Column as I see ’em:
• There’s been a lot of talk during the Stanley Cup playoffs about hockey’s offensive crisis. Scoring after the first two rounds was the lowest in more than a decade. We’re hearing renewed cries for rules changes – bigger nets, deflated goalies, etc. – to address the problem.
But for 10 minutes Saturday night, you would have thought the NHL’s problem was too much offense. The Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks combined for six goals in a frenetic stretch of the third period to turn a typical low-scoring Cup struggle into a shootout.
Early in the third, it was a 1-1 game. Then, over the next 10:01, six players found the net. The Blackhawks scored twice to take a 3-1 lead. The Ducks stunned the United Center crowd with three goals in 37 seconds to go up, 4-3. Patrick Kane scored 3:20 later to tie the game, 4-4.
Things returned to normal after that six pack of goals. The teams played 32:58 of tense, scoreless hockey before Antoine Vermette wired a tough-angle shot past Fredrick Andersson at 5:37 of the second overtime to give Chicago the 5-4 win and even the series at two games apiece.
It was a terrific – if long – hockey game, the sort that reminds Sabres fans what they’ve been missing. The sport needs more games like it, where defense doesn’t totally stifle the skill players and more offensive rushes find resolution on the scoreboard.
Still, these multiple-OT playoff games aren’t the best thing for hockey. A lot of viewers can’t stay up long enough to see the end on TV. It also takes a lot out of the players. Hockey players are as tough as they come, but it can hurt the product when they’re forced to play the equivalent of four extra periods over three games. The Blackhawks and Ducks played 2:61.47 of hockey in Games 2-4 in a span of roughly 100 hours. Duncan Keith played nearly 118 minutes.
The purists don’t like it, but I’d like to see them play four-on-four at some point if there’s no score in OT. I’m not against shootouts, either.
• In late February, when Steph Curry was at the peak of his popularity – an All-Star Game MVP, a trip to the White House, clear favorite for MVP – the Warriors traveled to Cleveland to take on the surging Cavaliers.
LeBron James responded by scoring a season-high 42 points as the Cavs won easily over the high-flying Warriors. Curry had one of his worst games of the season. It was as if James were telling the world, “I know he’s the hot guy, but don’t forget about me.”
James might also have been looking down the road to a possible NBA Finals matchup with Golden State. Now, barring any remarkable rallies by the Rockets or Hawks, we’ll be getting just that – a Cleveland-Golden State final featuring the runaway MVP (Curry) versus a four-time MVP (James).
Curry is the most exciting player in basketball, perhaps the best pure shooter the NBA has known. James is the best player, a man who is looking to win his third NBA title in his fifth straight trip to the Finals.
If the Warriors get past Houston, Curry will be the fifth league MVP to play in the Finals in the last eight seasons. That’s one advantage the NBA has over the NHL: Its superstars are more prominent late in the playoffs.
No Hart Trophy winner has played in the Stanley Cup final since Martin St. Louis in 2004. In fact, this will be the fourth straight year in which none of the top three finishers for the Hart plays in the Cup final.
• Masahiro Tanaka tossed three shutout innings in an encouraging rehab start for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday. Tanaka, who went on the DL with wrist and forearm issues on April 23, was throwing his fastball in the 90-91 mph range. The Yankees could certainly use him.
The Yanks’ rotation is in shambles. They dropped nine of 10 to fall out of first in the AL East. CC Sabathia, who had won two in a row, gave up six runs in 2∑ innings against Texas, dropping his ERA to 5.47. Sabathia is 0-6 with a 9.42 ERA at Yankee Stadium since Sept. 20, 2013.
Michael Pineda has lost two in a row since his 16-strikeout, no-walk gem. Texas scored seven runs in the third inning against Pineda in Friday’s game at the Stadium. They put up 10 more in the third in Sabathia’s start the next day.
Chase Whitley needs Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Nate Eovaldi and Chris Capuano have struggled of late. Could they get in the Cole Hamels sweepstakes?
• The Bills got a break when Roger Goodell suspended Marcell Dareus for one game for last year’s drug arrest. I figured Dareus would get a stiffer penalty after crashing a car into a tree on Route 179 while street racing, one day after telling the media he had turned over a new leaf.
Goodell has a lot of latitude in these matters. Evidently, he didn’t feel a reckless driving episode that could have ended in tragedy didn’t warrant further discipline. It makes you wonder if he wanted to stick it to the Patriots by making sure Dareus played in Week Two.
• During the Mike Babcock frenzy, some NHL experts contended that Joel Quenneville, not Babcock, was the best coach in the league. Quenneville, who has won two Stanley Cups with Chicago, looked pretty smart after the Blackhawks’ win Saturday.
Quenneville scratched Antoine Vermette in the third game. Vermette, who struggled after being acquired from the Coyotes at the trade deadline, wasn’t happy. But he came back and scored the double-OT winner in Game Four. Now that’s good coaching.
• The Pirates’ A.J. Burnett leads the NL in earned-run average at 1.37 after beating the Mets on Saturday. Burnett, 38, is second to Sabathia among active pitchers with 2,423 strikeouts. He is sixth in active wins with 159. But he’s never made an All-Star team. He has allowed two or fewer runs in all nine of his starts. Maybe this will be the year.
• You can make all the excuses you like, but it was not a good look for James Harden passing up that potential game-winning shot in the final seconds of Game Two against the Warriors. I can’t imagine Michael Jordan, Larry Bird – or Steph Curry – passing up that shot.
• Hats off to the Canisius baseball team for winning its second MAAC title in three years. Ten years ago, when Mike McRae took over, the Griffs were one of the worst teams in the country. They’ve had nine straight winning seasons in the league and averaged 37 wins overall in that time.
• You know what I’d like to see? Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, the top two players in the world rankings, in the final pairing on Sunday at the U.S. Open next month at Chambers Bay.
• You think the Indians’ Jason Kipnis might have a shot at Player of the Month? So far in May, Kipnis is 41 for 90 (.456) with 15 extra-base hits, 24 runs scored and a .545 on-base percentage.
• Patrick Kane now has 46 career playoff goals in 107 games. Sidney Crosby has 43 in 100. Dave Andreychuk had 43 in 162 career playoff games.
• Maybe Draymond Green is the real MVP. With Green on the court in the playoffs, the Warriors are plus-163 points. Without him: minus-43.
• Maybe it wasn’t all Joe Maddon’s genius in Tampa Bay, after all.