2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 4: Which team is feeling the pressure?

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Judging by some of the questions the players are being asked,
combined with the overall atmosphere that exists today around the
Wachovia Center, and you would think the Flyers were the ones with the
lead in this series. The Flyers have been able to keep winning on the
strength of their resiliency and ability to overcome adversity, yet
after a big win in Game 3 it seems as though we may be getting a bit
obsessed with just how resilient this team may be.

True, the
Flyers certainly seem to keep finding any and every way to win against
supposedly better teams, but the Blackhawks are still in complete
control of this series. So who is the pressure on? Is it the Flyers, as
they look to even up the series tonight at home or is it on the
Blackhawks, who have a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead before
heading back to Chicago.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette says his team has been in this position
all season long, and one win won’t change that.

“The pressure, I think, is more for teams that are expected to win,
as the Blackhawks are, and everybody picked them before the Series,”
Laviolette said after this morning’s skate. “We don’t concede anything.
We feel like we’ve got a confident group that’s capable of winning
hockey games. But I don’t know if we feel the pressure as much. We’re
trying to keep it light. We’re trying to have a whole bunch of fun.”

As much as it’s possible to get a read on a locker room, you’d
certainly have to agree with Laviolette. The Flyers are just a supremely
confident team right now, saying all the right things and embracing the
role they’ve developed this postseason. They know the pressure is on to
win tonight, but they are still focused on just playing the game that
got them to this point. Kimmo Timonen says the Flyers have to embrace
the chance they have tonight.

“This will be the most important
game in our team and for most of these
players’ lives,” he said. “We got to go out there and do our job.
Obviously, it’s a big game but we have to be able to relax and not panic
and play our game and make sure we do our jobs. We know this is the key
game for us to hopefully tie up the series.”

The difference
between 2-2 and 3-1 is tremendous. A loss tonight, and the Flyers will
be right back to playing with their backs against the wall. Ian
Laperriere said today that this team was the most resilient he’s ever
been a part of in his career and that the Flyers are at their best when
they absolutely must win.

The Blackhawks might have something to
say about that, however. When asked about Laviolette’s comments, Patrick
Kane responded “..well, that’s just mind games” and shrugged off
questions about the pressure being on the Blackhawks.

“We don’t
feel any pressure. We feel we’re in the driver’s seat, up 2-1. We’re in a
great position, we win this one we can go back home and hopefully do
some special things in front of that crowd. I think we’re in a great
position.”

Despite the 2-1 series lead, there’s no doubting that
the Flyers have been the better team on the ice since the third period
of Game 2. They’ve controlled the flow of the play, and have even been
able to step up to the speed of the game that Chicago enjoys and beat
them at doing so. Patrick Sharp agrees that the Hawks certainly need to
get better.

“At times we’re playing the game we want, we’re having good
stretches but there’s certainly room for improvement. We have yet to
play our best game, but sometimes you have to give the other team
credit.”

A lot of the focus has been on “pressure” and which team
is feeling it more. Let’s just settle and say that both teams are in the
Stanley Cup finals, in a tightly contested series; there’s tremendous
pressure on both of these teams.

Yet talking to the players, and
the way the media is approaching tonight’s game, there’s no doubting the
feeling that the Flyers have the momentum in the series at the moment.
Does that mean that the pressure is squarely on the Hawks and that the
Flyers are just playing with house money at this point? Possibly, and it
certainly shows in each team’s demeanor.

No matter what is said,
however, the true measure will come tonight.

‘I’ve got to be more aware’ on the ice, says Ekblad after recent injury

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 17: Aaron Ekblad #5  of the Florida Panthers leaves the ice following warmups prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Islanders during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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As per multiple reports, Aaron Ekblad practiced with his Florida Panthers teammates Thursday.

Good news. That marks another step in the progress he’s made from a neck injury — initially reported to be a concussion — suffered on a hit from Leo Komarov that ultimately ended the defenseman’s experience for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey.

On Thursday, Ekblad told reporters the injury was actually whiplash.

The 20-year-old Ekblad has had a history of concussions, including one from a Hockey Canada camp in August, 2014 — almost two full months after the Panthers selected him first overall.

He was injured again in January of last season when Matt Hendricks caught him with a dangerous hit against the end boards, resulting in a suspension for Hendricks.

