnon, won his first start at Yonkers for his new owners taking a $13,000 trot with ease in 1:57 last Tuesday night.
There is a lot of simulcast action. Flamboro goes this afternoon, Woodbine tonight with the $44,000 Don Mills Trot finale and the $27,000 top-class pace while the Levy final goes tonight at Yonkers.
Fred MacDonald’s column appears every Saturday in The Guardian. Contact him at email@example.com.