While we were curious what the storyline would be to develop around the Western Conference finals between Chicago and San Jose, sometimes it takes someone to make their presence known to figure out what, exactly, the story will be. Blackhawks rookie goaltender Antti Niemi decided to announce his presence in a big way in Game 1 leading the Blackhawks to a 2-1 win. Niemi stopped 44 out of 45 shots he saw in Game 1, only a rip from Jason Demers on the power play in the first period would elude him and he was well beyond stellar in stopping San Jose.
Dustin Byfuglien’s slap shot goal off a face off was the game winner with 6:45 left in the third, and a shot that equally outstanding goaltender Evgeni Nabokov (38 saves) couldn’t stop. With the game played at such a wicked pace and with both teams being outstanding defensively, it’s stunning that both goalies saw as many shots as they did, but they were equal to the task today.
It’s not as if Niemi had an easy day as the Blackhawks would take five minor penalties in the game, including one in the final minute, that essentially put Niemi on the spot. Meanwhile San Jose did not take a single penalty in the game, a point of contention the Blackhawks may have considering most games tend to hash out evenly when it comes to penalties. Then again, Chicago won the game so… What’s there to really complain about?
One fortunate break Chicago got on the final penalty they took is that while it was clear that Dave Bolland tripped Devin Setoguchi, officials Brad Watson and Paul Devorski mistakenly put Kris Versteeg in the box. Bolland wears number 36 and Versteeg wears 32, sometimes mistakes occur, only this time Bolland stayed on the ice and was key to helping kill the first 40 seconds of the penalty.
The Sharks had one final great opportunity on a cross-ice pass to Joe Thornton for a one-timer but the puck went off the heel of his stick and landed harmlessly in the corner for Chicago to obtain and clear from the zone to end the game. I’m sure most folks won’t over-analyze Jumbo Joe not getting a clean shot away in the Conference finals. For Chicago, they continue to roll in the playoffs while the Sharks seemed to expend a lot of their energy through the first 30 minutes of the game. Perhaps getting as much time off as they did did more harm than good. Game 2 will be Tuesday night at the Shark Tank.
This has been a tough postseason for Phil Kessel haters.
The supposed “choker” is on a team that’s in the Eastern Conference Final, but Kessel obviously isn’t just in for the ride with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored his 18th point in 17 postseason games by scoring the 1-0 goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.
(Watch that goal in the video above.)
It was a dramatic first period, with a Jonathan Drouin goal getting disallowed and Andrei Vasilevskiy making some huge saves on tough chances.
Can Pittsburgh protect this slim lead with 1-0 down one period? We’ll see, but either way, what a great postseason for Kessel.
To start the seemingly pivotal stretch, Andrei Vasilevskiy made an outstanding save on Evgeni Malkin on what sure looked like a scary chance.
The play swiftly shifted from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s end to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ side of the ice, and it seemed like Jonathan Drouin scored a big 1-0 goal in Game 6.
As it turns out, the goal was disallowed thanks to an offside goal review.
Here are a few viewpoints on that moment in GIF form … you can get a fuller view via the video above.
The general feeling among those who don’t have a horse in the race is that it was the right call. (Lightning fans were, uh, not happy.)
At some point, it will probably be kind of boring to hear members of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization praise Jonathan Drouin.
At least if Drouin re-signs with the Bolts after quite the affirming postseason and his ascension amid injuries.
These days? It’s still sort of entertaining.
In the latest case, Jon Cooper was asked to compare the development paths for Nikita Kucherov vs. Drouin. After empathizing with the pressure Drouin carries as a high-end pick (vs. Kucherov’s ability to come in under the radar), Cooper had some very positive things to say about No. 27.
” … So many people think, well, you’re just going to step in the league at 18 and be dominant,” Cooper said. “I truly believe Jonathan is going to be dominant in this league, but it’s hard to do at 18. He had to work through it, and that’s it.”
Drouin, now at 21, has 12 points in 15 playoff games.
In other Lightning news, it sounds like the team will roll with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, an alignment that has been working well lately and also came through at times during the 2015 postseason.
The Penguins, meanwhile, replace Beau Bennett with Conor Sheary.
Tonight could be the final game of the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay (8:00 p.m. ET)
The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Bolts lead the series 3-2.
Here’s some relevant reading material to get you ready for tonight’s game:
—Malkin guaranteed a Penguins win in Game 6
—Lightning coach doesn’t seem flustered by Malkin’s guarantee
—Kucherov continues to be clutch for the Bolts this postseason
—Marc-Andre Fleury: ‘I should have been better’ in Game 5