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.

Red Wings take advantage of Penguins’ mistakes in 5-2 win

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Even though the odds are stacked against them at this point, if the Detroit Red Wings are going to extend their playoff streak they are going to need to pile up a lot of wins the rest of the way to dig themselves out of the hole they put themselves in.

They took a big step toward doing that this weekend with two huge wins over the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.

They completed the weekend on Sunday with a rather convincing 5-2 win in Pittsburgh, taking advantage of a sloppy Penguins team that struggled in all phases of the game.

This win came just one day after the Red Wings beat the Washington Capitals in a shootout.

The big story for Detroit on Sunday early on was the play of starting goaltender Petr Mrazek — starting both ends of the back-to-back this week — as he made a couple of highlight reel saves to rob Ian Cole and Nick Bonino of what looked like sure goals.

In the two games this weekend he stopped 58 of the 62 shots he faced.

It has been a disappointing season for Mrazek individually, but he has worked to salvage it over the past four games by only allowing only nine goals on 160 shots (.943 save percentage).

As for the players in front of him, the Red Wings’ penalty killers were sensational on Sunday, frustrating the Penguins’ power play and limiting them to just three total shots on goal on their four power play attempts.

Three of the Penguins’ power plays failed to register a single shot on goal.

While Mrazek and the Red Wings were shutting down the Penguins’ high powered offensive attack, the Red Wings feasted on some brutal turnovers by the Penguins and an off day from Matt Murray in net to put five goals on the board. It was only the third time in the past month they scored more than three goals in a game.

They opened the scoring in the first period on a slick Nick Jensen goal following an Evgeni Malkin turnover in the offensive zone (seen above).

With the Red Wings holding a 2-1 lead entering the third period, a Jake Guentzel turnover resulted in Tomas Tatar‘s 14th goal of the season for the Red Wings to give them a two-goal lead.

Just two minutes later Thomas Vanek put the game away with his 15th goal of the season.

Sunday’s win is still just Detroit’s fourth in its past 14 games, while the Red Wings remain six points back of a playoff spot in 15th place in the Eastern Conference.

For the Penguins, it is their first loss in regulation since the All-Star break snapping what had been a nine-game point streak that saw them go 6-0-3.

Sens’ Hoffman leaves game vs. Jets with lower-body injury

OTTAWA, ON - NOVEMBER 13: Mike Hoffman #68 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Minnesota Wild at Canadian Tire Centre on November 13, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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The Ottawa Senators will need a comeback effort today in order to take over top spot in the Atlantic Division.

Making matters more difficult: The Senators, in action today against the Winnipeg Jets and having gone down two goals after the first period, will strive for that without forward Mike Hoffman, one of their best scorers.

Hoffman left the game in the first period and will not return, the Senators said, because of a lower-body injury.

With a win today, the Senators would move into a tie with the Montreal Canadiens at 70 points, but they would take over first place in the division because they have fewer games played.

Hoffman is tied with Kyle Turris for second on the Senators in goal scoring with 19 goals.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Sabres

Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly
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A three-game winning streak has the Buffalo Sabres right back into the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

They’ll go for four wins in a row when they host the Chicago Blackhawks, who sit second in the Central Division, on Sunday (6 p.m. ET). You can check out the game on NBCSN or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Blackhawks’ winning streak goes bye thanks to Talbot, Oilers

‘Hawks are happy with rookies’ progress

Goalie Nods: Lehner looks to lead Sabres to fourth win in a row

Sabres win third in a row to stay in playoff race

Goalie Nods: Lehner looks to lead Sabres to fourth win in a row

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 15:  Robin Lehner #40 of the Buffalo Sabres defends the net against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center on January 15, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/NHLI via Getty Images)
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With three consecutive wins — and six wins in their past nine — the Buffalo Sabres are trying to keep things interesting in the Eastern Conference playoff race, entering play on Saturday just two points out of a wild card spot.

One of the biggest reasons for their success in recent weeks has been the fantastic play of starting goaltender Robin Lehner.

Not only has he won four of his past five starts (including all three during the Sabres’ current winning streak), but he has probably been the driving force behind that surge with a .949 save percentage, allowing more than two goals just once during that stretch.

In three of those games he has made at least 37 saves.

Lehner has been a pretty big positive for the Sabres this season overall with a .926 save percentage.

Since joining Buffalo at the start of the 2015-16 he is at .925 putting him with the best goaltenders in the league.

They are going to need him to be great on Sunday evening again with a home game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are starting Scott Darling.

Elsewhere on Sunday…

— In the afternoon games it was Phillip Grubauer vs. Henrik Lundqvist in the Rangers-Capitals game and Matt Murray vs. Petr Mrazek in the Penguins-Red Wings game in Pittsburgh.

Mike Condon draws back in for the Ottawa Senators when they look to move into a first place tie in the Atlantic Division. Connor Hellebuyck goes for the Jets.

Sergei Bobrovsky will be in net for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they host the Nashville Predators. No official word from Nashville yet but with Pekka Rinne taking the loss on Saturday it would make sense to see Juuse Saros get the start.

Thomas Greiss gets the night off for the New York Islanders after he played on Saturday, which means Jean-Francois Berube goes when they take on the New Jersey Devils in the second half of their back-to-back. Keith Kinkaid gets the start for the Devils to give Cory Schneider a night off.

— Nothing official from Toronto yet but look for the Maple Leafs to give Curtis McElhinney the start in Carolina against the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have not announced their starter.

Calvin Pickard is expected to start for Colorado when the Avalanche host the Tampa Bay Lightning. No word yet from the Lightning on their starter.

— The Boston Bruins go for their fourth win in a row when they take on the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night. It will be Tuukka Rask in net for the Bruins with Martin Jones going for the Sharks.

— The Kings and Ducks have not announced their starters yet.

— After leading the Canucks to a win over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night Ryan Miller is going right back in the net for the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night when they take on the Philadelphia Flyers.