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Monday, April 14, 2003
Updated: May 19, 4:33 PM ET
Need playoff talk? Tell me about it

By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com

There are two things I want to say this week:

1. Whenever you leave a phone message, LEAVE YOUR PHONE NUMBER AT THE VERY BEGINNING OF THE MESSAGE.

This is very important. For example: "Hi, Hakan. John here. 1-800-KEN-RULZ. I can't attend the Audioslave concert. The Fiat is in the shop and the game is on at 7:30. Call Per Djoos. He said he would go as long as the Leafs were not eliminated. (The message continues for 37 more seconds. Insert your own story line.) Call me. 1-800-KEN-RULZ. Johnny Bravo. Out."

SHOT OF THE WEEK
Every week we will present an NHL photo and I'll provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and next week we will use the best ones and provide a new photo.

LAST WEEK:
Penguins captain and owner Mario Lemieux:
"No Jagr. No Kovalev. No first overall draft pick. This had better be a Tanqueray and tonic."


Your submissions:
"These new extended wear contacts dry out my eyes so much"
- Erik Bower, Columbus, Ohio

"I love this Sam's Club exclusive economy-size Visine."
- Erik Nolte, Houston

Mmmmmmmm. The brackish, lukewarm taste of losing. That's refreshment."
- Christopher S. Safranski, Royal Oak, Mich.

"I can't get enough of that Iron City Light!"
- Joseph Boyle

"It's unknown to everyone around the league how Mario continues to dominate with such obvious depth perception problems."
- Brett Kervick, Morrisville, Pa.

THIS WEEK:
Avalanche head coach Tony Granato:
"Call me Cammi again Brunette and I'll go Cammi Neely on your $#&!"
This way, if I can't write down your number fast enough, I don't have to listen to your 50-second message again to hear your number. Leave your number, leave your message, leave your number again. Your friends and business acquaintances will notice. You will become more popular, be debt free, and take harp lessons. Which reminds me, has there been a more under utilized instrument then the harp? Has anyone recorded a harp CD since Andreas Vollenwieder?

2. Do not let the mainstream American media's lack of hockey passion affect you in any way.

This is also very important. A couple of times, while driving in the car this spring, I have come across two very popular radio call-in sports shows that will comment on a couple of callers and/or e-mails from hockey fans complaining about a lack of hockey discussion. Two things come to mind here: 1) This is counterproductive because it just causes the radio host (or hosts) to rattle off all the reasons why they don't talk about hockey. I won't bore you with the usual drivel here and now. It's always negative. 2) It encourages them to speak on a subject that they have no passion, feel or knowledge on. Especially passion. Knowledge and feel can be acquired by watching the games. But there is nothing worse than dispassionate hockey talk among broadcasters.

Yes, it would be nice to hear informed, passionate hockey debate while driving in the car. Talk radio is basically a pep rally for the day's games. But you know and I know we are a long way off from that in the United States. On an organized, youth level, the game is very young. Hockey doesn't have mass appeal because not enough people in the United States have either played the game or had a family member play the game and breathed in the hockey culture. Will we ever reach the point where enough people have that experience to bring hockey to the forefront? Probably not. But you never know, and to tell you the truth, I don't care. There are enough places to find passionate hockey discussion or written words. Hockey has always been like punk rock in its pre-every-mall-rat-in-suburbia-Abercrombie-wearing-teenage-screamer-sanitized-sound-a-like-Blink stage. Not for everyone, and not for the casual. Either you are in or you're not.

I liken it to Ben Folds and Justin Timberlake. More people know Justin Timberlake right now than will ever know Ben Folds. Ben Folds has more talent in his receding hairline than Justin Timberlake has in his entire molecular structure. Yet, Justin has at least $30 million in the bank, while Ben might have a million. And while that might tick off Ben sometimes, I don't care. I don't feel the need to defend Ben or lead his cause, or remind the world that a song like "Mess" will be sung for another 100 years by at least one person, while Justin's fans will continue licking his pop candy until all that's left is wet white paper stuck on their tongues. Then they'll spit it out and look for another musical candy sucker to lick. This is not to say I won't recommend a Ben Folds CD, play a song for someone in my car, or make a Ben Folds mix, but I won't foist it upon someone to validate my own beliefs. Especially, a radio talk show.

