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SPRINGFIELD… Baseball, Auto Racing and Hockey, it has been a heck of a weekend. I got to see the Big Ten baseball tournament and it was exciting to say the least. The Indianapolis 500 delivered as well, although with the extreme heat playing havoc with the track conditions, it was a bit nerve racking. Add in an equipment change whereby there is now less downforce pushing the vehicles “down” on the track, thus giving them more gripping power and changing the draft and draft patterns for trailing cars, and it could have been an interesting afternoon relative to control. There were some mishaps, but no serious injuries. Aussie Will Power took the checkered flag for his first Indy win and 17th for Team owner Roger Penske. I ran into a former Uncle at a family Grad party after the race and he missed his 2nd Indy in a row after attending the previous 52 straight. He intends to get back there next year. We talked a little racing and at one time he was a sponsor for a USAC Sprint car. For me, I’m not much for NASCAR, I am more into the Open wheel, sprint cars and midgets and I probably owe that to him. I saw a lot of racing when I was a kid through him. That’s some down and dirty excitement right there.
Tonight, was hockey night though. Game One of the National Hockey League Stanley Cup Final just ended, and one Cup Final rookie team has just defeated another newcomer to the Final dance. The Vegas Golden Knights, in what can only be called a slopfest, prevailed over the Washington Capitals by a 6-4 final score. But to step back for just a moment here, the Knights had been parked for about 8 days having ended their series with the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday the 20th, and the Caps had been idled since their Game 7 win over Tampa last Wednesday the 23rd. I was expecting an imperfect game and both clubs delivered on that. More on this eves tilt though shortly. The Knights pretty much went through their Western Conference competition like water through a cheesecloth. They took out the LAK in a 4-game sweep, the SJ Sharks in 6, and then the mostly intimidating Jets in 5 games. That’s 12-3 after 3 rounds, and that’s impressive.
The Caps played 19 games through their 3 rounds, besting the CBJ in 6 games, (after losing the first two) they took out longtime rival Pittsburgh in 6 games and then had to go the 7-game distance against the Lightning for a 12-7 overall playoff record. Will the 4-game difference in games played come into play in this series? That is a distinct possibility dependent on how long this series goes. It seems to me that whenever I have seen a team get into the 22, 23 game range and beyond, that that team displays a noticeable drop in energy and in skating stamina. That’s exactly why this tourney just might be the toughest to win of the 4 major North American sports. I have got to say though that the G6 and G7 domination of the Bolts by the Caps was about as smothering of a performance as I have seen in any recent Cup tourneys. Two wins, two shutouts, (3-0 and 4-0) and total physical dominance of their opposition. The saying “men against boys” gets tossed about in sports and overused frequently, but in this case, it couldn’t possibly be more apropos.
In looking at and thinking about this matchup prior to it’s start I could not lock on to any one factor that said to me that this is a clear-cut pick to win the series and the Cup. I do have an emotional pick, but I’m not divulging it, and my SC Bracket challenge was basically as destroyed as a logging camp breakfast table by the 2nd round. The visuals say that the Knights will skate you off the rink while the Caps will pound you into it. I’ve seen the Knights absorb an opponent’s physical game though and still prevail. They were victorious over the Caps in their two regular season tilts. However, the Caps can skate too, and they have their own set of skilled players. They also possess the most gifted goal scorer of the past 13 seasons which is exactly how long #8 Alexander Ovechkin has been in the league. He most assuredly has been roasted in previous playoff years for not embracing the 200-foot game, for appearing to not be leading the team as a Captain should be, and for not pulling or pushing his team past the 1st and 2nd rounds and deeper into the playoffs. These are valid points, but so far, I feel like I’m watching a different Ovi this year. He looks like he is on a mission in a manner I’ve not seen in him before.
In examining the statistical data is there anything that would indicate a superior advantage for one over the other? It looks like this; in Goals for, it’s Caps 66-43. In Goals Against Its Knights 27-47. In the PP% the Caps hold a 9-point ad, and in PK% the Knights hold a 9-point ad. The Caps have averaged one more shot per game and have allowed 5 less per game then Vegas has. Faceoff win percent is about a wash. Deep down in my hockey heart I feel like Vegas bench boss Gerard Gallant has the slightest of edge over the Caps Barry Trotz, emphasize the slightest part please. The Knights will hold the home ice advantage unless the Caps negate that, but seriously, home ice hasn’t meant much this year to anyone excepting the Knights. With this eve’s win they go to 7-1 in the tourney.
As for the G1 experience, the pregame show in Vegas for the first game of the prior three series was absolutely over the top. Tonight, was fine, replete with veteran boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer bringing his trademarked “Let’s get ready to Rumble” to T-Mobile Arena. That was as “Vegas” as it gets when it comes to sports. I’m left wondering if it measured up to the prior events though. When Buffer did the pregame player intros, it hit me that no one, anywhere, does them like Buffer does. That was an awesome touch. As I said, the tilt itself was a slopfest but since it was what I thought would occur, I’m not spoiling about it. The Knights scored first and then it was seesaw time with 5 lead changes before Vegas scored 3 straight in the 3rd to regain control and the win with Vegas forward Tomas Nosek notching the GWG and an ENG for insurance late in the frame. G2 takes place Wednesday eve and I can’t wait. Did I tell you who I’m picking to win? Nope, that answer is in my safe… PEACE