NHL Playoffs, Blackhawks vs. Sharks, Game 4: Blackhawks sweep Sharks, headed to Stanley Cup finals

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Blackhawks.jpgChicago Blackhawks 4, San Jose Sharks 2

Blackhawks win series 4-0

This moment has been a very long time coming for the Chicago
Blackhawks and their boisterous, enthusiastic fans. Before 2008, the
Blackhawks had not won a playoff series since 1996 and had missed the
playoffs altogether nine times between 1997 and 2008. Even in 1995,
after a strike-shortened season, the deep run was a disappointment with
the team just a few years removed from being swept in the Stanley Cup
finals by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That 1992 team, the last time that the Chicago Blackhawks made it
this far, featured Jeremy Roenick, Steve Larmer, Brent Sutter, Chris
Chelios and Ed Belfour. This was the last truly great Blackhawks team,
nearly two decades ago, and in between nothing but bad ownership,
extreme disappointment, poor television coverage and dwindling crowds.

After Rocky Wirtz took ownership of the team and the likes of Dale
Tallon and Rick Dudley worked their magic on the roster, it’s taken just
two seasons for the Blackhawks to go from being out of the playoffs and
into the Stanley Cup finals. This isn’t a fluke postseason run, either,
where a low-seeded team gets hot at the right time. This was a
calculated season where the Blackhawks dominated all year long with one
goal and one goal only on their minds: the Stanley Cup.

That the Chicago Blackhawks clinched the Western Conference finals at
home, after a convincing sweep of the San Jose Sharks, was fitting.
These Hawks fans, who had been driven away by years of poor ownership
and management, have returned in droves to threaten to give Chicago the
best home-ice advantage in the NHL. It’s obvious how this team thrives
off the energy of the fans, how gracious they were for their support as
they skated around the ice with sticks held high as they celebrated a
tremendous victory.

Don’t let the sweep of the Sharks fool anyone; this was a hard fought
series that provided the big test that the Chicago Blackhawks needed to
prove they’re finally worthy of a Stanley Cup. They completely
overmatched the Nashville Predators and used pure emotion and grit to
take care of a deep and talented Vancouver team. Against the Sharks, a
team with which they almost little history with, they were challenged by
a team that proved just as capable as themselves to put together an
incredible amount of offensive pressure in a very short amount of time.

Several times throughout the series the Sharks were the better team,
controlling play and taking leads in three of the four games. Each time
the Blackhawks battled back, never panicking and showing an innate
ability to ramp up their play to the next level. In Game 4, with the
Sharks controlling play through the first period and most of the second
and then taking a two-goal lead, the Hawks responded with an incredible
counter attack that put the Sharks immediately back on their heals.

This wasn’t about the San Jose Sharks choking away a 2-0 lead, this
as about the Blackhawks responding and taking the game to a lever that
the Sharks just couldn’t compete at. Sometimes, a team is just better
than their opponent and in this series that was the Blackhawks, both
physically and mentally.

The Chicago Blackhawks may not have lost a game in this series to the
Sharks, but the series was much closer than the 4-0 outcome shows. In
tightly contested games and series between two extremely talented teams,
whichever side is able to find any sort of edge over the other is the
one that advances. The Blackhawks used inspired play by Antti Niemi and
Jonathan Toews, as well as incredibly timely goal scoring by the
surprising Dustin Byfuglien, to give themselves the edge to win three
very close games and all of which were decided in the late stages of the
third period or overtime.

It may have been a sweep, but it wasn’t
easy.

The Sharks played at times like a team scared of losing. The
Blackhawks played like a team that knew they were going to win.

For
Antti Niemi, it’s validation that the Blackhawks made the right
decision heading into the postseason as he proved in this series just
how great he can really be. There were times of trepidation in Game 4 as
Niemi looked to have reverted to the shaky goaltending of the regular
season. The team in front of him picked it up instead, limiting the
Sharks to just three shots on goal in the third period. Overall, it was a
magical series for Niemi as he was by far the most important player on
the ice for the Blackhawks against the Sharks.

For all the Patrick
Kane’s, Patrick Sharp’s, Marian Hossa’s and Duncan Ketih’s this team
may have, there has been none more surprising than that of Dustin
Byfuglien. He has scored in five straight games for the Hawks, while
netting the game-winning goal in three of the four games. Not
coincidentally, those three game-winning goals came in the games that
were decided by just one goal and were the tightest contested of all.

The
Chicago Blackhawks of 2010 are a complete team, that just just one
question mark heading into the postseason. With Antti Niemi stepping up,
the Blackhawks are firing on all cylinders and are boasting an
incredible amount of scoring depth. It should be no surprise they’ve
made it this far, and are entering the Stanley Cup finals young, hungry
and supremely confident.

You wonder if the Eastern Conference
champion will even stand a chance.

Las Vegas NHL team hires former Habs scout Karpan as director of player personnel

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 13:  George McPhee speaks after being introduced as the general manager of the Las Vegas NHL franchise during a news conference at T-Mobile Arena on July 13, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Another day, another hire for the Las Vegas NHL franchise.

On Tuesday, the team named Vaughn Karpan as its new director of player personnel. He most recently held the title of director of professional scouting with the Montreal Canadiens.

