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Straight talk irks Canucks

Milbury comments cut down Sedin duo

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / June 10, 2011

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Mike Milbury was not available for comment yesterday, the Versus/NBC analyst en route to Vancouver in advance of tonight’s Game 5 of the thrilling Stanley Cup Final between the Bruins and Canucks.

The former, at least, is good news in Vancouver, where they weren’t exactly putting down the welcome mat for Milbury at the airport. His commentary about the Canucks has raised the ire of Vancouver fans and media, particularly with his comment Wednesday night about the Bruins’ effective physical approach to defending high-scoring Canucks twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin during Game 4:

“By all means, stay in the face of Thelma and Louise — I mean Henrik and Daniel. Get in their way, make them pay. This series is starting to go our way.’’

Now, by saying “our way,’’ Milbury wasn’t implying that he’s in the Bruins’ corner; he frequently frames his comments by saying what he would if he were Claude Julien or Alain Vigneault. But an extensive search is not required to understand why Vancouver media and fans are claiming bias: Milbury played for and coached the Bruins and has served as a NESN analyst since 2007.

And his “Thelma and Louise’’ comment — referencing the 1991 movie starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis — clearly irked the Canucks, who were made aware of it following Game 4.

“I have no comment,’’ said Daniel Sedin, according to a story by The Province’s Tony Gallagher. “That’s so bad.’’

“I couldn’t care less about Mike Milbury and his analysis,’’ added defenseman Kevin Bieksa.

Never mind that Thelma and Louise were actually pretty tough and could probably convert on better than 5 percent of their power plays. Milbury has been on a Tim Thomas-like roll recently, and his I’m-going-to-say-what-I-believe approach makes for outstanding television. Versus and NBC want him to be entertaining and opinionated, and that is precisely what he has been. Consider two of Milbury’s other greatest hits during the Final:

■On Canucks nuisance Alexandre Burrows escaping suspension after biting Patrice Bergeron during Game 1: “If I had known in the late ’70s that it was OK to pig out on human flesh, I would have eaten Guy Lafleur. This is a disgraceful call by the league. This guy should have been suspended. They’re impacting this series by a non-call. It was not very courageous.’’

■On the Bruins scoring four goals in the second period to break open Game 3 (his comments came during the second intermission): “What you’ve done tonight so far is sent a message to this smug, arrogant group from Vancouver that you want it more than they do. There comes a time, maybe with five minutes left in this game, maybe with seven minutes left, that you get a chance to send a message to someone who maybe didn’t get it. That’s what I’m going to say to this team.’’

While Milbury’s words have generated plenty of buzz as a central element of Versus’s terrific coverage so far, it’s neither his commentary nor the other enjoyable aspects of the telecasts (if there’s another announcer who is as skilled at calling a particular sport as Mike Emrick is at hockey, please share the name) that have local fans tuning in at record rates.

The Bruins have captured the imagination of Boston fans during this postseason run, and Versus continued to benefit in Game 4, earning the highest local rating ever for an NHL game on the network with a 23.64 household rating in the Boston market. That topped the 23.37 that Game 3 delivered in Boston.

Marv still marvelous The popularity of play-by-play broadcaster Gus Johnson, particularly among younger demographics, is no mystery; his enthusiasm for the game at hand matches and likely often exceeds that of the viewer at home.

It seems genuine enough; let’s put it at 75 percent in-the-moment amazement, 25 percent this’ll-get-me-on-YouTube shtick.

That connection with viewers is a major reason Fox quickly hired Johnson for a prominent role calling the NFL and college basketball after he departed CBS in a contract dispute.

But it must be said that CBS upgraded in essentially replacing him this week with Marv Albert, who will call NFL games (presuming there are NFL games this year).

Albert, who called NFL games for NBC from 1979-97, will continue in his lead role on TNT’s Thursday night NBA coverage. He will also continue to call NCAA men’s basketball tournament games for CBS and Turner Sports.

Johnson deserved the acclaim he got at CBS, and he’s a good fit for Fox. But Albert, an all-time great still on top of his game, is an upgrade on just about anyone he follows. That includes Johnson.

Big pregame plans With no Red Sox game Monday, NESN is ramping up its Bruins coverage even more for Game 6 at TD Garden, adding a 90-minute pregame show to the lineup.

Anchor Kathryn Tappen will be joined as usual on set by Gord Kluzak and Barry Pederson, while Tom Caron and Andy Brickley will be live from FanFest.

Caron, recognized nowadays for his duties on Red Sox pregame and postgame programming, used to host the Bruins pregame show.

The last time Caron held the gig full time, in 2004, his analyst was Cam Neely, who seems to have found his post-playing-career calling elsewhere.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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