If you like scoring, then you loved the game last night. Game two was a shootout. It did not take long for the scoring to begin. Thirteen seconds into the game, Adam Hall gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Bruins fans were thinking, “Here we go again.” Nathan Horton tied the game for the Bruins 13:58 into the period. Now the fans were back in the game. Then, Martin St. Louis demoralized the Bruins faithful by scoring with only seven seconds left in the period. However, Boston scored five goals on only nine shots in the second period. Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson was broken and yanked in the second period. The Lightning made a furious comeback scoring three more goals and pulling within one. In the final minutes, Tim Thomas made spectacular saves, and preserved the lead for the Bruins. The series is tied at one thanks to the great play of Tyler Seguin and Michael Ryder for the Bruins. Seguin has scored three goals since filling in for injured Patrice Bergeron this series. Now the two teams head to Tampa Bay. The Lightning should feel confident after splitting the two games in Boston, and scoring five goals on the best goalie in hockey in the first two games. Boston needs to tighten up their defense for the rest of the series.
Turnovers kill a team, and the Bruins learned the hard way. The Bruins got off to a sloppy start in the game and the series. Eleven minutes into the game, a Dennis Seidenberg turnover led to a fury of shots by the Lightning, and Sean Bergenheim gave Tampa Bay the lead 15 seconds later. Then, 19 seconds later, Lighting defenseman Brett Clark skated through the Boston Bruins defense and scored on a back-hander past Tim Thomas. A minute and six seconds later, the Lightning struck again, Ted Purcell took the puck from Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle and stuffed it in the net. Game over. The Bruins could never come back from that deficit and lost the game 5-2. Boston hoped to play better in front of their crowd in game two.
On Sunday, the Vancouver Canucks had to come from behind to take game one in the series. In the first period, the Vancouver crowd was silenced when Roberto Luongo threw a lazy pass towards Joe Thornton. He buried it in the net and gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead with a 1:13 left. Not the way the Canucks wanted to start off the game. Then in the second period, the Canucks answered 1:49 into the second period with Maxim Lapierre’s wrister. Then, the boos came in as Mason Raymond was called for a weak holding penalty, and the Sharks capitalized on their power-play with a Patrick Marleau goal. After two periods, the Sharks had a 2-1 lead, and looked like the better team. Unfortunately, the demons from the Detroit series returned and the Sharks blew another third period lead. First Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa scored on a sliding Antti Niemi. Then, 8:21 into the third period, and 1:19 after Bieksa’s goal Henrik Sedin scored the go-ahead goal. There was still plenty of time left in the game, but Luongo finished strong and preserved the lead for the Canucks. Game two is tonight, and both teams hope to play better.
This weekend is the All-Star Break in NASCAR. What does that mean? Ricky Bobby knows. “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” In other words, this weekend is a little different.
This is a non-points race. The All-Star Race does not count towards the championship. This race is for fun and bragging rights. If you win the race, then you get a million dollars. If you come in second, then you get nothing. Another difference is how you get into the race. Usually the field consists of 43 drivers with the top 35 in owner points being locked in, and the drivers outside the top 35 needing to get in the race on speed. Starting positions are usually determined by two laps of time time trials. However, this weekend there are two races.
In order to automatically qualify for the All-Star race, a driver must have won a points-paying race this year or in the previous year, must be a past champion of this event in the past ten years, or must be a past series champion in the last ten years. If a driver does not fit any of the criteria, then they must race in the Sprint Showdown. Only the top two-finishers move on to “the show”. Wait there’s more. If a driver does not finish in the top-two, then they must rely on the fan-vote. Now, some people may think the fan-vote winner has no shot at victory. In 2008, Kasey Kahne defied the odds and won the event after getting in by the fan-vote.
The other differences are the lengths of the races, mandatory pit stops, and the fact that the races are divided into segments. The format for the Sprint Showdown is a twenty lap race divided into two ten-lap segments. Meanwhile, the Sprint All-Star Race is a 100-lap race divided into four segments. The first segment is 50 laps and drivers are required to make a green-flag stop at lap 25. Then the next two segments are each 20 laps and no pit stops are required. However, there is a mandatory pit-stop after the third segment, and everyone must take four-tires.
