Lemieux: Crosby is better than me!

Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux has maintained a low profile all season with the media. He has let other members of the front office speak out on club issues. That was until yesterday.

Lemieux held a 12-minute press conference prior to the start of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals on Saturday. Looking tanned and rested, Super Mario offered his opinion on a variety of subjects, including young Penguin superstar Sidney Crosby, the post-lockout game of hockey, and the chances of his team in their return trip to the Stanley Cup finals.

Here are his comments on Crosby:

The Pittsburgh Penguins owner – and one of the greatest NHL players of all-time – indicated that Crosby is much better at age 21 than he was. Lemieux thinks the team’s captain is a lot more mature, too.

“He’s a special kid,” Lemieux said Saturday night. “He’s a better player than I was at the same age, for sure. Some of the things that he does on the ice, his strength, skating ability is incredible. His passion for the game and his will to be the best each and every shift.

“His work ethic, he’s got it all.”

Crosby has lived with Lemieux since entering the league four years ago and has become like another member of the family. The two men speak about hockey “all the time,” according to Lemieux.

He added that the overall play in the league has been great this season, and this is coming from someone who called the NHL a “garbage league” of players clutching and grabbing the elite superstars in the neutral zone. Lemieux hopes his team follows the same path of the 1984 Edmonton Oilers. The previous year, they lost the finals to the New York Islanders before winning the Stanley Cup. He feels both teams were built similarly, with two elite players headlining an up tempo offensive-minded team.

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Couch Potato Alert: 5/28

Hockey fans rejoice!

The conference finals were a big yawn, but the Stanley Cup offers an intriguing matchup. Sid the Kid looks to dethrone Hockeytown and spoil the back-to-back title party being planned in the Motor City. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings were the preseason favorites to meet once again in the Cup finals, and both encountered a rough road back to this anticipated rematch.

Oh, and the Lakers and Magic look to close out their respective series this weekend.

All times ET…

NBA Playoffs
Fri, 9 PM: Los Angeles Lakers @ Denver Nuggets (ESPN)
Sat, 8:30 PM: Cleveland Cavaliers @ Orlando Magic (TNT)
Sun, 8:30 PM: Denver Nuggets @ Los Angeles Lakers *if necessary (ABC)

Stanley Cup Finals
Sat, 8 PM: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Detroit Red Wings (NBC)
Sun, TBD: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Detroit Red Wings (NBC)

Sat, 4:10 PM: Minnesota Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays (FOX)
Sun., 12:40 PM: New York Yankees @ Cleveland Indians (TBS)
Sun., 8 PM: Los Angeles Dodgers @ Chicago Cubs (ESPN)

French Open
Fri, 5 AM: Opening Round Matches (Tennis Channel)
Fri, 12 PM: Opening Round Matches (ESPN2)
Sat, 5 AM: Opening Round Matches (Tennis Channel)
Sat, 1:30 PM: Opening Round Matches (NBC)
Sun, 5 AM: Round of 16 (Tennis Channel)
Sun, 3 PM: Round of 16 (NBC)

Wings advance, will have Cup rematch with Pens

Thanks to a 2-1 victory in overtime against the Blackhawks on Wednesday night, the Red Wings have set up a rematch with the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Detroit won the Western Conference finals 4-1. The Red Wings and Penguins, coming off a four-game sweep over Carolina in the East, will open the championship series Saturday night in Detroit.

The series will start nearly a week ahead of schedule because NBC and the NHL didn’t want a long layoff to stunt the excitement about the matchup.

I think plenty of casual hockey fans wanted to see some new blood in the Finals, but it’s hard to beat a matchup between Sidney Crosby and the red hot Penguins vs. the defending champs. This will also be the first rematch of the Stanley Cup finals since the Islanders and Oilers battled each other in back to back years in 1983 and 1984.

The 21-year old Crosby draws a lot of comparisons to the “Great One” Wayne Gretzky and legend Mario Lemieux, but even he’ll admit that until he wins a cup, people will always question the legitimacy of those comparisons. A Cup victory over the powerful Wings would go a long way in helping Sid Kid gain even more backers.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Wings get Nicklas Lindstrom and Pavel Datsyuk back on Saturday. Both players were scratched from Wednesday night’s game after expecting to play. Hopefully Detroit will be at full strength come Saturday, because this series should be a battle.

The great series that nobody is watching


Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently playing to the best of their abilities in a matchup hockey buffs have dreamed about. Problem is, not many people are aware of it and if they are, they’ll have trouble finding the games as they are on the Versus network.

