Hockey gods punish Ottawa as Ducks soar
It’s a shame that the first Canadian team with a good chance to bring a hockey-crazed country the Stanley Cup in 14 years not only is going to lose, but will do so in an embarrassing fashion.If you were one of the coalition of the willing, a.k.a. one of the 1.7 million households tuned into Monday night’s Game 4, you saw the Anaheim Ducks outplay and outclass the Ottawa Senators.This game had to be pretty surprising to the Senators and their fans, considering how well Ottawa responded in Game 3 after losing the first two on the road. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, however, to anyone who has seen the Ducks play this year.The sad part of Game 4 was not that the spirit of a nation may have been deflated (this notion will be dispelled a bit later), but that the Senators were behaving in the most un-Canadian-like manner.Let’s start less than a minute into the game with Senators tough guy Chris Neil. As expected, Neil went out throwing his body and looking to draw penalties. After Neil launched himself at the Ducks’ Francois Beauchemin behind the Anaheim net, and missed, Neil skated up the ice and shoved Beauchemin. When Beauchemin then gave a little jab at Neil with his stick, Neil did his best impression of Shamu the whale at Sea World. A goon like Neil shouldn’t be diving, plain and simple. Furthermore, this guy should have been suspended for Game 4 after taking a run at Anaheim forward Andy McDonald’s head in Game 3.At the end of the first period, another rough-and-tumble Senator took an obvious dive. Ottawa goalie Ray Emery looked like a forward from the Italian soccer squad when the Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf made incidental contact with Emery. The replay showed Emery, a foot or two out of the goal crease, do the fosbury flop a half-second after Getzlaf attempted to avoid him. Emery didn’t get a pass on the play; rather, he earned the ire of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation color-commentary man Harry Neale.Poor aim?The most disturbing and idiotic part of the game came at then end of the second frame when Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson carried the puck up the ice. After Alfredsson wound up for a shot, looking to dump the puck down the ice, he paused, looked up, readjusted his aim, and fired a shot right at Ducks’ captain Scott Niedermayer. Alfredsson claims he didn’t mean to do it, but the shot couldn’t have been anything but intentional.Alfredsson’s blast was the equivalent of 20 shots of human growth hormone into the Ducks’ bloodstream. Without defensman Chris Pronger, the Ducks’ blueliners had to log an extra 30 minutes or so of icetime – and looked a bit tired after two periods. I think Niedermayer could have played the entire third period and two overtimes on the memory of Alfredsson’s shot alone.Canadian hockey icon Don Cherry (think what Jon Stewart is to American politics) blasted Alfredsson between periods, and members of the Canadian press have already pinned the soon-to-be-lost series on the guy who should have been leading the Senators to their first cup. Come summer, I think the “C” may slip off Swede Alfredsson’s jersey and find its way onto that of a Canadian-born player.For Game 5, the only tape the Ducks need to watch is a slow-motion replay of Alfredsson’s slapper.When the first team from the West Coast (both American and Canadian) lifts Lord Stanley’s hardware, there will be some cheers in Canada. While every man, women, child and dog in Ottawa is pulling for the Senators, the same can’t be said of the province of Ontario. Toronto Maple Leafs fans want the Senators to lose as much as the New York Mets faithful root against the New York Yankees. If you don’t believe me, just check out the readers’ forums on Canadian newspapers’ Web sites. I can’t imagine too many Montreal Canadiens fans are pulling for the Senators. Edmonton and Calgary are still probably bitter about their most recent losses in the finals. Former Quebec Nordiques backers may not even recognize the National Hockey League anymore. And if I were living in Vancouver, I’d pull for a Pacific-time-zone team to win, hoping that the late-night games get more press in the future.And would Canada really be proud of a team full of whiners, goons and divers anyway?Scary goodAny team closely watching the finals may be glad it’s not in Ottawa’s position right now. The Ducks are as complete of a squad the NHL has seen in a long time.Even without Pronger, the most feared defenseman in the league who happens to be a big offensive threat, too (Pronger is plus-9 and has 14 points so far), Anaheim beat Ottawa on the road.Ottawa did outhustle Anaheim in the first period Monday and would have been up by several goals had it not been for the Ducks’ netminder J.S. Giguere. But, unlike in last year’s finals when Edmonton keeper Dwayne Roloson went down with an injury and the Oilers had trouble matching Carolina’s scoring, if this were to happen to Anaheim, they have a first-stringer in their backup Ilja Bryzgalov.Up front, the Ducks have a perfect blend of size, experience and finesse. Fourth-liner players have been bigger threats than the Senators’ top guns, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatly.A travel-weary team from the West coast like Anaheim that can win 48 regular season games can be lethal in the playoffs. I know it may be a little early to say this, but I already have my 2008 pick for the Stanley Cup. Let’s hope that the NHL finds a real TV station to air the Ducks’ path to repeat. And maybe one smart enough not to let Brett Hull talk.Sports Writer Ian Cropp is counting down the days until next season’s training camp starts and can reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.
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