Some thoughts on the goings-on in Tampa where the battle for Lord Stanley's hallowed silver chalice got underway and the commissioner addressed some hot topics:
• He made only 22 saves, but the unsung hero of Chicago’s 2–1 Game 1 victory over Tampa Bay was goaltender Corey Crawford. The much-maligned keeper was dialed in from the opening puck drop, fending off an early assault from the jacked-up Lightning and then keeping the score close long enough for his teammates to stage their late-third period rally.
He made a few flashy saves, stoning Steven Stamkos on consecutive chances midway through the second period and then robbing Ryan Callahan on a breakaway just before Teuvo Teravainen tied the score in the third. But his best work came on the quieter stops, many of which he simply shrugged away with his shoulders as the Lightning consistently looked to beat him high. At 6' 2", Crawford is not the biggest goalie but he made the most of his height by remaining upright when he dropped into the butterfly. He may have teased the corners, but he quickly took them away.
The Bolts didn’t get him going side-to-side very often (something they’ll certainly look to change in Game 2), but Crawford was smooth and efficient when he had to move. And he was highly efficient with his rebounds, either getting the quick cover or steering them out of harm’s way. It was the sort of performance that even his most determined detractors would have to admire.
• The most interesting tidbit to come out of Gary Bettman’s annual pre-Cup final press conference? The commissioner made it clear that he’s no fan of the new rule that forces teams to give up second- or third-round draft picks as compensation when hiring a coach or general manager from another team.
“The other system was much simpler—either let the person go or don't,” he said. “I didn’t believe it was necessary. After repeated conversations with the general managers, I ultimately deferred to their desire and request—with the caveat that if we have any disputes we’re going back to the old system.
“So far we haven’t had any disputes. Some debates, but no disputes.”
Bettman said the policy will remain in place at least until Jan. 1, 2016 at which point it could be altered or even cast aside. It could remain in effect for coaches and executives currently under contract, but likely will be revoked in situations where the new hire (GM Peter Chiarelli by Edmonton; coach Dan Bylsma by Buffalo, for example) had been fired by his previous team.
Even if that happens, any picks that were already passed along will remain the property of the team that received them as compensation.
• Early Wednesday morning, a rumor leaked onto the internet suggesting that an NHL team could face relocation before the end of the month. Late Wednesday night, the owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins confirmed they were considering selling the team.
Any reason for Pens fans to be nervous?
Not at all. The Penguins remain a strong draw at the box office and are deeply ingrained in the community. They also have a long-term lease at the recently built Consol Energy Center that ensures they’ll stay put no matter who owns the team.
But some change in the ownership structure seems inevitable now that Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle have contracted with Morgan Stanley to explore their options. Lemieux was a reluctant owner when he bailed out the struggling organization back in 1999. That he’s maintained his stake this long is a bigger surprise than the news that he’s looking to cash out now.
And that’s really what this is about: Mario’s desire to take control of his finances and step back from a significant role as an owner. And the timing couldn’t be better. The Pens fill the building nightly and boast two of the game’s biggest draws. But both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are reaching the apex of their careers. When they begin their inevitable downward slide, so will the franchise.
Not that Lemieux will abandon ship. “Regardless of what happens, I plan on staying involved with the team in some capacity, and Ron and I plan to retain an ownership stake,” he said in a statement.
Good for him. And good for the Pens, who’ll stand to benefit from a new owner who is more interested in the day-to-day operations of the franchise than Mario has been of late.
• We're still years away from the next round of collective bargaining talks, but you wouldn't know it from listening to Rocky Wirtz. The chairman of the Blackhawks set eyeballs rolling when he claimed that he's not running a profitable franchise.
“You can make money [in the NHL] and we’re closing that gap,” Wirtz said in a pre-Game 1 press conference. “It wasn't a gap. It was a schism before, but we’re getting much closer. It doesn’t hurt to go to the finals this year, I promise you that. And next year we’ll be very, very close to being profitable as a team as a whole.”
Apparently league-leading attendance figures, years of deep playoff runs, a wealth of marketing partnerships and an expanded TV revenue stream aren’t quite getting this team into the black.
That’s some Hollywood-style accounting there. At least there was enough money lying around to buy Wirtz a decent suit. Would have hated to see him show up wearing the ol’ barrel-and-suspenders combo.
The numbers game
• The Blackhawks are now the first road team to ever win Game 1 of a Stanley Cup Final in regulation time by making a comeback in the third period and doing it after being shut out in the first two frames. The 1980 Islanders (at Philadelphia), 1994 Canucks (at New York Rangers) and 1999 Sabres (at Dallas) all needed overtime.
• Chicago’s Teuvo Teravainen is the first rookie to score two points in the third period of a Cup final Game 1. Since 1983, only two rookies had produced multiple points in the opener: Jaromir Jagr of the Penguins in 1991 against the North Stars and Ville Leino in 2010 against the Blackhawks.
• Since the Cup final became a best-of-seven in 1939, the team that has won Game 1 has gone on to hoist the old mug in 58 of the 75 series (77.3%).
• This is worth another look: Former referee Paul Stewart explains the responsibility of officials when they come across a broken stick on the ice.
• In the wake of back-to-back fifth-place finishes at the World Juniors, Team USA tapped a former Olympic coach to get the program back on track in 2016.
• According to the advanced stats folks, great goaltending is no longer necessary to compete for the Stanley Cup. Well, as least not for teams as loaded up front as the Hawks and Bolts.
• England's The Guardian asked readers to share their favorite hockey stories ahead of the Stanley Cup Final and might have uncovered why the Lightning won their first championship back in 2004 in the process.