Hard Hits 1/24/13

Hard Hits airs every night at midnight for 30 minutes on Blog Talk Radio. Yours truly, Derek Felix hosts this action packed show along with the usual cast of characters who are always opinionated. No Goal Sports’ own Brian Sanborn, THW’s Chris Wassel, Dan Wheeler, Justin “JNF” FelixJohn “JPG” Giagnorio, Rob “Kraze” Davis all contribute to the fabric of our show. The clash in personas makes for entertaining radio. Just don’t take us too seriously.

Last night, I was joined by Brian, Chris and Justin. The topic was the Rangers, who earned their first win of the new NHL season over Boston. Marian Gaborik scored a hat trick, including the OT winner. For more coverage of an exciting 4-3 game at MSG, please reference our hockey blog New York Puck. You can also catch plenty of Devils from contributor Hasan and maybe some Sabres from Brian when he feels up to it.

Tonight, it should be another fun show. I’m going to discuss the Victoria Azarenka controversy during her semifinal win over American upstart Sloane Stephens. As we covered in the previous post, did the Australian Open defending champ abuse the injury timeout to recover from an apparent panic episode? Plus we’ll preview what should be a blockbuster semifinal between Roger Federer and Andy Murray with the winner taking on two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic, who blitzed No.4 David Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. All eyes will be on Feds and Andy to see who will take on Nole.

We’ll also do some hockey with the Rangers and Islanders both taking the ice tonight. The Blueshirts aim for their second consecutive victory when they face off against traditional rival Philly. The Islanders are in Toronto to battle the Maple Leafs. Can they build on their Martin Luther King Day win over the Lightning? Brian’s Sabres also are in action versus the Candy Canes at Raleigh for a home-and-home. Will buttons be pushed?

The Knicks and Celtics do battle in Beantown. Will Carmelo Anthony keep his cool against Kevin Garnett or will Honey Nut Cheerios spill over onto the court? The second meeting promises to be intense.

Catch it all later tonight.

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More HB: Rangers, Devils, Knicks

This is a great time of year. Spring has been kinda up and down with a flu keeping me sidelined for two weeks. However, if you love sports like I do then this is just an awesome month with summer on deck. And who isn’t pumped for playoff hockey and the NBA playoffs?!?!?!?!?! If not, you got plenty of baseball even if it’s still way too early to go ga ga over our teams. Though I must admit Matt Kemp is unbelievable and my boy Josh Hamilton continues to excel at the plate. And who doesn’t love Derek Jeter?

While the Mets continue to impress with a better record than the Yankees, centerstage is on the Rangers and Knicks in the Big Apple while the Devils are front and center in New Jersey. Playoffs are so exciting when your teams are in it. You have to be in it to win it. But it’s not like a lottery with a dollar and a dream. Only 16 make it in the NHL and NBA with a shot at glory. Even if you’re down on the Knicks following the Game One devastation at the hands of LeBron, D-Wade and Miami, it was only one game. One that was actually 30-29 before the Heat went on one of those crazy runs that we also saw in Memphis with the Clippers pulling off the unthinkable.

But what really makes the playoffs great is that teams can forget bad losses and respond like the Rangers and Devils did in tough first rounds against Ottawa and Florida. If they didn’t have resiliency and heart, both would be gone ending a realistic dream. Conference Finals. Yes, the Devils dropped Game 1 yesterday to the Flyers in overtime 4-3 on Danny Briere’s winner. Sure. The Flyers are stronger but don’t possess the better goalie. And New Jersey can score goals on Ilya Bryzgalov. So, it should be interesting.

As for the Rangers, they’re accustomed to doing things the hard way. So, it wasn’t a great shock that they rallied from 3-2 down to defeat the Senators. Still, if you told us Marian Gaborik would score once and Chris Kreider would have a bigger impact in the turnaround, we would’ve looked at you like you were nuts. But that’s another extraordinary reason to watch. For the college kid who makes good, scoring and setting up goals the way the former ’09 first rounder did in Saturday’s win. It’s not always about the stars in the playoffs even if the NBA is more centered around them. Unsung heroes can still step up and shock you like with what we got from the Clips in their upset over the Grizz.

