Biggest local story - BC wins hockey national championship (So shoot me, I'm biased)
Most pleasant surprise - the Bruins make the playoffs & push Montreal to the brink
Biggest disappointment - the much-ballyhooed Celtics start the playoffs 2-2
Most exciting game - Bruins vs. Montreal, Game 6: Bruins win, 5-4
Player of the month - Manny Ramirez, who has absolutely gone off this year and is approaching HR 500
Overrated event of the month - NFL Draft
Underrated event of the month - NCAA hockey tournament
QUOTE OF THE MONTH – "THERE IS NO CALL!" – Jack Edwards, after a non-penalty call against the Canadiens in Game 6
To me, April 2008 will be remembered as the month that re-affirmed my belief that nothing is better than playoff hockey at its best.
And no team perfected high-flying, exciting, offensive-minded hockey like the Boston College Eagles late in the season. BC scorched its opponents in the Hockey East tournament by a combined score of 21-6, then bulldozed powerhouses Minnesota and Miami in the NCAA regionals to earn a berth in the Frozen Four. The offense didn't slow down in Denver, as BC smoked North Dakota 6-1, then outlasted hated rival Notre Dame, 4-1, to bring home the third national championship in school history.
The on-ice fun didn't stop then, as the Boston Bruins brought hockey fever back to Boston for the first time in a long time with a scintillating first round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens - proving once again that Boston can and will get very excited over a good Bruins team.
Despite prognostications of doom, the Bruins did indeed show up at Le Centre Bell for game 1 of the playoffs on April 10, but they were blown out by Montreal, 4-1. In game 2, however, the Canadiens' armor cracked. The B's trailed 2-0 in the 3rd period, but they dominated most of the game play. Finally, they cashed in with two goals to force overtime. Unfortunately, the Habs drew an overtime power play on a patented swan dive by Markov, and cashed in shortly thereafter with a game-winning goal.
Game 3 in Boston was a wild, nail-biting affair. I was there in person, and I can attest to how absolutely insane the atmosphere was. Milan Lucic put the Bruins on the board in the first period, but Alexander Kostitsyn evened it up with a second period tally. The teams remained deadlocked until overtime, when Marc Savard gave the B's their first win over Montreal in 13 games:
A 1-0 game 4 loss derailed the B's momentum, and hope appeared lost. But the Bruins regained their composure and blew the doors of the Canadiens in game 5 with four 3rd period goals. This thrilling, season-saving win unleashed a wave of Bruins frenzy that I hadn't seen since I was just a wee lad. I went online to buy tickets to game 6. Tickets were previously so easy to get at face value that 6-8,000 Canadiens fans were able to bus down from Montreal and infest the Garden. Now, all of a sudden, a ticket was an impossible commodity to find: people were selling nosebleed seats for $150 on Craigs list, and trading tickets to the Celtics playoffs, Red Sox field box seats, and just about everything short of their wedding rings to get in the door for the highly-anticipated Game 6.
As it turned out, the game proved to be very, very worth it. Words can't describe the insanity of the game, but this video can:
The victory resulted in wide-spread looting, mass riots, and burning cop cars. Oh wait, I'm sorry, that's what Montreal did after they won game 7. Still, Bruins fans had quite a time after game 6:
Bruins Fever then shifted into overdrive. I was in Boston for the Sox game at Fenway the next day, and I was one of many people rocking a Bruins shirt. There was a definite buzz in the air.
Sadly, once again, the Bruins were buzz-kills, losing 5-0 in the deciding seventh game. But Bruins fans can rest easy knowing that unlike the last time the Bruins lost in game 7 to Montreal, the future looks very bright for the black and gold.
The Garden's other inhabitants, the Boston Celtics, closed out the regular season in dominating fashion in April, then opened up what all parties assumed would be a very easy four-game coast against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Unfortunately, nobody alerted the Hawks to the fact that this was a goddamn show; they think it's a goddamn fight.
The Hawks made themselves look silly by celebrating their game 3 win like it was the NBA championship, with confetti pouring down from the rafters, many man-hugs shared in the stands, and Al Horford taunting Paul Pierce as the clock ran out. Everyone figured the Celtics would exact their revenge by kicking da ATL to the curb in game 4. But it didn't happen. The Hawks tied the series at 2, and the potential early exit of the supposed-juggernaut Celtics has the early lead for 'May 2008's biggest story.'
Meanwhile, the smell of beer, grilled meats, homeless people, dirt, grass, and a low-IQ mass of humanity returned to Kenmore Square in April. No, it wasn't the start of classes at BU; it was baseball – the return of the world champion Boston Red Sox. The Sox raised their flag honoring the '07 champs:
…then proceeded to have a bang-up stretch in which they started 15-6 despite a four-nation road trip to start the season. Unfortunately, they have hit the skids as of late, losing 5 in a row to the LA Angels and the Tampa Bay Rays (nee Devil), but they are still locked in a 3-way tie for the AL East division lead.
Also, this guy right here:
…had an awesome month, making pitchers shudder in fear and perfecting his patented 'stand there with his arms raised' technique. It won't be long before Manny joins the 500 HR club. I wish every year was Manny's contract year.
The next person who complains about Manny Ramirez is getting smacked in the mouth. Yeah, he's a kooky one, but that's all part of what makes him the most fun player to watch in all of baseball. Watching him hit is like watching Monet paint or Mozart compose symphonies.
