2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2: Flyers, Blackhawks aim for improvement

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Blackhawks2.jpgChicago Blackhawks vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2

Blackhawks
lead series 1-0

Live on NBC, 8 p.m. EDT

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Generally the NHL playoffs are defensive battles, close
affairs with both teams fighting not to make mistakes as each goal
allowed becomes more and more devastating the deeper into the playoffs
they go. There will always be breakdowns, but generally the games become
intense and low scoring scoring games as every single player on both
teams raises the level of their play to levels they’ve never reached
before. Teams that fail to keep up with the intensity and drive of the
other becomes a footnote in the annals of the Stanley Cup finals.

Game 1 resembled none of this. A sloppy, yet ultimately
entertaining game that saw ten goals scored in the first two periods was
like nothing anyone expected. After all, the backbone of both the
Blackhawks and the Flyers is their defense and while the goaltending was
never exactly a strength of both teams it had been a while since we had
witnessed breakdowns of this level.

That it happened
to both teams, in the same game, is nothing short of extraordinary.

The Blackhawks, despite the win, realized that they were
lucky. They allowed a less talented team to come out and get confidence,
surprising everyone when the Flyers grabbed a 3-2 lead headed into the
first intermission. The Blackhawks fought back in the second and the
third, yet walked away knowing that if they hope to hoist the Stanley
Cup at the end of the series they’ll need to play much, much better than
they did on home ice against the Flyers.

For the
Flyers, they should feel confident in themselves after playing the
Blackhawks so close. Yet just like Chicago, they know they were nowhere
near their best and they paid for it with a tough loss. Despite coming
out so energetic and so determined to begin the game, they were
undisciplined defensively and allowed the Blackhawks to tie the game and
take three different leads after holding a 3-2 lead themselves after 20
minutes.

Was it just jitters for two teams that
overall are lacking Stanley Cup experience? The Blackhawks have Marian
Hossa and the Flyers have Chris Pronger, but overall these are two
generally young and inexperienced teams when it comes to playing with so
much on the line.

I don’t expect to see another game
like we witnessed on Saturday, and I’m certain that both the coaches
and players are determined to have their teams get back to what had been
so successful for them leading up to this point.

For
the Flyers, that means a more physical approach as they work to keep
not only the Hawks’ top line off the scoreboard but also the rest of the
team as well. The Flyers were duped into a run and gun game that is far
from the style they employ so well, and they need to find a way to
limit the attack of the Blackhawks. Keeping the Hawks to the perimeter,
forcing them to fight for the puck along the boards and using the
physicality that the Flyers are so good at is exactly the approach this
team needs; not some haphazard, up and down game that exposes every
weakness the Flyers have.

The Blackhawks were
surprisingly undisciplined on defense, allowing the Flyers all sorts of
space in the first half of the game. What was more amazing was how the
Hawks walked away with a win despite Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and
Dustin Byfuglien having their worst games of the postseason. They
weren’t just ineffective, they were horrible.

The
scoring depth of the Hawks won’t be there every game, and if the Flyers
are able to consistently lock down that top line they they’ll have a
damn good chance at walking away with the Cup after all is said and
done.

Game 1 was entertaining but for hockey purists
it was one ugly performance by each team. Both sides will lock things
down, and I expect to see a much more disciplined game by both teams
tonight — disciplined in the actual play, that is. I fully expect to
see the Flyers and the Blackhawks get more physical, more undisciplined
along the boards and in scrums as they settle into the series and look
to get the upperhand in any way possible.

Blackhawks keep rolling with another dominant offensive performance

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Another night, another hat trick, and another dominant offensive showing from the Chicago Blackhawks.

On Thursday night it was Patrick Kane becoming the second Blackhawks forward in as many games to record a hat trick — following the three goal (and five point) effort Jonathan Toews had on Tuesday night — to help lead the Blackhawks to a 6-3 blowout win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Along with Kane’s three goals, Toews picked up to more assists to continue his recent scoring surge that has seen him pick up 23 points in his past 15 games. Keep in mind he only had 21 points in the 37 games prior to that.

Even more than Toews is the fact the entire Blackhawks team is clicking right now offensively.

Their win on Thursday is their eighth in the past nine games and every one of those wins has been a display of total offensive dominance, scoring 40 goals during that stretch. That is more than four goals per game. Everybody is contributing to it at this point as seven players (Toews, Kane, Richard Panik, Artemi Panarin, Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov and Duncan Keith) all have at least eight points during this run.

