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Drop the gloves during the playoffs with SI.com's writers in the NHL Cup Blog, a daily journal of hockey commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
12:03 AM ET, 4/27/06

Langenbrunner pops the Rangers' bubble

Posted by Brian Cazeneuve
This was the New York version of a transition game. Walk into Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night and the energy went through you. Sound had feel for about five minutes when the Rangers took the ice for their first home playoff game in nine years. Then Jaromir Jagr, the wounded superstar, skated onto the ice and you could almost hear Marv Albert scream "and here comes Willis," all over again. It was a great postseason-Garden moment that called to mind Willis Reed hobbling onto the court for the victorious Knicks in 1970 ... except that this moment fizzled in 68 seconds.

How fitting on a night that Jagr, No. 68, returned from an ugly arm injury -- he said it would take a miracle to get him into the lineup for Game 3 -- that 68 should be the magic number for the evening. That was all it took for Devils forward Jamie Langenbrunner to score the first goal of the evening and turn the Garden from Mardi Gras to morgue. "It kind of popped their bubble a bit," Langenbrunner said modestly after the game.

Yes, and for the next five minutes, that pop was the only pleasant sound emanating from the unforgiving folks in the MSG rafters. "One #$%^@# minute," a voice yelled. "Same old @#$%," declared another. For all the international flavor on this year's Rangers roster, the language was never quite as colorful during this upbeat, 100-point season as it was after 68 seconds Wednesday night. The invective directed at Sandis Ozolinsh, New York's slow, overmatched defenseman, is best left for the imagination.

"The first goal changed the whole mood of the game," Jagr said. "The fans were great, but we didn't help them. We didn't give them a chance to be a factor."

Eight minutes later, Patrik Elias increased the lead to 2-0 and the Devils were on their way to a 3-0 lead and a stranglehold on the series. Martin Brodeur made 25 saves to record his 21st career playoff shutout, but he didn't need to be at his best once the Rangers followed the lead of their fans. "This is a loud place," Brodeur said, "and I've seen the Rangers feed off that emotion for many years. The first goal really changed everything. It gave us a chance to play our game, clog the middle of the ice and counter their mistakes. You could feel the change in the building."
11:15 PM ET, 4/26/06

Rookie goalie ignites 'Canes

Posted by Allan Muir
As the author of the overtime winner, Eric Staal was a star of Carolina's 2-1 Game 3 win over the Canadiens.

But he wasn't the star. That laurel belongs on the head of rookie goaltender Cam Ward, who gave the 'Canes the playoff-caliber netminding that nominal No. 1 stopper Martin Gerber failed to provide in the first two contests.

Although the shots on net (36-28) suggest that Carolina carried the balance of play, the 'Canes rarely tested Montreal's Cristobal Huet. But at the other end of the ice Ward was forced to resort to larcenous means, especially over the first two periods when the Habs took advantage of an uninspired defensive effort to test him repeatedly from in close.

After giving up a power-play tally to Richard Zednik in the second -- the result of a failed clearing attempt by Craig Adams -- Ward slammed the door, preventing the Habs from getting the critical insurance goal that would have put the game on ice. He was never better than when he stoned Francois Boullion on a clear breakaway from center ice, or when he stymied Chris Higgins, who stood wide open at the ladies' tee, with a sizzling glove save.

Carolina showed little of the confidence and discipline that earned it the top seed in the East over the first two games of the series. But as Ward made big save after big save in Game 3, his gutsy determination seemed to spread through the team like some kind of benevolent virus. By the time the third period rolled around, it was inevitable that the 'Canes would get the offensive break they needed to reward Ward for his effort.

Give the third star of the game to Carolina coach Peter Laviolette for recognizing that Ward was up to the task of a true must-win game. He'll get his share of Adams votes because he consistently pushed the right buttons in the regular season. Because he did it again tonight, the Hurricanes are back in this series.
6:47 PM ET, 4/26/06

The real coach of the year

Posted by Yi-Wyn Yen
A couple weeks ago, SI's Mike Farber made his picks for the end of season awards in the magazine and chose the Rangers' Tom Renney as NHL's coach of the year. Since then, the Rangers lost their remaining five games in the regular season, have been outscored 10-2 by the Devils to lose the first two playoff games and missed their franchise star, Jaromir Jagr, for the second straight game on Wednesday.