The final segment is the “dash for cash”, as it only lasts ten (green flag) laps. Usually, all of the fun occurs in the final segment because all of the drivers push the issue and “lay everything on the line”.
Sprint Showdown Breakdown:
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: NASCAR’s most popular driver is due for a victory.
Jeff Burton: He has won at Charlotte before.
Joey Logano: He performs well at this track, and has finished in the top-ten in the last two All-Star Races (the big show).
Martin Truex Jr.: He is the defending champion and two-time winner of the Showdown.
Others to Watch:
A.J. Allmendinger: He won the Showdown in 2008.
Brian Vickers: He won the Showdown in 2005.
Bobby Labonte: He won the Sprint Cup Championship in 2000. He knows how to win.
Brad Keselowski: Penske has good cars here. Sam Hornish Jr. won the 2008 Showdown, and Kurt Busch won both the All-Star Race, and the Coca-Cola 600 last year.
Marcos Ambrose: He has had a strong year so far. Ambrose keeps inching closer to his first career victory.
David Ragan: He usually has fast cars here, and Roush Racing has had success at Charlotte.
Paul Menard: He had a strong start to this season as well. Will he finally win?
Who is moving on? My Picks:
Winner: Martin Truex Jr. He has had fast cars every race, but has been a victim of bad luck. This time his team will get the job done and win back-to-back Showdowns.
Second Place: Joey Logano. He performs well at this track.
Fan Vote: EARNHARDT!!!! No brainer.
All-Star Race Breakdown:
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson has won everything on this track. He used to be invincible here.
Kurt Busch: The defending champion of this race.
Tony Stewart: The 2009 winner of this race.
Kevin Harvick: He has won twice this year and is the 2007 winner of this race.
Others to watch:
Kyle Busch: He has won in every series but the Cup Series at Charlotte.
Jeff Gordon: He has won three All-Star races.
Carl Edwards: He is the points leader, and should have won the last two weeks. Third time the charm?
Matt Kenseth: According to the Motor Racing Network (MRN), he holds the best average finish among current Cup drivers in the field with an average finish of 6.6 in the past ten races. He also comes in with the momentum from his Dover victory on Sunday.
Kasey Kahne: He won the 2008 race.
Ryan Newman: He won this race in 2002.
Always tough to pick a winner in these races, but I will go with Tony Stewart. He performs well at this track, and he is due for a win.
Images Courtesy of: Autoracingdaily.com (Stewart), Bleacherreport.net (Mad Dash and Crash), Charlotte Observer (Fireworks at the top), bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com (Truex Jr.), Catchfence.com (All-Star Race Logo)
The favorite to win the Fedex 400 at Dover was Jimmie Johnson. If Johnson did not win, many fans figured Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch would end up in victory lane. However, neither of those drivers won.
The fans were not far off though. Johnson and Edwards had the two best cars. Johnson led 207 laps, the most in the race, and Edwards led 117 laps, which was the second most. For the second week in a row, Edwards was on the verge of winning, but a late caution and pit strategy robbed him of another win.
On lap 350, Edwards passed Johnson and was catching Clint Bowyer for the lead. Eleven laps later, Juan Montoya wrecked in front of the leaders to bring out the sixth caution. Once again the race would be decided on pit road. Two tires or four tires? Six drivers went with two tires, one driver stayed on the track, and the rest took four. Mark Martin was the driver who stayed out and led the field at the restart. On lap 368, Matt Kenseth passed Martin for the lead. Meanwhile, Bowyer, Edwards, and Johnson were all battling each other. Eventually, Bowyer and Edwards pulled away from Johnson and tried to navigate through the field. Unfortunately for Bowyer and Edwards, their battle took too long and they were never able to catch the leaders. Back up front, Kenseth led the final 32 laps to win his second race of the season.