So, can the Knicks get back in it? Surely have to believe Melo will be stronger than 3-for-15 even with James guarding him. And don’t forget he had 10 rebounds and shared the ball while playing solid D before Miami exploded. New York will definitely miss rookie Iman Shumpert, whose defense and versatility made him one of their most valuable players. There’s no margin for error, meaning it’s put up or shut up for A’mare Stoudemire, who acted like the Knicks starters really were even with the Heat’s dynamic trio that also includes Chris Bosh and vastly underrated Mario Chalmers. It’ll be interesting to see what adjustments Mike Woodson makes.

-The Knicks have lost 11 straight playoff games dating back to a series elimination against Tracy McGrady and the Raptors. Vince Carter too back when both were young superstars. Drawing the Heat wasn’t the best match-up which obviously Miami didn’t mind in resting their top guns down the stretch of a meaningless final week that was mocked by Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Shaq and Ernie Johnson on TNT’s can’t miss postgame show. Their show is always must watch even if NBC Network’s hockey coverage has gotten significantly better with the always controversial Mike Milbury and entertaining Jeremy Roenick. TNT has Game Two of Knicks/Heat in a few minutes. We’ll be flipping between it and the Caps/Rangers over the next couple of hours. A nice way to spend a night for a sports fan.

-Rajon Rondo is just an idiot. That’s all it comes down to. He didn’t really expect us to buy the dopey reason that he tripped into the ref instead of bumping him following a blown call. The NBA isn’t the NHL, suspending a superstar. Brendan Shanahan, please take note.

Some first round NBA picks for fun:

Bulls over 76ers in 5

Heat over Knicks in 5

Hawks over Celtics in 6

Pacers over Magic in 6

Spurs over Jazz in 4

Thunder over Mavs in 6

Lakers over Nuggets in 6

Grizzlies over Clippers in 7

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Rangers and Devils take spotlight, Luck, Griffin headline NFL Draft

Tonight, the spotlight will be on the two local hockey teams with both the Rangers and Devils looking to continue their seasons. Each prevailed in Game Six to force a deciding seventh game. With a 3-2 win over the Sens, the Rangers play host to Ottawa in the first Game Seven since you guessed it. Lord Stanley some 18 years ago. MSG will be rocking with the Blueshirts looking to set up a Conference Semifinal against Washington, who upset defending champ Boston yesterday.

While the Rangers and Senators will be almost through two periods, the Devils take the ice in the Sunshine state against the Panthers with faceoff after 8:30 on the East coast. The Devils forced it seven thanks to OT hero Travis Zajac, who’s been his team’s best player. Ilya Kovalchuk, who also had a goal, set up the winner with a nifty feed past two Panthers, allowing Zajac to play the hero. The Devils haven’t been to the second round since ’07. Now, they’ll try to end a playoff curse by winning two straight to set up a potential Conference Semi versus classic I-95 rival Philadelphia.

The heroes for the Rangers were Brad Richards (PPG, assist), Derek Stepan (tying PPG, 2 assists) and former ’09 first round pick Chris Kreider, whose first goal as a Blueshirt held up as the winner. Tonight, they try to hold serve and use The Garden as their personal playground. Home ice hasn’t treated this series kindly with the road team taking four of the first six. The Rangers will be looking to buck that trend in Game Seven.

For the Devils and Rangers, anything less than victory would be a big disappointment. Especially for the Blueshirts, who earned home ice with 52 wins and 109 points. Their best since ’93-94. Ryan Callahan has been held to two goals and Marian Gaborik one. Both need to be factors along with all but invisible four-plus million Brandon Dubinsky, who’s replaced concussed Brian Boyle on the third line. It’s about time for Dubinsky to earn his keep.

