All the marbles

Leaving everything you have on the ice is tiring. Sidney Crosby (left) and Jordan Staal (right) both earned the right to take a little nap with the Stanley Cup. We're going to find out who wants it that bad tonight.

There is a hockey game tonight, and it just may be the finest athletic event you will see on television all year long. Game Seven of the Stanley Cup finals is as good as it gets in sports.

I can’t guarantee there will be a dramatic finish and there almost certainly won’t be a buzzer-beater to win it. Expect a low-scoring game. Tonight there is going to be back checking and shot blocking like you have never seen before. Defense is at a premium and it is universally understood among the players that tonight will require absolutely whatever it takes. Block a shot with your face if you have to. They can give you fake teeth; you can’t fake a Stanley Cup.

Every player on the ice, whether they were born in 1968 (Mark Recchi) or 1992 (Tyler Seguin), has dreamed about playing in this game their entire lives. Sixty minutes stand between each player and a Stanley Cup, 3,600 seconds the difference between immortality and insignificance.

Give only 99 percent for just one of those seconds and you’ll be watching the other team kiss the cup.

If you had offered Claude Julien or Alain Vigneault one game to win it all at the start of the playoffs, they’d take it in a second. Boston wishes it still had Nathan Horton and Vancouver wishes it still had Dan Hamhuis, Aaron Rome and Mason Raymond, but injuries are a part of the game and sometimes it’s the last team left standing that takes home the cup.

Everyone wants the glory. Everyone wants to say they scored the goal that won the Stanley Cup. It’s not enough just to want it. I’ve written about this before — the players are going to have to find some other level inside that they just haven’t been able to get to yet if they want to win this game.

Tim Thomas is one of the only players in this series who has consistently been able to reach that level. I’m not ready to move him up the depth chart on Team USA (ahead of Ryan Miller), but Thomas has been phenomenal. Last season I argued Antti Niemi for the Conn Smythe Trophy and I’m giving my vote to a goalie once again.

Win or lose, I’d give it to Thomas regardless. Last year I wanted it for Niemi, knowing he wouldn’t get it. They were going to give it to a scorer. This season, there are no run-away scorers like Patrick Sharp last season.

David Krejci has been very good for Boston, leading the NHL in points and game-winning goals this postseason, but while Vancouver needs to watch out for him, I don’t feel he strikes fear into the other team every time he touches the puck like Danny Briere did in the Buffalo-Philadelphia series. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have been productive as well, and Michael Ryder has snuck into the top-10 in playoff scoring this series.

I’d have a hard time giving the Conn Smythe to anyone on Vancouver barring an epic Game Seven performance. Roberto Luongo has been way too inconsistent. Henrik Sedin is one point off the scoring lead but has only one point in the finals, three goals in the entire postseason and is a minus-7 this postseason, one of the worst rankings in the entire league. Daniel is close behind with 20 points and has scored or assisted on half of Vancouver’s goals this series, but that doesn’t mean as much when you’ve only managed eight goals through six games. Plus, he is a minus-5. The Canucks’ power play has been pitiful this series and that blame has to fall on the Sedins.

I think Alexandre Burrows has been Vancouver’s best player, but there’s no way the NHL is giving chompers an award any time soon. Ryan Kesler has 19 points and a positive plus/minus, but 47 penalty minutes hurt a team too much to be an MVP.

Scott Neidermayer -- now there's a playoff beard

It’s a stretch for a goalie to win the award, and even more so to think a defenseman would win it. I’m very impressed with Kevin Bieksa this series (lack of chin hair and all), Zdeno Chara leads the league at plus-14 and Dennis Seidenberg has played tight defense, but for a blue liner be named playoff MVP, they’d have to be really lighting the lamp on a regular basis. Defensive Conn Smythe winners are an elite class (with the likes of Bobby Orr, Al MacInnis, Brian Leetch, Scott Stevens, Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Neidermayer), and I’m not sure any of these three are worthy of entry.

