2010 Stanley Cup finals: Tough defense, not fatigue, slows Mike Richards and Jonathan Toews

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prongervtoews.jpgIt’s natural to throw a quality player under the bus when he’s hit a brick wall. The thing is, sometimes people stumble when they try to identify what, exactly, that brick wall is.

Take, for instance, the case of the teams’ two floundering captains. Both Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards were playing incredible hockey through the first three rounds of these playoffs. Toews had an amazing 26 points during that period while Richards wasn’t far behind with 21. Conversely, through three contentious Stanley Cup final contests, both players only have one assist each.

So what, exactly, is bugging the two team leaders? Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun proposes the time-honored excuse of fatigue.

At times, it has been his lack of determination, which has been the polar opposite of his calling card as a hockey player. Richards cleanly lost a faceoff in Game 3 to John Madden, which resulted in a Chicago score. Two former players indicated that Richards’ inability to bear down at times is likely due to “exhaustion.”

Said one former player: “At times, it looks like he wants to do something but his body just won’t allow him to do it. It looks to me like he’s physically worn down.”

Some are wondering the same of Toews, who has had a little more jump than Richards, his Team Canada linemate and fellow captain, but Toews has the difficulty of playing most of his shifts in the series against Chris Pronger. That, by itself, is difficult. But when Ben Eager has more points three games in than the Blackhawks’ leading scorer, it means even the captain is asking questions of himself.

Now, it’s not completely crazy to blame the two players’ struggles on “being out of gas” (especially considering the Olympics), but I fail to see the reason why they didn’t suffer from the same ailments in the first three rounds of the playoffs. It reminds me of Eric Staal puttering out in the Stanley Cup finals after dominating the playoffs before that point; the question wasn’t “What are the Oilers doing that no one else could?” but rather “Is Staal injured?”

Oddly enough, the same player charged with shutting down Staal is also giving Toews and Patrick Kane fits: Chris Pronger. Let’s not forget, also, that the Chicago Blackhawks trot out a Norris Trophy nominee in Duncan Keith and Dave Bolland, the checking center who hampered high-scorers Joe Thornton and the Sedin twins to the point of frustration.

It’s not as “sexy” or interesting to blame a slump on a tough matchup. Many sports writers would like to assume that any mountain could be climbed by determination or stick-to-itiveness. Yet, my guess is that the real reason the two captains struggle is because they’ve met their matches.

Then again, this series is still young, with plenty more hockey to come. You know, just like those supposedly exhausted players.

Sharks finally solve Gibson in OT to defeat rival Ducks

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Talk about perfect timing.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday, doing so in overtime to lift the San Jose Sharks past the goaltending of John Gibson in a 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.

Facing off against their California rivals for the first time this season, the Sharks dominated puck possession and on the shot clock. Had it not been for the play of Gibson, this one could’ve been a lopsided win for San Jose.

Gibson replaced Jonathan Bernier to begin the second period. Bernier left the game with an upper-body injury.

In relief, Gibson made 24 saves on 25 shots. Vlasic was the only San Jose player to get the puck past him, but not before the Ducks managed to steal a single point.

The Ducks recorded the single point, but did so faced with a short-handed lineup as the game continued. Not only did Bernier leave the game, but so, too, did Ryan Getzlaf, who didn’t play a shift in the third period.

He left with an upper-body injury, as per the Ducks, who at the time listed his return as questionable.

Elliott backstops Flames to victory in his return to St. Louis

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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So, it seems Jake Allen was onto something.

The St. Louis Blues goalie noted a few days ago that Calgary Flames fans shouldn’t be worried about Brian Elliott despite his early-season struggles.

Well, Elliott has since put together strong performances in back-to-back games against Central Division opponents from Chicago and then St. Louis.

After earning a shootout win over the Blackhawks on Monday, Elliott was put back in the Calgary net to finish off the back-to-back road set.

Facing his former team, Elliott made 23 saves on 24 shots and the Flames recorded a 4-1 victory. It was a special return to St. Louis for Elliott, who spent five seasons with the Blues.

“I saw that on the schedule from a while ago in the summer,” Elliott told NHL.com. “You want to come back here. I had so much fun playing in front of these fans in this building and wanted to do it again even though it was another team. The guys did a heck of a job in front of me to get that win for me.”

Not a bad trip for the Flames, with a maximum four points against two teams considered to be contenders in the Western Conference.

“I thought we were good in front of him, too,” Flames coach Glen Gulutzan told the Calgary Herald. “I thought we kept a lot of the stuff to the outside, but he made some big saves, especially at the end, when we knew their push was coming.

“I thought that was when he was his best. And that’s what you need — we put ourselves in position to win and then he carried us through.”

Bernier (upper-body injury) gives way to Gibson in Ducks net

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender Jonathan Bernier #1 of the Anaheim Ducks during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Ducks 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson began Tuesday’s game on the bench, but was forced into action to begin the second period against the San Jose Sharks.

Jonathan Bernier, who got the start, left the game with an upper-body injury and was doubtful to return, the Ducks stated on Twitter.

Bernier has played in only one other game for Anaheim so far, making 42 saves on 45 shots in a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 15.

‘Dig in there with the rest of the guys,’ says Babcock after leaving Andersen in against Bolts

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: In his first game as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs Frederik Andersen #31 puts his mask on against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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Frederik Andersen‘s difficult start to the season continues.

After an interesting exchange when questioned about his goaltender prior to Tuesday’s game against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning and some guy named Steven Stamkos, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was once again forced to answer inquiries about the play of Andersen, who allowed seven goals on just 24 shots.

Andersen stayed in the crease for the entire game, as the Leafs lost 7-3. He certainly didn’t get much help in the defensive end from his teammates in front of him.

Stamkos started the scoring for Tampa Bay, and continued it with a rocket one-timer past Andersen, before finishing with a four-point night.

But in Toronto, the conversation about the amazing play of rookies like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner seems to have shifted to the play of their goalie, acquired in a blockbuster deal with Anaheim, in which Toronto parted ways with a first- and second-round pick to make it happen. The Leafs then signed him to a five-year, $25 million deal.

Playing on a new team in a hockey-crazed market has likely been an adjustment. His season also started with an injury in Olympic qualifying.

Following the loss Tuesday, Babcock explained his reasoning for leaving Andersen in net for all seven Tampa Bay goals, two of which came late in the third period.

“I want him to play. He’s my guy. I want him to play,” said Babcock, as per Jonas Siegel of The Canadian Press. “So I could pull him and then say, ‘Okay I showed you!’ But what did I show him? To me, dig in there with the rest of the guys, make the next save and give us a chance to come back and win the game. You can’t do that sitting on the bench.”

The Maple Leafs face the Florida Panthers on Thursday. Florida’s goalie Roberto Luongo knows all-too-well about the pressures that come with playing the position in a Canadian market.

It is early in Andersen’s Toronto tenure.

But Babcock will likely be facing a similar line of questioning until his goalie turns it around.