If we're going to start giving awards prematurely, then I'll go on a limb and give the award to a more deserving coach, like Edmonton's Craig MacTavish. I'm sure some of you are rallying for the Devils' Lou Lamoriello who has led the team to an NHL-record 13 straight wins. But the 19-year G.M., CEO and president is more than just a coach. Lamoriello will likely win for most omnipotent. The six-year Oilers coach, however, looks like a genius since he added rookie left winger Brad Winchester to his playoff roster. "I just felt like there hasn't been continuity and balance on the lines that we're going to need [to beat Detroit]," MacTavish said. "You have to go with your gut instinct. You can't be coaching scared."

Not many were giving the No. 8 seed much of a chance against the Presidents' Trophy winners, but after a double-OT loss to Detroit in the series opener, MacTavish decided to bring in more firepower and moved Winchester, who had one assist in 19 NHL games in 2005-06, to start on the top line alongside Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth for Game 2. Winchester provided the game-winning goal for his first game. Then, four minutes into Game 3, Winchester skated around Detroit's net, zipped past Henrik Zetterberg and passed the puck to Jaroslav Spacek who slipped it past Manny Legace to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead. Twelve minutes after that, Winchester provided another assist, this time to Smyth.

With their 4-3 victory over the Red Wings in the second double-OT game, the Oilers have shown that not only can they match the best team in the West offensively but also that they can outwork them. MacTavish's disciplined approach gave the Oilers an edge in an emotionally draining game. During the overtime roller coaster -- in which the Red Wings thought they had the win when Jason Williams appeared to score from underneath the net in the first OT -- it was the Oilers who stayed patient and ultimately found the right opportunity when Jarret Stoll scored on a rebound at 8:44. Of course, if Red Wings coach Mike Babcock can rally his team out of its hole, then I'll have to recalibrate. Let's hear your thoughts on the best coach of the year.
5:27 PM ET, 4/25/06

Flames top Ducks, musically

Posted by Arash Markazi
When I read Allan Muir's post about hockey songs, I began to wonder what first-round series was the best musically, and I couldn't get past the Mighty Ducks-Flames match-up. It really wasn't fair since the Mighty Ducks have two soundtracks from their three epic films, including the classic "Mighty Ducks Suite" composed by famed Hollywood composer David Newman. They also have the hippest "hockey song" in Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy Wit' It," which will forever be the theme song of Mighty Ducks goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who's nicknamed "Jiggy.".

That said, Calgary actually has the edge in this musical duel. That's because almost 20 years ago, the Flames recorded a music video called "Red Hot," to fire up their fans for the 1987-88 season. The music video, featuring Lanny McDonald, Brett Hull, Gary Roberts, Mike Vernon, Al MacInnis, and Joel Otto even has its own Wiki page. But even if you think that's a bit dated, I offer up these moves by Flames forward Darren McCarty, who is also the lead singer of his band Grinder. The punk-rocker was caught dancing during a break on a recent Flames pay-per-view broadcastthis season. If you think his moves need some music behind them, we can do that for you as well.
2:00 PM ET, 4/25/06

What's your excuse?

Posted by Allan Muir
When Tuesday night's late-starting Detroit-Edmonton game went into a first, then a second overtime period, I wasn't worried. Tired, to be sure, but I wasn't going to let the fast-approaching alarm clock setting make me miss a potentially classic playoff duel. After all, I could always set it back a couple hours.

Of course, I'm not the average fan. I'm one of the lucky ones whose boss recognizes, "I'm gonna be in late because I was up half the night watching a hockey game" as a valid excuse.

That makes my life considerably easier now, but it wasn't always that way. Back in the day, the coming of spring meant that a certain amount of time had to go into serious preparation. That's because playoff hockey does more than bring out the best in the men battling for on-ice supremacy. It forces the average working hockey fan to come up with compelling, or at least marginally believable, excuses for showing up late to the job.

After all, there are only so many times you can have car trouble or be summoned to jury duty or rescue a little old lady from a burning car and modestly leave before the news media arrives to report on your heroics. So the truly dedicated fan does his homework, coming up with a variety of options that are both executable and easy to keep track of.

Don't underestimate that part of the process, because you might be tested. I even knew a guy who kept his excuses and symptoms on dated index cards to ensure that he didn't go back to the same well too frequently. Last time I talked to him he was still working at the same factory, so his approach works. And fortunately his lumbago only flares up a couple of times each spring.

We're less than a week into the postseason, and there are bound to be a few games that stretch as late -- or even later -- than last night's. So let us hear what excuses you've concocted.

And don't worry. Your boss isn't reading. Your secret's safe with us.

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