Tuesday, May 31, 2011

{allcanada} Five candidates lead Conn Smythe race for NHL playoffs MVP

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In addition to crowning an NHL champion, the Stanley Cup Final will sort out who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

A look at some of the early candidates from each team:

Ryan Kesler (FSY)  , Vancouver Canucks: Kesler contributes with faceoff wins, hard checks and defensive work besides offense. Still, it was noticeable when he was held without a goal for the first nine games. Then he erupted for five goals and 11 points in the final five games of the second-round series against the Nashville Predators. Against the San Jose Sharks, he scored in each of the final two games, including the tying goal in the final minute of the clincher.

"He literally put the team on his shoulders and scored huge goals for us," teammate Mason Raymond (FSY)   said of Kesler's performance in the second round. "Last series he was a horse again."

Kesler had scored in Game 5 despite leaving the game for a while with a leg injury. "Ryan has been a warrior all year," Raymond said. "He's been through a lot, and he continues to produce and be a leader for our team."

Henrik Sedin (FSY)  , Canucks: While Kesler was going wild in the second round, Henrik and brother Daniel were relatively quiet. Then Henrik tied a franchise record with 12 points in a series in the Western Conference finals. He reached the mark in five games, while Pavel Bure (FSY)   needed seven in 1995.

Henrik set up six of the seven goals in the final two games of the series to move atop the playoff scoring list with 21 points.

Roberto Luongo (FSY)  , Canucks: He sat out Game 6 of the first round as the Chicago Blackhawks threatened to overcome a 3-0 series deficit. Back in for Game 7, he has yielded two or fewer goals in nine of his last 12 games. He has stopped 108 of 112 shots in the Canucks' three series clinchers.

Tim Thomas (FSY)  , Boston Bruins: Like Luongo, Thomas is a Vezina Trophy finalist. Though he has had a few off games, he has been brilliant in others. He had two shutouts against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals and made 33 stops, including a diving stick save on Steve Downie (FSY)  , in another.

"Throughout the playoffs, he's come up with game-saving saves in all of our big games," Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid (FSY)   said. "He has been a big-time player in all those games, and that's probably something you look for in somebody you are going to give the Conn Smythe to, right?

"The competitive part is the biggest thing. It looks like he's all over the place, but it's just his competitive nature that he's not giving up on the play."

Patrice Bergeron (FSY)  , Bruins: Boston saw his value when he missed Games 1 and 2 of the conference finals and it was dominated in the faceoff circle. Bergeron has won 62.3% of his draws and has 15 points in 16 games.

"Bergeron to us is what Kesler is to them," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He brings the same elements. He shows up, plays hard every game. He's a great faceoff guy. Power play, penalty kill, (he) does it all for us."

Malhotra misses practice

Vancouver's Manny Malhotra (FSY)   (eye) missed practice Tuesday. Though Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said Saturday that Malhotra had been medically cleared to play, general manager Mike Gillis said differently. "This has been a day-to-day thing all along," Gillis said. "He hasn't been cleared to play yet. He was cleared for some contact. He gets monitored every day. Today was a day where they felt it would be best if he stayed away for today."

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[SurroundSound] Re: Foobar for Mac OSX users

Did a little more poking around and found out that you can replace the
version of foobar that is in this install if you go in to the c:\
folder in your home folder's Library/ApplicationSupport/Wine and then
take out the Foobar folder and replace it with the latest version
downloaded from their site. While you are in that folder you can also
add all of the dll files for whatever extensions you like to run with
foobar. You need to do this if you use Apple Lossless since the latest
version is the one that supports that dll. Other than that, it's
pretty straightforward. Doubtless there are those of you who have
already done this, but it was a cool thing to get running on an
otherwise boring Tuesday.

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BOUCHERVILLE, Que. -- The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will have one fewer franchise next season after the league bought out the Lewiston Maineiacs in order to dissolve the team.

League commissioner Gilles Courteau announced the move on Tuesday following a vote from the QMJHL's board of governors. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The existing Lewiston players will be claimed by the league's other 17 teams in a dispersal draft.

"I am truly sad for Maineiacs fans," said majority owner Mark Just in a statement. "For those that supported the team over the past few years, I would like to thank you. Nonetheless, mounting financial losses became too much to bear for our ownership group."

The league also announced that Sherbrooke, Que., has been awarded an expansion team to start play in the 2012-13 season.

The Maineiacs, the QMJHL's only American team, made their debut in 2003 when the Sherbrooke Castors moved to Lewiston, Maine.

They won the league championship, the Presidents' Trophy, in 2007 and advanced to the Memorial Cup, where they finished 1-3 and did not advance to the playoffs.

