April 10, 2007


Any surprises in playoffs may come out of the East


Associated Press/LawrenceJackson
Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller leads the top-seeded Sabres into the Stanley Cup playoffs when they get underway on Wednesday. The Sabres have the home ice advantage in the East.

AP Sports Writer

One thing is certain: A new team will skate with the Stanley Cup this year.
And it could be a club from the East no one saw_coming.
For the first time in the modern NHL era, neither finalist from the previous season made it back to the playoffs. So with champion Carolina and Edmonton out of the picture, the 16 remaining teams begin their pursuit of the crown.
The Southeast Division provided the winners on each side of the seasonlong lockout — Tampa Bay in 2004 and Carolina last year. The Lightning and Hurricanes earned top seeds in the Eastern Conference, then beat upstarts from the bottom of the West. Sixth-seeded Calgary got to Game 7 against Tampa Bay, and No. 8 Edmonton repeated the feat versus the Hurricanes.
If another bottom-rung club makes a run, don’t be surprised if it’s a team closer to the Atlantic Ocean instead of the Pacific.
“Every team is dangerous,” said 19-year-old Sidney Crosby, from the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins. “You always look_at teams that finish off strong. It’s all_about timing.”
You don’t have to look any farther than Long Island to see that. The New York Islanders appeared out of the playoff race following noncompetitive losses just over a week ago to powerhouses Buffalo and Ottawa in the aftermath of goalie Rick DiPietro’s concussion.
Yet, they bounced back with four straight wins and eked into the playoffs ahead of Toronto and Montreal on the final day of the season by beating New Jersey in a shootout. Now they have their sights set on top-seeded Buffalo, which earned 113 points and had the NHL’s best record for the first time in team history.
“It’s all about opportunity in this game,” said Islanders forward Ryan Smyth, acquired from Edmonton at the trade deadline. “We didn’t quit, and obviously I was an added extra piece to the puzzle to help the organization get in. That’s all you can ask for as a player is to get in.”
The Rangers earned the No. 6 seed on the strength of a 13-3-4 surge and joined Pittsburgh, the Islanders and second-seeded New Jersey as Atlantic Division teams to qualify. Only Philadelphia, which posted the league’s worst record, was left out of the postseason party.
Out West, Detroit again is at the top. The Central Division-winning Red Wings tied the Sabres in points, a season after capturing the Presidents’ Trophy, but failed to repeat because they fell three wins short of the Sabres’ NHL-high 53.
Now they hope to avoid another first-round flameout against Calgary after getting knocked out quickly last year by No. 8 Edmonton. The Flames wrapped up the final berth in the West on the second-to-last night of the season, when Colorado’s comeback ended in a loss_to Nashville.
If the Red Wings slip up, Pacific champion Anaheim will be ready to step up. No longer Mighty, the Ducks are in the playoffs for the first time as division champions. Their first test is against seventh-seeded Minnesota Wild, and star goalie Niklas Backstrom.
“It’s a toss up,” said defenseman Chris Pronger, in his first season with Anaheim. “Any team can get hot, much like we did last year in Edmonton as the eighth seed.”
The Wild hope Backstrom will lead them deep into the postseason. In his first NHL season, Backstrom posted the lowest goals-against average (1.97) and highest save percentage (.929).
No team will be relying on inexperienced players more than the Penguins, who will be facing the Ottawa Senators, who often come in with tons of potential but have yet to reach the Stanley Cup finals.
Crosby posted an NHL-best 120 points — including 84 assists — and became the youngest scoring champion in NHL history four months before his 20th birthday. He is the first teenager in major sports history to win a scoring title.
If he and rookie Evgeni Malkin can supply the scoring punch, and young goalie Marc-Andre Fleury can stand tall in the nets, the Penguins could be the latest team to spoil the Senators’ postseason plans.
“You can’t make up for the experience unless you’ve actually gone through it,” Crosby said. “I’ve been through situations before, not in the NHL, but in juniors and world juniors that I can use to prepare me. I don’t have sense of being nervous, but a sense of being focused.”
The Penguins get started in Ottawa on Wednesday, along with Minnesota at Anaheim, San Jose at Nashville in the West’s 4-5 matchup, and No. 6 Dallas at No. 3 Vancouver.
New York’s Rangers open at Southeast winner Atlanta on Thursday, the first playoff game in the Thrashers’ seven NHL seasons. Calgary will be at Detroit, Tampa Bay visits Atlantic champion New Jersey, and the Islanders begin their tough series at Buffalo, which lost Game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference finals at Carolina.
“We got a taste about what it’s all about,” Sabres forward Jason Pominville said. “It makes you want to get more and more. Hopefully, we can get to that next step.”
But even the inexperienced know about playoff hunger.
“I don’t think you play hockey to play the regular season and make the playoffs,” Crosby said. “You play to win the playoffs.”



