By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (June 1) – Just when it appears that everything is in favor of the Chicago Blackhawks, they have to encounter one of the clutch road teams in recent Stanley Cup history.
Los Angeles Kings.
Game 7. Tonight. United Center.
It should be more than interesting.
As I’ve marveled at numerous times, it is unlikely we will ever again witness what the Kings accomplished during their 16-4 romp to the 2012 Stanley Cup: Winning the first two games away from home in all four playoff series (at Vancouver, St. Louis, Phoenix and New Jersey). A team doing that twice in a decade is rare. Four times in the same playoff year never happened before 2012 and won’t happen again for eons… if at all. Locally, for example, Toronto Maple Leafs have turned the trick just three times in the past 36 playoff tournaments: 1977 at Philadelphia; 1987 at Detroit and 1995 at Chicago. Remarkably, the Leafs lost all three series, which could be the dubious equivalent of L.A.’s Stanley Cup miracle two years ago. Of course, Toronto has been a playoff spectator 15 times since 1977, which increases the wow factor of anything unusual – such as winning three of four road games against heavily-favored Boston in the same series. And, we all remember how agonizingly close that came to happening only 12½ months ago.
YES, DARRYL SITTLER AND TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS WON THE FIRST TWO GAMES OF THE 1977 STANLEY CUP QUARTERFINALS AT THE SPECTRUM IN PHILADELPHIA, ONLY TO DROP THE NEXT FOUR CONSECUTIVELY AND THE SERIES IN SIX.
Los Angeles was a phenomenal 10-1 on the road in the 2012 playoffs – its only loss occurring at the Prudential Center in Newark in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final. Last spring was a disaster, as Kings were 1-8 away from Staples Center and eliminated at Chicago in Game 5 of the Western Conference final when Patrick Kane beat Jonathan Quick at 11:40 of the second overtime period. This year, L.A. has won Games 7 on the road in its previous two series – at San Jose and Anaheim. If it happens for a third time tonight, it could be another of those “never again” situations. I’m not sure I would bet a lot of money against it, though the Blackhawks do appear to have dynasty written all over them. Should be great to watch (8 p.m. Eastern: CBC and NBCSN).
MY PHOTO FROM STAPLES CENTER IN LOS ANGELES – JUNE 11, 2012 – OF NHL COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN PASSING THE STANLEY CUP TO KINGS CAPTAIN DUSTIN BROWN. L.A. WAS AN ASTOUNDING 10-1 ON THE ROAD IN THE PLAYOFFS.
THAT WAS CLOSE: Not since Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and Co. defeated Boston Bruins at Air Canada Centre in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoffs last May was there such euphoria in our city.
Or, maybe just a big sigh of re-Leaf.
I can’t always determine whether pro-Toronto or anti-Montreal bias is the ecumenical hockey position in these parts. Since 1967, the latter has obviously prevailed, as the Canadiens are around to boo in the spring more often than Leafs are to cheer. Maybe that’s why it’s so close. As we speak, Toronto hockey fans again bask in blissful consolation – thrilled that the Canadiens have been denied an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup. That Montreal defeated the overwhelming Conference favorite en route to the Cup semi-final is a footnote; a matter of trivia. The Habs and Leafs are equal once again.
AMERICA TAKING NOTE: As we ascribe to here in the Great White North: If it doesn’t happen in the United States, it doesn’t happen at all. As such, fans of the Toronto Blue Jays can take heart. During the FOX Saturday Game-of-the-Week between Boston and Tampa Bay at Fenway Park, announcers Joe Buck and Harold Reynolds recognized the Jays splendid month of May (20-7) and the club’s statistical pace-setters.
The visual evidence:
(UPDATE: Mark Buehrle pitched eight shutout innings today in a 4-0 victory over Kansas City at Rogers Centre. He improved to a Major League-leading 10-1 on the season. Edwin Encarnacion slugged his 19th home run).
THIS WAS NUTS: For just a brief moment Friday night, Blue Jays TV broadcasters Buck Martinez and Joe Siddall were confused as to why Kansas City Royals right-fielder Norichika Aoki was grimacing after trying to chase down a foul ball. Replays quickly provided the answer:
OUCH!!! SPORTSNET IMAGES
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