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

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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.

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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.

Report: Red Wings RFA Athanasiou could sign in Russia

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With training camp approaching, Andreas Athanasiou is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old forward and restricted free agent posted 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season in the final year of his entry-level contract with an annual average value of $902,500.

Based on a report Tuesday afternoon, traveling overseas to play next season could be an option for Athanasiou, one of the bright young forwards in the Red Wings organization.

Earlier this month, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the organization has made a “number of offers” to Athanasiou.

One of the issues facing Detroit right now is the salary cap, which the Red Wings are currently over by almost $4 million, according to CapFriendly.

Report: ‘We … are not dealing with this issue as of now,’ says Iginla’s agent of Olympics

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National Hockey League players will not be going to the 2018 Olympics. However, it appears Team Canada has taken another step in expressing interest in a pair of unrestricted free agents — Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

That’s according to the Canadian Press on Tuesday, as it reported Team Canada general manager Sean Burke contacted representatives for both Doan and Iginla, inquiring about possible availability.

Both players are 40 years old and have represented Canada at previous Olympics when NHL players participated. Iginla set up Sidney Crosby‘s famous overtime winning goal during the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

From the Canadian Press:

Burke, who’s building the first Canadian Olympic roster without NHL players since 1994, suggested that both former Olympians would have to be playing somewhere if they were to be considered. He reached out to their representatives on Tuesday morning.

“We want to look at all possibilities, but there has to be a long-term plan because it’s going to very intense (at the Olympics) and it’s going to be great hockey and guys are going to have to have a plan for the year,” Burke said on a conference call, which also included the team’s head coach Willie Desjardins.

Whether or not the two veterans would be interested is another question.

“We really are not dealing with this issue as of now,” Don Meehan, Iginla’s agent, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

The report also indicated that Team Canada’s roster should become more clear by November.

Doan played his entire career with one franchise until this June, when Coyotes management informed the veteran forward that they would not be bringing him back for another season. He’s appeared in 1,540 NHL games throughout his career, but scored only six goals and 27 points in 74 games this past season.

Iginla, a two-time Olympic champion for Canada, split this season between Colorado and L.A. He had only eight goals and 18 points in 61 games with the Avalanche before getting dealt to the Kings. He then posted six goals and nine points in 19 games with L.A., although that club missed the playoffs.

Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky at his best to take the next step

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

When it came time for the annual NHL Awards, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rebound season was, deservedly so, recognized with a Vezina Trophy.

(He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy but that went to phenom forward Connor McDavid.)

At the heart of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise record-setting season, which saw them win 50 games and post 108 points while competing for the Metropolitan Division, was the performance of Bobrovsky. He was brilliant, particularly after his previous season didn’t go according to plan, in large part because of injuries.

He posted 41 wins over 63 starts, the most in a single season for him, and a .931 save percentage. That last stat technically isn’t an individual career best for Bobrovsky, although the one time he achieved a better save percentage was over 38 games during the lockout-shortened season.

Critical to his play was the fact he was able to remain healthy — a priority for Columbus heading into last season, and something that will need to continue once again in 2017-18. He was able to gain confidence in his own game and help propel his teammates to a different level, as the Blue Jackets competed with Pittsburgh and Washington through a good portion of the season for the division lead.

“When Bob’s at his game and feeling good, it brings a whole different kind of confidence into that room,” team captain Nick Foligno told the Associated Press last season.

Where Bobrovsky has struggled is in the playoffs. That continued again this past spring. In five games against a talented Penguins roster in the opening round, he allowed 20 goals against with an .882 save percentage, and is reportedly open to the idea of seeing a sports psychologist to help get over that hurdle.

With a good young roster, the Blue Jackets took quite a step forward last season. There was another productive year from Cam Atkinson. Zach Werenski impressed as a rookie defenseman. The biggest difference, however, was the goaltending Bobrovsky provided.

It’s difficult to believe April’s playoff struggles will have much, if any, impact on Bobrovsky heading into the new season. After all, he was able to prove in the weeks before that he can bounce back from disappointing times.

And he was able to prove that, when at his best, the Blue Jackets could be a dangerous team.

After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

“Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

That’s a nice raise. Not bad for a player taken 157th overall in 2008. He now sits fourth among players from that draft class in career goals, behind only Steven Stamkos, Jordan Eberle and Derek Stepan.

Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.