Despite supplemental discipline from the league on that specific incident involving Hendricks, Ekblad, a valuable part of a young Panthers team that has increased expectations surrounding it, put the onus on himself to be more aware on the ice.

“When I think about it in the Edmonton game last year, there were a couple of big hits on their guys. I should have expected to someone was going to come after me,” Ekblad told NHL.com.

“Obviously you don’t think that. You think there’s a little bit more respect among players out there. I turned, I saw him. I didn’t think he was going to drive my head into the glass. The Komarov hit there, he got me on the shoulder, not much on the head or anything like that. It was more of the whiplash effect. Again, I’ve got to be more aware. You train your body, you train your brain to do that kind of thing. I do a lot of eye exercises and stuff like that. We’re working on that right now and just trying to be a better hockey player that way.”

The Panthers have a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. Ekblad is not in the lineup.

Stars sign WHL d-man Vala to entry-level deal

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The Dallas Stars have added another defenseman to their group of prospects.

On Thursday, the club signed 18-year-old Czech blue liner Ondrej Vala to a three-year entry-level contract. Vala is currently playing for the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League. He had four goals and 21 points in 72 games last season — his first with the Blazers.

Having represented the Czech Republic at U-17 and U-18 international events and played for the Stars prospects team at the Traverse City Tournament, Vala is also listed at six-foot-four-inches tall and 209 pounds.

He certainly brings size on the blue line, which is a quality the Stars appear to value in him.

“Ondrej has shown a combination of size and physicality along with the ability to play a defensively responsible game at the junior hockey level,” said Stars GM Jim Nill in a statement.

Related:

Another — yes, another — blow for Dallas as Janmark spotted on crutches

Capitals send first-round pick Johansen back to junior

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Lucas Johansen poses for a portrait after being selected 28th overall by the Washington Capitals in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals have sent prospect defenseman Lucas Johansen, selected 28th overall in this year’s NHL Draft, back to the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

From the Kelowna Capital News:

The Kelowna Rockets have yet to play a regular season game with a full lineup.

That will change this weekend in Prince George when defenceman Lucas Johansen and forward Calvin Thurkauf rejoin their WHL club for a two-game set against the Cougars.

Johansen, a first-round NHL draft pick this summer, is back from the camp of the Washington Capitals, while Thurkauf returns from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Capitals confirmed the news via Twitter.

Johansen, the younger brother of NHL center Ryan Johansen, appeared in Monday’s exhibition game for the Capitals, apparently leaving a positive impression on the coaching staff.

Still, Johansen doesn’t turn 19 years old until the middle of November. He also has some growing left to do at six-foot-one-inch tall and just 174 pounds, so sending him back to junior is the logical step.

“For a first game, to have that kind of poise playing defense, you don’t see it very often,” Capitals’ associate coach Todd Reirden told the Washington Post.

“So, it’s fun to watch, how he goes about the game. Certainly, I think it’s helped growing up in the family that he has and being around some of the players he’s practiced with. I think he has some special tools, in terms of his ability to slow down the play and see some things that other players don’t. He’s looking like an outstanding draft pick for us and a real great prospect moving forward.”

Shaw suspended three preseason games for boarding Connor Hobbs

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 02:  Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks speaks during Media Day for the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 2, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The National Hockey League has suspended Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw for three preseason games for boarding defenseman Connor Hobbs of the Washington Capitals in an exhibition game Tuesday.

The Habs have five more exhibition games remaining before the regular season begins Oct. 13.

Shaw was given a major penalty and a game misconduct on the play, as he slammed Hobbs “through the numbers, with speed” from behind into the end glass, as per Thursday’s video from the NHL outlining the suspension.

From the video: “It is important to note that Hobbs is never eligible to be checked by Shaw on this play. From the moment Shaw arrives at the faceoff dot, he sees nothing but Hobbs’ numbers. Hobbs makes no sudden movement just prior to contact that turns this hit from a legal hit into an illegal one.

“The onus is on Shaw to ensure that he can deliver this hit in a legal fashion, minimize the force, or avoid this hit completely. Instead, he hits forcefully through Hobbs from behind, driving him dangerously into the glass.”

In a bid to land a gritty forward to their lineup, the Habs acquired Shaw from the Blackhawks, who had been dealing with a cap crunch, during the NHL Draft. He later signed a six-year contract extension with Montreal.