Magical comeback for Flyers far from surprising

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Flyers7.jpgAs soon as James van Riemsdyk’s partially-blocked wrist shot
inexplicably found it’s way past Tuukka Rask, you could just feel that
this was something the Flyers could pull off. That was the goal they
needed; something, anything positive in a first period that was
everything the Flyers didn’t want in a crucial Game 7.

Too many
penalties, poor goaltending and surprisingly uninspired play. After
three straight games of putting the Bruins on the ropes and keeping them
there with jab after jab, body shot after body shot, they back off now
right when they needed the knockout punch most of all?

After all,
this was a team had been through as much late-season and playoffs
adversity as you could imagine. The Flyers, unable to secure a veteran
goaltender at the trade deadline, make a commitment to Michael Leighton
only to see him go down for nearly two months with an ankle injury.
Brian Boucher inexplicably leads the team to a shootout victory in the
final game of the season, past the New Jersey Devils until going down
with a brutal knee injury in both legs. They lost their lead goal
scorer, Jeff Carter, and Dan Carcillo wasn’t the hero from round one
after fighting through an injury of his own.

 So seeing this team
seemingly fall flat on its face in yet another “biggest game of the
year” was surprising. If nothing else, this Philadelphia Flyers team is
resilient in the face of overwhelming odds. They had come so far in this
series, scratching and clawing their way back from down 0-3 in the
series to force a Game 7; that in and of itself is historic.

Yet
there’s a reason that only two other teams in the history of the NHL
have completely pulled off the comeback. It’s nearly impossible to carry
the much momentum in a playoffs series, to get all the bounces you
would need, to have the goaltending, to be able to sustain that
emotional edge. In the first 14 minutes in Boston tonight, the Flyers
showed as much; keeping those emotions high and keeping the Bruins’
backs against the wall is tough when suddenly the pressure is completely
on you.

That’s why a break is all they needed.

Jame van
Riemsdyk didn’t score an extremely impressive goal. This wasn’t the
result of hard work on the forecheck or a dominant cycling of the puck
down low that tired the defense. Instead this was goal that was actually
blocked, a toe drag wrist shot that spun towards Rask and then bounced
off his pad and in. There’s a possibility that puck would have gone wide
had Rask not try and made the save.

This was blind luck and it gave the
Flyers the spark and the edge they needed. If the three straight goals
by the Bruins weren’t enough, this goal was the slap in the face that put
the Flyers in motion.

After that first goal, you just knew the
Flyers had a shot. After a timeout in the first period, the Flyers
outshot the Bruins 22-11 and while there were certainly some tense
moments (and a number of pipes getting hit) they never again allowed
Boston to have the great chances they enjoyed to start the game.

The
Flyers won this game as a team, blocking 18 shots and doing whatever it
took to keep the Bruins from retaking the lead once the Flyers tied it.
The Flyers fought hard to kill off a Dan Carcillo penalty that came
mere seconds after they tied the game, never taking another penalty in
the game. They were disciplined and hard working, riding the wave of
momentum they had built in three straight wins to get to this point.

Down
0-3 after 14 minutes in Game 7? Not a problem for a Philadelphia Flyers
team that had come so far already this season, a comeback victory that
should not have shocked a soul.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) scores a goal against Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand celebrates after scoring on a penalty shot during the overtime period of the Boston Bruins 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres in an NHL hockey game in Boston Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.