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Blackhawks Or Ducks: Whom Will The Lightning Face In NHL Finals?


BJ Leiderman writes our theme music including this.


SIMON: This is BJ's "Rhapsody In Blue." Huge sports news this week of course has been about the FIFA scandal. Our man Tom Goldman has been covering this story each and every hour. But also, last night, some other sports news - the Tampa Bay Lightning won a spot in the NHL Finals, and tonight we'll find out if they'll take the ice against the Chicago Blackhawks or the Anaheim Ducks. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It is always a pleasure.

SIMON: Let's start with FIFA but the game. Women's World Cup gets underway in Canada next Saturday. A real soccer question first or futbol if you prefer; who's the team to beat?

GOLDMAN: Well, you're going to think I'm a homer here but USA. The Americans are ranked second to Germany, Scott, but playing very well right now; a lot better than last year when they went through a stretch of flat, uninspired soccer, but they brought it around. They seem to be peaking at the right time. A couple of weeks ago, they had a dominating performance in a 5 to 1 win over Mexico, and the U.S. hopes to keep it rolling today against the Korea Republic in the final sendoff match before heading to Canada. And, you know, for all its greatness, and the U.S. has been the standard bearer in women's soccer since the early 1990s, the Americans haven't won the World Cup since that seminal victory in the Rose Bowl in 1999, and they want this badly. Super-duper star, not just a superstar, but super-duper star Abby Wambach, who turns 35 in a couple days, wants this to complete her very full resume.

SIMON: And let me drag this in; don't Sepp Blatter and FIFA have a history with the women's game too?

GOLDMAN: They sure do. Back in 2004, el Presidente Blatter, in his inimitable, tone-deaf style, suggested the women's game could be improved by the players wearing tighter shorts. Then more recently...

SIMON: (Laughter) I'm sorry. Oh, my word. Yeah, OK.

GOLDMAN: I know; gather yourself. Then more recently, FIFA's directive that this upcoming World Cup be played on artificial turf prompted a lawsuit by the top women players. They claim discrimination, but the women withdrew the suit after FIFA delays and the World Cup fast approaching. There's still private anger but publicly, the women say they've moved on and they'll deal with it. You hope there aren't more injuries; natural grass is much easier on the body.

SIMON: Let's move on to hard surface - ice hockey. Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Rangers 2-0 last night. What kind of game was it? Not New York's game, let's put it that way.

GOLDMAN: Tough, physical, a lot of defense, very few shots on goal early on. And then in the third period, Tampa Bay struck twice. The first goal, turned out to be the winner, was agonizing for the Rangers and Rangers fans. It looked like the fabulous Henrik Lundqvist, the New York goal tender who'd been unbeatable in Game 7 on home ice in Madison Square Garden - looked like he stopped it but it trickled through his legs; so Tampa Bay into the Stanley Cup finals.

SIMON: Here come the Hawks - the Blackhawks; another Game 7 against the Anaheim Ducks. How mortifying that one of the original NHL franchises has to play a team named after an Emilio Esteves movie, OK? Not even an Orson Welles film. But you're from - you're an Oregonite; you know ducks can be mighty.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Quack. Yeah, ducks can be mighty and Anaheim has been and so have the Blackhawks. This has been a must-see series; close, well played, lots of excitement. It's reflected in the game scores; four of the six games have been decided by one goal. Three of the games have gone to overtime, and they've alternated wins. Ducks have won the odd-numbered games, the Blackhawks the even-numbered meaning momentum hasn't been a factor and meaning Game 7 tonight - uh-oh Chicago.

SIMON: Here come the Hawks. Sorry, I couldn't resist, it pours out of me naturally. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks very much for being with us.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.