Stempniak: Trade was a welcome change

Stempniak1.jpgLee Stempniak has been set loose, like a man escaping prison after
years of purgatory. After every goal he scores for the Coyotes, I
picture Andy Dufresne
raising his arms to the sky
in the pouring rain after slogging 300
yards through filth to freedom.

Since being traded to the Coyotes,
Stempniak has 13 goals and 16 points in 14 games, with an outlandish
30% shooting percentage. He’s been named the NHL’s player of the month
for March, and has become an integral part of the Coyotes’ improbable
push for the top seed in the West. His plus-7 rating is what is most
impressive, by far the best of his career.

It’s the perfect
example of a new environment and a new team
freeing a frustrated player.

“I think (being
traded) was a welcome change,” Stempniak said Friday
after a Coyotes practice. “I certainly wasn’t ready to give up on being
in Toronto or quit on that team. … To come to a team like this was
really, really exciting. It’s a good team and a fresh start, and I’ve
been fortunate to have some success and find chemistry.”

At
27 goals, Stempniak has tied his career high for a season and has five
games to add to that total. It’s not just scoring goals though, coach
Dave Tippett says.

“He’s been tremendous. … He’s meshed very well with our guys. He’s
kind of a quiet personality, which is not bad having a quiet personality
and carrying a big stick.”

I’m sure being a quiet guy, an underwhelming personality of sorts,
fits much better in Tippett’s locker room in Phoenix. The pressure in
Toronto is tremendous, and making a move to a team like Phoenix can
really free a player up to just focus on what he does best: play hockey.
Ask Mike Ribeiro how that’s worked out for him.

Stempniak’s story — along with the Coyotes — is certainly one of
the highlights of the season. Who would have even contemplated a
sentence like that six months ago?

Scroll Down For:

    Predators eliminate Ducks, reach first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history

    5 Comments

    Colton Sissons made a serious argument that the Nashville Predators do, indeed, still have a No. 1 center.

    At least, he certainly played that way on Monday, generating a hat trick as the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks via a 6-3 win, taking the series 4-2.

    In doing so, the Predators advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

    That 6-3 score is very misleading. While Nashville managed 2-0 and 3-1 leads, there was plenty of drama in this one, as the Ducks did not go down easily. Cam Fowler tied it up 3-3 in the third period, briefly stunning a rowdy crowd in Nashville.

    Sissons was up to the task, however, settling down a bouncing puck on an otherwise stupendous Calle Jarnkrok pass to score the game-winner, notching a hat trick in the process. Sissons continues to be an unlikely hero for a Predators team dealing with the absence of Ryan Johansen (not to mention Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, and others).

    Two empty-netters inflated the score, and they also sapped drama from the closing moments, which must have been quite the relief considering how much resolve Anaheim showed.

    Peter Laviolette distinguishes himself as one of the NHL’s most underrated bench bosses, becoming just the fourth coach in league history to take three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. He couldn’t win it all with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he does have a ring thanks to his time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Perhaps he’ll take another one this spring?

    It’s quite the moment for GM David Poile, too, after trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban and Seth Jones for Johansen, among other pivotal moves.

    The Ducks might wonder what could have been if John Gibson played instead of Jonathan Bernier. Bernier struggled early, allowing two goals on the first three shots he faced and generally having a tough Game 6. Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, maintained his mostly great run in the playoffs; he protected a Predators lead even when the Ducks dominated long stretches of play.

    Now the Predators get a nice rest, as the Eastern Conference Final continues with a Game 6 on Tuesday (and possibly a Game 7 on Thursday).

    They’ll limp a bit toward that final round, but the Predators seem to be embracing new territory. And sometimes new heroes.

    Video: Ducks’ 3-3 goal survives goalie interference review

    Leave a comment

    When the Nashville Predators went up 3-1 in the third period, it seemed like they might finally put the Anaheim Ducks away in Game 6. The Ducks quickly responded with “Not yet.”

    Two minutes after that 3-1 goal, Chris Wagner kept Anaheim’s hopes alive with a surprising tally. Corey Perry then bumped Pekka Rinne, but he was able to reset before Cam Fowler scored the 3-3 goal 8:52 into the final frame (of regulation).

    In less than six minutes of game time, the tone of the contest changed rapidly. Now we’ll see if either team can get the next tally in the remaining minutes of the third or if the Stanley Cup Playoffs will see yet another overtime contest.

    Here’s the Wagner goal:

    You can see the 3-3 goal in the video above. Hold onto your seats.

    Update: Moments after this was published, Colton Sissons‘ hat-trick goal made it 4-3. Could there be even more drama? We’ll see …

    Game 6 is airing on NBCSN. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

    Coyotes’ Dylan Strome breaks Memorial Cup record with 7 points in game

    Getty
    1 Comment

    Dylan Strome’s journey to becoming a full-timer at the NHL level might be a little bumpy, but he continues to distinguish himself at other levels.

    In the case of Monday, it was setting a new Memorial Cup record. With four goals and three assists, Strome’s seven-point game set a new record as he helped the Eerie Otters pummel the Saint John Sea Dogs 12-5.

    They’ll face the Windsor Spitfires on Wednesday to determine which team goes to the tournament’s final round.

    The performance wasn’t lost on his brother Ryan Strome.

    Ducks dominate, but Predators enter third up 2-1

    Leave a comment

    So far, it seems like Jonathan Bernier playing instead of John Gibson for the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 has indeed been a pretty big deal.

    Bernier allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced against to start Game 6, putting the Ducks in an early hole. The Ducks have been absolutely dominating the contest since then, but only Ondrej Kase could get a puck beyond Pekka Rinne through the first 40 minutes.

    Seriously, the play’s been lopsided. Nashville managed a few shots after this tweet, yet it still tells much of the story.