Just let it go. Love hockey and what it does to you. How alive the playoffs make you feel. How you keep looking at the clock at school or work, impatiently anticipating the opening faceoff. How you wait in anticipation to see just how the Ducks-Red Wings series will turn out. Will your Flyers finally do it again? Can your Avs be the benefactor of possible major upsets in the West and have Patrick retire on top? No one is talking about your Capitals, but you believe that they can come out of the East. If the radio yackers don't get it, who cares? It's your world. Your punk rock. Don't let the posers get you down. Yes, it would be nice to share your passion on a call-in show and hear similar passionate voices. Yes, you can't help it when the same lame argument is made that everyone makes the playoffs and you have to remind the posers that a higher percentage of NBA teams make the playoffs than NHL teams.

Enjoy the silence. Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm. Words are meaningless and forgettable. Another reason to listen to "Enjoy the Silence" by Depeche Mode, one of the best songs ever made even if "Bye, Bye, Bye" sold 15 million more copies.

Almost all the playoff games are on your local channel, ESPN, ESPN 2 and ABC. NHL 2Night is on every night. ESPN.com's NHL page has a new batch of stuff every day. You already know that. Every word you see or hear might not always move you as intended, but know that the messenger is passionate like you. Don't sweat the small radio and TV stuff.

The best time of the sports year is here and you are among friends. Which is how it should be -- me, you, the game, and a cold one.

And the rest of the world can just shut up.

Dave Andreychuk has played for many coaches, including Scotty Bowman and Jacques Lemaire. So when he speaks of coaches, he speaks from a wealth of experience.

John Tortorella
John Tortorella was named head coach of the Lightning on Jan. 6, 2001.
His take on Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella?

"He is the only coach I've ever seen go up to a player before a game and tell him you're not playing, you're working out tonight. Right to his face," Andreychuk said. "He's honest, sometimes brutally so, but that's his personality."

The Tampa Bay Lightning and the playoffs have historically gone together like Barry Melrose and grammar, Mike Modano and marriage, Pavel Bure and backchecking. But this year, they have played as a team and have improved. When players reach that point, it's because of respected veterans and good coaching. My three finalists for coach of the year are Jacques Lemaire, Mike Babcock and John Tortorella.

No. 1: Why did the Lightning have a good season?
Tortorella:
It was a good year. I think some of the young core of our team matured another year and we got to know ourselves a little better as far as coaches and players.

Tortorella coached the Lightning to their first division title in franchise history.

No. 2: What were some of your bigger challenges?
Tortorella:
We're down in Tampa Bay and I've always worried about the sun and the weather and such. As an organization, we tend to get 10 feet tall when we're winning and four inches high when we're losing. I think we've tried to go day by day. We didn't look too far ahead.

No. 3: Describe the Tampa Bay fans.
Tortorella:
It's a great building when the building's been full. With the Buccaneers winning the Super Bowl, it's been terrific. I'm a big football fan anyway and it puts pressure on the other teams in the area. The building helps us; it's a great place to play.

No. 4: What has been the difference in Vincent Lecavalier this season?
Tortorella:
Vinny has bought into the team concept. The youth of our team has to go through the paces of understanding what it is to be a National Hockey League player. Vinny has had so much heaped on him at such a young age, beginning with the idiotic remarks on draft day. (Then owner Art Williams called Lecavalier the Michael Jordan of hockey). It hasn't been fair to him. We were not going tooth and nail every day. We respect one another. All we wanted him to do is to go through the process of having a foundation so down the road he will be a complete, great player. I'm a firm believer in the foundation. We didn't want Vinny to skip any steps.

No. 5: What have you taken from your discussion with Jon Gruden and your observation of the Buccaneers?
Tortorella:
The thing I respect about Jon and the whole staff is how they prepared their team to peak at the end of the season. Players win and lose games, but I felt the Bucs coaching staff willed the team to ignore the cold weather stuff and the not winning in Philly stuff. We've talked about preparation and that's what I've tried to bring to the Lightning.

No. 6: Why hasn't Nikolai Khabibulin been consistent?
Tortorella:
He has fought it at times. Even after the Olympics last year. I really felt the Olympics wore him out. Every game he played was Game 7 for Russia. He puts so much pressure on himself. He feels he is the guy that has to be on for us to be successful. The biggest battle we have as coaches here is accountability. There has never been a problem with Nik in that area. He's too accountable at times. We try to remind him to relax and do what he can do.

No. 7: How were you as a player?
Tortorella:
I played in the low minor leagues and I was never any good, but I love the game and enjoyed coaching right away. I love dealing with athletes and the mental side of the game. I think it's the most interesting part.

