June 20, 2006
Cam Ward:
Hurricanes' 22-year-old goalie delivers 22 saves in becoming the first rookie to win the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoffs MVP) since Ron Hextall in '87.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

The most pressing question in the NBA Finals:

How do I win me some of those free tickets to Game 7?!

Answer: Five hundred pairs will be given away on Mavs.com today, but I'm out of luck. Only fans living within 75 miles of the arena qualify to register for tomorrow's random drawing. (Huh: 75 miles? What gives?)

Five other queries for Game 6:

How will returning to Dallas affect the crumpled psyche of the Mavs?

Answer: Not as much as the return of suspended Jerry Stackhouse (16 ppg, 4 rpg, 3.5 apg, 29.5 mpg in Games 1-2 in Dallas), but more than the return of suspended DJ Mbenga (8 minutes, 4 of Mavs' 38 team fouls in Game 5.)

Which Heat player will receive the most boos from those fans?

Answer: Dwyane Wade is too scintillating to be booed, and Shaq is too obvious of a target. I'd nominate Gary Payton, who has had WAY too big of a role in beating the Mavs to not get jeered.

What will Mark Cuban wear?

Answer: It won't be the Stackhouse jersey he wore for Game 5, that's for sure. If he felt like paying a $1 million fine, the boldest (and most hilarious) thing he could do is wear a ref's jersey.

How will the free-throw stats look?

Answer: Now that the Mavs understand that aggressiveness rules, they'll combine trips to the rack with a little home cookin' from the refs to match the Heat's inevitable 40-plus free throws (after merely matching Wade's 25 in Game 5). My over-under on total FTs in tonight's slugfest? 85.

What will be the result?

Answer: The Mavs' FT accuracy, with nearly double the number of attempts from Game 5, will be the difference in a Game 6 win for Dallas. See you Thursday night for Game 7!

Canes Win Cup
For a certain segment of fans who live within a 100-mile radius of ESPN, the Hurricanes' Stanley Cup championship is more bitter than sweet:

This team is/was the Whalers, beloved in Hartford, but whisked out of town and relocated down to the foreign burg of Raleigh, N.C.

It was insult to injury, taking the franchise from the heart of New England hockey country to the NHL's 1990s cash-harvesting in the alien South.

But Canes owner Peter Karmanos' decision has finally been vindicated. The atmosphere in Carolina's arena last night was as intense and jubilant as any in the league. Fans in Carolina can now take a place among the league's best.

Even more, the title represents the second straight Stanley Cup for the NHL's controversial Southern Strategy, ironically book-ended around a strike that the very same strategy contributed to triggering.

If there's a solace for Whalers fans (and any hockey fans who, 10 years later, still can't understand or appreciate NHL hockey in a place like North Carolina), it's that 18-year-vet Glen Wesley finally won his Cup, ending the longest drought among active players (169 playoff games).

Or maybe, looking ahead, that the future of the sport is in the secure hands of the thrilling Cam Ward, the youngest Cup-winning goalie (and playoffs MVP) in 20 years, when the Whale still ruled Hartford.

(Scott Burnside has the must-read wrap-up of the game and series.)

Spain: Blitzes Tunisia for 3 late goals, trip to 2nd Rd.
Ken Griffey: Ties Schmidt for 11th on MLB all-time HR list
Jets/Giants: Want huge $$$ to sell name for new NJ stadium
Dirk Nowitzki: Fined $5K for punting ball into Heat stands
S.F. Giants: Mitchell wants to talk to the coaches
Greg Oden: CBB's top incoming player out 6 months (wrist)
MLB Hit List
Jekyll and Hyde Reds: If Cincy plays the rest of its games on the road, it may have a shot at the NL Central title.

After losing eight of nine, their worst homestand in more than a half-century, the Reds picked up their eighth win in a row on the road, over the NL standard-bearing Mets. (Arroyo CG; NL All-Star status is a lock.)

Steroid Watch: After the Grimsley story broke, who had "14 days" in the office pool as the moment some Congressman would bleat for hearings on HGH? Claim your prize next to the office's leaded coffee pot.

Cubs obliterate draft salary structure: The team offered fifth-round pick Jeff Samardzija the type of bonus reserved for No. 1 overall picks ($7.25 mil) if he picks baseball over the NFL. Agents for picks in the first-fourth rounds pass out in happiness.

Why do the Royals stink? Here's a cautionary tale:

K.C. released RHP Kyle Snyder earlier this month, then the Red Sox snapped him up. He made a spot start last night and had a career-high 6 Ks, earning a W for Boston.