The hockey clubs will be the spotlight for New York City and New Jersey even if the NFL Draft gets going at 8 ET. It’s a bit anticlimatic with the Colts taking Andrew Luck with the first pick and the Redskins giving up a slew of picks for Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. There probably should be more pressure on Griffin III considering what Washington paid.

Once they’re selected, then it becomes interesting with the Vikings on the clock. I’ve heard some already label this as the Luck/Griffin Draft much like the year when Indianapolis chose Peyton Manning and the Chargers got stuck with now jailed Ryan Leaf. Amazing how one’s an all-time great getting ready to QB Denver while the other’s hit rock bottom. Drafts make or break you. Especially when you risk it all on a quarterback.

Still, times have changed. Today’s athletes are better prepared for the NFL. So, it the 2012 Draft shouldn’t just be about two players. As Giants GM Jerry Reese has proven, you can find gems late. It’s all about how well you’ve scouted and how players project. So, while all eyes will be on Luck and Griffin, you can guarantee that they won’t be the only players who evolve at the next level. Otherwise, 28 other teams and its fans wouldn’t even bother to follow a catastrophic event where the Mel Kipers pretend that they’re GMs.

After taking part in a Draft Preview last night with buddy Brian Sanborn along with NFL gurus Rob Davis, Jeff Bashlor, Daniel Wheeler and Nate Sousa, it becomes clear how huge an event it is. NFL fans are as diehard as it gets. Even if I’ve never been a big draft proponent, I’ll definitely take a look at who the Giants draft. It won’t be Matt Kalil, Fletcher Cox, Michael Floyd, Mark Barron or Trent Richardson

No matter what, Big Blue supporters should have plenty of faith in Reese. What will be more intriguing is to see whether or not Sanborn and Davis approve of who Buffalo takes at No.10. The plight of the Bills is always fun to dissect when you’re close buddies live and die with their team. For Davis, he’ll have a curious eye at his Devils. So, it’ll be a big night. For Sanborn, he can just sit back and enjoy the two Game Sevens while keeping a close eye on Barron, who both Bill diehards covet.

Even better, Wheeler’s Panthers pick right before Buffalo at No.9. Could they spoil the party? And don’t forget Bashlor’s Chiefs are on deck at No.11 with Sousa’s Cowboys on the radar with the 14th pick. You know what part of the Draft I’ll be watching. ;)

The Giants don’t pick until dead last at 32nd. A linebacker, some offensive line help or a receiver are most likely. Meanwhile, Jets Nation will be on the clock earlier at No.16 with Melvin Ingram projected to help boost their defensive line. First round picks are always vital to any draft because so much is expected. That said, I still think doing well in the later rounds can prove worthy for bargains and depth.

For Benny In The Bronx and Ira from Staten Island, there are no better day(s). All sorts of Draft coverage begins tonight with a chaotic weekend to follow. Let the cheers/jeers rain down.

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Rangers host Game Two

Tonight, it’ll be electric at The Garden for Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarters as the Rangers look to make it two for two against the Senators. They got goals from Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, Brian Boyle and Brad Richards in Game One, taking it 4-2. Plus some money goaltending from King Henrik.

The Sens scored two goals late with Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Condra tallying. The question is does that give them any momentum. It’s better answered tonight by how both teams come out. The Blueshirts weren’t lights out, allowing the eighth seed to control play for a good stretch. But a timeout from Coach Tortorella reenergized them with a strong response from Gaborik and Boyle, who each scored late in the second to break open the game. Richards would add his first postseason goal  as a Blueshirt to salt it away.

For more on Game One, check our post over at Battle Of New York along with Devil blogger Hasan, who recapped the Devils’ 3-2 win over Florida last night.

Still, without Henrik Lundqvist, who knows? The King was in great form, which is going to be a key throughout. We’ll be there for all the action up in 411. It should be a dandy!

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The anxiety of a passionate fanblogger

The anticipation has been building for a while. As much as I tried to avoid it, I just couldn’t help what I felt inside. It’s been a long time since I felt this way about the hockey team I root for. Also the special one I write about over on my other blog, Battle Of New York where the nervous thoughts of two hockey fans rival a bitter rivalry that could meet up in the second round.