Why did Kenseth take two tires instead of four? Kenseth said, “Honestly, I was sitting on the track and thinking that we should stay out and get clean air and try it, because I knew we wouldn’t win if we took four.” According to Kenseth, crew chief Jimmy Fennig was hesitant to make the call, but in the end he gambled and it paid off. Kensth’s Roush Racing teammate Carl Edwards came up short for the second week in a row. Edwards was not angry with crew chief Bob Osborne though. He said, “That’s too tough of a choice to make right there and I don’t blame him one bit. I thought we would be able to arch through there, and I thought the race would be between Clint and I.”
Speaking of Clint Bowyer, he actually was happy with his sixth-place finish. In his last two races, he was the victim of two late crashes. At Darlington, Bowyer was running in the top-ten, when Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick bounced off each other and spun Bowyer out. In Saturday’s Nationwide race at Dover, Bowyer was running third on the final lap when Joey Logano spun in front of him. Bowyer had nowhere to go and his car climbed on top of Logano’s and went airborne. This time Bowyer’s car made it to the finish unscathed.
Fans were disappointed with the “Monster Mile” after Sunday’s race. There were a measly six cautions, and only two were non-debris/rain cautions. Fans were expecting a repeat of Saturday’s chaotic race that had ten cautions and a spectacular multi-car crash at the finish with Bowyer’s car flying sideways through the air. Fans hope for a more entertaining race this Saturday Night, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series holds its annual All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Images Courtesy of: Crash.net (Bowyer Crash), Gantdaily.com (Kenseth crossing the line), Cache.daylife.com (Johnson and Edwards)
This Saturday, the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning will kick off their Eastern Conference Finals series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This will be the third different matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals in the past three years. In 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins squared off with the Carolina Hurricanes; and last year it was the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens that met in the Eastern Conference Final. The Bruins look to make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1990, and to win the Cup for the first time since 1972. Meanwhile, the Lightning will try to make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals since their championship season in 2004.
How they arrived here:
The Tampa Bay Lightning finished the NHL 2010-2011 regular season in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. That meant the Lightning would have to face the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. The Penguins were without stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but fans should not forget that this team won the Stanley Cup two years ago. It would be a tough test for the Lightning as the series needed all seven games to complete. Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson was clutch in game 7. He shut out the Penguins, and improved his “must-win” record to 6-0. Next for the Lightning was the top-seeded Washington Capitals. Many people thought this would be Alexander Ovechkin’s year. However, the Lightning had other plans. Unlike the first round, the Lightning made quick work of the Capitals. In fact, they swept the Capitals. Four games. Boom. Done. Steven Stamkos finally woke up, and returned to the scoring tear he was on in the regular season, but he is still not the team leader in goals this postseason. Instead, it is Sean Bergenheim. He has emerged as a scoring threat that no one saw coming. This is a good sign for the Lightning, as depth and defense is what wins in the playoffs.
The Boston Bruins are not as big of a surprise as the Lightning. The Bruins made it to the second round of the playoffs last year, while the Lightning failed to reach the postseason. This year, the Bruins won their division and finished third in Eastern Conference. In the first round, they had to face their division rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. These two teams hated each other, and Bruin Defenseman Zdeno Chara’s hit on the Canadiens Max Pacioretty added fuel to the fire. It was an intense series, and needed all seven games to complete. The Bruins won an epic game 7 in overtime thanks to Nathan Horton’s clutch goal. Horton actually two game-winning goals in the series, and by the way, this is Horton’s first time in the playoffs. Next was the defending Eastern Conference Champions, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins were still bitter over the collapse from a year ago, when they choked and lost the series to the Flyers after having a 3-0 series lead. This year, history would not repeat itself, and the Bruins swept the Flyers. Goaltending is crucial in the playoffs. The Flyers were still searching for their goaltender; using three different goalies in the playoffs. The Bruins had Tim Thomas, a proven veteran, and the best goalie in hockey right now. Why is he the best? He broke Dominik Hasek’s all-time save percentage record this year. Thomas beat the previous mark of .937 with a .938 save percentage this season. The Bruins look like they have the tools to win the Cup.
Advantage Lightning. Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Sean Bergenheim are the top scorers. Simon Gagne and Vincent Lecavalier look to contribute as well.
