Byron Bitz

Kyle Clifford replaces Colin Fraser in Kings lineup for Game 2

Aside from a few rare hiccups by their star goalie Jonathan Quick, the Los Angeles Kings probably didn’t want to change much from their Game 1 win against the Phoenix Coyotes. They’ll need to make a tiny lineup tweak, however, as Colin Fraser must miss the game for “family matters” according to Helene Elliott.

Rugged winger Kyle Clifford looks to take his place in the lineup, although he’s likely to slide into the fourth line left wing spot rather than Fraser’s center position.

Missing Fraser shouldn’t be a back-breaker for the Kings, as the center hasn’t registered a point in 10 playoff games and has clocked about seven minutes per contest in the last three games. Clifford last played on April 11, when a Byron Bitz hit caused a concussion. Clifford is probably a bigger impact player than Fraser, but with the Kings’ on a torrid streak, Darryl Sutter was justified in keeping the lineup intact.

Your New Jersey-Florida Game 7 officials are…


The referees for tonight’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal Game 7 between the Devils and Panthers are Dan O’Rourke (#9) and Chris Rooney (#5).

Working the lines will be Steve “Gangster of Love” Miller (#89) and Pierre “Red Light” Racicot (#65).


— Things to know about O’Rourke:

1) In February, he was embroiled in the “Erik Karlsson is a diver” incident.

2) He worked Game 1 of the Kings-Canucks series, which featured a questionable opening goal (Ryan Kesler jostled Jonathan Quick, Burrows scored), followed by Kesler getting a two-minute unsportsmanlike penalty for show-showering Quick. Of note, this game also featured Byron Bitz getting five and a game for boarding.

3) He worked Game 2 of the Phoenix-Chicago series, which saw a questionable goalie interference call on Jonathan Toews and a five-minute charging major/game misconduct to Andrew Shaw for running Mike Smith.

— Rooney’s claim to fame this postseason was working Game 1 of Detroit-Nashville, during which Wings head coach Mike Babcock said the following:

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— There’s not much to say about Miller and/or Racicot.

Instead, let’s watch Chris Rooney go down in YouTube lore!

2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: What We’ve Learned


Considering the endless stream of zany happenings, it’s hard to believe the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs only began on April 11. In that time we’ve seen upsets, the rise of easily dismissed goalies and a whole lot of controversy.

Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned.

The mighty have fallen

The Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks are already out of the playoffs. The Boston Bruins face a Game 7, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves one loss away from an early vacation and the New York Rangers might fall to the biggest playoff surprise of them all in the Ottawa Senators.

There’s a legitimate possibility that the Florida Panthers could be the East’s top seed by the second round. (Yes, seriously.)

A summer of upsets/defense reigns

As I’ve mentioned before, the uncomfortable thing about rooting for most NHL “underdogs” is that you’re often also cheering for tight checking and stifling hockey — at least in some form. It’s easy to root for Nashville over Detroit and Phoenix against Chicago for the “David vs. Goliath” angle, but in those cases, David is slinging Ambien instead of rocks at his foe.

Everyone looks silly

Obstruction worries aside, it’s fascinating to watch all the “bracket busting” in 2012 after the 2011 postseason essentially followed the script. Almost every night, hockey writers and fans watch well-reasoned predictions shrivel up in dramatic fashion.

That said, it’s all good fun if…you don’t take yourself too seriously.

source: Getty ImagesReputation alone won’t stop pucks

Some of the biggest goaltending storylines from the last 11 days:

  • Craig “cut himself making chicken” Anderson is having a better series than Henrik Lundqvist. Just let that marinate for a second.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury had one of the poorest playoff runs in recent memory and was worse than Ilya Bryzgalov.
  • Braden Holtby — Washington’s third goalie at one point — might outduel Tim Thomas.
  • Roberto Luongo played in fewer playoff games than Cory Schneider.
  • The St. Louis Blues lost their starter (Jaroslav Halak) to injury, which opened up a chance for their All-Star backup Brian Elliott.

The Wheel of Justice turns

Aside from some wacky Phoenix Coyotes fans, most people probably believed Raffi Torres deserved a lengthy suspension for his hit on Marian Hossa. That said, you can’t blame players for not knowing what exactly is legal or not. Here’s a quick list of some of the most interesting suspension, fines and non-decisions:

That’s a dizzying array of decisions that has many players asking the question: “What, exactly, is illegal in the 2012 playoffs?”

Claude Giroux crowned?

There are plenty of solid candidates for the “breakout star” of the postseason, but Philadelphia Flyers wunderkind Claude Giroux took the most prominent step forward. He scored 14 points in a six-game series and was demonstratively better than Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Couple of resume-stuffers, those.

Lots of overtime

There’s been plenty of “free hockey” in the 2012 playoffs — 13 overtime contests in 42 games. That’s about 30 percent of the playoff games going to sudden death and more than one per night on average. In other words, if you committed to watching postseason contests during any given evening, you had a great chance of witnessing a game that would be tough on Joel Quenneville’s ticker.

No obvious favorite

Just about everyone’s rubber stamp choice for the Stanley Cup is either a) already out of the playoffs or b) fighting for their playoff lives. It all comes back to this, then: have we learned anything about who the real favorite is now?

Willie Mitchell on Torres suspension: “It’s about time they got aggressive”

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When Willie Mitchell was looking for a contract in the summer of 2010, the red flags were obvious: his concussion issues absolutely threatened his career. Eventually the Los Angeles Kings signed him to a “risky” two-year contract and he’s been a helpful part of a great defense. With his history of head injuries, Mitchell had a lot of interesting things to say about the big Raffi Torres suspension, as he told Rich Hammond.

“First of all, I just want to say that it’s just not Raffi,” Mitchell said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. If you’re a repeat offender, it’s about time they got aggressive. I give Brendan (Shanahan) and the league compliments, because they’ve done a good job in the regular season. I think, in the playoffs, they maybe got away from it early on, and they set a precedent that was tough to get away from.”

Mitchell believes that Byron Bitz probably deserved more than just a couple games for boarding Kyle Clifford, calling it a “five, 10, 25 thing.” Yet perhaps the most interesting material comes when Mitchell speaks from experience when it comes to how this will affect Marian Hossa – both on and off the ice.

“It hurts the team, but the No. 1 person it hurts — and I’ve been through three of them — is Marian Hossa,” Mitchell said. “That’s his life. His life is changed. There’s no doubt about it. It’s changed. Obviously it’s changed, where he’s not healthy and he’s in pain every day, but it’s changed from the fact that he’s much more susceptible to another one. It’s changed that maybe he might have issues for the rest of his life.”

Bitz injury history presents Canucks conundrum


All of a sudden Vancouver hockey fans are desperate to know if Byron Bitz can stay healthy. The big, tough 27-year-old forward who started the season in the AHL has made quite the impression since being called up to the Canucks.

In seven games, Bitz has one goal, three assists, 14 hits, and two fights. Which is to say he’s provided the type of “toughness that can play” the Canucks have been looking for.

Just one problem: Bitz also has a history of hernia and hip issues, and he’s missed the last two games with a strained hip flexor.

“It’s day to day,” Bitz told reporters after skating and practicing this morning in Nashville. “I felt pretty good skating today, I’ll skate again tomorrow [in Detroit] and just keep moving forward.

“It wasn’t one incident. I felt it when I started skating in the summer. It’s a volume thing. It went from nothing to all of a sudden a lot of volume.”

The Canucks have until Monday’s trade deadline to decide if they can count on Bitz for the playoffs. If they can’t (and it doesn’t sound like they can), general manager Mike Gillis might have to swing a deal.