It’s a stretch that has helped the Blackhawks gain some ground on the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division race, as they now sit three points back of the top spot.

Just about the only bad news for the Blackhawks on Thursday night was defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson leaving the game with what coach Joel Quenneville described as an upper body injury.

The Blackhawks knew he wasn’t 100 percent going into the game and dressed a seventh defenseman, Michal Rozsival, as a precaution in case Hjalmarsson could not finish. After skating just four shifts in the first period — a first period that saw the two teams combine for six goals — he exited the game and did not return. Rozsival ended up playing a pretty significant role in the game scoring his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period for what ultimately prove to be the game-winner.

Lundqvist stays hot as Rangers move ahead of Blue Jackets

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 11:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers laughs as Kevin Klein #8 misses an attempt at a hattrick during the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden on February 11, 2017 in New York City.  The Rangers defeated the Avalanche 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Remember those few weeks earlier this season when Henrik Lundqvist was struggling, he was losing playing time to Antti Raanta, and everybody in the NHL was freaking out about the Rangers’ goaltending situation?

At this point it seems like an eternity ago.

Lundqvist has been on an absolute roll over the past month and has helped the Rangers finally gain some ground in the Metropolitan Division.

After his 32 save performance — in the Rangers’ 2-1 shootout win in Toronto on Thursday night, the Rangers are now in the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, moving ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets who for the time being move down to the top Wild Card spot. The Rangers are now just two points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for a spot that would get them home ice in the first round.

Leading the way lately during this recent surge has been Lundqvist as he plays his best hockey of the season. In his past 13 starts the Rangers own a 10-2-1 record, while Lundqvist is carrying a .938 save percentage.

Even though the Rangers took huge steps over the summer to improve their forward depth — and it has absolutely paid off — it is still a team that is weak on the blue line and is only going to go as far as Lundqvist can carry it in the playoffs.

But with the way he is playing right now, and with the way the Rangers can roll four solid lines and score (3.28 goals per game, fourth best in the NHL) this could be a potentially scary team come playoff time.

Islanders shut out Canadiens for huge road win

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18:  Thomas Greiss #1 of the New York Islanders in action against the New Jersey Devils on February 18, 2017 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 3-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Overall this season the New York Islanders have really struggled away from the Barclays Center, a point of concern when you consider how many road games they have down the stretch as they try to overcome their miserable start to climb back into the playoffs.

Their current nine-game road trip is off to a promising start with wins in the first two games, including a 3-0 shutout win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night to improve their record to 12-4-2 under new coach Doug Weight.

The Islanders received goals from Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee and John Tavares in the win, while Thomas Greiss stopped all 24 shots he faced to record his third shutout of the season.

With the win the Islanders hold sole possession of the second wild card spot in the East for the time being, two points ahead of Florida and Boston (the Bruins are in action right now) and continue their stunning second half turnaround.

But while things are going great for the Islanders right now, the struggles in Montreal continue.

With their loss on Thursday they failed to put any extra distance between themselves and the rest of the Atlantic Division that has suddenly closed the gap on them. They remain just two points up on Ottawa and only four points ahead of Toronto. The loss also continues what has been a particularly brutal stretch over the past couple of months that has seen the team win just seven of its past 20 games.

It’s probably too early to start fully panicking in Montreal, but given the way the end of last season went this can’t be a promising development for Canadiens fans.

Blackhawks’ Hjalmarsson leaves game against Coyotes

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 22:  Niklas Hjalmarsson #4 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks to pass against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center on January 22, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 4-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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After taking just four shifts in in the first period of Thursday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson had to leave Thursday’s game with what was later revealed as an upper body injury.

Coach Joel Quenneville said after the game that they will no more on Hjalmarsson’s status when he is evaluated again on Friday.

Fortunately for the Blackhawks they dressed seven defensemen for the game when Michal Rozsival drew back into the lineup, so they still have a full lineup of defenders to finish the game. Surprisingly, Rozsival scored his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period, breaking what had been a 3-3 tie following a wild first period that saw the teams combine for six goals.

In 59 games this season Hjalmarsson had five goals and nine assists while playing more than 20 minutes per night, mostly on a pairing with Duncan Keith.