Karpan joined the Habs in 2005, after spending 13 years with the Coyotes franchise, including five years as director of amateur scouting.

This latest move comes after the Vegas franchise named Murray Craven as a senior vice president.

Craven had been an advisor to owner Bill Foley during the process of getting an NHL team in Las Vegas and hiring a general manager.

From the Associated Press:

Craven will be responsible for establishing the club’s top minor-league affiliate in the American Hockey League, developing the practice facility in Summerlin, Nevada, building up facilities at T-Mobile Arena and overseeing projects at the request of general manager George McPhee.

Oh yeah, the Vegas franchise still doesn’t have a team name yet.

Related:

Vegas team hires Hockey Canada’s Donskov as director of hockey operations

Update: Vegas expansion team could still go with ‘hawks’

Senators, Ceci agree to two-year, $5.6M contract

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 6: Cody Ceci #5 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on February 6, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion predicted 11 days ago that a new contract with defenseman Cody Ceci would get done “within the next few weeks.”

His timeline proved to be quite accurate.

On Tuesday, the Senators announced they had re-signed the 22-year-old Ceci, a restricted free agent, to a two-year deal, worth a total value of $5.6 million.

The breakdown of the deal from the Senators states Ceci will receive $2.25 million in the first year of his new contract and $3.35 million in the second.

As per General Fanager, Ceci is slated to be a restricted free agent at the end of this deal, which means the Senators would have to match the salary Ceci made in the final season of the contract in their next qualifying offer to him two years from now.

It’s also a raise from the $1.369 million average annual value he was making with his entry-level contract. It was previously reported that the Senators offered Ceci both long and short-term deals.

The Senators put out a teaser of the news on Twitter, minutes before the announcement.

Ceci is from Ottawa, where he also played his junior hockey, and a first-round pick of the Senators in 2012.

In his second full season with the Senators, he posted a new single-season career high in goals with 10 and points with 26.

Report: Boughner and Dineen ‘major candidates’ for Avs gig, Arniel out

WINDSOR, ON - JANUARY 20:  Assistant Coach Bob Boughner of Team Orr points to a play on the ice during the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects game against Team Cherry on January 20, 2010 at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, Ontario. Team Cherry defeated Team Orr 4-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Just weeks after Patrick Roy’s shock departure, Colorado’s search for a new head coach appears to be taking shape.

There’s plenty to get into, so let’s go bullet points:

Per the Denver Post, a pair of assistant coaches — San Jose’s Bob Boughner and Chicago’s Kevin Dineen — have emerged as “major candidates” for the job.

• Also per the Post, Jared Bednar — the head coach of Columbus’ Calder Cup-winning AHL affiliate in Lake Erie — is in the mix for the Colorado gig as well.

• Another guy with Columbus ties, former head coach Scott Arniel, is reportedly out of contention, per the Dispatch. Arniel’s currently serving as Alain Vigneault’s right-hand man in New York.

• Other names in the mix include Vancouver property Travis Green (currently with AHL Utica) and longtime Barry Trotz assistant Lane Lambert (currently with Washington).

• Brad Larsen, currently one of John Tortorella’s assistants in Columbus and a former Avs player, won’t be getting an interview. Larsen’s name had apparently been floated earlier.

• And finally, if you’re wondering why so many guys with Columbus ties are in the mix, the Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline explained that former BJ’s assistant GM Chris McFarland now has the same job in Colorado under Joe Sakic.

So there you go.

Poll: What’s a realistic point total for the Sabres?

Buffalo Sabres' Evander Kane (9) celebrates with teammate Ryan O'Reilly (90) after O'Reilly scored the winning goal during the overtime session of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings, Saturday Dec. 12, 2015 in Buffalo, N.Y. Buffalo won 2-1. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
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This post is part of Buffalo Sabres day at PHT…

Last year, Detroit snagged the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with 93 points.

Two years ago, Pittsburgh did the same with 98.

In light of those totals, it’s not surprising to hear what Sabres head coach Dan Byslma pegged as the mark for the upcoming campaign.

“We should expect to be 95 points or higher than that,” Bylsma told NHL.com earlier this summer. “We think we’re better on defense. We think we’re stronger. We’re deeper. If you’re looking at expectations from within, we should be above 95 points at the end of the season.”

It’s a lofty goal, to say the least. Buffalo only had 81 last season.

But there is something to be said for Bylsma’s prediction, because his previous one worked out pretty well. In that same chat with NHL.com, the Sabres head coach said he and GM Tim Murray pegged last year’s club as an 80-to-85 point team, which proved accurate.

And if the last few seasons have shown anything, it’s that Buffalo is on the rise.

The Sabres had a meager 52 points three seasons ago, and made the slight bump up to 54 in ’14-15. Last year signified a huge leap forward — 27 points — which is probably why Bylsma is banking on a 14-15 point improvement (or more) this season.

Of course, this next push will prove more difficult.

For the Sabres to snap their five-year playoff drought, certain areas will need to improve. The club’s 25th-ranked offense needs to find the back of the net with more regularity, and the addition of prized free agent Kyle Okposo should help in that department.

In goal, Robin Lehner will need to stay healthy and appear in significantly more games (just 21 last season). And it remains to be seen what the ramifications from Evander Kane‘s controversial offseason will be.

So… what do you expect from Buffalo next season? Vote away.