Stingy pitchers help Dragons sweep

To come away victorious in this crucial conference baseball challenge, SUNY Cortland depended upon senior pitchers Mike Zgorzelski and Jimmy Dougher to get the job done.
That’s just what happened as the Red Dragons swept visiting Oswego by 7-0 and 9-3 margins in Monday’s doubleheader at Wallace Field behind their experienced right-handers.
While Cortland was improving to 4-2 in SUNY Athletic Conference play and 19-2 overall, Oswego was held scoreless over a 15-inning stretch before finally scoring three times in the final frame of the seven-inning nightcap.
The Lakers fall to 2-4 in conference play, 7-5 overall.
Zgorzelski tossed seven shutout innings in the first game, allowing only one hit and no walks and striking out 11 batters while improving his mound mark to 5-0. The senior from Shaker High School outside of Albany matched his Cortland career high for strikeouts, which he originally set at Oswego last season.
Junior Nick Baker came on to pitch the final two innings and complete the shutout, giving up two hits and striking out a batter.
Dougher, out of Liverpool, threw six scoreless innings in the second game, giving up four hits and no walks and fanning six. He is now 5-1 with a 0.49 ERA in six starts.
Cortland also banged out 23 hits over the two games on this chilly afternoon.
Cortland 7, Oswego 0: Junior Josh Hicks went 3-for-4 with two RBI for Cortland in the nine-inning opener. Junior John Giametta Jr. was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI and freshman Steve Nickel finished 2-for-4.
Senior Tom Farrell recorded two of Oswego’s three hits in the game.
Cortland broke a scoreless tie in the fourth with a two-out rally.
Mike Zaccardo and Giametta each singled and Nickel reached on an infield hit to load the bases. Junior Nick DeVito drew a walk against Oswego starter Nate DeSantis to force in the first run.
Hicks followed with a two-run single to left, with the second run awarded after interference was called on Oswego’s third baseman for obstructing Nickel before he reached third. Senior Jim Basnight then doubled down the left field line to drive in the inning’s final run and give Cortland a 4-0 lead.
Giametta hit a two-run double in the fifth to extend the lead to 6-0 and Hicks reached on a bunt single to lead off the sixth and eventually scored on a wild pitch.




Dryden’s Colbert loses mound duel

DRYDEN — Sophomore Matt Colbert didn’t look bad in his first varsity pitching start for the Dryden High baseball team Monday. Visiting New Hartford, though, got a little bit better mound performance and wound up with a 4-0 victory.
Colbert gave up five hits and fanned four in throwing a complete game, with only two of the Section 3 Class A Spartans’ runs earned. The Purple Lions, now 0-2, managed just two hits off New Hartford starter and winner Erik Sheridan (one hit in five innings) and an unidentified reliever who allowed the other hit in the sixth.
The winners got all the runs they would need in the second, scoring twice on a walk, throwing error on a sacrifice, double steal, RBI groundout by Mike Matt and run-scoring single by Dan Nelson.
Dryden’s Spencer Hoyt led off the bottom of the fourth with a double and went to third on a groundout, but was stranded by back-to-back strikeouts. “We need to capitalize on those situations,” Dryden coach Kim Brown said. “It would have pushed the momentum back in our favor had we scored.”
New Hartford added single runs in the fifth and seventh for the final margin. “Our defense, along with field conditions, allowed the final two runs to score,” Brown said.
Cory Goodenough led off the bottom of the sixth with Dryden’s other hit, but was picked off first. Herschell Emerson reached on an error to lead off the seventh, but one out later a line drive to New Hartford’s first baseman resulted in a game-ending double play.