Hitchcock vs. MacLean: Good Luck!

By HOWARD BERGER

ST. LOUIS (Apr. 30) – Full props to those that nominated the finalists – announced earlier today – for the Jack Adams Trophy as coach-of-the-year in the National Hockey League. Ken Hitchcock of St. Louis; Paul MacLean of Ottawa and John Tortorella of the New York Rangers are well-deserving of recognition among their peers. For this particular vote, however, Tortorella should be a spectator. “Torts” is an excellent coach and wonderful personality in the game, but he didn’t pull off the miracle that occurred in St. Louis and Ottawa this season. With Henrik Lundqvist in the fold and the top prize of last summer’s free agent pool (Brad Richards) landing in his lap, Tortorella was expected to lead the Rangers to a lofty position. Nothing of the sort was anticipated from Hitchcock and MacLean.

KEN HITCHCOCK – CHUCKLING EARLIER TODAY IN HIS MEDIA CONFERENCE AT SCOTTRADE CENTER – QUICKLY AND COMPLETELY TRANSFORMED A STRUGGLING BLUES TEAM WHEN CALLED ON TO REPLACE DAVIS PAYNE IN EARLY-NOVEMBER.

Dispatched by the woebegone Columbus Blue Jackets, of all teams, Hitchcock was available to be contacted by St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong on Nov. 6 – a day after the Blues had lost, 2-1, in Minnesota to fall to 6-7-0 on the season. In his first game behind the bench, two nights later, St. Louis blanked arch-rival Chicago, 3-0, at Scottrade Center and the dye was cast. The Blues won 43 of 69 games under Hitchcock [43-15-11] and challenged for the Presidents’ Trophy, finishing with 109 points [same as the Rangers], just two behind first-place Vancouver.

In the opening round of the playoffs, the Blues lost Game 1 to San Jose in overtime on home ice, but rebounded to win the next four matches and the series in five. The Blues were surprisingly tentative on Saturday night in the opener of their Conference semifinal against Los Angeles, losing 3-1, and Hitchcock acknowledged the pressure is on his team to even the series in Game 2 (9 o’clock EDT on TSN and CNBC) before it resumes in southern California on Wednesday.

Given his remarkable influence, expect St. Louis to play one of its best games of the post-season.

In Ottawa, MacLean may have pulled off an even-bigger surprise, mainly because no person chose the Senators to finish above 28th in the overall standings prior to the season – many placing the club in the cellar of the NHL. Under their rookie mentor, however, the Sens endured a roller-coaster ride that stopped at the eighth and final playoff position in the East with 41-31-10 record for 92 points, an improvement of 18 over the previous year. Ottawa then provided the Rangers considerable grief in the opening round of the Stanley Cup tournament, crafting a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven affair before dropping the final two matches – and the series – to the heavily-favored Blueshirts.

If the unwritten criteria for the Jack Adams Trophy is accomplishing the unexpected, how does one choose between Hitchcock and MacLean? This is one year that voters should split the bauble in half.

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Told to me the other day by a well-known broadcaster:

A young boy is asked to testify during the custody hearing of his parents.

The judge asks the boy: “Would you like to live with your mommy?”

“No, she beats me too often at home,” the child replies.

“How about your daddy, then?”

“No, sir, he also beats me when he gets mad.”

“Well, young man, you have to make a choice. What will it be?”

“If you please, your honor, I’d like to live with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They don’t beat anyone.”

More dreary weather here in St. Louis should give way to excitement and apprehension in Scottrade Center later tonight, as the Blues look to deny the Kings a sweep of the first two games. My images, now, from the scene this morning in and around the Blues’ home arena:

BOTH TEAMS SKATED THIS MORNING AT SCOTTRADE CENTER AND THE PRIME TOPIC WAS WHETHER BLUES’ DEFENSEMAN ALEX PIETRANGELO WOULD BE AVAILABLE FOR GAME 2 AFTER GETTING SHAKEN UP IN THE OPENER ON A HIT FROM BEHIND BY L.A.’s DWIGHT KING. WE’LL FIND OUT WHEN THE PUCK DROPS TONIGHT.