I’m very excited to watch tonight’s game, not only as a hockey fan, but as a fan of sport in general. Players are going to go harder than you have ever seen them go and give more of themselves than you have ever seen athletes give. If you’ve been watching the NBA finals, seeing effort like this might be enough to make you come back next season while the other leagues are locked out.

A prediction? I think Luongo bounces back and I know better than to pick a road team in this series. It will be a close, low-scoring game, 1-0 or 2-1. Who other than Burrows puts the dagger in Boston?

Horton got a shoulder, Rome got the shaft

Paul Kariya wasn't expecting to get hit by Scott Stevens in 2003, and we all know what happened to him. You'd think Nathan Horton would have remembered to keep his head up coming over the middle in the Stanley Cup Finals. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Here’s the dirty little secret about Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton that no one wants to acknowledge: it wasn’t that bad.

It was a little bit late. That’s all. People need to chill out. Rome didn’t go head hunting and he didn’t hit Horton from his blindside like people keep saying — it was from directly in front of him. Horton makes a pass, takes two steps, and gets rocked. Rome didn’t charge him; he was turned and stood up at the blue line. The hit came 1-2 seconds after he made the pass, which isn’t that late. Pause the video on the pass and the hit and see for yourself. 

I’m thinking people are more concerned with the result of the hit than the hit itself, but that is a horrible way to judge things. You can’t base punishment and accusations of dirty play based on whether or not the guy gets injured. If something is bad, it’s bad no matter what the result.

If Horton maybe looks around him instead of watching his pass, he probably wouldn’t be concussed right now. If he only got knocked off his balance or fell down and got right up, this hit isn’t that big of a deal. It’s maybe two minutes for interference, but who knows in the playoffs.

The form of the check was fine. There was no additional malice, not more than you would use for any other check. You aim for the chest and explode through the man. That’s what Rome did. His elbow was tucked at the time impact and he led with the shoulder. It’s just a little late. That’s all.

There’s a referee in front of the play who doesn’t put his arm up. Even if he turned to watch the pass, he would have looked back for a hit that big. There’s no saying he didn’t see it; it was straight in front of him, and he didn’t have a call.

The referee following the play from behind puts his arm up, three seconds after the check and long after Horton had hit the ice.  There’s some internal debate that runs through your mind as a referee when you see something you think might be a penalty, and the back ref made up his mind in an appropriate amount of time. He did fine, but if you watch him, you can see he went over it in his head before making the call. It wasn’t something he saw and immediately shot his arm up for.

There’s something to be said about Horton expecting a hit, too. Defensemen salivate daydreaming about forwards coming over the line with their head down like that. Some people say a forward deserves anything that happens to him if he has his head down. I’ll give Horton a pass because it was a little late, but he clearly was not expecting to be hit, at all.

That part is inexcusable. This is the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s physical. It’s intense. Your guys are getting in the other team’s face in a not-so-polite manner. They’re going to want a piece of you any chance they get. You better look both ways before you come out of the dressing room, let alone attempt to cross the blue line.

I’m not trying to take all the blame off Rome. His timing was not great, but that doesn’t make it some barbaric act like people are making it out to be, and Horton needs to be held accountable for some of it, too. Rome doesn’t have a history of playing dirty and he shouldn’t get one for this hit. If it came half a second sooner or if Horton braced for it, no one even remembers the play.

Vancouver contends it was a clean hit. I don’t know about that, but I do know it wasn’t as bad as everyone’s making it out to be. I feel bad that someone had to be taken out on a stretcher, even if he does play for Boston. That doesn’t change the facts. You can’t dish out punishment because you feel bad. That’s like saying Nathan Horton is more valuable to the league than Tim Connolly. Even if you believe that, you can’t say that and you certainly can’t rule like that.

You also can’t dole out discipline based on how long the other person is out for. That’s not how the league works. There’s too many other factors that go in to injuries. Identical hits on Connolly and Drew Stafford likely would produce different outcomes. You penalize the action, not the results (game misconducts are slightly different). When we hear that the league took heavily into account the fact that Horton will not come back, that’s a red flag.

