Not even Henrik Lundqvist is safe from the acid tongue of Mike Milbury (inset), who speaks his mind in the NBCSN NHL studio. PHOTO BY AP
Predicting the winner of Lightning-Rangers Game 7 is a much easier assignment than anticipating what will come out of Mike Milbury’s mouth Friday night.
Nearly one year ago, we anointed Milbury, who yakks out of NBCSN’s NHL studio, not only the most intimidating analyst on television but equally fearless and unpredictable. Nothing has changed since he won our much-coveted endorsement.
With a constant spray of verbal venom, Milbury still pisses people off. He is a dour operator who rarely genuflects, not even to a King named Henrik Lundqvist. Not before Game 6, or after the Rangers staved off elimination with a dominating 7-3 win in Tampa Tuesday night.
On this occasion Milbury’s attitude further endeared him to pom-pom waving Rangers fans, some disguised as hockey analysts and Valley of the Stupid Gasbags, who already despise him. Tough.
On NBCSN’s Game 6 pregame, Keith Jones, who shares the same studio air with Milbury and host Liam McHugh, said if the Rangers were able to win they would take Game 7, too, mainly because of Lundqvist and his team’s success in do-or-die Gulag playoff tilts. Milbury snapped on Jones: “I disagree with everything you say.”
Then he quickly revealed what his thoughts on what past Rangers conquests mean in these situations moving forward.
“The pressure is all on the Rangers,” he said. “History be dammed.” Milbury continued on, saying it would be advantageous for Tampa to end the series in six, but moving on to a Game 7 it would be foolish for Lightning coach Jon Cooper to waste any time focusing his team on Lundqvist’s elimination efficiency.
“You don’t have to be sitting there talking about the wonders of Henrik Lundqvist,” Milbury said sarcastically. “Or how he’s got such a wonderful record.”
The beat went on with Jones calling Lundqvist “a special goaltender,” who is looking at returning to his second consecutive Final to complete unfinished business. “He (Lundqvist) is going to be great in this game (6),” Jones said. “He’s going to be even better in Game 7…”
Milbury (interrupting): “Lundqvist is also the goaltender who gave up six goals in consecutive games to this very same team in this very same series.”
Even on the postgame, after the Rangers’ win, Milbury was not bowing to the King. This time, NBCSN brought former goalie Brian Boucher in to go mouth-to-mouth with Milbury. Boucher credited Lundqvist with a fine performance, especially while preserving a 2-1 lead.
“I didn’t see the game that way… I just didn’t think there was an abundance of tough saves (by Lundqvist),” Milbury said. “… This wasn’t a game he stole. His teammates took it for him. He was just a participant in the process. This was not a game where he deserves the (Broadway) hat.”
A participant in the process?
FILE – In this April 8, 2005, file photo, New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury leaves after an NHL hockey general managers meeting at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Mich. A spokesman for former Boston Bruins player and coach Milbury said on Friday, Dec. 23, 2011, that his client won’t face criminal charges for a confrontation he had with a 12-year-old boy after a youth hockey game. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
Boucher disagreed strongly, prompting kudos from McHugh for standing his ground. “Yeah,” Boucher said, “but he (Milbury) might beat me up.”
Or label him “marshmallow soft,” like he did to Rick Nash during the Caps series. “Show me something, for cryin’ out loud,” Milbury said.
Or “probably want to hurt him in some painful and permanent way,” a fate Milbury envisioned for Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry.
And proving he’s not confined to just ripping outsiders, Milbury put the smack
down on the people he works with who are behind the scenes. Coming back from a commercial break late in Tuesday’s marathon postgame show (Is it over yet?), the camera caught Milbury leaning forward and stretching.
“Nobody tells me we are coming to camera?” Milbury, incredulously, asked. “I was just taking a little breather. It’s late. I’m old. Geez. Give me a hint back there (in the control room) . . .”
McHugh: “You know when they say 3-2-1?”
Milbury: “I didn’t get that.”
No, no one is ever going to mistake Milbury for one of those mute-button inspirations, X’s and O’s technocrats who speak coach-eese and are afflicted with the analytics epidemic. They are supposedly what’s happening, seen and heard in all sports. You know who they are.
They, and the suits who employ them, have become so concerned with “breaking things down,” proving they know the game inside out they forgot these telecasts are supposed to actually be entertaining. What a novel concept. If this was a priority, ratings might even be lifted by eyeballs who would return after tuning out when presented with telecasts desperately needing subtitles.
That’s not ever the case with Milbury, whose means of communication is a two-by-four, not a statistics manual. He’s entertaining. No matter who he offends.
Even a King.
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