Vancouver tries to stay alive
VANCOUVER, British Columbia, April 18 (UPI) -- Vancouver looks to avoid elimination Friday night when it hosts St. Louis in Game Five of their Western Conference quarterfinal series.
The only other game Friday is in Tampa, where the Lightning entertain Washington. The teams split the first four games of their Eastern Conference series, with each winning twice on the road.
The Canucks would like to win anywhere at this point.
In contention most of the season for the top seed in the West, they slipped to No. 4, and now are one loss away from an early summer.
The biggest problem for the Canucks has been their offense, which has totaled only four goals in the first four games of the series, despite the presence of Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, and Brendan Morrison, who make up one of the NHL's best lines.
It got so bad for Naslund, Bertuzzi, and Morrison, they were split up at times during a 4-1 loss in Game Four on Wednesday. If they get it together in time, they could help Vancouver to its first series win since 1995.
As far as lightning striking twice, the Canucks have lost each of their last three first-round series since 1995, but the win was in a seven-game set with the Blues in the only other postseason series between the two.
The Blues are seeking their third straight first-round victory. Although they have the longest active playoff streak in professional sports at 24 years in a row, they have made it past the first round just once since 1986.
While he has helped shut down Vancouver's top scoring line, Weight also leads the team in scoring with three goals and four assists.
Martin St. Louis paces the Lightning with three goals and three assists. He scored twice in Wednesday's 3-1 win in Washington, which evened the series at two games apiece.
It also kept the teams winless on home ice in the series.
The Lightning will look to break the trend as they try to reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time in two postseason trips.
The Capitals, back in the playoffs for the first time since they reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998, are trying to buck history. They opened a 1996 first-round series with two wins in Pittsburgh, then dropped the next four.
The only other remaining Eastern Conference series resumes Saturday, when Philadelphia hosts Toronto in Game Five. The Flyers evened the series Wednesday with a triple-overtime victory.
Ottawa and New Jersey, the top-two seeds in the East, both advanced Thursday.
Two Western Conference series can be locked up Saturday.
A win away from moving on, the top-seeded Dallas Stars host Edmonton in Game Six, and third-seeded Colorado entertains the Minnesota Wild in Game Five.
Ridnour, Jackson announce intentions
Ridnour, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, said he has submitted a letter requesting early entry into the NBA draft, although he will not be signing with an agent. That will allow him to return to school if he decides to before the June 19 deadline.
Jackson said he is staying in school for his senior season.
Ridnour, a 6-2 point guard, became only the second player in conference history to be named Player of the Year and tournament MVP. He was second in the league with 19.7 points per game, and first with 6.6 assists per.
He set or matched three school records this past season, established a Pac-10 mark by hitting 62 consecutive free throws, set a school record with 218 assists, and tied another with 63 steals.
On the school's all-time lists, Ridnour ranks ninth in scoring (1,399 points), third in assists (500), second in steals (150), and third in three-pointers (203).
Ridnour's favorite target has been Jackson, a versatile 6-7 guard, who was the only player in the Pac-10 this past season to rank among the top 10 in scoring, rebounds, assists, and steals.
Jackson averaged 16.0 points and 6.9 rebounds as a junior. He is 11th in school history in scoring (1,314 points), fifth in steals (121), and ninth in assists (285).
The two led Oregon to the Pac-10 tournament title in March. The Ducks lost to Utah in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Knee surgery for Mike Anderson
DENVER, April 18 (UPI) -- Mike Anderson has become the latest veteran running back of the Denver Broncos to undergo knee surgery.
A team spokesman said Anderson, 29, underwent arthroscopic surgery Wednesday on his right knee to remove torn cartilage. His expected recovery time is 3-4 weeks.
Anderson played in 15 games and started 12 as the Broncos' fullback last season, rushing for 386 yards and two touchdowns on 84 carries while adding 18 receptions for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
He was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2000, and has rushed for 2,551 yards and 21 touchdowns on 556 carries in 47 games over the course of his three-year career. He ranks seventh on Denver's all-time rushing list, and has also caught 49 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns.
Anderson was drafted by the Broncos out of Utah in the sixth round, 189th overall, in 2000. He hurt his knee during the team's offseason program last week, and is expected to miss its next minicamp, May 9-11.
He is the third of Denver's heralded trio of running backs to have knee surgery in the past two years. The others were Terrell Davis and Olandis Gary.
NBA playoffs begin Saturday
SAN ANTONIO, April 18 (UPI) -- The 2003 NBA playoffs begin Saturday afternoon, with five first-round series openers may last nearly 13 hours.
There are three more openers Sunday, completing a marathon schedule that is sure to disrupt some weekend family plans.
The first round has been expanded from best-of-five series to best-of-seven, which may give a team that loses a home game early in the series more time to regroup.