Of course, I’m referring to the Hudson rivals, the Devils and my beloved Rangers, who begin their quest for the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup tonight as the East’s top seed. Something John Tortorella’s heart and guts group earned. Standing in their way will be the eighth seeded Senators, who similar to the Kings, who Vancouver found out about last night, are not your normal No.8. It shouldn’t be easy for the black and Blueshirts as they have been identified as with a gritty and hard working approach that New Yorkers can appreciate. But then again, the NHL Playoffs are rarely a piece of cake to get through with four grueling rounds necessary to win 16 games.

Can these Rangers do it? They’ll ride the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, who has much to prove in his sixth postseason in seven years. Only having been past the first round twice, at 30 King Henrik knows the time is now backed by a deeper supporting cast that includes top finisher Marian Gaborik, former playoff MVP Brad Richards, do everything captain Ryan Callahan along with a sturdy D that features Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Mike Del Zotto and Marc Staal. Boasting a core that also features homegrown kids Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and possibly fresh face Chris Kreider, the future is set up well for these Blueshirts.

However, when you win the most games and total the most points since the last time you won Lord Stanley, the goal isn’t simply to put up your first division banner next Fall. Neither is it to honor the top seed as regular season East champs. None of that means anything if the Rangers don’t back it up starting now. Valuable players such as Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust want to sacrifice their bodies as they have all season to win the whole thing. It’s about the battles in the trenches as much as it is about the big goals and clutch saves their Vezina candidate is expected to make. You don’t bring in Richards unless you’re serious about ending nearly two decades of silence. 1997 was 15 years ago, signifying the last time the club made a run to the NHL’s Final Four, led by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter.

Garden Faithful have been dying for a team like this who they could get behind and cheer with actual championship hopes more realistic. Whether it happens remains to be seen. All I know is the last time I felt this much anxiety before the start of a playoff game, I was a skinny 17-year old senior in high school. Ironically, I still am thin but it’s much different now because I appreciate what that team accomplished a lot more. I understand how difficult it is to get through the playoffs.

Since ’97, there have been a lot of bad times here, including the playoffless stretch during the Dark Ages when every free agent went to bust or lost their minds. In ’05-06, Tom Renney started something along with Lundqvist and Jaromir Jagr. Hard to believe a year later after being dumped out by the Devils, they were two minutes from getting a home game for a chance at the Conference Finals. It never happened. Chris Drury scored and Maxim Afinogenov broke our hearts as the Sabres prevailed in six. The following year, they avenged a loss to New Jersey but were ousted by eventual champ Pittsburgh in five. Marian Hossa’s OT winner crushing souls.

That’s what the Stanley Cup Playoffs are all about. Blood and guts. Laying it on the line. The kind of resiliency and determination shown by the Flyers yesterday, who picked themselves up off the mat, rallying from a three-goal hole to stun the Penguins 4-3 in sudden death. No game is ever over. No team is ever out of it. If you’re ahead, you must step on your opponent. Otherwise, risk embarrassment as Pittsburgh did with their heads down knowing that they can’t afford another home loss with the Battle Of Pennsylvania shifting to the City of Brotherly Love after tomorrow.

Our team has shown that they can finish games off. However, if they go through lapses as they did for a portion of the season, relying on Lundqvist, it won’t work. Your goalie can only take you so far as evidenced by his losing record (15-20). Once, he stood on his head against a superior Caps team for four games, giving us upset dreams. Eventually, Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green took over the series and Tortorella lost it literally, leaving a bitter taste in our mouths.

It’s been four years since the Rangers have advanced past Round One. In less than an hour, the Garden will be electric, ready for anything. Dad will be there tonight. Me and my brother will be there for Game Two Saturday. I admit to having butterflies in my stomach as I’m typing this, hoping it’s the beginning of something special as it once was at 17. Perhaps it’s the anticipation or just the anxiety of a passionate fanblogger.

I’m ready. Are you?

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