Archive for May, 2012

A ballsy pick for the Stanley Cup final

- May 30th, 2012

It’s finally here! The Stanley Cup final that is.

After eight long, tiring months, we’re finally wrapping up Canada’s favourite winter sport just a few weeks before it’s officially summer. But enough about the ridiculous length of the NHL season, let’s talk about who’s going to hoist the Cup.

We’re really in uncharted waters with this Los Angeles-New Jersey matchup. For one, a team that finished eighth in its conference and lacks home-ice advantage is somehow the favourite to win it all.

It’s actually not all that unreasonable though; the Devils themselves were only a sixth seed and the Kings haven’t lost a game on the road this post-season. They’re not too shabby at home either, going 4-2.

This series is really going to come down to the goaltending. Between Martin Brodeur and Jonathan Quick, we’re going to be in for a real treat. Brodeur may be 40-years-old but he’s playing like a man half his age. Quick wasn’t too stellar in the regular season, but he’s the main reason that the Kings have looked unbeatable in the playoffs.

Whoever can lead their side to the win will likely be the one that hoist the Conn Smythe trophy.

Both teams are deep enough to role four lines comfortably, something that has helped each side make it this far. The aptly named Dwight King has gone from tough guy to hero on several occasions on the road here while the Devils have gotten a great effort from rookie Adam Henrique.

It’s not like the top-six guys are any slouches either; we’ve seen our share of highlights from the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Zach Parise.

Where I think the Kings have the greatest advantage is on defence. Drew Doughty is undoubtedly the best defenceman in this series, on both ends of the ice. Jersey will try to slow him down with their strong forechecking, but that should leave them a bit thin in retreat.

While many think this series is going to go six or maybe seven games, I think that it could easily wrap up in five. Even without home-ice advantage and facing a living legend like Marty, the Kings have that feel of what it takes to be a champ. L.A. has the hottest goalie of the past two months, the right chemistry and the clutch scoring needed to get it done.

Prediction: Los Angeles over New Jersey in five.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

The NBA massively screws up an easy choice

- May 24th, 2012

You would think semi-meaningless end-of-season awards like the all-defensive team would be pretty hard to screw up, but, well I wouldn’t be writing this post if the NBA got it right.

Somehow, when the league named its all-defensive team on Wednesday, Tyson Chandler was on the second team.

Why is that shocking or weird in any way? Well the guy was named the league’s defensive player of the year earlier this month. So, Chandler is good enough to be picked out as the league’s best on defence, yet doesn’t make the starting five.

How can a panel of the league’s 30 coaches screw that up?

Apparently they felt the need to reward Dwight Howard – a man who single-handedly dismantled the Orlando Magic – the team he plays for!

How could the coaches vote for a guy who poisoned his own club and reportedly went to management to get Stan Van Gundy – his own coach – fired? What Howard did was despicable and the last thing he deserves is kudos.

So, with one announcement of an all-NBA team, we get two terrible outcomes: Howard makes his fourth consecutive all-defensive team and the league’s best defender gets completely shafted.

The NBA: It’s FAN-tastic.

Now back to these two brutal Eastern Conference semifinal. The Western champ is going to have it easy in the final…

 

Chelsea’s championship a fittingly improbable end

- May 22nd, 2012

The club soccer season of 2011-12 had without a doubt one of the best final months in the history of the world’s most popular game. Starting with the Champions League semifinals – one series that ended in penalties and another that saw an incredible upset – then moving on to a monumental Manchester derby and then the incredible comeback win for City that ended the EPL season.

Well, the “Super Bowl of club soccer,” as I call it, was no slouch either and a fitting cap to an unpredictable and all-round exciting year.

We, again, saw an incredible effort from the underdog and one of the most unlikely wins in a while.

This wasn’t supposed to be Chelsea’s year. This wasn’t supposed to be how Roman Abramovic won his most-coveted Champions League title.

This season started off with hope for the Blues. They had brought in a manager for the future and were going to build a new Chelsea. Needless to say, Andre Villa-Boas didn’t work out and the players rebelled. The team that ended up hoisting that massive trophy was one that looked very similar to the Chelsea sides of yesteryear.

There was Frank Lampard, Salomon Kalou, Jose Bosingwa, John Obi Mikel, Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba. All relics of the old guard who were supposed to one way or the other be left at the wayside. But these players all played their roles and played them well in holding off the hosts in Munich.

As the story goes, Mikel even told penalty-taker Arjen Robben that “Peter Cech knows which way you’re going to shoot.” That rattled Robben so bad that he missed and then even opted out of taking a penalty kick to decide the game. Who says all former teammates are friendly?

Under the guidance of Roberto Di Matteo – most recently canned by West Brom – the old guard stood firm through 120 minutes. And then all Chelsea had to do was beat a German team on penalties – much easier said than done.

We all know the result now and we all say Bastian Schweinsteiger’s cheeky attempt fail to roll home. And so John Terry, the alleged racist, the Chelsea captain that hung his team out to dry in Barcelona, the man who tried to barge to the front of the trophy presentation even though he was suspended. He was the most improbably happiest man wearing shin guards in Munich on Saturday night – but that’s a story for another time.

