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Joy in the (emotional) state of hockey

Emotion.

Nothing sums up the Stanley Cup playoffs better. It's a word that best reflects our humanity and separates us from doorknobs, parking meters, gray-lined work cubicles, and Keanu Reeves. From my perch on the set of NHL 2Night, where mullets reign and the accent is decidedly Western Canadian, I've witnessed an emotional tug-of-war.


Red Wings and Avalanche fans felt the emotion of shock, anger and disgust. Ducks fans felt the emotion of shock, jubilation and inspiration. Flyers fans felt relief. Wild fans felt pride. Meanwhile, "Chicken Parm" Ray Ferraro was caught between the Avalanche and Wild.

Ferraro dates Cammi Granato, captain of the 1998 gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic women's hockey team. He's got 408 career NHL goals; she's one of the best female players in history. Both wear No. 21, both are captains, one's a left-handed shot, the other a right-handed shot. Cammi's brother is Tony Granato, rookie coach of the Colorado Avalanche. Anyone who has had a family member play in an athletic event understands the stress and emotion involved. It's tormenting. They seem so alone. You want to help, but the glass and the rules won't let you, rendering YOU helpless and powerless. So, it's only natural that Ray would begin to feel Cammi's concern and love for her brother. We all want our loved ones to be OK.

On the other bench was Minnesota Wild left winger Andrew Brunette. "Bruno" is the kind of guy you like 1.5 seconds after you meet him. An every day baseball-watching, beer-drinking guy. He's in the unpretentious sports Hall of Fame. He and Ray were linemates with the Atlanta Thrashers and bonded immediately. Along with Donald Audette, they formed one of the more productive lines in the NHL three years ago. Parm had 29 goals and 47 assists for 76 points, Brunette netted 23-27-50 and Audette had 32-39-71, before being traded to Buffalo. Two years later, the Thrashers felt Brunette didn't deserve the NHL average salary, so he signed with the Wild. Ray -- suddenly alone in Atlanta without his linemates -- was left wondering where in the world Lubos Bartecko was going as he entered the offensive zone.

As Ray watched the Wild-Avalanche series he wanted his buddy to do well, but he also wanted his girlfriend's brother to succeed. Before the series, he called them both and wished them good luck. He spoke with Brunette after Colorado took a 3-1 series lead and could feel his buddy's disappointment and frustration. Everyday, he was there for Cammi as she labored through her brother's first playoff series as head coach, getting daily reports from Cammi's daily phone calls with Tony. The Granatos are a very close family. Passionate, caring and emotional.

Watching Ray watch overtime of Game 7 between the Avalanche and Wild was just another example of how beautiful the two months we call the Stanley Cup playoffs really are, and how hockey's shining values punch a hole thorough any April night. Friends, family and emotion.

The closer you are to the game the less you root for teams and the more you root for people. Barry Melrose, Darren Pang, Parm and the rest don't dislike or love any team. I get e-mails from time to time asking, "Why does Melrose hate the Wings and love the Avs?" And I get e-mails asking, "Why does Melrose hate the Avs and love the Wings?"
He doesn't hate either. Barry and Ray love the game and the players in it. Naturally, they love their family and friends a little more and want to see them do well.

So, as the Wild shocked the hockey world with their overtime win, Ray felt a burst of sorrow go through him. Not from a love of the Avs or a dislike of the Wild, but sorrow for Tony and Cammi. Then, in that avalanche of distress he felt for the Granatos, he realized Bruno scored the game winner. Sorrow and joy. All in an instant.

After NHL2Night that night, Ray told me: "This might be the year everything just falls into place for Minnesota and the only chance Bruno has to go this far and feel these things. He's not getting any younger. Tony will have more chances because Colorado will retool and he'll be back, so I'm more happy for Bruno than sad for Tony."

This is the Stanley Cup playoffs. None of us have a monopoly on the emotion that permeates from the soul of the game. None of our emotions is more important than any others, so love yours and appreciate others. Swim in the emotion, but don't drown. Watch the games with a smile, not a scowl. Yell, scream, smile and watch. Because it is only going to get better.

No. 1: What emotion stands out the most from beating the Red Wings?
Steve Rucchin:
A sense of relief. The last few years have been frustrating for the organization. It gives us a sense of hope for the future here.

Steve was born July 4, 1971, in Thunder Bay, Ontario, five days after "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" was released.

No. 2: Has any hockey moment topped your overtime game winner in Game 4?
Rucchin:
No. Most importantly it was in front of the home crowd. It's definitely the highlight of my career and, more importantly, a big win for the organization. It makes us more accountable to do well and that's always good.

Steve played for four years at the University of Western Ontario. He's 6-foot-2, 212 pounds.

No. 3: What was going on in the locker room before overtime of Game 4?
Rucchin:
We knew we were one shot away from winning the series. It was tough, but we knew we were still in a pretty good position especially being at home.

Steve wears No. 20 for no particular reason.

No. 4: What were you're the keys going into the Detroit series?
Rucchin:
We had to slow them down. It is no secret how they play -- skill and puck movement. We wanted to take away their speed in the neutral zone. They had a lot of shots, but a lot of them J-S was able to see. (Tomas) Holmstrom had a goal down low, but that was about it.