No. 8: How do you tilt the series with Washington in your favor?
Tortorella:
That's a very good hockey team. We're not going to change a whole bunch. We're going to play our game. Playing high pressure and try to cause turnovers and play as hard as we can.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are only a week old and the old Conn Smythe meter changes nightly. Here are the top five difference makers through Sunday.

1. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G, Anaheim Mighty Ducks: Anaheim acquired "Jiggy" from Calgary for a second-round pick. These are the kinds of trades teams in the dumps have to make to make a move. The unexpected gem. Giguere has been the clear-cut MVP. Detroit dominated Games 1 and 2 against Anaheim, yet Giguere stole both games. The Ducks better crank up the offense, otherwise the Wings will storm back. You can keep up a .970 save percentage against the world's best shooters for only so long.

2. Martin Brodeur, G, New Jersey Devils: Marty just doesn't let in the soft ones. The Devils haven't lost a series when leading 2-0 because it's hard to beat goalies of Brodeur's caliber four out of six times. But anyone can score against the Bruins. Can the Devils score against Philadelphia or Ottawa? That will be difficult. The Devils should root for the Islanders and the Maple Leafs. That's a little better matchup for them.

3. John Madden, F, New Jersey Devils: Stop Joe Thornton's line and you stop the Bruins. Madden, Jay Pandolfo and Turner Stevenson are the Eastern Conference's Grind Line. Madden had three points in Game 3 vs. Boston on Sunday. He's the kind of player every team would love to have.

4. Eric Brewer, D, Edmonton Oilers: He is so going to win more than one Norris Trophy during his career. He'll be more appreciated on HDTV, where you can see the little things a good defenseman does. He makes the crisp pass, takes the body when necessary, plays a lot, plays under control, has good size and has that Nicklas Lidstrom aura about him. Quiet, cool, and smart.

5. Jamie Langenbrunner, RW, New Jersey Devils: Off to a blistering start in the playoffs. A game for the playoffs. A banger who can shoot the puck. The Devils will go as far as he and his linemates take them. Just give Marty a couple to work with.

Hi John,
I need the best piece of advice you can give me for my golf game. My swing is fine and my short game is better that expected, but I need some words to help pull it all together. Anything helps.
Take care and thanks,
Loryn Cesario

The most important tip in golf is keeping your head still at all times. When you watch golf on TV, focus on a player's head and how it doesn't move. Actually, the most important thing is to start golfing when you are 3. Then keep your head still.

John,
I can't believe you, the picks you chose for the 2003 Cup playoffs. The Red Wings losing to the Ducks in six? You are absolutely out of your mind! These picks show that you know absolutely nothing about hockey, which is amazing considering your position.
Garrett Raubolt
Chicago

John,
I served as an Electrician's Mate in the Navy, 1984-90, four of my six-year hitch was aboard USS Saipan. A special "shout out" to the sailors in the "Gator Navy" (a.k.a. amphibious fleet), not as glamorous as the flyboys on the carriers, but just as dangerous. Can only hope all the lads are back home safe and soon!!!
Dennis Pepperack

John,
Mr. Wirtz is "threatening" to sell the Chicago West Side Hockey Club due to losses of $15 mil? Indeed!!! Maybe Barry can sell the mullet on eBay and help us out here in Chicago. Then -- dare I say it? -- HOME GAMES on TV!!! A man can dream.
Chris Kruger
Chicago

John,
Finally, someone agrees with my opinion and has the power to say so on national TV!! For years, I have been saying Peter Forsberg is the Larry Bird of the NHL and I have gotten some clueless looks. Both can play and score in traffic, both have highlight worthy moves, both seemed to have eyes in the back of their head, both knew when a sharp elbow was needed, and most importantly for their teams, both made their teammates much better. Who's the Dr. J (my favorite player and Bird uber-nemesis) of the NHL?
Conn Flanigan
Denver

Forsberg is Bird, yes. Right down to the championships and premature retirement. Dr. J.? Hmmm. Fluid, long, big hands, doesn't smell like cabbage, classy looking player. Jean Beliveau.

John,
I've noticed you sit next to a man (Barry Melrose) who doesn't seem to have self-confidence issues. Does it rub off? Do you ever walk past a mirror and say to yourself, "Damn I'm fine!"?
Molly
Omaha, Neb.

I walk by a mirror and say, "Why are my ears so small and my head so big." Then I look in the mirror and say, "Shhmoke and a Pancake?" about 14 times. And then I say, "John, don't harp on your deficiencies, focus on the positive. A loving otter named Ken, a backyard rink and a Nick Fotiu bobblehead.

John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.