Road Ice Advantage

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Apr. 29) — The lone remaining series in the first round of the Stanley Cup will conclude tonight and determine whether Detroit and Montreal will meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1978. If not, it will be Tampa Bay and Montreal for a second consecutive spring.

Given that Game 7 between the Red Wings and Lightning is in Tampa, I’m inclined to favor the initial scenario. Three consecutive matches (and four of six) have been won by the visiting team in this wacky series. Yes, Detroit will have to play without defenseman Niklas Kronwall — suspended tonight for charging at Nikita Kucherov in Game 6 — but the Wings still have loads of playoff experience and an unmistakable aura on the road in must–win situations. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson remain from the last Detroit club to play in the Stanley Cup final (2009 loss to Pittsburgh) and forward Drew Miller skated with Anaheim’s Cup team in 2007. There will be no intimidation factor for the visitors tonight at Amalie Arena.

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DETROIT at TAMPA BAY IN GAME 7 TONIGHT — AMALIE ARENA.

As mentioned, a Detroit victory would set up the first playoff meeting in 37 years between the Red Wings and Canadiens and only the second engagement since the 1966 Stanley Cup final. The pre–expansion clubs resided in separate Conferences until last season. Montreal and Tampa Bay squared off in the opening round a year ago — the Habs prevailing in a four–game sweep. CBC will have tonight’s deciding match at 7:30 EDT.

SAWCHUK’S PAL IS GONE: The National Hockey League lost a legendary figure when Hall–of–Fame defenseman Marcel Pronovost passed away over the weekend in Windsor, Ont. He was 84. Pronovost was frequently called upon to discuss the ignominious Terry Sawchuk, who died nearly 45 years ago from injuries incurred in a scuffle with then–New York Rangers teammate Ron Stewart. Pronovost and Sawchuk were best pals and Stanley Cup teammates with Detroit in 1952, 1954 and 1955. And, again, with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1967. No one had a better “read” on the moody goaltender than Pronovost, whose recollections were sought by many (myself included) through the years. “Terry died on my wife’s birthday [May 31, 1970],” Marcel told me for my 1994 book Maple Leaf Moments — A Thirty–Year Reflection. “We were celebrating at a friend’s house in Toronto — sitting around the pool — when I heard about it on the radio. And, I’m not ashamed to tell you that I broke down and cried. Terry was so insistent on his privacy that I didn’t even know he was ill.” Like most defensemen of his era, Pronovost rarely handled the puck beyond center–ice. He did, however, score a big goal 48 years ago tonight (Apr. 29, 1967) in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final at the Montreal Forum. Leafs beat the Canadiens, 4–1, and won the NHL championship — their last, to date — three nights later at Maple Leaf Gardens.

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MARCEL PRONOVOST (3) AND TEAMMATES GATHER AROUND CAPTAIN GEORGE ARMSTRONG MOMENTS AFTER THE MAPLE LEAFS DEFEATED MONTREAL TO WIN THE 1967 STANLEY CUP.

