Milan 2, Berlin 1 – The Guerriero pulled off a shocker in knocking the second-seeded Berlin Smurfs out of the playoffs on Saturday. Andrew “Il Hamburgerscassinatore” Hammond played a major part in the success story, making 33 saves in three separate wins in the series, including Saturday’s. The only goal he allowed in the contest was a screened shot from Staffan Kronwall that went in about 13 minutes into the game. Luca Sbisa, a Milan defenseman, tied the game in the second period and Tomas Zaborsky tallied for the second time in the last two games, his third-period deke-and-shot goal holding up as the winner. Defensemen Danny Dekeyser (5 blocks and 3 hits) and Jake Muzzin (2 blocks and 5 hits) were the most noticeable Guerriero in the game. Milan and Hammond will travel to Slovakia to open a second-round series with Bratislava this week. The last game of the Milan-Berlin series was a rough one with 21 penalties, but there were no powerplay goals. For Berlin, the loss means that an off-season full of questions and some turmoil has begun. Season 7 saw the German team make personnel moves that signaled a shift to a younger group. Kronwall, Vadim Shipachyov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Andrey Bykov appear to be the players on whom GM Guybrush Threepwood has pinned his hopes, but the team is obviously unsettled. There also appear to be some personality conflicts in the way. Young Swede Erik Forssell, who fans anxiously expect to surpass the potential he doesn’t have, was outspoken between Games 6 and 7. Forssell, who almost put up 10 points in the regular season, was benched twice in playoff series and he didn’t take it well. Forssell blasted coach Adam Oates in public, claiming the team was not well prepared for Milan. Forssell “rose” to fame when he was allegedly nearly poisoned in what has become known as The Cookie Incident. Now it seems that he and the coach cannot work together, although both have contracts taking them into Season 8 as Smurfs. Threepwood has a mini mutiny on his hands and he must find a solution if the Smurfs are to remain among the league’s elite teams. In the meantime, Threepwood has been focused on trying to change history. In Game 4 of the series, Jeff Carter of Berlin was credited with a goal that Italian fans disputed after seeing a video replay. They thought the puck was clearly kicked into the net, but the refs, after a long review, allowed the goal to stand. It has since been discovered that the refs conferred with league executive Sepp Blatter – not video review officials – before reaching their decision. The fans hurled food and other objects onto the ice in what is now being called (and I mean as of right now) “Calzone Sunday.” Despite Threepwood’s persistent and generous lobbying, Blatter has refused to overturn the final scores of the last two Milan wins, saying only, “Guy has to realize I already have two summer homes in Germany. Why would I need a third?” League Secretary Rose had no comment when asked what Blatter’s real estate holdings had to do with hockey.
Athens 4, Paris 3 – The Milan surprise win wasn’t the only shocking result to come off Saturday’s schedule. Athens emerged from a hard-fought series with a narrow Game 7 win in an arena that has always been difficult for visitors. Athens summoned the Goddess Achelois to drive away the pain of playing without two injured defensemen (Alex Goligoski and Niklas Kronwall) and the valuable blueliners will now have a few days to heal more and get into the next series against Lisbon. On three separate occasions Saturday, Athens had a one-goal led, only to see Paris come back and tie the score. But Andrew Ladd’s goal with 3:22 remaining in the third period gave Athens a lead for which Paris had no answer. They tried. Oh, they tried, firing more shots at the Athens goal and Jaro Halak, but the Slovakian-born netminder held onto the lead, stopping 15 of 16 Paris shots in the third period. Veterans Dennis Seidenberg and Patrick Marleau were named the top two stars of the game, combining for 3 points and 8 shots on the Paris goal. Logan Couture and Loui Eriksson had a huge series for Athens. Couture scored more points (15) than any other EURO player in the first round of the playoffs and Eriksson (12 points) tied for second. For Paris fans, the loss was devastating. They became used to seeing the Rouges Eiffels march along through the regular season and deep into the playoffs. In Seasons 2 through 6, the team finished among the top 4 in the league, they won it all in Season 2 and made it to the Finals two other times, including last season against Minsk. This season, Paris finished 5th in the overall standings and they were the favorites against Athens. General Manager Ralph Booth has always shown a lot of faith in his group, and rightfully so. Paris is currently viewed as the most prestigious team in the league. And barring a lapse in patience and trust, they will be together again in Season 8 because almost the entire roster is signed through next season, although some players have options they could exercise to leave and seek employment in other places.