Champs vs. The Champion Underdogs, Who Wins?

Underdog Isles look to go home up 2-0. The Rangers hire Gerard Gallant. Golden Knights take Game 1. Examining the Bruins and Av's playoff ousters.

CHAMPS VS. THE CHAMPION UNDERDOGS, WHO WINS?

In the spring of 1995, the New Jersey Devils entered each of its four playoff rounds as the underdog visiting team and won The Stanley Cup.

As we all know, one win does not make a series but this spring, the New York Islanders were the UN-favorites against Pittsburgh and Boston and beat them both. 

Tonight they face off in the second game of the third round and already have beaten the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-1, in the opening game -- as usual -- on the road.

This is not to suggest that coach Barry Trotz's warriors will do a Marvel Comics romp through the series nor does it indicate that they slash and thrash their way to The Stanley Cup.

But what's happened in the past month with this unusually likeable hockey team is that it is playing hockey as it should be played

Gooning is out of the question along with silly coaching remarks -- see Bruce Cassidy below -- and anything else but the stickhandling business at hand. 

Which explains why some fascinating stories of this appealing tale have been overlooked so far. 

Because the redoubtable team captain Anders Lee long ago was lost for the season, others have stepped up -- as a group -- to fill the wide gap.

Folks you've never expected to hear about have been the good soldiers taking up the slack; and doing it quite well, thank you.

One of them is defenseman Andy Greene, who was regarded as a used tire by some savants around the league. 

Isles boss Lou Lamoriello was the fellow who originally discovered Handy Andy as an unsigned free agent and got good mileage out of the former Devils captain.

Guess what? Larrupin' Lou still is getting good mileage out of this senior citizen. And no matter his companion defender, Greene manages to get the best out of himself and his blue line buddy.

"Greenie is steady and knows the game," says Trotz who has helped Andy and the vice is versa.

If Green's success as a regular -- consider him a replacement for Johnny Boychuk whose career was cancelled by injury -- how about 

the surprise of surprises?

(I'm giving you, dear reader, five seconds to guess which Islander I'm referring to but I guess you know already.)

That would be "The Foot Soldier's Foot Soldier," Leo Komorov.

Uncle Leo began the season as fifth right wing on the roster and, at one point, was put on waivers; happily going un-claimed.

Mind-boggling as it may seem, The Eager Estonian has been breezin' along with the breeze as number one right wing. Uncle Leo has been doing all the necessary sanitation work with Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle. 

"Leo has been around," says Trotz, "and knows his role."

Both the Andy Greene and Leo Komorov tales rarely make headlines but they're stories are what the Islanders are all about. 

They have followed the Lamoriello template and theme: what's on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back.

That helps explain why neither Sid Crosby's Penguins nor Patrice Bergeron's Bruins will be facing off with The Champs and the Isles will, once more.


Stan’s Java Jive

RANGERS GET THE RIGHT GUY AT THE RIGHT TIME

This was the easiest move that Chris Drury could make.

Gerard Gallant is the new Rangers coach and g.m. Chris could have pulled that off weeks ago with his eyes closed.

It's all there -- and was there -- Gallant had by far the best record of the candidates and was available. Need anyone say more?

Of course not but Drury felt that he had to go "through the process" and so, the likes of Rick Tocchet, et. al. were interviewed and that was that.

Gallant is an old-school, no-nonsense guy who'll make his methods work  with the new-school characters. 

Style, schmyle, the real trick will be his connect -- and he had better connect with the Young Turks, especially Monsieur Lafreniere who certainly was symbolic of a build-up-to-a-letdown as any rookie who ever came down the pike. 

Gallant should be okay in goal as long as Igor Shesterkin proves that he's not injury-prone. Right now, that's in the "Iffy" category that only will be resolved during next season.

The importance of Gallant succeeding cannot be overemphasized at this point mostly because of the Islanders.

No matter what happens in the Isles-Bolts series, the Nassaumen have become the hockey darlings of the New York Metropolitan Area.

What's more, the magnificent UBS Arena at Belmont appears to be every bit as terrific as any current NHL ice palace.

Winning and more winning is the only route the Gallant Rangers can take to overtake the Isles current popularity.

Should the Rangers miss the playoffs this upcoming Gallant time around, you can get that Gerard will be out of there faster than John Davidson and Jeff Gorton combined.

I'm sure that won't happen but as the oldest of the old bromide goes,

"Ya never know!"

HEADLINE:  AN INSIDER'S LOOK AT GALLANT

THE JIVE:  First, congratulations and good luck on becoming head coach of the New York Rangers. He will need it in a spotlight like New York.