"I think a seven-game series benefits us because I think it will be tough for any team to beat us four times in seven games," said Sacramento guard Mike Bibby, whose team hosts Utah in Saturday's finale.
"When you are involved in a five-game series, you know how important early games are," said Coach Larry Brown, whose fourth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers host No. 5 New Orleans on Sunday night. "I don't take it any differently in a seven-game series. I don't coach any differently, to be honest with you. I think we have to be prepared to play right from the get-go because, in the past, we've given up the home court pretty quickly."
Since the playoffs moved to a Saturday start in 2000, the first round has been spread over two weeks, with as much as four days off between some games.
For example, the Kings host the Jazz on Saturday and Monday before the series shifts to Salt Lake City for two games the following Saturday and Monday.
"I think that (stinks)," said Kings guard Bobby Jackson. "We've got too much time off. I'd rather get the games out of the way. We've just got to be focused and come ready to play."
The team that looks most ready to play is San Antonio, which stormed to the best record in the NBA. The Spurs host the Phoenix Suns in a Western Conference series on Saturday.
Led by reigning MVP Tim Duncan, the Spurs (60-22) went 41-9 after Jan. 1 to catch the Dallas Mavericks for the Midwest Division title, the league's top mark, and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
San Antonio made a similar run in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign, when it won 31 of its last 36 games to claim the best record and 15-2 in the postseason on the way to its only NBA title.
The Spurs had trouble with the Suns during the regular season, dropping three of four meetings, with their only win coming in overtime.
"When a team beats you three out of four times, it concerns you going into the playoffs," said San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich, one of just two playoff coaches with a championship ring. "If we beat someone three out of four, I'd be concerned. They've given us problems."
Phoenix is coached by Frank Johnson, who is entering his first playoffs.
Saturday's action starts with a pair of matchups in the Eastern Conference, where no team won more than 50 games.
Second-seeded New Jersey (49-33) begins defense of its conference crown by hosting No. 7 Milwaukee (42-40), and third-seeded Indiana entertains sixth-seeded Boston (44-38).
NBA honors handed out for April
Garnett won the Western Conference award for April after averaging 21.0 points, 8.0 assists, and 2.0 blocks in helping the Timberwolves earn the fourth seed in the West.
Garnett, who also was honored in February, recorded his NBA-leading sixth triple-double of the season with 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 12 assists in a victory over Portland on April 6.
O'Neal was Eastern Conference Player of the Month in January, and earned the distinction again in April by averaging 25.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. He scored a career-high 38 points in a win over the Chicago Bulls on April 8.
Indians ink Blake Stein
CLEVELAND, April 18 (UPI) -- Righthander Blake Stein has signed a minor league contract with the
In his career, he has been traded for Mark McGwire and released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Stein was released by the lowly Devil Rays at the end of spring training after signing as a free agent in December. He spent the previous 3 1/2 seasons with the Kansas City Royals, who acquired him from the Oakland Athletics in a deal for Kevin Appier.
Stein, 29, first became a household name as a Double-A prospect on July 31, 1997, when the St. Louis Cardinals sent him and two other pitchers to Oakland for McGwire.
While he showed promise in the low minor league levels, Stein has not blossomed in the major leagues, going 21-28 with a 5.41 ERA in 117 games, 66 starts. He was 0-4 with a 7.91 ERA in 27 games, 25 out of the bullpen, last year.
He will report to extended spring training in Winter Haven, Fla., before being assigned within the organization.
Franchitti to miss Indy 500
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., April 18 (UPI) -- Dario Franchitti will miss at least the Indianapolis 500 following his recent motorcycle wreck.
Franchitti is the former CART star who is one of the headline drivers for Andretti/Green Racing in the IRL IndyCar Series.
The team made the announcement Friday, two weeks after Franchitti broke a vertebra during a crash in his hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland. The L1 stable burst fracture does not require surgery, but Franchitti will wear a brace for some three months.
Shortly after the crash, Franchitti pulled out of the Honda Indy 300 in Japan. The resident of Nashville, Tenn., with actress-wife Ashley Judd, was visiting family on his way to Japan.
More importantly, Franchitti will miss the marquee event in open-wheel racing, and the first for the Andretti team, the Indy 500. He also might be sidelined for the three IndyCar Series events in June.
"I'm pretty devastated right now, between not being able to compete in the Indy 500 and possibly missing a couple of the other races," he said. "I'm going to work hard to get back in the car as fast as possible."
Franchitti said he was experiencing minor pain, and would do whatever Dr. Terry Trammell, his orthopedic surgeon at Orthopedics Indianapolis says.
"Dr. Trammell knows what he is doing," Franchitti said. "So I will listed to him and do whatever possible to get back in the car."