Steve enjoys golf and traveling. One of his favorite spots is Bora Bora. Bora Bora is located 150 miles northwest of Tahiti in the Leeward Society Islands.

No. 5: How much did my prediction of you guys winning the Red Wing series inspire you?
Rucchin:
That's what drove us. There is no question about it.

Steve wears Bauer skates and uses a Synergy stick.

No. 6: What is the team's approach against Dallas?
Rucchin:
There is no question it is going to be a different series. Dallas has it all. They have skill, size and players willing to grind it out. We played them tough during the regular season and are confident we can play with them. We are capable of beating this team. We look at the Edmonton series and know we can't be in the penalty box.

Despite playing just 54 games in two years because of injuries, the Ducks gave Steve a four-year contract before the season. He played all 82 games this season.

No. 7: How would you describe your coach, Mike Babcock?
Rucchin:
He always has us ready to play and he is a great communicator. He also gives us the opportunity to let him know what is on our minds and that goes a long way.

Steve has played in 534 NHL games -- all with the Ducks.

No. 8: We are both Disney employees. Disney sends me a family park pass and 8 individual passes a year. How many do you get?
Rucchin:
We get those. I don't get a chance to use them. I don't have kids. But, it is a nice perk for playing for Disney. Someday I'll go to Florida and check out Epcot. But, first I'm going to Dallas.

Predictions: Conference Semifinals
THE EAST
Well, as predicted in the first-round preview, the top four seeds in the East prevailed. It's the first time it's happened since in the East since 1996. Unlike last year, the East has a chance to WIN the Stanley Cup.

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Ottawa Senators
Ken Hitchcock and Jacques Martin were associate coaches for Team Canada for the 2002 Olympics, and know each other well from that experience. Some observers are saying the Flyers are at a disadvantage because of their tough (and long) series with Toronto. I say that that will work to their advantage. They will come out nasty and tough and should be able to get a win in Ottawa. Ottawa has a very good power play and if it sizzles, the Sens will be tough to beat. A lot of Flyers are playing well and, with revenge on their minds, will have energy, fire and focus. Tony Amonte will be better in this series. Mark Recchi will not. This will be a phenomenal series. The two best teams in the East. The Flyers have good centermen and I'm not a Radek Bonk fan. Flyers in 6.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
The Lightning are a lot like the Boston Bruins -- they have a cornerstone centerman, one scoring line and suspect defensemen. Like the Bruins, they had 36 wins during the regular season. The Bolts do have a better goalie than the Bruins, although the Bruins goalies played pretty well against the Devils. John Madden, the 2001 Selke Award winner, will go against Vincent Lecavalier's line. Patrik Elias should have a big series against a dicey Tampa Bay blueline corps. The Lightning will have a difficult time scoring because of New Jersey's defense and Martin Brodeur. I get the sense this series will look a lot like the Devils-Bruins. Nikolai Khabibulin does have outstanding numbers against the Devils, but he'll need to be better than Jean-Sebastien Giguere was against Detroit for the Bolts to have a chance. Devils in 5

THE WEST
The Wild and Canucks both came back from 3-1 deficits to win their series and prevent me from going 8-0 during the first round in the prediction department. I took the Avs in five and the Blues in six, because I thought they would both seize the day and win the series on home ice. Instead of carpe diem, it was CRAP-e diem -- and the we'll settle for 2-2 in the West and 6-2 overall.

Anaheim Mighty Ducks vs. Dallas Stars
This is a much more difficult matchup for the Ducks. Everything Detroit has, Dallas has -- plus a little more. The Stars have a better goalie, a tougher defense, bigger, meaner forwards, and Mike Modano is better than Sergei Fedorov. Pierre Turgeon is healthy again and ready to play, and Stars head coach Dave Tippett says he'll be shocked if Bill Guerin doesn't play. Of course, the same can be said about the Ducks and Oilers. The Ducks are better. The Stars better be at their intense best or they will lose this series. As tempting as the road in the West is to them, they better stay in the present and focus. They will. Stars in 6.

Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks
The 'Nucks against the Borg -- two very good skating teams. Vancouver is playing again like the team that was one of the NHL's best during a long stretch of the regular season. Dan Cloutier is not an issue. Todd Bertuzzi was my MVP pick because I felt he is unique in the way he gives Markus Naslund room. The Wild are dangerous because they are a single thinking organism that plays as one and are lightly sprinkled with talented features to win games. Marian Gaborik's speed, Pascal Dupuis' slap shot, Richard Park's wrist shot and the will of Wes Walz. I was prepared to pick Vancouver over Colorado, so I'll take them over Minnesota. Canucks in 7.

1. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim Mighty Ducks: A .965 save percentage against the Red Wings is still the best first-round performance of the playoffs, although it seems like it happened two months ago. He'll need to repeat that to beat the Stars.

2. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning: He is the reason why the Lightning won their first playoff series. He and his teammates will see more talented defensemen against the Devils.