SERIES SUPERVISOR KAY WHITMORE LISTENS (ABOVE) TO DOUG ARMSTRONG DURING A MEETING WITH THE BLUES’ GENERAL MANAGER TODAY IN SCOTTRADE CENTER.

KEN HITCHCOCK SPOKE THIS MORNING ABOUT HIS NOMINATION FOR THE JACK ADAMS TROPHY, SAYING HE NO LONGER ALLOWS SITUATIONS BEYOND HIS CONTROL TO BOTHER HIM [i.e. THE NHL’s DECISION NOT TO DISCIPLINE DWIGHT KING FOR THE HIT ON ALEX PIETRANGELO]; THAT HE DETESTS THE TAG OF A “DEFENSIVE COACH” AND THAT HE CONTINUES TO BE AS DEMANDING AS EVER ON HIS PLAYERS TO PERFORM TO STANDARD.

REPORTERS LISTEN TO THE ST. LOUIS COACH IN MEDIA ROOM TODAY.

VARIOUS IMAGES (ABOVE) FROM SCOTTRADE CENTER THIS MORNING.

KINGS’ GOALIE JONATHAN QUICK STRETCHES (ABOVE AND BELOW-LEFT) AT THE END OF TODAY’S SKATE, LOOKING TO REPEAT HIS FIRST-STAR PERFORMANCE IN GAME 1. L.A. PLAYERS ANZE KOPITAR (FOREGROUND, BELOW-RIGHT) AND DREW DOUGHTY LINE UP ALONG THE BOARDS.

      

MATT GREENE THE SCORING MACHINE AWAITS HIS TURN AT TODAY’S SKATE. AFTER ERUPTING FOR FOUR GOALS IN 82 GAMES THIS SEASON, THE RUGGED KINGS’ DEFENSEMAN SHOCKED EVERYONE AT SCOTTRADE CENTER ON SATURDAY NIGHT BY NOTCHING A SHORTHANDED TALLY LATE IN THE SECOND PERIOD THAT BROKE A 1-1 TIE AND HELD UP AS THE GAME WINNER IN THE VISITORS’ 3-1 TRIUMPH.

THOUGH LESS THAN 20 YEARS OLD, SCOTTRADE CENTER BRILLIANTLY DISPLAYS THE HISTORY OF THE 45-YEAR-OLD BLUES FRANCHISE IN BANNERS THAT HANG FROM THE RAFTERS (ABOVE). A HALL-OF-FAME DEFENSEMAN WITH PERHAPS THE MOST FEARED SLAPSHOT OF HIS TIME AND THE EARLY ST. LOUIS NHL YEARS – WHEN THE CLUB, UNDER SCOTTY BOWMAN, ADVANCED TO THE STANLEY CUP FINAL ITS FIRST THREE SEASONS – ARE COMMEMORATED BELOW.  

A SELL-OUT CROWD OF MORE THAN 19,000 SAT ON ITS HANDS FOR MOST OF THE SERIES OPENER AT SCOTTRADE CENTER (ABOVE AND BELOW), AND WILL BE LOOKING TO ERUPT DURING GAME 2 TONIGHT. 

      

THE KINGS WOULD BE VERY HAPPY IF CAPTAIN DUSTIN BROWN (TOP-RIGHT) REGAINED THE BLAZING STICK HE HAD EARLY IN THE FIRST-ROUND UPSET OF VANCOUVER.

VIEW FROM CORNER-GLASS DURING L.A. SKATE EARLIER TODAY.

I WAS HOPING SOMEONE MIGHT BE IN THE ABOVE VAN WHEN I LEFT THE ARENA THIS MORNING, SO I WOULDN’T HAVE TO MAKE THE 15-MINUTE WALK BACK TO MY HOTEL IN THE CONDITIONS BELOW. AND, YEAH, TRY FINDING A TAXI IN THIS CITY WHEN YOU NEED ONE.

EVEN WHEN WET, THIS PLACE IS KIND OF COOL.

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