2010 Stanley Cup Finals: Byfuglien vs. Pronger the battle to watch

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Buff.jpgOne of the biggest (literally) reasons for the Blackhawks’ success
against the Canucks and the Sharks was forward/defenseman/forward Dustin
Byfuglien. The large and seemingly unmovable Byfuglien has scored eight
goals in the postseason, including one in each of the past five games.
In the Hawks’ four-game sweep of the Sharks, he had the game-winning
goal in three of the four games.

Nearly all of his goals were
scoring from directly in front of the net, as the opposing team seemed
helpless in keeping Byfuglien away from the crease. It didn’t help that a
couple of times the Sharks and Canucks inexplicable forgot about him,
yet no matter what either team tried to do he was still able to make one
heck of an impact in crashing the net.

With Michael Leighton in
net, riding one heck of a performance against the Canadiens and likely
extremely confident, you can guarantee the Blackhawks will continue
their net-crashing ways.

Only this time, the Flyers have a weapon
the likes of which Byfuglien and the Blackhawks have yet to face: Chris
Pronger.

There are many matchups in the Cup finals that are
intriguing, but none will get as much focus or be as important to each
team’s success than the battle between Dustin Byfuglien and Chris
Pronger in front of the net. Byfuglien hasn’t battled a big defenseman
like Pronger, yet Pronger hasn’t had to try and clear out what is
essentially a skilled defenseman from directly in front of the net.

Unfortunately,
Pronger may be at a disadvantage. What would have worked 10-15 years
ago in the NHL won’t fly today. NBC’s Mike Milbury, speaking during a
conference call today, explains:

“I wish it were in 1975 so I
could really watch this matchup; because
the way the rules are now, if Byfuglien goes to the front of the net,
Pronger can’t touch him. He can have action when the puck’s around the
crease, but if Byfuglien wants to go to the front of the net, all he has
to do is stand there.

“I think it’s going to be interesting to
see if Pronger can do anything
against Byfuglien, because the way the rules are you can’t touch the
damn guy anymore.”

Milbury has long been outspoken about the
current rules prohibiting physical play, and in this case he’s dead on
about how Pronger will struggle to stay out of the penalty box when
Byfuglien starts to take up residence down low. You also know that the
Hawks will take advantage of this matchup, in the hopes that Pronger
does something stupid and suddenly the Flyers are without their best
defenseman.

Knowing Pronger, there’s a good chance this will
happen at some point.

The Blackhawks and Byfuglien have become
masterful and causing trouble in front of the goaltender and the net,
knowing exactly what to do and to say to get the opposing team off their
game. Scoring goals down low, with Byfuglien let loose outside the
crease, is sure to be the first way to anger the Flyers.

Pronger
has shown in the past that he does know how to clear out the front of
the net without playing dumb, using his frame to box out the forwards
around the net and give his goaltender a clear view of the shooting
lanes.

It’s going to be two of the bigger players on the ice
going at one another, with one of them at a disadvantage. It’s the wily
veteran, the defenseman brought in to give the Flyers this exact edge,
against the hot young forward who has suddenly become the hero for the
Blackhawks.

Dupuis, Jagr, Zuccarello are Masterton Trophy finalists

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 18:  Pascal Dupuis #9 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in action against the New York Rangers during their game at Madison Square Garden on December 18, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis, Florida’s Jaromir Jagr, and the Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello have been selected as the three finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

The Masterton Trophy recognizes “the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” In 2015 it went to Devan Dubnyk, who struggled mightily in 2013-14, but dramatically turned his career around the following season and led the Minnesota Wild to the playoffs in the process.

Dupuis attempted to play in the 2015-16 campaign while taking blood thinners, but on Dec. 8 he announced that he would stop playing “because of a medical condition related to blood clots.”

Jagr celebrated his 44th birthday in February, but despite his age he managed to score 27 goals and 66 points in 79 contests this season. With that, he became the oldest player to reach the 60-point mark in a single NHL campaign.

Zuccarello played in 81 games and set career-highs with 26 goals and 61 points this season after suffering a skull fracture and brain contusion during the 2015 playoffs that left him temporarily unable to speak.

Can there be parallels drawn between the 2016 Ducks and 2014 Sharks?

Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler (17) takes the puck up ice on a breakaway with San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, center, and Ducks center Nate Thompson, right, trailing on the play during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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The Anaheim Ducks might not have suffered a reverse sweep at the hands of one of their biggest rivals, but they seem to have reached a breaking point when it comes to playoff disappointments.

After firing head coach Bruce Boudreau, GM Bob Murray was highly critical of the team’s core, even noting that at this point he’s not a fan of long-term contracts. That was perhaps a swipe at how he feels Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf‘s eight-year $69 million and $66 million contracts have worked out thus far. Meanwhile Ryan Kesler‘s six-year deal worth roughly $41 million is about to begin.

After San Jose suffered its first round loss to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said they were now becoming a “tomorrow team” and they began a cultural shift that included Joe Thornton losing the captaincy.

There are differences of course between the two situations. One notable one is that the Sharks’ guard was already starting to change hands in 2013-14. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were entering their mid-30s, but Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were on the rise. Anaheim’s core of Getzlaf and Perry is significantly younger, but while Anaheim also has some promising forwards like Jakob Silfverberg, that generation of players doesn’t seem ready to carry the torch for the Ducks.

“We don’t have a lot of young guys in the lineup. … Today’s a much different feeling leaving the rink,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said, per the Los Angeles Times. “In those [previous] years there’s been a sense of hope. Today, there’s zero feeling like that.”

Perhaps the Anaheim Ducks will find hope by watching the rest of the 2016 playoffs. If the San Jose Sharks continue to succeed, they will be an example of a team that once underachieved, hit a critical low, but then managed to fix that in a relatively short time without a massive turnover in terms of on-ice personnel. While we’re at it, you could make a similar argument for the Washington Capitals.

Maybe Murray will look to those franchises for inspiration as he moves forward.

Capitals, Penguins nearly perfect at stopping third period comebacks

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) chase down the puck during the first period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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Pittsburgh only won by a single goal in Game 2 on Saturday and that deciding marker came with 4:28 minutes remaining in the third, but that contest had the potential to be far more one-sided.

The Capitals were outshot 28-10 through 40 minutes and were consequently leaning on goaltender Braden Holtby to keep things close.

“First two periods, I thought they were way better than us,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. Or has Justin Williams put it, the Capitals “were getting embarrassed out there” during the first 40 minutes.

Washington did rebound in the third period, though it wasn’t enough to prevent the Penguins from evening this series at 1-1. That puts the pressure on Washington to take at least one game in Pittsburgh before the second round’s over.

Starting the game off strong is always going to be important, but that’s particularly true when talking about the Penguins and Capitals. Pittsburgh was 39-0-0 in the regular season when leading after 40 minutes while Washington was 37-0-1. So far in the playoffs, both teams are 4-0-0 when they have the lead after two periods.

Hemsky finds his groove on third line

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 11: Ales Hemsky #83 of the Dallas Stars handles the puck against the Nashville Predators at the American Airlines Center on April 11, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
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When the Dallas Stars inked Ales Hemsky to a three-year, $12 million deal, the hope was that he would be a valuable secondary scorer and help round out their top-six. Things haven’t gone as predicted, but Hemsky has emerged as a significant player for Dallas lately.

Hemsky is now playing on the third line with Radek Faksa and Antoine Roussel and he’s gone on to record 15 points in his last 16 regular season games as well as another four points in seven playoff contests.

“We had hard conversations about how I felt the game needed to be played, where I felt his game needed to go,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “Did it always go his way? No. But from his defensive responsibilities to really buying into shooting the puck a little bit more, I think he’s been a real good asset for us this year.”

The Morning News goes into much more detail about Hemsky and his resurgence, but taking a step back from that, having a third line that’s both impactful without the puck and capable of chipping in offensively is important, especially as we get deeper into the playoffs. There’s no question that the Stars have big time players on their roster, but that’s obviously not all you need in the playoffs.

A lot of the time when talking about the Stars’ areas of concern, their defense and goaltending come up and understandably so given that Dallas allowed more goals in the regular season than any other team that made the playoffs. But the value of a strong bottom-six shouldn’t be understated and perhaps Hemsky’s recent resurgence will play a role in the Stars having that going for them throughout the playoffs.

Dallas has taken a 1-0 lead over St. Louis in the second round and has an opportunity to build on that in Game 2 this afternoon (3:00 p.m. ET).