3. Derian Hatcher, Dallas Stars: Yes, Sergei Zubov is more talented and creative, but while he does dopey things once in a while, Derian Hatcher is a presence, a big, nasty, tough defenseman who strikes fear in opponents. It's what the Red Wings lack. You don't fear for your personal safety when you play the Wings. With Hatcher, players fear for their safety. That is a valuable component to team success.

4. Mark Recchi, Philadelphia Flyers: Best series of his life -- six goals and three assists against the Maple Leafs. Probably should be the captain of the Flyers. He and all of his teammates seem to have a collective will about them that smells like a Stanley Cup.

5. The Borg: The Minnesota Wild are like those Star Trek creatures. Like a single-cell organism, they are a unified culture of thought, looking to improve their status by adding others to their union. They embody imperialism. They are one mind with many bodies. The Avs got Bjorn Borged.

John,
As a backyard rink rat myself the past 5 years, I loved your backyard rink column (April 14). You captured perfectly the emotions of watching the rink recede into the ground for another season, too soon before the playoffs start. I, too, have enjoyed a New Year's evening skate and several others well into the early morning. Sometimes, when I have to pull myself off the rink so I can get out of bed the next morning, I am convinced that God will have one heck of a backyard rink waiting for us in heaven.
Bob Wittmann
Lansing, Mich.

John,
I hope this doesn't sound too cheesy, but I really needed to hear/read your point about mainstream media ignoring hockey and to focus on how it makes me feel, so thank you. I grew up in Texas before the Stars arrived and didn't know how great hockey could be until I moved north to Iowa. Des Moines has a great USHL hockey team and I've been a fan since my first game. I have always been a fan of both football and basketball, but neither gets me truly excited the way hockey does. I'm just glad to know that there are others like you out there. Keep up the good work, and thanks again.
Daren Jaques

John,
Who do you think are the leading candidates for the head coach's position with the Rangers? What are the chances of Scotty Bowman being lured out of retirement to take the job?
Frank Starnella
Tulsa, Okla.

I think the leading candidate is assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld. Herb Brooks is a possibility. Scotty Bowman? Intriguing. He said he misses hockey more than he thought. This would be a monster challenge, but the money would be outstanding and the reward grand. I don't think Glen Sather wants to coach, but the team started to get it the second half of the season. With that momentum in mind, I say either Sather or Schoenfeld will coach the Rangers next season.

John,
I am an ordained member of the Order of the Holy Shnikey. My fellow members and I have taken the following vows: to play hockey, to watch hockey, to talk hockey. Our belief is that salvation is attained in three sequential steps: the poke check, the headman pass, and the one-timer. Our sacred cloister is the backyard hockey rink. You are our Holy Father and spiritual leader. We await your instructions. Most Holy Father, what will it take for the Washington Caps to go from a talented team to a Stanley Cup winning team?
John
Boston

My son, John, the Caps need a big, nasty centerman and a major upgrade on defense. As far as your instructions? Moisturize. That's all. Just moisturize.

Bucci,
The White Stripes "Seven Nation Army" is a great song.
The Rangers are my favorite hockey team.
Fedorov is my favorite non-Ranger player.
I hate Colorado.
The Avs will win the Cup.
My ear hurts.
Brandon C.
New York

Idlewild's "American English" is a great song. I love all 30 teams, equally. Mats Sundin is my favorite non-Ranger player. I love Colorado, especially Coors Field. The Avs won't win the Cup. My right bicep tendon is a bit strained. I got that lifting my 90-pound son who keeps falling asleep in my bed watching the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Butch,
Do you think the Red Wings will hold on to Fedorov (should they)?
Chris
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

I don't think the Wings should or will hold on to Sergei Fedorov. His career has jumped the shark. Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch is probably doing his Patrick Swayze Dirty Dancing routine with any willing partner after Fedorov turned down $50 million over five years. He has a cool name, a cool number, and used to shag with a hot tennis player. But, does he make his wingers better? He'll be 34 in December. And a fresh start would probably be better for him.

Dear Mr. Buccigross,

I hope you are ready to eat some serious crow. I mean, how wrong can you be, thinking the Red Wings would push the Ducks to six games? Goes to show what you know!

David Rollman
Denver

John,
I grew up a punk rocker and I still am, although I have a good paying day job. I have always felt that hockey and punk had similarities in their attitudes. I was trying to explain this to someone only last week. You are a prophet and a mind reader.
Chris
San Diego

Chris, I am also a licensed massage therapist and part-time jackhammer operator. How great would it be if there were a hockey player named Jack Hammer. He'd be No. 32, play for the Flyers, and all the girls from South Jersey would wear his sweater.

John,
I came across two otters in Ken's extended family the other day. They're concerned with the amount of attention he is getting and the subsequent inflation of Ken's ego.
Jason Brock

Who do you think gave me the inside info on the Red Wings-Ducks series? Do you know what it's like to live with an otter that understands the intricacies and subtleties of Stanislav Chistov -- and then boasts about it? Now, all I hear is that I should have listened to his prediction for the Canucks-Blues series. Ken says it's the Year of the Otter and Marc Crawford's hair is an obvious tribute to otters everywhere.

John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

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