2010 Stanley Cup finals: Blackhawks play 'their' game to dominate Flyers 7-4

9 Comments

happybuffy.jpgFor most of the first four games – two of which, by the way, Chicago actually won – hockey fans kept asking: “What happened to the Blackhawks?” After all, this is the club who scratched and clawed through the trapping Predators, trampled the seemingly imposing Vancouver Canucks and then eked out win after win against the deep, talented San Jose Sharks.

Yet once the Cup finals began, it seemed like that combination of rugged play and skill vanished. Well, at least until Game 5, when the team stormed out of the gate and dominated the Philadelphia Flyers. Michael Leighton didn’t even make it past the first period.

Before this series, nine of the team’s 12 playoff wins were by two goals or more. The Blackhawks proved they could win tight, close games against the Sharks, but there’s no doubt that this offensively deep squad prefers a wide-open game. In some ways, they remind me of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns; even if you’re (sort of) sticking with them in a shootout, you’re still playing into their skilled hands. This is not a group you want to “trade blows” with.

Of course, one big difference is that the Blackhawks can play tough. One of the team’s truest catalysts is Dustin Byfuglien, a hit-or-miss power forward who hit everything – from humans to the twine – in a big way tonight. Just compare Buffy’s stats with his consistent tormentor, Chris Pronger. While the Flyers defenseman had a career worst -5 rating in this game, Byfuglien scored two goals, two assists and registered a staggering nine hits. It’s no wonder that Byfuglien was named the game’s first star.

That’s not the only area where the Blackhawks played “their” game, though. Considering the troubles they’ve been having, it was great for them to see Patrick Kane score a goal and add an assist while Jonathan Toews had a helper too. But what really screams “Blackhawks hockey” is just how many players were involved in the scoring. By my count, 11 out of 18 skaters registered at least one point and six different players generated the team’s seven goals. That’s the kind of depth and variety you expect from this loaded group.

flyersscoredon.jpg

Does this mean that Chicago should be completely pleased? No, there were some botched defensive assignments and the Blackhawks must be wary of allowing the Flyers back into games. After building a three goal lead, James van Riemsdyk pulled the Flyers within two during the third period and Chicago fans had to be at least a little bit nervous. It didn’t get much closer than that, but one missing element to their normally dominant game was tight defense (after all, they do employ Norris Trophy candidate Duncan Keith).

The Blackhawks seduced the Flyers into playing their brand of hockey tonight. Chicago dominated the flow, played physical hockey and flat-out bombarded their opponents for the first time in this series. While naysayers will point out that the team put together a flawed effort, mistakes happen at a break-neck speed. That’s a small price to pay in order to play the wide-open style that no other team in hockey – aside from maybe the Washington Capitals – masters quite like Chicago.

Let’s not assume that this one is over, though. Keep in mind that the last time Chris Pronger and Michael Leighton had awful games, the Flyers followed that up by taking two in a row to rout the Montreal Canadiens.

Once the Cup is raised and the champagne is flowing, it might just come down to which team plays “their” game in the final two contests.

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

Getty
Leave a comment

Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

Getty
Leave a comment

The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.

 

 

Ducks say they’ve allowed Draisaitl too much freedom, too much fun

Getty
Leave a comment

Given the nicknames bestowed on Leon Drasaitl recently — the German Gretzky, Certified Duck Killer — it’s safe to assume the big Oilers forward is having a pretty good time.

That’s something Anaheim wants to put to an end, starting tonight.

“He’s a power forward and we’re allowing him too much freedom. He’s having too much fun,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle told the Journal, after Drasaitl went off for four points in Wednesday’s series-opening win.  “I don’t know how I can put it any simpler.”

The 21-year-old has made a habit of tormenting Anaheim this season. He has goals in five of seven career games at the Honda Center and, in his last 11 tilts versus the Ducks, has racked up an whopping 17 points.

Coming into this second round series, most of the focus was on how Carlyle and company would shut down Connor McDavid.

But now it appears they have another matchup issue on their hands.

Carlyle’s most logical choice is to put out the Ryan Kesler line against McDavid, given Kesler’s stout defensive play and ability to shut down opposing centers. But in terms of straight matching, that puts plenty of responsibility on Kesler’s wingers — especially Andrew Cogliano — to deal with Draisaitl. He has good size (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and has been bolstered by McDavid’s playmaking ability.

As such, there’s a fascinating game-within-a-game to watch this evening. Carlyle has the benefit of last change. The forward matchups will be worth monitoring, but so will the defense — veteran blueliner Kevin Bieksa is doubtful after exiting Game 1 with a lower-body injury, but Sami Vatanen could return after sitting out since Game 1 of the Calgary series.

 

 

Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

Getty
2 Comments

The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

“I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

Gabe Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass are centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

As for Hischier, it’s his speed that really stands out.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

Draft lottery odds

Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
Dallas Stars 5.8%
Florida Panthers 5.4%
Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%