There were lots of improbably happy people, and lots of disappointed fans – in Munich and the supporters of Tottenham back in London.

After finishing sixth in the Premier League, Chelsea will still get to defend its Champions League crown. Whether it can or not is another story. But, after all, we have seen some pretty crazy, improbable stuff in the world of soccer.

 

Where are all of baseball’s iron men?

- May 18th, 2012

It wasn’t too long ago when it was certain that we’d see more than a handful of baseball players actually play entire seasons. The best guys would be out there every day and never breakdown.

When Matt Kemp sat on Monday with a hamstring strain (that landed him on the DL, much to my fantasy team’s chagrin), it snapped a streak of 399 consecutive games played. That was the longest active streak in baseball.

What’s up with that?

This season, by my unofficial count, only two first basemen have played in every one of their team’s games: Adrian Gonzalez and Joey Votto. That’s first base, one of the least taxing positions to play next to designated hitter, which I’m sure Gonzalez might have played a few games at. There are probably fewer than 40 players that have suited up and played every night for their team.

While players like Cal Ripkin and Lou Gehrig were both one-of-a-kind type players, what happened to guys like Miguel Tejada or Craig Biggio? Both held incredibly long iron man streaks with little notice, but at least they cracked a thousand games apiece.

Baseball has become a bit wussified in this regard. We’ll never see another true iron man like Gehrig or Ripkin for a couple of reasons.

First, players seem to get injured a lot easier these days. Despite having better training and medical staffs than ever, we seem to have more and more guys land on the DL every year. If you can make it through an entire season without a trip to the DL, that’s a badge of honour.

Second, managers try to get everyone rest every once in a while. I can understand this for pitchers and catchers, but majority of time guys are just standing around on the baseball field. This is like soccer where players are constantly moving, I’m sure the average third baseman doesn’t need a day off after playing seven games in a week.

Also, managers can be tempted to sit a guy if he’s in a bit of a slump just to take the pressure off the player. I don’t believe this works at all. Wouldn’t you rather have your guy try to work through his issues rather than sit and think about it?

It’s all these reasons that Cal Ripkin’s record of 2,632 games played in a row may now be one of the hardest records to ever break. It’s certainly right up there with 30 wins, a .400 batting average and a 56-game hitting streak. Just add one more to all of baseball’s unbreakable records.

Manchester City’s win one for the ages

- May 14th, 2012

Remember when I said that soccer in general was on an amazing run? Well that form continued during the final day the English Premier League season with all 10 games stacked to be played at one time – one of the funnest and manic situations in sports. To make matters even better, there was a legit title race that would be settled, a battle for spots in Europe and two teams fighting to stay up. What more could you ask for?

With Manchester United playing against a Sunderland table firmly entrenched mid-table and looking like they cared more about the night’s new episode of Game of Thrones that awaited, the Red Devils easily came away with a 1-0 victory. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had done its part to try to wrest the title away from favoured Manchester City, would it be enough?

On paper, it should have been a cakewalk for City. They were playing at home – where they hadn’t lost all season – against Queen’s Park Rangers – the team with the worst away record in the EPL. But the thing was that QPR was fighting for its EPL life and an animal with its back against the wall is most dangerous – just ask Joey Barton.

With the score tied 1-1 after some uncharacteristically shoddy defending from City, Barton saw fight to throw an elbow into the face of Carlos Tevez. That earned him a straight red card and QPR would now have to fight on a man short.

Even better, Barton kneed Sergio Aguero in the back after being sent off and nearly caused the insane Mario Balotelli to come off the bench and fight him. Now that would be a Pay-per-view event I would pay $49.99 to see.

But now with all 10 Rangers parked just outside their box, the Blues had a really rough time breaking them down. Even worse, hitting on a counter attack, QPR scored to take a 2-1 lead. City fans feared for the worst; many fans were seen holding their heads, crying about a title they bungled away to their oft-superior rivals.

This lasted until the 91st minute at Etihad Stadium, when United were already celebrating their victory and counting down the seconds to their latest title triumph.

Then something incredible happened: Off a corner from David Silva a minute into injury time, Edin Dzeko headed in the ball to even the score 2-2. Two minutes later, Mario Balotelli gave Aguero a return pass, he dribbled past one QPR defender and scored the title-winning goal with about 30 seconds to spare.

Any sports fan – except for United fans – should have leapt for joy at what was one of the most exciting two minutes that soccer has ever seen. To comeback and win from 2-1 down in injury time during a normal game is thrilling enough; to win a title that way – the club’s first since 1968 – was even better.

It also turned out to be the first tie-break victory since 1989, when Arsenal won the league on goal differential. That was also years before the Premier League even existed in its current state.

Many have quarrels with City’s massive payroll, backed by a middle-eastern oil Sheikh, but was as pure of a victorious joy that there could have been and we should all applaud their tremendous effort this season.

United’s 89 points were also the most ever by a runnerup, although it does stand to reason that the title could have very easily theirs had the ball bounced any different way for City on Sunday.

And, fittingly, with Bolton’s 2-2 draw against Stoke City, QPR stayed up anyway.

With the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea on Saturday, we should see a thrilling conclusion to what has been a tremendous season of league football.