Elsewhere in New England sports, the Revolution kicked off their much anticipated 2008 campaign, with millions of locals hoping and praying that "this is the year." OK, not really. But after 3 consecutive losses in the MLS Cup final, the Revs hope to finally take the next step in '08. They got off to an encouraging start, ripping into the hated Houston Dynamo, 3-0. Gambian sensations Mansally and Nyassi brought new life to the Revs attack, which was beleaguered early by injuries to Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, and Wells Thompson.
Since the opener, the Revs have been up-and-down, but they sit in a decent spot after a month of competition with a 3-2-1 record and 10 points, 2 behind conference-leading Columbus.
There was plenty of interesting sports action outside of route 128 in April as well.
The most hyped event, of course, was the NCAA Final Four, which was met with pants-wetting glee by Dick Vitale and other ESPN personalities as the 2nd best thing to DOOK making it to the Final Four happened: all four #1 seeds made it to the Final Four, and one of them was UNC. It was talking-head heaven. People were dubbing it "The Greatest Final Four Ever" before tip-off. As such, I was greatly amused by the fact that the two semifinal games were absolute blowouts, with Memphis and Kansas wiping the floor with UCLA and UNC, respectively.
The final, however, lived up to expectations, as plucky underdog Memphis squandered a late lead against equally-plucky overdog Kansas, who nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force OT:
It truly was a great all-time highlight, and Kansas backed it up with a dominating OT performance, earning Jayhawk Nation a national championship.
Colleges across the nation also eagerly anticipated the annual ritual of spring football. Tens of thousands of fans packed the stadiums at places like Alabama, Nebraska, and Georgia to watch their teams participate in glorified practice sessions, confirming nationwide suspicions that there really is nothing to do in places like Alabama, Nebraska, and Georgia. BC had its spring game, in front of a frenzied (defined here as 'kind of awake') crowd of maybe 7,000, in which Chris Crane officially took the reins of the up-and-coming program.
Matt Ryan, BC's star quarterback, became saddled with the burden of high expectations, as he was arguably the highest-profile pick in this month's NFL draft. He was picked #3 by the Atlanta Falcons, who hope they can rebuild their franchise around Ryan. He seems like the kind of guy Southerners can really embrace: polite, hard-working, motivated, clean-cut, and white.
The Patriots addressed their biggest need during the NFL draft: they set Ellis Hobbs on fire. No, seriously, they drafted a mess of linebackers and cornerbacks, including Tennessee inside linebacker Jerod Mayo at #10 overall.
Internationally, soccer once again provided great theatre, as the European Champions League, the world's most watch professional sports competition, moved into the quarterfinal and semifinal stages.
English clubs Liverpool and Arsenal clashed in the quarterfinals in what would become an absolute game for the ages. For those unfamiliar with the Champions League, the playoff rounds are contested as two-game playoffs. Each team plays one game at home, and whoever scores the most total goals between the two games wins. If the teams are tied on total goals, whoever scores more goals on the road wins. If both teams have equal away goals, the game goes to overtime, then penalty kicks.
Here was the situation going into game 2: Liverpool and Arsenal tied 1-1 at Arsenal in the first leg. Arsenal came out swinging in the first fifteen minutes of game 2, scoring a precious away goal to go up 2-1. Liverpool equalized before halftime, then added a thunderbolt by Spanish sensation Fernando Torres to go up 3-2 at the 60 minute mark.
Then, all hell broke loose. Arsenal scored with less than ten minutes to play to tie the score at 3, but because they had more away goals, Arsenal was poised to advance to the semi-finals. But less than one minute later, Liverpool earned a penalty kick which their talisman, Steven Gerrard, knocked home to give Liverpool a 4-3 lead. Liverpool added a late insurance goal to earn the dramatic 5-3 victory.
Following the game, Grant had the runner-up for 'quote of the month: "Oh, so that's why British people like soccer. What a game."
I strongly encourage watching this video, if only to see the goals. Most of them came on incredible efforts.
Chelsea and Manchester United also won their quarterfinal matches to put 3 English teams in the final four. Spain's Barcelona FC topped Roma to punch their ticket to the semi-finals.
Both semifinal matchups are through game 1 – Liverpool and Chelsea are tied 1-1, while Man U and Barcelona are tied, 0-0.
Back at home, NASCAR had another uninspiring month, continuing the once-proud sanctioning body's death march. However, its most recent race bucked that trend, as Kyle Busch won an incredible race at Talladega, which featured 53 lead changes, laps clocked at over 200 MPH, and two late-race incidents which totally shook up the running order. Jeff Burton leads the points standings, but who cares? They're going to re-set the points for the Chase anyway.
The Spanish commentary makes this the most unintentionally funny video of all time:
The NHL playoffs continue to be the nation's most exciting event, with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on course for an all-Pennsylvania clash in the Eastern Conference Finals. Detroit continues to be heavily favored in the West.
With April coming to an end, the biggest stories in May are shaping up. Locally, the big question will be whether or not the Celtics can re-gain their once-dominant form, while the specter of RED SOX NATION!!!111 always looms large in the background. Nationally, the NHL and NBA playoffs will heat up, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes will go off, and an Indy 500 champion will be crowned. And internationally, a European champion will be crowned in soccer, while liberals and conservatives both will line up at torch relay sites all over the world for the right to throw rocks at the Olympic Torch.
The excitement never ends.