Capitals vs. Canadiens Game 7: Keys to the game

HabsFan.jpgIn case you didn’t know, last night was the first of back-to-back
Game 7’s. While the Detroit Red Wings taking on the Phoenix Coyotes
isn’t exactly as momentous a game as the Habs having a chance to knock
off the Capitals, there are some similarities between the two games.

Despite
the Coyotes heading into the game with the better record and home ice
advantage, there were many who considered the Red Wings to be the better
team. After all, the Wings had finished the regular season as the
hottest team in the NHL and had fought back to the 5th seed after a
first half of the season riddled with injuries. Add to that the overall
talent level and experience of the Red Wings, and it’s easy to see why
the Coyotes were considered the underdogs.

Yet the Coyotes were
able to take the Red Wings to the brink with a Game 7, as they at times
surprised Detroit with their tenacity and overall team approach to the
game. The Coyotes won as a team, yet the Red Wings were only going to do
as good as their superstars would perform. In the end, Detroit
dominated a guarded and ginger Coyotes team that seemed deathly afraid
of making any mistakes in the biggest game of the season. The Red Wings’
stars took over on their way to a 6-1 rout.

After the jump, some
lessons for both teams headed into tonight’s game that can be learned
from Detroit’s victory:

Don’t stray from what’s been
successful

Save for one game, the Canadiens have been able
to surprise the Capitals by jumping out to early leads and then
stifling the Capitals from there on out. In their first two wins, and
for the first 40 minutes of Game 2, it was the defense of the Habs that
did the trick, frustrating Alex Ovechkin and company to no end on their
way to surprising victories. In Game 6, it was the superb play of
Jaroslav Halak that did the trick, as he was calm and collected in net
and never out of control. Still, Ovechkin was held in check once again
by the defensive play of the Habs. This is what they’ll need to do once
more. It’s when they’ve strayed from this philosophy that they’ve gotten
themselves in trouble.

Weather the early storm

With
the Capitals facing a do-or-die game, on home ice, expect each and
every player on that team to hit the ice like they were shot out of a
cannon. The Capitals will be hungry and pissed off and fueled by what is
sure to be an insane home crowd. The key is not lose control when the
pressure is on and take bad penalties.  The Coyotes were able to
somewhat stay in the game early on, but found themselves down two quick
goals thanks to putting a talented team on the power play. Don’t play
with fire.

Don’t wait to “turn it on”

The
Capitals have been waiting to play a full 60 minute game for the entire
first round. Despite what their Game 3 and 4 wins may say, even the
Capitals will admit they weren’t their best overall effort. The Capitals
have had this issue since returning from the Olympic break, really, as
they’ve literally had nothing to play for the past month of the season.
Now they’re being asked to play their best hockey when it counts the
most. Against this team, a Canadiens team with nothing to lose and
everything to gain, the Capitals must finally put together a complete
game. The Red Wings were able to put the accelerator to the floor when
it mattered most, jumping all over a Coyotes team that was doubting
itself at times. This is what the Capitals will need to do.

The
superstars will have to shine

The Capitals will not win
this game unless Alex Ovechkin is their best player. Sure, you could say
the same thing about Semyon Varlamov, but this is why Ovechkin was
named captain of the team. The rest of the players feed off of his
energy and production; if he’s frustrated and not driving the play
forward, then it’s going to tough for the rest of the team to follow
suit. The Capitals are starting two young defenseman on the blueline
tonight, so the uber-talented forwards the Captials employ will need to
be better than they ever have been before. While Backstrom, Semin and
Green all need to rise to the occasion, it’s Ovechkin who will be the
difference. If he truly is as great as we all think he is, this is his
time to shine.

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    Tarasenko needs to start ‘playing within the system’: Hitch

    SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 19:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks fight for control of the puck in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 19, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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    Is it all Vladimir Tarasenko‘s fault that the St. Louis Blues are on the brink of elimination?

