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ISABELLA… Two games are complete in the Stanley Cup finals, and the LA Kings are in the Cup driver’s seat with a 2-0 series lead over the NJ Devils and a chance to close it out at home with two games coming up on the left coast. The Kings won both games courtesy of 2-1 OT scores. They scored first in each game, then the Devs scrapped back to tie only to lose in OT both times. Is there anything the Devs can do differently to obtain a different result in games three and four?
In game one the Devs looked like a club coming off of a huge, emotional win over a tough rival. However, they kept the Kings close to the vest, eventually gaining a tie with a late second-period tally, then forcing an OT. I felt as though the Devs had a tough start to the game but got their legs, created some chances, and had a better go of it in defending the Kings in periods two and three. Kings star forward Anze Kopitar scored on a breakaway to end the tilt on a high note for the Kings.
Just past the eight-minute mark of OT, with the Devs’ five skaters all toward the same side of the ice, Justin Williams hit a breaking Kopitar with a pass that sprung him free, and he put one past All World net minder Mar-tan Brodeur. The shot totals were low for each club, with 25 for the victors and only 17 for the Devs. There were only three penalties called in the game, and special teams were not a factor.
In game two, the Devs looked stronger at the start of the contest but still surrendered the opening goal on an end-to-end rush by the Kings’ Drew Doughty, who finished the play with a shot through defensemen Bryce Salvador’s legs and past Brodeur. The goal would stand until Minnesotan Ryan Carter scored early in the third period to tie the game up at one apiece. The Devs held off the Kings throughout the remainder of the third and had a couple of chances to win the game themselves but came up short. Then at 13:42 of OT the Kings’ Jeff Carter scored on a clean shot out in front of Brodeur for the winner.
LA outshot the Devs 33-32, and once again special teams did not come into play in the outcome of the game. The Kings were called for four minor penalties, the Devs for two, and neither club capitalized. LA is now an astounding 10-0 on the road in the tourney and 14-2 overall. It is safe to say that LA is playing slightly better than the Devs right now, but if the Devs had cashed in on some of their scoring opportunities they could have won either game as well.
What can the Devs do? Well, the road has been a kinder place to play in this playoff year for just about everyone involved. The Devs are 6-3 away. They are going to have to make something happen tonight (Mon.) to save this series from imminent demise. They are going to have to launch more shots at Jonathan Quick and get more production from their big guns Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Brodeur has been doing his job. One goal allowed per game in regulation should get you a win. But the Kings seem to be walking on water, and everything—and I do mean everything—is clicking for them. At this point, game two was critical for the Devs and they came up short. I do not see them winning four of five from the Kings. Not this playoff season. However, two road victories could make it quite interesting and send the series back to the right coast. We will see, but the Kings look unstoppable right now. They will drop the biscuit in about 18 hours….
THERE IS A CHANCE THAT WE might see a Triple Crown winner this year. I am waiting in much anticipation of the Belmont Stakes race on Saturday. As you might know, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another will give it a try, and his Derby and Preakness nemesis Bodemeister is not entered in Saturday’s classic. I would say that there are three other horses entered that might have a chance to keep IHA from equine racing history. They are Derby third-place finisher Dulahan, Paynter, and Union Rags, who got a seventh-place finish at Churchill Downs. Neither Dulahan nor Union Rags has raced since the Derby.
There is another reason there are so few Triple Crown winners, and that is the fact that the Belmont is the final and longest track of the Triple. At one and a half miles, this track has ended the Triple Crown dreams of a few horses, riders, and owners. It has been 34 years (1978/Affirmed) since the Triple has been won, and the last attempt was in 2008 when Big Brown won the first two jewels of this majestic trio.
I’ll remember the ’78 race for a couple of reasons. One, I got to see horse racing history. The Triple is such a rarity to win that I can remember how happy we were as Affirmed crossed the finish line with jockey Steve Cauthen holding his fist in the air. Two, I was in the early part of two and a half years of some fairly miserable chemotherapy. At that point I was down to 100 pounds and was bald from hair fallout. Shortly after the race, two bees had gotten into the house somehow and both stung me. To add insult to injury, they stung me right on top of my bald dome.
Twenty minutes later, I had a blinding headache from the stings and I was feeling worse by the minute. I finally got that under control with pain meds, but it was a disheartening end to what had been a very happy event to witness. It was a challenge to feel good for ten minutes a day, and the race was my ten minutes, I guess. Well, that is long behind me, but once again, I find myself a little bit “hair challenged,” only this time it is from age probably, not chemical invasion of my body. You know, I think I’ll wear a hat Saturday when the race comes on. Just in case…. PEACE
Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott recently wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.