Speaking of Game 5 in the 1967 Stanley Cup final, it was played on the night Curtis Joseph came into the world in Keswick, Ont. Happy 48th birthday, Cujo… It was also on this night in 1978 that Lanny McDonald famously beat Glenn Resch in overtime at the Nassau Coliseum to give the Maple Leafs a Game 7 victory over the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup quarterfinals. How that can be 37 years ago is anyone’s guess. I remember nearly destroying my bedroom with a group of friends in utter elation when Lanny’s shot went in. It was the high point of many lows for the Blue and White during the Harold Ballard ownership era… If Detroit loses tonight in Tampa, the countdown will start toward Mike Babcock’s next contract — and potential destination. After all the theory and conjecture of the past months, wouldn’t it be funny if the Red Wings quickly announced that Babcock had long–ago decided to stay in MoTown, but chose not to make it public until after the season? I wouldn’t rule out such a scenario… Though hovering around the .500 mark, the Toronto Blue Jays need seven, eight and nine runs to win ballgames early in the season — such is the sorry state of their bullpen (yet again). General manager Alex Anthopoulos failed to acquire an established closer in the winter months, forcing 20–year–old Miguel Castro into the job. The over–matched Dominican native has blown three of seven save opportunities thus far, including a masterpiece that involved just four batters in Boston Monday night. As such, lefty Brett Cecil — who began the season as closer only to lose the job after one game — is back in the critical role once again. By the end of this weekend, it will likely belong to someone else. As I mentioned on Facebook after Monday’s debacle at Fenway Park, the Jays have little option but to move starter Aaron Sanchez into the bullpen as closer and veteran Jeff Francis into the rotation. It would effectively eliminate two pitchers from the projected starting five in spring training (the other being injured right–hander Marcus Stroman), but most good work by the starters is being destroyed anyway. Sanchez is a flame–thrower with a mid–90’s fastball that moves all over the place. He would likely preserve a victory or two for the club… The Toronto Raptors end–of–season gathering with the media was hugely devoid of love for head coach Dwayne Casey. All–star point–guard Kyle Lowry, who stunk against Washington in the opening–round playoff sweep, was particularly disdainful when talking about Casey. “If he’s the coach, he’s the coach. Otherwise, I’ll play for someone else,” said Lowry with a shrug. Perhaps the speculation about a fractious dressing room wasn’t far off the mark… When Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment moved its American Hockey League affiliate from St. John’s, Nfld. to Toronto, the plan could not have been for the Marlies to out–perform the Leafs each year. But, plans never seem to unfold accordingly with the Blue and White…

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FROM MY SCRAPBOOK THE MORNING AFTER LANNY McDONALD’S OVERTIME GOAL ELIMINATED THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS AT NASSAU COLISEUM 37 YEARS AGO TONIGHT.

Good on Sportsnet to televise this afternoon’s rather historic baseball game from Camden Yards — closed to the public after nearly a week of civil unrest in Baltimore. How unusual it was to hear complete silence when Chris Davis of the Orioles smacked a two–run homer off Jeff Szamardia of the Chicago White Sox in the bottom of the first inning. Baltimore is a great sports town with a spectacular inner harbor. Let’s hope that peace and harmony is quickly restored… I’ve just gotten around to reading Mike Tyson’s predictably candid autobiography and I’m amazed at the legal rope accorded PLUME — a subsidiary of Penguin Publishing in the U.S. No boxing fan needs to be reminded of the general antipathy toward Don King, but Tyson was particularly forthright in his description of the wire–haired promoter: “And then I got caught up with this other piece of sh–, Don King,” wrote Tyson. “Don is a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfu–er.” About his ex–wife, Robin Givens, and her mother, Ruth, Tyson wrote: “… I realize that Robin and Ruthless were deplorable people. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for money. Nothing. They would fu– a rat. They had no boundaries. Money was like paper–blood to them. They were evil people.” It left me wondering what ranks as “slander” south of the border. MIKE TYSON — Undisputed Truth is neither for young readers nor the faint of heart… For those unaware, the 2015 Pan American Games here in town this July have created a scheduling nightmare for the Canadian Football League Toronto Argonauts. The Argos’ home stadium — Rogers Centre — is unavailable for the first month of the CFL season. The club will therefore open with a “home” game against Edmonton, June 27, at Fort McMurray, Alta. and then continue on the road to Saskatchewan, Calgary, B.C. and Hamilton before finally hosting Saskatchewan, Aug. 8. The Argonauts play their final four games at Rogers Centre — vs. Calgary (Oct. 17), Montreal (Oct. 23), B.C. (Oct. 30) and Winnipeg (Nov. 6). If able to survive the first month, the team could be in great shape down the stretch… The Blue Jays are on the road for much of the Pam Am Games (at Kansas City, Oakland and Seattle), except for a three–game weekend series against Tampa Bay, July 17–19… If Brendan Shanahan wanted Todd McLellan as coach, wouldn’t the Maple Leafs have hired him by now? Just asking.

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SCENES FROM TODAY’S CHICAGO–BALTIMORE BASEBALL GAME AT CAMDEN YARDS — CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC AFTER NEARLY A WEEK OF CIVIL UNREST. SPORTSNET IMAGES

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One comment on “Road Ice Advantage

  1. Saddened to hear about Marcel Pronovost, a real gentleman and a class act. Today’s athletes could learn a thing or two, or three from a real pro in big #3!
    The NHL family lost a gem here!

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