Our ace in the south, Alan Greenberg, saw a lot of Gallant when he coached the Panthers. “’Turk’ is a super guy – a straight shooter. He is a players’ coach. The players loved him. The media loved him. Even the fans loved him. But there were far fewer media and fans than he will face in New York.

“If he has a weakness it is that he is a blue collar type – just the way he played as a power forward. He is far more interested in hustle and performance than he is in analytics and stats. That was probably what cost him his job in Florida and Vegas, despite a winning record.

“When he has no answer he will say so. He won’t give you roundabout answers and he won’t intimidate the questioner. He is not the teacher type although he had great experience coaching in juniors. He is an old school grinder. New York will love him.”


HEADLINE: A BRIEF PAUSE FOR CANADIENS IDENTFICATION

THE JIVE: What did you expect -- the Canadiens to go on winning forever? Give 'em a break. Hey, they're up against the Vegas Golden Knights who tossed the heavily-favored -- or so they thought -- Avalanche into the playoff trashcan. Now the Habs are down one game to none after last night's 4-1 taming of the Montrealers in Sin City. The deal is very simple; we give the Habs one game to get their act together and then we'll know if there's any miracle left in Montreal. 

No sense in putting them down after one game 'cause they're not out yet.


HEADLINE: THE BRUINS ALIBI WON'T WORK

THE JIVE: So now we're told that Tuukka Rask's failure to stem the Islanders tide had to do with an injury to the no-longer-beloved goaltender. Well, it's a good excuse for starters but, sorry, Bruce Cassidy. And Don Sweeney and Cam Neely, the good, old injury alibi won't work. The Bruins mistake -- blame The Big Three for not figuring it out -- was that they had the perfect Plan B.

Once that there was the shadow of doubt about the not-so-rapid-Rask, the general staff should have convened and put it this way:

"Hey, guys, Rask walked out on us last year. Enough with Tuukka, we know we're not bringing him back. Go with our future now. Play Jeremy 

Swayman."

But they blew it plain and simple and the alibis hold no water with me!

HEADLINE: HAS BRUCE CASSIDY LEARNED HIS LESSON?

THE JIVE: You have to wonder how Bruins boss -- and chairman of the NHL Board of Governors -- Jeremy Jacobs feels about his Beantowners second round exit from the playoffs. Jacobs is a distinguished owner whose club was rated fourth-best in the NHL at the start of the season while the Islanders were pegged at 17th. New York won because Barry Trotz out-coached Bruce Cassidy.

Not only that but Cassidy's lack of revolutionary decorum when it came to the officiating was downright impudent, insulting and resulted in a bigger fine that many expected; including Count Cassidy. I suspect that general manager Don Sweeney is mulling the mismanagement of Cassidy's bench. 

Sweeney, himself, must be under the Jacobs' microscope. He lost Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara which resulted in a depleted defense successfully exploited by the Islanders. (Exhibit A Jeremy Lauzon's OT blunder.) The bottom line: Keep an Argus eye on Causeway Street; a pothole or two may be fixed by the fall. Question is; who'll be the fall guy!


HEADLINE: BREAK UP THE AVALANCHE?

THE JIVE: The natives have a right to be restless in Denver. Last season they lost the Western Conference semifinal for the second consecutive season which was a huge disappointment. Injuries proved to be a major factor. But what about this season when injuries hit just about every contending team?

No question that the Avs were rated the best bet to win the Cup but they now are the best bet to be teeing off. Phil Grubauer was the hoped for ace in the net but wound up being overshadowed by Marc-Andre Fleury. Nathan MacKinnon was rated Number One by The Hockey News, but Mac faded faster than wet tissue while Nazem Kadre did his usual hurt-the-team act.

The Avalanche share one common complaint area with Boston; coaching. Like Cassidy in Beantown, Jared Bednar lost his composure when it counted and very likely lost his bench as well. Colorado's idol, Joe Sakic, remains safe but Bednar could go because one of the reasons that the Avs have no Cup is that Jared was clearly out-coached by Peter DeBoer of Vegas.


TRIVIA CORNER: Toronto's Original Kid Line was comprised of Charlie Conacher, Joe Primeau and Busher Jackson Who was on the Second (Post World War II) Toronto Kid Line. (Answer Below.)


CLASSIC COMMENTS FROM YESTERYEAR: "Wait 'til next year?"

-- Any Rangers coach between 1942 and 1993.


TRIVIA ANSWER The second Toronto Kid Line included Ted Kennedy, Howie Meeker and Vic Lynn.