Advantage Bruins. The Bruins had the best defense in the Eastern Conference, only allowing 195 goals the whole year. Zdeno Chara intimidates everyone on the ice, and currently has a plus 11 rating in the playoffs. Tomas Kaberle, Andrew Ference, and Dennis Seidenberg help neutralize opposing teams as well.
Tim Thomas. He plays behind a fantastic defensive unit, and he can make the “Sportscenter highlight-reel” saves. Dwayne Roloson is clutch, but Thomas has been more consistent than Roloson.
Tampa Bay has a slight edge because they can actually score on the power play. However, the Bruins penalty killing unit is tough to beat.
Nathan Horton is the X-factor for the Bruins. He needs to continue scoring the clutch goals for his team. On the other hand, Bruins forward Milan Lucic needs to step up his offensive game. He only has two postseason goals, after being the “breakout player” for the Bruins last postseason. The Bruins need someone to step up in the place of injured Patrice Bergeron.
The X-factors for the Lightning are Martin St. Louis and Dwayne Roloson. St. Louis has a minus five rating. He has scored, but he needs to improve his defensive game. Dwayne Roloson has played well, but he needs to treat every game like game 7. He needs to outplay Tim Thomas for the Lightning to win this series.
The Bruins will win the series in five games. They play the type of hockey you need to play in the playoffs. Defense wins championships.
Images courtesy of: Yahoo Sports (Bruins Celebration), Nimg.sulekha.com (Chara’s hit), Rootzoo.com (Spectacular Save from Thomas), Media.Pennlive.com (St. Louis and Lecavalier), and Digitaldads.com (Stamkos)
On lap 340, Carl Edwards took the lead from Kasey Kahne. With 15 laps to go, Edwards had pulled away. Unless a caution came out, Edwards was going to win the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington. However, luck was not on his side.
With ten laps to go, Jeff Burton’s car broke down and smoke spewed out of the back. This forced NASCAR to throw the caution. Edwards did not want to see the caution. Now as Darrell Waltrip said during the telecast, “Carl is a sitting duck.” Now Edwards and his crew chief Bob Osborne were faced with a tough decision. Do you stay out on old tires and watch everyone pit, or do you give up the lead for fresh tires? Edwards and his team decided to pit for fresh tires, as did most of the leaders. Only three cars would gamble and stay out: Regan Smith, Brad Keselowski, and Tony Stewart. This would set up a frantic finish.
Edwards won the race off pit road, and would restart fourth. The field took the green flag with five laps to go. Smith was able to pull away from Keselowski on the restart. In turns one and two, Edwards made quick work of the drivers on old tires, as he knifed through Stewart and Keselowski. Edwards had his sights set on the lead.
One lap later, the caution flew again. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer were three-wide coming off of turn four. They all bounced off each other, sending Bowyer spinning into the inside wall. Then, Busch turned down and spun Harvick in turn one. All three of the drivers were running in the top-ten. A frustrated Clint Bowyer emerged out of his car, and slammed his HANS device (a safety harness the drivers wear around their head and neck).
More drama was to follow, as the race would need a Green-White-Checkered Finish (NASCAR’s version of overtime). On this restart, Smith and Edwards were the front row. If Edwards was able to get a good jump, then Smith’s shot at winning was over. The green flag was back in the air. Keselowski pushed Smith into the lead heading into turn one. The leaders sorted themselves out as they exited turn two, and Edwards was able to hold off Keselowski for second. The white flag waved, only one lap to go. Edwards was closing on Smith. He did not want to lose this race now. Neither did Smith. Both drivers overdrove their cars in turn two, but somehow they were able to keep their cars off the wall. Chaos ensued behind the leaders as Marcos Ambrose spun Bobby Labonte and the field had to scramble to avoid him.
