Blackhawks vs. Predators: Goaltending key to pivotal Game 5

Rinne.jpgChicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators
3:00 p.m. EDT, April 24, 2010
Live on NBC

Before the playoff series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville
Predators began, you just had a feeling that this would be a drawn out
affair. The Predators used great goaltending and a patient approach to
be successful during the season, a style of hockey that counters the
high powered attack of the Blackhawks.

With the Blackhawks headed into the postseason with questions in net and
on defense, especially with the loss of Brian Campbell, there Predators
had a more than decent chance of surprising and even upsetting who some
believe to be the Stanley Cup favorites.

After four games, and a 2-2 series tie, not much has changed in that
assumption. While dominated at times in two shutout losses, they’ve been
able to frustrate the Hawks enough to secure two big wins and head into
a pivotal Game 5 with the series tied. A win today, for either team,
and the series is in their control.

The questions is whether the Blackhawks can put together that mysterious
back-to-back win, as each team has been able to respond after a tough
loss. After Thursday’s shutout loss in Chicago, the Predators are hoping
that momentum will swing back in their direction. Per Bryan Mullen of
the Tennessean:

“You’re going to get those momentum swings all through the
Nashville captain Jason Arnott said. “We’ve seen that in this series.
It’s in their favor now. They’re going home after a win. But we’re
confident that our game is pretty good when we stick to our system,
especially on the road.”

The Blachawks have needed shutouts in each of their wins to secure the
victory, taking advantage of the Predators’ lack of scoring depth. Pekka
Rinne has been magnificent for the Predators and for a team that may be
without leading scorer Patrick Hornqvist for yet another game, he will
need to be their best player yet again.

Antti Niemi and Pekka Rinne have statistically been the best goaltenders
in the playoffs, and while the Predators have certainly managed to
frustrate the Hawks it’s been the surprising play of Niemi that will be
the key to a series win for the Blackhawks.

The Predators have the ability to stick with the Hawks as long as Rinne
is lights out in net yet have had troubles scoring goals even with a
higher than expected shot total. It’s been the play of Niemi that has
been the ultimate difference maker. He’s been able to quiet the questions about the Hawks’ goaltending woes, but with Pekka Rinne playing just as good on the other end of the ice the pressure will only mount.

This is the pivotal game of the series, and more so that in any other playoff series the goaltending will be key to whoever it is moves on.

Scroll Down For:

    The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

    Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
    Leave a comment

    It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

    But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

    “There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

    Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

    Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

    Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

    In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

    Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return


    After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

    Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

    Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

    Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

    While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

    Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

    McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

    Todd McLellan

    Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

    Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

    In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

    Some of the more choice quotes:

    “I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

    “When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

    It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

    Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

    They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

    Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

    “We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

    Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


    The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

    After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


    You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

    “It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

    “We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

    There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

    His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

    Not good.

    Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

    Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.