    No, of course it’s not.

    It seems we have to clarify this every time a star player comes under fire for not producing. Hockey is a team game, and the Blues — as a team — have not been as good as the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

    Still, it was interesting to hear St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock talk about Tarasenko yesterday, because the criticism was pointed, even if it was delivered in an empathetic manner.

    “What happens with goal-scorers when they get frustrated is they look to hit home runs. We need him just to act like a worker,” said Hitchcock.

    “What he’s doing is he’s looking to try to catch fast breaks, he’s looking to catch the other team napping. But when you play against guys like [Marc-Edouard Vlasic], you’re not going to catch him napping. He’s just got to feel comfortable playing within the system, playing within the framework.”

    Hitchcock added, “I think it’s a natural tendency with younger players who have this heightened sense of urgency to do what they do well, which for him is score goals. He’s gotten too far away from the play. He’s got himself too stretched out. We just need him to come back to the puck a little bit more.”

    As we noted yesterday, Tarasenko has been held pointless in five games against the Sharks. In his last three games combined, he’s managed just four shots total. This from a guy who scored 40 of the Blues’ 224 goals during the regular season, then put up 13 points (7G, 6A) in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

    We’ll see tonight if the “hard lessons” continue for the 24-year-old, or if he can find a way to help get his team back to St. Louis for Game 7.

    Video: Johnson pays the price for Tampa Bay

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    It’s been another successful spring for Tyler Johnson.

    Johnson, the most diminutive member of Tampa Bay’s vaunted “Triplets” line, is racking up the playoff points yet again. He has 17 through 16 games — tied with Joe Thornton for sixth-most in the postseason — and, depending on how far the Bolts go this year, could best last year’s total, when he had 23 in 24.

    Not bad, considering the physical pounding Johnson has taken.

    At just 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, the playoff grind has certainly taken its toll over the last two years. Johnson was rendered all but ineffective in last year’s Cup Final versus Chicago due to a broken right wrist and, this year, dealt with an upper-body injury in the opening round and a puck to the face just prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.

    Not that it slowed him down any.

    Johnson scored the game-winning OT tally in Game 4, getting his body in front of a Jason Garrison shot to deflect home past Marc-Andre Fleury. That earned high praise from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who heaped superlatives on his undersized star.

    “He’s a winner — that’s what winners do,” coach Jon Cooper said of Johnson, per the Tampa Bay Times. “They don’t back down. And when there’s a challenge ahead of you, you’ve got to find a way to meet the challenge. There’s a lot of coaches that had a front row seat to see how this kid plays and how he competes.

    “And it’s not always the size of the player, it’s the size of the heart, and that’s Tyler Johnson.”

    Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday to force a Game 7, now the St. Louis Blues will try to do the same against the San Jose Sharks tonight. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

    St. Louis at San Jose (9:00 p.m. ET)

    The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. If you want to stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

    In the meantime, here are some relevant links:

    On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

    The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko

    Feeding frenzy: Sharks send Blues to the brink of elimination in Western Conference Final

    Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday

    Colorado inks defensive prospect Anton Lindholm

    LAKE PLACID, NY - AUGUST 07: Anton Lindholm #5 of Team Sweden skates against Team USA during the 2013 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 7, 2013 in Lake Placid, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    After establishing himself in the Swedish league, Anton Lindholm will head to North America.

    The Colorado Avalanche announced that they have signed the 21-year-old defenseman to a three-year, entry-level contract. They selected Lindholm in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

    More of a defensive defenseman, Lindholm only registered four assists in 30 Swedish league games with Skelleftea AIK in 2015-16, but he also had a team-high 85 hits despite missing a chunk of the season due to injury. During the playoffs he helped his team reach the SHL Finals by leading them in both hits and blocked shots.

    That was his second full campaign with Skelleftea AIK. The next step for Lindholm will likely be for him to continue his development in the AHL.