The race stayed green, and the finish would be determined back at the start/finish line. Smith remained in front of Edwards coming off the final turn. Edwards needed to make his move, but he was never able to get close enough. Smith held on to win his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Fireworks lit the sky during Smith’s celebratory burnout. However, all eyes were glued to the fireworks on pit road. Kevin Harvick had some unfinished business with Kyle Busch. After the checkered flag waved, Harvick hunted down Busch and chased him on the track (the drivers were still in their cars). Busch tried to dive onto pit road, but Harvick blocked him. They sat on the track for a few seconds. Busch tried to get around Harvick one more time, but it was to no avail. Then, Harvick stopped on pit road and trapped Busch. He climbed out of his car and approached Busch.
Harvick took a swing at Busch. Busch just stepped on the gas and wrecked Harvick’s car again to get to the garage area. “But that’s not all folks.” Then, a brawl occurred between the drivers’ crews in the garage area. NASCAR officials had to take action and separated everybody. In addition, NASCAR called the two drivers to the hauler (NASCAR’s version of the Principal’s office). Both drivers are expected to receive penalties on Tuesday.
Meanwhile in victory lane, Smith celebrated his first career victory. Smith was ecstatic. He said, “I’m not supposed to win this race. I’ve never had even a top-five. I guess in this series, it just shows anyone can win.” On Mother’s Day eve, every drive wanted to win. Smith mentioned that he was disappointed that his mother could not make it to the race, because she was in Alabama helping with the relief efforts for the Tuscaloosa tornadoes. Smith said, “She’s always been there for all my wins, all my races. She doesn’t miss any of them. That got me a little choked up. It does now too.”
Everyone was happy to see Smith win. Keselowski and Greg Biffle came to congratulate him in victory lane. Even Carl Edwards was happy for him, despite being the victim of bad luck. Edwards said, “Gotta congratulate Regan. That’s a huge day for him. I just told him this is a really big deal, and he knows that.” Edwards also mentioned how he wished he could have brought that trophy home, and there would have been “at least six things I would have done differently”.
Edwards controlled his emotions, unlike Harvick. After the race, Harvick said, “I’m really excited for Regan Smith, and I’m sorry you are not there talking to him.” So, what happened in the hauler? Harvick and Busch refused to reveal anything. All they would say is that it was hard racing, and Harvick added, “Things happen.”
For the second week in a row, tempers flared on the race track. Will there be another feud as NASCAR heads to the “Monster Mile” in Dover, Delaware next week. Fans should expect more of the same carnage as they saw last night.
Quotes Courtesy of: ESPN, NASCAR.Com, and Fox Sports
Images courtesy of: Cache.dailylife.com (Bowyer), Fox Sports (Harvick Punch), Mercedsunstar.com (Smith and Edwards), and CNN.net (Smith in Victory Lane)
This week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Darlington Raceway for the Showtime Southern 500. One thing Darlington Raceway is famous for is the “Darlington Stripe”. This is what they call the mark left on the wall after a car hits it. It does not matter how good of a driver you are, odds are you will hit the wall. In other words, the “Darlington Stripe” is inevitable.
In the past five years, there have been five different winners at the track that is known as “The Track Too Tough To Tame”. However, one driver has finished in the top-five in each of the past five races. That driver is Jeff Gordon. He also has seven victories at this track. Obviously, he is one of the favorites to win, but who stands in his way?
Jeff Gordon: Seven victories, and an average finish of 3.0 in the past five races here (the best of all cup drivers).
Kyle Busch: The 2008 winner of this race, and he won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race last night.
Denny Hamlin: The defending champion of this race, and he has the second best average finish in the past five races at Darlington (6.6).
Others to watch:
Greg Biffle: A two-time winner of this race.
Jimmie Johnson: He is also a two-time winner of this race.
Matt Kenseth: He has the third best average finish here in the past five races (7.8).
Mark Martin: He won the 2009 Southern 500.
Jeff Burton: He has an average finish of 9.8 in the past five races at Darlington, and he has won two races here.
Kasey Kahne: He won the pole for this race. By the way, he set a new track record on his qualifying run. Kahne also won the NASCAR Camping World Series Truck race here in March.
Jeff Gordon. He has the best average finish at Darlington in the last five races, and he has the most of wins of any active driver at this track. Gordon can tame the track “Too Tough To Tame”.