(It's like Theo is the guy in your fantasy league who dominates the waiver wire, and the Royals are the dude in last who has given up already. Can't blame Allard Baird for this one. Nice move, Dayton Moore!)

Delmon Young Watch: Fifty-game ban ends, has 1 RBI in Bulls W. (Is it me or did that seem like a fast 50?) Stay cool with those umps, Delmon!

MLB All-Star Voting
Last week I analyzed the Boston-New York "Axis of All-Stars" dominating the AL All-Star balloting and I provided a list of "AL-ternative" choices you should be voting for instead.

This week, let's take a brief look at the state of the NL's voting, where Monday's lineup results aren't nearly as oppressing (and depressing) as the AL's:

Here's the bad news: There's another New York grip on the lineup; Jose Reyes passed David Eckstein as the leader at SS, giving the Mets potentially four NL starters (3B Wright, C Lo Duca, OF Beltran).

(Seriously, I know that having a couple worthy Mets in the lineup isn't as nauseating as four Yankees, but if 11 of 16 position players are from New York and Boston, something is totally broken with the system.)

But the good news is that, otherwise, the NL voting is proving extremely reactionary: Andruw Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. have been bumped by fans from the NL outfield in favor of Alfonso Soriano and Jason Bay.

What a turnaround for Soriano, who drew fans' frustration at refusing to report to the outfield during spring training. Forgive and forget, at least when 20-plus HRs are involved.

And Bay is a victory for all small-market fans out there. It doesn't make up for the Northeast Corridor hegemony, but it's a cool underdog story.

Cuban Blog Watch
Those of us expecting Cuban's reactions or analysis to the Mavs' losses in Game 4 or 5 -- which had been glaringly missing from his blog -- were finally treated to a reaction … of sorts.

At 3:22 p.m. yesterday, Cuban allowed a glimpse into his frustration over his team's performances, channeling it through his standard impatience with sports media, one sorry sack of whom asked Cuban after Game 5 if it was the Mavs' "worst loss ever."

(Now, as someone who enjoys a "best/worst-ever" statement from time to time, I'm not against the idea itself. However, you'd have to be a fool to ask Cuban about it; he's notorious for having little patience for lame questions.)

Cuban responded: "Ask me a real [bleeping] question," and he spent his blog post talking about the nature of cursing, perhaps as a way to back-door into a commentary about his frustration over the question.

Or maybe it was his frustration over the game's result peeking through. Maybe he really meant, "Win me a real [bleeping] game." Not that I'm going to ask him about that.

World Cup Wrap
Outside of Thursday's four-team scrum in the U.S.-centric Group of Death, the most compelling game of the first round will be this morning between two teams that have already qualified for the knockout round.

Ecuador vs. Germany: Not only is the game's winner given the easier draw of playing the Group B runner-up in the second round, but the game's loser plays the "B" winner AND plays in Brazil's half of the bracket.

Ecuador has been the surprise success of the tournament so far, racking up two impressive wins after being labeled unable to win outside of the friendly high altitude of home base Quito.

Germany, of course, is the host country, and anything but a first-place finish in the group would be a complete embarrassment. (Consequently, how can you NOT be rooting for Ecuador?)

Santonio Holmes:
Pleads "not guilty" to yet another offseason woe. I thought the Steelers' Rooney and Cowher were no-nonsense, team-trumps-all types. Where's their ire?
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie Live
Page 2 Index
Stanley Cup
ESPN.com's MLB Power Rankings
Mets (LW: 2)
But why the struggles at home?
White Sox (1)
How many All-Stars for Ozzie?
Tigers (4)
Took Prior behind woodshed
Yankees (3)
But have lost 3 in a row
Blue Jays (5)
Pacing the Yanks, Sox

Big Ben is going to be cited for driving his cycle without a license, but you can't replicate a punishment like a good public shaming.

Meanwhile, fans (outside of Pittsburgh) can pity 62-year-old Pittsburgh woman who has reportedly been harassed by Steelers fans since the accident.

Kudos (but "it's about time") to NASCAR for approving a test for unleaded fuel that could lead to unleaded in all race tanks by 2007.

NBA Draft: Chad Ford foresees a Roy-al shakeup at the top thanks to Jordan's new influence in Charlotte. (See Insider for Ford's updated mock)

Catfight! After Lance questioned Dick Pound's fitness to be the world's anti-doping honcho, Pound counterpunched questioning Lance's credibility.

More NL All-Star: Pujols has a big lead over Carlos Delgado (another Met!) at 1B, but will Albert be able to play? At 2B, it's Utley over Biggio.

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