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Hot days, high humidity, Grandma’s Marathon coming this weekend — all sure signs that summertime is here at last. For those of us who are devoted to the game of hockey, of course, summertime arrived about 10 p.m. Sunday night, when the Stanley Cup was handed out and hockey officially ended.
The Pittsburgh Penguins claimed their second straight Cup with a stirring 2-0 victory over the Nashville Predators in Game 6, with the score using an empty-net goal to obscure how close it really was.
Nashville grew up during these playoffs, rising to a level of excellence none of us could have anticipated. The Predators swept Chicago in the first round, then handled St. Louis right after the Blues had knocked out the Wild. Then a knock-down, drag-out war with Anaheim was claimed by the Predators in six, sending them to their first Stanley Cup final.
After getting embarrassed 6-0 in Game 5, when the teams were in Pittsburgh and tied 2-2 in games, the Predators came back home to their fantastic fans and played the talent-laden Penguins to a standstill.
Their luckless plight in Game 6 was indicative of how they had to fight through all sorts of misfortune and still kept coming. Matt Murray of Pittsburgh and Pekka Rinne of Nashville were engaged in a splendid goaltending duel, and in the second period, Nashville took a 1-0 lead.
Filip Forsberg, who has emerged as a legitimate NHL star with his play under the playoff spotlight, got the puck deep in the left corner. Referee Kevin Pollock was deeper in the corner, behind Forsberg, who skated a stride toward the goal and fired a shot. Murray dropped to his knees but somehow, instead of being smothered, Forsberg’s shot squirted through the goaltender and landed in the crease.
Nashville’s Colton Sissons, taken down by defenseman Trevor Daley in front, spotted the puck and lunged while sprawled to poke it into the goal.
However, Pollock did not signal goal, but instead spread his arms and called it no goal. By being in the corner, he was behind Murray and couldn’t see the puck get through, the way about 12,000 Predators fans and a world of television viewers could. They talked it over for quite a while, but Pollock had blown his whistle prematurely, so no goal could be allowed.
We’ve all seen that sort of thing happen, but my only criticism is that as Forsberg moved toward the net to shoot, Pollock also should have been hustling toward the net, where a view from behind would have been commendable. Instead, by allowing himself to stay screened, he also properly blew his whistle when he no longer saw the puck. Unfortunately for the Predators, there were precious few high-quality scoring chances in the entire game, and this not only was one, but it became a goal that never was.
We can’t gauge how the game might have been different had it boiled on into the third period with the Predators leading 1-0 and those crazy fans going properly wild. But as the minutes passed in the third period, and the game stayed 0-0, that became a forgotten element.
With about a minute and a half to go in regulation, Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz shot one off the end boards, and as Rinne slid across to the pipe, Patric Hornqvist went past the right post and smacked the rebounding puck toward the crease. It his the back of Rinne’s left elbow, it appeared, and the ricochet went into the net.
The Penguins erupted, naturally, and the Predators crowd was stunned into silence. Murray and Rinne each made 27 saves in the dead-even battle, and the pivotal difference was that the Predators failed to score on four power plays, and even getting Rinne out for an extra skater through the final minute didn’t allow Nashville to get anything resembling a good chance.
When Carl Hagelin skated in to score into an empty net, it was officially over.
The Penguins were outstanding killing penalties and in the closing minute, and one of the huge factors was Matt Cullen, who won just about every faceoff he took, while Sidney Crosby was being regularly beaten by Nashville centermen. It was only a subtle little part of the game, but it gave Cullen, a 40-year-old former Moorhead High School and St. Cloud State standout, more than a little reason to know how valuable he was.
Boys of Summer
The Minnesota Twins, our own “boys of summer,” have got to quit acting like it’s spring training and put some consistent victories together. I know, I know, we’re easily spoiled. None of us anticipated the Twins could be leading the American League Central Division this late in the season, but they are.
When the Twins win, they look almost invincible. When they lose, they look like a clown show, much of the time. Strangely, they looked like clowns on their last homestand, then went on the road and looked pretty good. They returned to Target Field to start a nice, long homstand on Monday.
At that point, the Twins were 30-25 for first place, but had been outscored by 28 runs! When Ervin Santana pitches, they couldn’t look better. Santana has pitched three complete-game shutouts this season, and he is the only pitcher to throw more than one of them. There have been 15 altogether.
But when Santana doesn’t pitch, Twins fans can be excused for holding their breath. Same whenever Paul Molitor goes to the bullpen, where the Twins “firemen” seem to be more likely to pour gasoline on the fires than put them out.
The Twins can hit, can score runs, but they can’t seem to stop opponents from scoring in double figures. Last season, an unmitigated disaster for the last-place Twins, saw them give up 11 runs or more nine times, which is awful. This year, the Twins are in first place this season -- and yet they already had matched last year’s record of giving up 11 runs or more nine times. On Monday, when they opened their homestand against Seattle, the Twins gave up more than 11 runs for the 10th time, worse than last season.
Still, our boys of summer are completely unpredictable, but they are still in first place, and every game is entertaining.