Five things we learned from Thursday

May, 21, 2010

1. Flyers fans, this is what happens when one of your own decides to slash the car tires of a veteran and respected hockey writer (Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette). The ghosts of the Montreal Forum beat you in Game 3, a 5-1 win for the bleu, blanc et rouge that gives us a series.

OK, we don't really believe in ghosts, but the fact there's a series in the Eastern finals is no surprise. We love the Michael Leighton story. Because Leighton was claimed on re-entry waivers, the Carolina Hurricanes paid more than half of his already cheap salary this year; the Flyers are likely paying a janitor at Wachovia Center more than Leighton. That is awesome. But it also brings up reality: Leighton is a decent goalie, but he's no Bernie Parent. It was only a matter a time before the Habs figured him out. Now, it'll be interesting to see how the longtime journeyman, who has passed NHL waivers a few times, will respond in Game 4.

2. We bring you back to a conversation with Red Wings GM Ken Holland on the eve of the June 2008 Stanley Cup finals. With the avid attention of about five or six hockey writers, Holland was espousing his belief that NHL teams should not overspend on goalies. It ran against the long-standing belief that goaltending wins championships just as pitching wins pennants. His point was this: His team had a decent goalie in Chris Osgood at the time, but certainly not an expensive high-end guy such as Martin Brodeur or Roberto Luongo or Miikka Kiprusoff. And, of course, the Wings won the Cup again that June.

Look at the four remaining goalies in the NHL playoffs. San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov is certainly the most polished of the four -- a respected, elite netminder without too much to show for it when it comes to success in the NHL playoffs. The Hawks began the season debating long and hard between Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford as the backup to Cristobal Huet before finally putting Crawford, not Niemi, on waivers on the eve of the NHL season opener in Helsinki. Niemi got the nod over Crawford, barely.

Leighton was the backup in Carolina in September, not even close to being in Philadelphia's thoughts as Ray Emery and Brian Boucher began the season 1-2. When Leighton was plucked by the Flyers in midseason, it was only after he had first cleared normal waivers and Philly took him on the way back up on re-entry waivers. Yeah, we're sure the Flyers knew he'd turn out the way he did.

And finally, there's Jaroslav Halak, who certainly has made the case that goaltending did matter for his team in these playoffs. His virtuoso performances have helped lead Montreal to mammoth upsets of Washington and Pittsburgh. But it's worth pointing out he began the season as the backup to Carey Price. The lesson? Maybe goaltending is overrated in today's NHL game.

3. The NHL opened its doors to European players long ago, so Thursday's announcement that Swedish referee Marcus Vinnerborg would become the first European-trained official to join the NHL's officiating crew is long, long overdue.

Vinnerborg, who is 37, officiated the 2010 Olympics, as well as the men's IIHF World Championships (2006-09) and a decade in the Swedish Elite League. The innovative decision from director of officiating Terry Gregson also helped address the league's private concern: With the retirement of a handful of senior referees in the past three years, there wasn't enough depth in the system to replace them. The league already asked veteran Bill McCreary to postpone his retirement one more year as it is. If there are qualified officials in Europe, they absolutely should be in the mix.

4. Ever wonder how players kill time on the road between games? How about some pingpong?

"Oh man, we some serious games last night," Sharks center Joe Thornton said after practice Thursday. "Nabby and I kicked some serious butt."

Dan Boyle rolled his eyes when told of Thornton's pingpong bragging.

"Joe's not any good at pingpong; he just partnered up with the best player in Nabby," Boyle said of Nabokov.

The Sharks goalie shrugged. "I'm not bad," he said modestly. "I played a lot growing up; we'd play at sports camps."

The Sharks apparently love their pingpong. Who knew?

5. For our last entry, we get a little help from Andrew Ladd:

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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