NHL Playoffs, Flyers vs. Canadiens, Game 4: Philly throttles listless Montreal 3-0

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coburncanadiens.jpgWhen a strong team or a “favorite” tumbles, sports writers scatter the ashes for excuses. Could it be that the team lacked heart or intestinal fortitude or some other metaphorical body part? Did Star Player X fail to “show up”? No, maybe it’s just that Embattled Coach failed to make the proper adjustments.

Yet, in the case of a team such as the “16th ranked” Montreal Canadiens, their losses are often greeted with a shrugged shoulder. They should have lost, most will remark. To some extent, that’s true. Yet if the Habs won their two series with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals by “out-hustling” their opponents (instead of, say, depending on luck and the brilliance of Jaroslav Halak), then what do you say now?

How else do you explain a team with its back against the wall unleashing exactly one shot on goal in a second period in which the opposing team (the Philadelphia Flyers) launched 13 pucks at Halak and scored two goals? If you’re going to question the “character” of a team like the Boston Bruins after they squandered a series, then why not wonder the same about Montreal?

Philadelphia Flyers 3, Montreal Canadiens 0

Flyers lead series 3-1

Even now, it’s difficult to count the Habs out completely. After all, they came back from a 3-1 series hole against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals. The team and their sterling Slovakian puck stopper Halak are 5-0 in elimination games. You could compare the Canadiens to a villain in a slasher movie because it’s never safe to assume that they’re dead even if they are lying motionless on the ground.

That doesn’t change the fact that the Flyers took the game to them and the Habs didn’t even put up much of a fight. The first period was fairly even, with a few close calls including a play in which Hal Gill sprawled across his team’s crease to prevent a call. (The Flyers didn’t receive a penalty shot, which I thought was the correct call.)

The middle frame was the real horror show, as I mentioned before. Even the softest critics of the Canadiens would concede that being out-shot 13-1 is pathetic.

The third period was not much better, to be honest. The Flyers shot themselves in the foot twice to give the Habs some crucial powerplay opportunities, with Matt Carle taking a delay of game penalty and Aaron Asham committing a foolish goalie interference infringement. To stay consistent with the night’s theme, the Canadiens did nothing with either man advantage.

Halak kept them in the game, allowing 2 goals on 24 shots but only giving up markers when Ville Leino and Claude Giroux broke through the defense with partial breakaways. Michael Leighton must be able to relate to how J.S. Giguere felt against the Minnesota Wild in the 2002-03 playoffs, as he achieved his third shutout in this series while only having to make 17 saves.

For three out of the four games, Chris Pronger and Leighton were excellent. In those contests, the Canadiens scored exactly zero goals.

If there’s one word I’d used to describe the Habs in Game 4, it would be “tepid.” Actually, that’s being pretty kind. Home ice advantage is pretty useless if you don’t even show up to the game.

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.