It’s a once-in-a-decade duel — the kind of rare treat that somehow exceeds the hype. So tonight, tune into channel 603, and catch the last game of an instant classic.

That’s right: channel 603, square in television’s Yukon Territory. Since the hockey playoffs are on Versus, formerly known as the Outdoor Life Network, viewers in many markets will have to search the hinterland of channel listings in order to watch the games. Versus is channel 603 on DirectTV, and its placement isn’t pretty on cable, either. On Time Warner Cable’s Los Angeles system, it’s channel 267; in New York, Cablevision puts Versus on channel 146; and in Dallas, Versus gets prime position on channel 254. Of the nation’s 115 million television households, some 40 million do not even get Versus.

The series is drawing a smaller audience than last year’s College Baseball World Series, on ESPN, when it averaged 1.4 million viewers. On May 8, only 647,000 viewers tuned into Game 4 of Penguins-Capitals, making it the 81st highest-rated program on cable that night. The Crosby-Ovechkin dream duel clocked in behind both a Batman episode on the Cartoon Network (1.5 million viewers), and a “Reba” rerun on Lifetime (930,000). The Los Angeles Lakers-Houston Rockets NBA playoff game on ESPN, with nearly 6 million viewers, came in first. The May 9 NASCAR Sprint Cup race, a regular season affair, drew 7.5 times more viewers than Game 5 — an overtime thriller — shown the same night on Versus.

I remember when I was completely out of the hockey loop last year. I knew that the playoffs were on and but I didn’t have much interest in watching. Then one day I literally got lost in the hundreds of channels that we received and somehow landed on this station called Versus. Turns out, the Sharks vs. Stars series was on and I stuck around. I had never heard of the network. Even in all the sports reading I did and in watching other sports, I never saw an advertisement for Versus.

I know what channel the network is on now, of course. It’s just a shame really since these playoffs have actually been fairly exciting. I’m not sure how much of a financial success the NHL was this year but I’m sure it didn’t do horrible. Regardless, here’s hoping Versus puts more money into their public relations department as Crosby and Ovechkin are reasons enough to watch.

Ovechkin and Crosby begin playoff duel, two teams also play hockey


The NHL is banking a lot on the appeal of the series that started yesterday with a 3-2 win for the Washington Capitals over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The reason, of course, is the presence on the ice of the league’s two current marquee players: Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.

– Brian Anders over at THE LOVE OF SPORTS has an opinion a bit less excited than I think the NHL hoped to elicit:

Look at the major sports. With the exception of the NBA, which has an infinitesimal roster, dream matchups involve teams typically in big markets. The NBA thrives on LeBron v. Kobe, because with only five on the floor and seven on the bench, the superstars will go mano-a-mano for the majority of the game.

With 1:30 to 2:00 shifts and four forward lines, star hockey players go toe-to-toe a lot less often in the course of an NHL game. In fact, over the course of a seven-game series, the stars will actually face off less than the stars do in just one NBA game.

Well, I’d say that mathematically speaking, it’s true that face-to-face play time is greater in the NBA than a lot of other sports. But that’s certainly not true for individual sports like tennis or boxing, is it? There’s no way we can compare them to the NHL or NBA, they aren’t even team sports. It’s the nature of the beast that team sports don’t have common individual match-ups.

And that statement right there is also why I’m not entirely comfortable with the comparison Mr. Anders makes. I can’t say it’s wrong, but I won’t say it’s right either. Sure, I gotta admit that some of my favorite basketball games have been duels between opposing players, Jordan vs. Magic or even Jordan/Pippen on Malone/Stockton (guess where my loyalties lie yet?) come to mind quite readily, but even those match-ups were won based on the performances of players in general, not entirely on their crushing of each other.

The NFL’s most popular players, to draw on a new example, are by and large the quarterbacks. So it’s basically impossible for them to ever truly play facemask to facemask. We judge them on their individual stats and their ability to help their team win. Works pretty well for the NFL.

I don’t see that hockey should be particularly different. As a team sport, its raison d’etre is pitting one team against another. I’m excited to see how this series continues because I won’t to know who’s going to help their team out more. Furthermore, the sport does allow for frequent individual acts of brilliance. Just because Ovechkin and Crosby might not both be on the ice at once all the time does nothing to detract from the incredible plays they are capable of making whenever they play.

They both scored a goal in Game 1. Let’s hope that tally only increases over the course of the series. It’s a shame I can’t watch the game without some serious cable TV, but that’s another post by itself…

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