"I am disappointed for the fans in Lewiston," Courteau said in a statement. "The Maineiacs enjoyed some very good moments, including a President Cup championship in 2007. I know that Mark Just and his ownership group did all that they could to save the franchise, but the situation was no longer viable."

The Sherbrooke group is led by former QMJHL and NHL all-star goaltender Jocelyn Thibault. The team will play its games at the city's Palais des Sports Leopold-Drolet.

"The QMJHL is very excited to welcome Sherbrooke back into its fold," Courteau said. "With strong local ownership, I am convinced that major junior hockey will once again flourish in Sherbrooke."

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{allcanada} Canucks, Bruins reach Final with stellar goaltending

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VANCOUVER -- Last year's Stanley Cup Final featured a trio of goaltenders that could be described at the time as anything from unknowns to journeymen -- Chicago's Antti Niemi and Philadelphia's duo of Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton.

During the offseason that followed, some teams used that as evidence that a genuine No. 1 goaltender was no longer necessary for winning the Stanley Cup.

Evgeni Nabokov, coming off his third consecutive 40-win season and one of the League's top goalies over the past decade, wasn't re-signed by the San Jose Sharks and was forced to ply his trade in the KHL when no other team offered a contract to his liking. The Sharks, a team built to win a championship now, decided to go with a tandem of Niemi and Antero Niittymaki to start the season.

The Blackhawks, who were up against the salary cap after winning the Stanley Cup, decided Niemi's price tag was too expensive and inked Marty Turco to a one-year, $1.3 million deal before entrusting the defense of their title to rookie goaltender Corey Crawford.

The Flyers hitched their wagon to rookie Sergei Bobrovsky after signing Leighton to a two-year deal in the offseason.

Less than a year later, the Bruins and Canucks have taken that trend and blown it out of the water.

Boston's Tim Thomas and Vancouver's Roberto Luongo are two of this year's three Vezina finalists. They carried their teams to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, which will get under way Wednesday night with Game 1 at Rogers Arena. Luongo appeared in 60 games this season; Thomas played in 57. Last year, Cristobal Huet's 48 appearances for the Blackhawks were the most of any goalie in the Final, but he played just 20 minutes during the entire playoffs.

While some teams were choosing to shore up areas of their team around their goaltenders, GMs Peter Chiarelli of Boston and Mike Gillis of Vancouver made sure a long time ago that they wouldn't have to worry about their goaltending situations now. Chiarelli signed Thomas to a four-year, $20 million contract in April 2009 while Gillis locked up Luongo for the rest of his career, giving him a 12-year, $64 million deal in September 2009.

Those are bountiful, long-term investments in a position some teams didn't deem worthy of it as recently as 11 months ago. Gills didn't get into any specifics about the goaltending philosophies of other teams, but made it clear he believes having the big name between the pipes is a key to success.

"I don't know how you win in this League without great goaltending," Gillis said. "I don't know how you get in the playoffs without great goaltending and I don't know how you win. I'm not sure how others feel about it, but in our situation, we were compelled and eager to get him signed because we felt he was the best opportunity for us to win.

"I still feel Roberto -- no disrespect to Tim because he's a great goaltender -- was the best goaltender in the League. We made a commitment to him as our No. 1 goaltender for long-term because we felt that way. We watch him practice every day. We watch his work ethic. We watch his dedication to the game. We felt at the time and continue to feel that he's the best goaltender in the League."

Chiarelli chalked up this summer's change in goaltending strategy simply to GMs seeing what worked and using it as their new blueprint.

"Sometimes teams try to copy the Stanley Cup Finalists," Chiarelli said. "We've seen teams without star goaltenders before win Cups. Timmy's a terrific goaltender and a clutch goaltender. I wouldn't call last year a fluke. You'll probably see it again at some point. But you're going to be more certain to have a proven goaltender. I think history will show that."

Luongo has been outstanding since he was benched for Game 6 of the conference quarterfinals against the Blackhawks. Since that game, he's 9-4 with a .935 save percentage. Against the Sharks in the conference final, he stopped 87 of 91 shots in Games 4 and 5 when the Canucks were being dominated at even strength.

It's one thing as a defenseman to play in front of a good goaltender, but Christian Ehrhoff said it's another thing to play in front of a great goaltender like Luongo.

"It makes your life easier because you know if you make a mistake, he's going to help you out," Ehrhoff said. "It eases your mind. You always have to have confidence in your goalie, otherwise you're going to play too hesitant."

Confidence certainly isn't a problem for Luongo, who said he's looking forward to the confrontation with Thomas.

