2010 Stanley Cup finals: Supporting cast helps Chicago win weird Game 1, 6-5

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kopeckyandhossa.jpgHockey writers might need to dust off a thesaurus or two to describe this one. What’s the correct variation of “strange” to describe this one? Should people refer to it as bewildering? Bizarre? Maybe a car wreck? All of those labels apply, but I think I’ll go with Brandon’s “sloppy” or maybe up the ante to flat-out “inept.”

Whatever way you slice it, though, the Chicago Blackhawks managed to eke out a 6-5 win that should leave the Philadelphia Flyers kicking themselves tonight.

Chicago Blackhawks 6, Philadelphia Flyers 5

Blackhawks lead series 1-0

Perhaps the Game 1 clincher was a microcosm of the game itself. Tomas Kopecky was considered more or less a throw-in when the Chicago Blackhawks signed Marian Hossa this summer; some wondered if the team acquired him simply to give Hossa a friend to talk to. He performed that way at times, too; after all, the reason he played (after being a healthy scratch for five straight playoff games) was because Andrew Ladd couldn’t suit up thanks to an injury. 

Kopecky’s game winner was a buffet of everything right and wrong with this game. While the tally earned high marks for entertainment value, it came on the back of leaky defense on the part of the Flyers and a poor bit of positioning by relief goalie Brian Boucher. Here’s video of the goal, for your own perusal.

Neither team should be particularly proud – or, really – distinctly worried. The Flyers came out booming to the surprise of many, out-shooting the Blackhawks 17-9 for a stunning 3-2 lead in the opening frame. They dominated the Blackhawks in the faceoff circle (40 to 24) tonight and managed to score one PP goal in four chances while staying out of the box completely.

That’s right: the Flyers – a franchise once known for the sort of brutality that can occasionally give the sport a PR black eye – went a full game without sitting in the penalty box. I’d say that Dave Schultz is rolling in his grave right now, but “The Hammer” is still alive.

Down 0-1, the Flyers face plenty of questions. Is there a brewing goalie controversy after the team (justifiably, in my eyes) pulled struggling starter Michael Leighton? What happened to their stars who were held pointless in this contest? (Carter: -2, Richards: -2, Giroux -2 and Gagne -3. Yikes.) Was tonight a confidence booster or a missed opportunity?

The most troubling factor for Philadelphia – but also quite a sobering thought for Chicago – is that the Blackhawks big guns failed to show up, too. Dustin Byfuglien (0 pts, -3) was “out-buffed” by Brillo-headed goof ball Scott Hartnell, who provided a great net presence along with one goal and two assists. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were worse than invisible, as they took away from the table with matching -3 ratings. It’s fantastic that the ludicrously deep Blackhawks won without their stars contributing, but how often can they expect two goals from Troy Brouwer?

On some level, the Flyers can take a little confidence away from this game as even amid all the chaos, their forecheck flustered a nervous Chicago team into a near-loss. I cannot help but wonder if this game will be the best chance Philly has, though, as the Hawks out-shot the Flyers 23-15 in the final two frames. Chicago played its best hockey in the third period, when even the beleaguered Antti Niemi made some huge saves when it really mattered. Games like this might not make Niemi a legend … they just might make him a champion.

It wasn’t pretty hockey, really, but it sure was intriguing. One thing’s clear: it will be hard to top Game 1, at least when it comes to absurdity.

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes the third period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 8, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.