By Gary Norris Gray, Staff Reporter
Watching the Stanley Cup Finals this year might require speed skates and a solid neck brace, to follow the fast action on the ice because of the high scoring.
This has been a different playoff season with the break in the action in March due to Covid-19. It has been different with re-starting the season in August. The second season started with two bubble cities, Toronto and Edmonton, Canada, and four more playoff teams.
Minority hockey fans should be pleased with the leagues statement on the social and racial issues of our times, with the high profile effort to make anti-racism part of league’s identity. Starting hockey programs throughout the inner cities.
The four fastest, quickest, teams made it to the conference final four, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars. All four have adapted well to the league changes and have made the Conference Finals.
All four teams are expansion teams, The Dallas Stars (nee Minnesota North Stars) being the oldest 1968-69, a member of the first expansion. The Vegas Knights are the youngest 2018, a member of the last expansion.
The (NHL) National Hockey League and the (NBA) National Basketball Association got it right with the bubble idea. Isolating each teams players, coaches, and trainers.
While (MLB) Major League Baseball continues to struggle with players testing positive for Covid-19 every week and the (NFL) National Football League’s product begins this month, with unseen results.
The NHL will have to find a way to keep Canadian teams in the playoffs in the future. Maybe the league returning to divisional play would help.
Many hockey fans were disappointed in the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames leaving the playoffs early.
The Winnipeg Jets did not look solid and did not make the playoffs after Big Buff -defenseman Dustin Byfuglien took a leave of absence in January. The Jets never recovered. The Stanley Cup window may be closing for the Winnipeg Jets as they lose another year in 2020.
This is the Battle of nicknames, The Fish Sticks vs. the Bolts. The New York Islanders received this name because of their uniform change in the 1980’s with a character on the front of their jersey that looked like the famous Gorton’s Fisherman and the lighter shade of blue and orange.
The 1980 teams were not very good and the ownership tried to leave the Trottier-Bossy-Potvin era Islanders. It was one of the ugliest uniforms in NHL history.
The organization finally got wise, moved back to Nassau Coliseum and went back to the classic New York colors orange and blue with the outline of Long Island in the middle of the uniform.
During the off-season the Washington Capitals let head coach Barry Trotz go. The Islanders did not waste time signing Trotz. The winning culture was passed down from Trotz to the players. It has paid off with this Conference Finals appearance.
The Isles had to get over the loss of their star forward John Tavares, their spark plug left for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Head Coach Trotz would not let them dwell on the loss and got them to play solid defense. It worked.
The Islanders use the two headed monster in net Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss. Greiss is and always will be an Islander while Varlamov bring his playoff final experiences to the table from the Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche.
The Islanders use their speed and defense to defeat teams, by out running them on the ice. They beat you to the corners to grind the puck out to their goal scorers.
The Islander to watch would be Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Sebastian Aho with their back checking skills.
Key to beating Islanders stop right wing Clutterbuck, center Ladd, and left wing Beauvillier.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
The Tampa Bay Lightning are also known as the ‘Bolts with the lightning bolt on their pains and jersey. Tampa Bay has come close the last few years and has won the President Trophy (best record) twice in five years
Once again the Bolts were the highest scoring team in the league with an awesome power play. This team can pile up scores in seconds overwhelming their opponents with landslides.
Right wing Nikita Kucherov has taken over for their injured leader Steven Stamkos moving them into the Eastern Conference finals with 85 points and 33 goals.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has the net minders job all to himself to win or lose this year. The Iron man has carried the Blue Bolts to the Eastern Conference Championship.
Center’s Brayden Point and Cedric Paquette set up scores for their teammates. Point has also put the bisket and the basket 25 times
The Bolts playoff star would be New Rochelle, New York resident defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk who has lifted Tampa Bay in the bubble with 6 assist and two goals.
Players to watch on the left hand side of the offense Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat
Tampa Bay should win this one in seven games. This matchup is which team can outrace the other to the Stanley Cup.
Have to give the National Hockey League a standing ovation with their new diversity program and the creation of the new Hockey Diversity Alliance with Minnesota North Star Matt Dumba who is half Filipino and San Jose Shark Evander Kane.
Black kids in the United States feel safer playing on ice because of the new commitment to the inner cities. The Chicago Blackhawk organization must have heard the message too because next year Hawk fans will be prohibited from wearing Native American headdresses or face paint to future games. This is a giant step forward for the NHL which is 85% white and male.
Are you listening Major League Baseball?
NEXT: WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Gary Norris Gray – Writer, Author, Historian, Gibbs Magazine-Oakland, California and New England Informer- Boston, Mass. THE GRAYLINE:- The Analects of A Black Disabled Man, The Gray Leopard Cove, Soul Tree Radio In The Raw, and The Batchelor News Radio Network, Disabled Community Activist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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