"Tim has had an unbelievable season, probably the best in the League," Luongo said. "It's a good challenge for me. I focus more on opposition players, but at the same time, you want to look at the guy on other side and try to go save for save."

Luongo plays the more traditional butterfly style, while Thomas will take off his skate and throw it at the puck if he felt that was his best opportunity for preventing a goal. Not only are they different technically, but Thomas' response when he was told Luongo wanted to go save-for-save with him proved they have different mentalities as well.

"I'm pretty sure Roberto's not going to get too many shots on me this series," Thomas said. "So I'm going to be worried about the people getting shots on me. That might be his approach. My approach is to try to stop the puck as much possible. I don't pay that much attention to the other goalie."

Luongo said he received a text from his brother that did a terrific job of summarizing Thomas' unique style.

"Battlefly is the best way to describe it," Luongo said. "There is no rhyme or reason for how he stops the puck, but he definitely gets the job done. I think for us as a group it is going to be important for us to realize even if we have a chance to score, we need to bear down and realize he'll do whatever it takes to make a save and put any part of his body in front of the puck."

Thomas, just like Luongo, has a 2.29 goals-against average in 18 playoff games. The 37-year-old from Flint, Mich., who had to rip away the No. 1 job from Tuukka Rask early in the season, delivered a 24-save shutout against the Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to get the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1990.

Thomas allowed four goals or more three times last round, something that probably can't happen if the Bruins are going to beat Luongo and the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks.

Just like Gillis showed with Luongo after his struggles in the first round, Chiarelli has complete faith in his No. 1 goaltender.

"I would characterize his game for these playoffs as outstanding," Chiarelli said. "I've seen the comments after these games, justifiable so, where he may have let in two or three soft ones. You're going to see goals here or there, but he's a competitive kid. Every time he'll come back and there will be a clutch time at the end of the game where he'll make two or three terrific saves that will win the game for us. He wants to win."

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{allcanada} Canucks can end Canada's cold spell with Stanley Cup win Logo
When the Montreal Canadiens won 10 overtime games to capture the 1993 Stanley Cup, coach Jacques Demers believed he was continuing a tradition, not staking the end of a successful era for Canada's NHL franchises.

"I never thought that the Canadiens would go 18 years without a Cup, (let alone) come close to thinking a team in Canada would take 18 years to have a shot at winning the Cup," Demers said.

From 1976 to 1993, Canadian teams won the Stanley Cup 12 times, including seven in a row from 1984 to 1990. Sixteen Canadian teams reached the Final, and there were all-Canadian finals in 1986 and 1989. Since then, only four Canadian teams have reached the championship series — none from 1995 to 2003 — before this year, and they all lost. Adding to Canada's woes: Teams in Quebec and Winnipeg moved to U.S. cities in the mid-1990s.

Tuesday, Winnipeggers rejoiced about the announcement that the Atlanta Thrashers will move there to give Canada a seventh franchise. And tonight, the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks start their bid to end the country's title drought when they host the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

"There will be electricity in Vancouver that is felt throughout Canada," said Bob McKenzie, an analyst for TSN, which is Canada's equivalent of ESPN.

With the city of Vancouver 15 months removed from seeing Canada capture the Olympic gold medal in the Canucks' home arena, local fans would appear to have an expectation of greatness.

"We're feeding off the emotion and passion of the city," defenseman Kevin Bieksa (FSY)    said. "To see people crying when they come up to you just because we are going to the finals, we are definitely impacting the community."

The Canucks seem to be a clear favorite. They led the NHL in regular-season points (117), goals (262) and road wins (27), and gave up the fewest goals (185).

Vancouver forward Raffi Torres (FSY)    said the excitement level in the city started slowly, but then became overwhelming after the Canucks took a 3-1 series lead by winning Game 4 of the Western Conference finals in San Jose.

"When we flew back later that Sunday, there were probably 5,000 people at the airport," Torres said. "That's when we knew, 'OK, it's going to be nuts.' "

The Canucks' Roberto Luongo (FSY)    was Canada's gold medal-winning goalie in 2010 and has experience in not becoming distracted by the city's festival atmosphere.

"I'm barricaded in my place right now, triple locks," Luongo joked. "I haven't been out much."

This is a very confident team, seemingly taking on the personality of captain Henrik Sedin (FSY)   , who is even-tempered and workmanlike in his approach. He doesn't say much until there is a need for something to be said, like earlier in the season when he called a players-only meeting after a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. That seemed to launch the team to the top of the NHL standings.