I’m going to contend the hit was not that bad. It’s unfortunate Horton was hurt. Rome got a penalty for interference, not roughing or elbowing or a head shot or anything else. You can’t blame someone for hitting hard. You can for hitting late. That’s two minutes. If you want to give him five and a game, that’s within the rules. That’s fine.

A four-game suspension is harsh. You can guarantee Rome is paying for Burrows’ biting incident that the league dropped the ball on. That’s retribution for Bruins fans, but that doesn’t make it fair to Rome. He and his agent are considering appealing the suspension, which makes sense when you consider it is longer than every other suspension in Cup Finals history added together.

There have been three other suspensions, and they were all one game. For a four-gamer that removes him from the rest of the finals, you would have thought Rome murdered someone. Nope, he just stepped up a fraction of a second too late.

Barry Melrose said that Rome “is an easier player to suspend” basically because he’s not a star. It’s true that it’d be harder for the NHL to say Kevin Bieksa is out for the rest of the series, but that’s so wrong to say. The punishment needs to fit the crime, regardless of who it is. If something is worthy of a suspension, it’s equally as worthy, regardless of who the offender is (as long as he has a clean record, like Rome). Go up to Rome and tell him, “too bad you weren’t a Sedin, because then it would only be one game,” and see what he says.

There’s no good way to handle this, besides don’t mess up in the first place. Burrows should have been suspended one game, but the precedent the league is setting is that minor players are going to have to pay for the actions of stars.

No one on either side is ever going to think it’s fair. They need people in the middle to nudge them and say it’s really not that bad. Aaron Rome is getting robbed of what will likely be the greatest memory of his life, and all you can do is hope his replacement plays well.

The Crimson Chins

If you follow hockey in any extent, these two bearded gentlemen need no introduction.

But in case you forgot, these are the Sedin twins, Henrik at left and Daniel on the right. Henrik has the upper hand as the older twin, but Daniel has the honor of being drafted first. Both are by the slimmest of margins (Henrik is six minutes older), but when twins compete, that’s all that matters.

The Vancouver Canucks made Daniel the second overall pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft and Henrik the third. They passed over the likes of Tim Connolly (fifth overall), Martin Havlat (26th), Jordan Leopold (44th), Ryan Miller (138th) and Henrik Zetterberg (210th) to do so, but they haven’t regretted the decision for a second.

The twins may be Swedish, but on the ice, they’re all finish. Daniel is currently leading the playoffs in goals while Henrik is tops in assists. Through 10 NHL seasons, the pair has over 1,300 points between them.

Their ability to find the back of the net sets the twins apart from any other duo in the league right now. But there’s more. Something else makes Daniel and Henrik different from other players, and I think it’s growing on their faces.

Everyone has a playoff beard this time of year. The whiskers on the Sedin twins may not be as thick or as full as the beards sported by other players, but their beards are different. They’re red.

Red hair is nothing new in sports (see: Brain Campbell, Bill Walton or Shaun White — if you consider him an athlete), but especially in hockey, things like hair color are usually hidden by those protective helmets they’re fond of wearing. Seeing two beards this up close and in your face is new and different.

Hold off on you ginger jokes, but I’ve come up with my own nickname for the twins. I’ve started calling them the Crimson Chins.

If you’re familiar with Nickelodeon’s hit cartoon “The Fairly OddParents” you’ll get the reference. The Chin is the favorite comic book character of the show’s protagonist, Timmy Turner — yes, he’s a made-up character within a made-up show. As you could have guessed, his most prominent feature is his shoulders that are so big he’d fall over if he was real chin, which he used to beat up villains on a regular basis.

The orangey-red facial hair you’ll see flying around on Vancouver’s power play tonight wouldn’t exactly pass for crimson, but it’s the reference that counts. I’ve been referring to them singularly as the Crimson Chin (Chins when it’s both) and you are more than welcome to join.

“Wow, did you see that pass from the Crimson Chin?! Nice sauce.”

The Sabres are long gone from Stanley Cup contention, so might as well have some fun with the playoffs, right? Maybe if he’s lucky, the Sedins will let Ryan Kesler pose as Cleft, the Boy Chin Wonder.