"Before that, we didn't play bad, but we were winning games because we had a great team, and that's not the way you want to win," Sedin said. "You want to win by the way you play and feel good about yourself after every win, and I don't think we did that. Sometimes you need a big loss to really understand it's just not good enough."

Although proud of their Swedish heritage, twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin (FSY)    have lived in Canada for most of their adult life. They moved to Vancouver to play with the Canucks just before their 20th birthday.

" 'Vancouver-ized,' you can say that," Henrik said. "This is home for us. We pretty much grew up here. … Ninety percent of our time we spend here. We have friends here. We had our kids here; they're Canadians."

'We're the Mecca of hockey'

The title drought is a significant issue in a country with 30 million people that always has had hockey intertwined in its culture and heritage. Five of the six Canadian franchises sold every seat of every home game this season, and the Ottawa Senators sold 99.3% of their seats. Four out of five Canadians watched some portion of the televised gold medal game between Canada and the USA.

"We're the Mecca of hockey," Demers said. "The United States has basketball, baseball and football."

The NHL had eight Canadian franchises when the Canadiens won in 1993, but in 1995, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver and won a Stanley Cup in their first season as the Colorado Avalanche. In 1996, the Winnipeg Jets moved and became the Phoenix Coyotes.

The reasons behind those franchises' departures played a role in Canada's title drought. The poor value of the Canadian dollar, compared to the U.S. dollar, hurt teams because their revenues were in Canadian dollars but they paid players in U.S. money.

"There was a time you couldn't build a hockey team in Canada and hope to keep your better players," Demers said. "A $10 million player became a $14 million (in Canadian money)."

The best illustration of that issue came when the Canadiens were bought by an American, George Gillett, in 2001.

A salary cap and revenue sharing plan was put in place in 2005 to help smaller markets compete. The Canadiens were sold again in 2009, to Canada's Molson company, and today a U.S. dollar is worth about 98 cents Canadian.

Having a team in the Final makes the series a better story for Canadians. But not all of the rooting interest in Canada will be along nationalistic terms.

"I would not say the Canucks are perceived as Canada's team," McKenzie said. "Their best players are two Swedes (the Sedins) and an American (Ryan Kesler (FSY)  ).  In Canada, the Vancouver psyche or mind-set is that they're a little bit cut off from the rest of the country (other side of the mountains), and they often cite 'Eastern bias' for a lot of (issues), so now that they're in the Final, I don't have the sense a lot of Canadians east of British Columbia have any warm feelings for the Canucks."

Boston is an Original Six team and some older Canadians are Bruins fans, dating to the days when 99% of NHL players were from Canada.

Said Canucks player Tanner Glass (FSY)   , a native of Saskatchewan: "When I was watching the Habs (Canadiens) in '93 and the Oilers and Flames in the 2000s, I was 100% behind them, so I feel like we should be Canada's team. Whether we are or not makes no difference to us. We're focused on beating the Bruins."

Breaks going Canucks' way

The Canucks have a significant advantage on special teams and on offensive firepower, but the Bruins have a wild card in Tim Thomas (FSY)   , a finalist for the league's award for top goaltender.

"They have a mix of everything — scoring, grit. ...We've got to be prepared to work real hard and play hard against them because they don't give you any easy opportunities," said Nathan Horton (FSY)   , who scored Game 7 clinching goals for the Bruins in the conference semifinals and finals.

In Vancouver, there is a sense that it is time for the breaks to go the Canucks' way, such as this week when it was announced that key faceoff man and role player Manny Malhotra (FSY)    had recovered enough from a March 16 injury — a puck hit his left eye — to play. He missed practice Monday and is day-to-day.

"You get the bounces because you've been doing things right for a long time," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "I believe that Vancouver is due for 40 years of good bounces."

Canada's Cup quest

Canadian team representation in the Stanley Cup Final from 1976-1993:
Year Winner Runner-up
1976 Montreal Philadelphia
1977 Montreal Boston
1978 Montreal N.Y. Rangers
1979 Montreal Boston
1982 N.Y. Islanders Vancouver
1983 N.Y. Islanders Edmonton
1984 Edmonton N.Y. Islanders
1985 Edmonton Philadelphia
1986 Montreal Calgary
1987 Edmonton Philadelphia
1988 Edmonton Boston
1989 Calgary Montreal
1990 Edmonton Boston
1993 Montreal Los Angeles
Canadian team representation in the Stanley Cup Final from 1994-2010:
Year Winner Runner-up
1994 N.Y. Rangers Vancouver
2004 Tampa Bay Calgary
2006 Carolina Edmonton
2007 Anaheim Ottawa

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