One thing that should be added, subtracted from NHL '11 (Part I)

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stickbreaks.jpgNo doubt about it, one of the best ways to get through the hockey-free summer is to play (and wait for upcoming) hockey video games. The most popular series is EA’s “NHL” games with NHL ’11 coming in September. As we await its release, I thought I’d discuss some features I’d like to see in the game and some I wish were thrown out in the development cycle.

This could be a short-lived series or it could go a little further. That all depends on what kind of responses it receives; if you’d like to see something taken out (or added) to the game, please let us know in the comments. Apologies, also, to all non-dorks out there.

One thing I’d love to see in NHL ’11: “icon” passing/defensive switches

When I play defense in NHL ’10, I feel my inner Ken Hitchcock emerge (if I had a sweet mustache to stroke during intermission breaks, I would). Instead of going for the big hit every time, I wait back like a nerdy polygonal panther and allow my opponent to make a mistake. When I do go for a hit or get aggressive, though, I prefer to take that risk with a forward rather than a defenseman.

That’s where things get a little hairy. You see, there’s no way (that I know of, at least) to switch to the exact player you want on defense. Passing is similar, too; the game decides where you intended to send the puck. Most of the time, it guesses correctly, but when I can’t switch to a forward in a dangerous defensive situation … well, it’s not pretty. Let’s just say I devolve into a 13-year-old kid who used to scream at Video Game Kerry Collins for yet another interception.

The funny thing is that EA is a company that either invented or at least popularized the concept of passing to the exact player you want in the Sega Genesis/SNES “Madden” era. I faintly recall each wide receiver getting his own window with a button assignment in those early days of sprite-based graphics.

It would be a simply change, too. I looked at the game’s controller scheme and saw one button on the controller that rarely (if ever) is used: the “back” button. It’s located to the left of the middle X-Box thing and the start button. Why not allow players to click “select/back” and then choose whom exactly they want to pass to or switch to?

I am but a reasonable man.

One thing I’d like to see removed: Broken sticks

OK, it might not be completely fair to turn my back on this before I see it in action. After all, Electronic Arts really nailed “board play” in NHL ’10, a “realistic” element I was a little weary of.

There’s only one problem: while it adds heightened reality, there’s nothing fun about broken sticks. It’s honestly an annoying issue for the sport itself, but imagine this scenario for a second. You’re on the powerplay in a tie game. Perhaps your friends wagered some money on the outcome. Or maybe your reputation as the coolest person alive is on the line. (All realistic scenarios, naturally.) You find yourself in a great situation for a booming Chris Pronger point shot when – out of nowhere – his stick breaks and the other team scores a shorthanded game-winning breakaway. After you flip over your coffee table, kick your dog and break a controller, you realize that your significant other cannot look you in the eyes anymore. Ultimately, you turn off your console embarrassed and wronged.

Who wants that, huh? Don’t do it, EA. I’m begging you.

Leafs chase Rask, hold on to win Game 5

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they managed to extend force a sixth game thanks to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

The Maple Leafs managed to build up a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission thanks to goals by Connor Brown and Andreas Johnsson. They also had a 4-1 lead in the second period. That’s when the Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask in favor of backup Anton Khudobin.

After the goalie swap, Sean Kuraly managed to cut the deficit to 4-2 before the end of the frame.

 

Toronto did their best to blow their lead, as they took penalty after penalty in the second half of the game. The Leafs took the final four penalties, but the Bruins failed to convert on their opportunities on the man-advantage. They even gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 power play for over 1:30 before Kuraly scored moments later.

Goalie Frederik Andersen turned aside 42 of 45 shots. This was the third time in five games that he faced at least 40 shots in this series.

The Leafs will now return home for Game 6 on Monday night. They’ll need to perform more like they did in the first half of Saturday’s game if they want to force Game 7 in Boston.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert scores unusual breakaway goal

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We’ve all see some breakaways go horribly, horribly wrong in the past.

Patrik Stefan reigns supreme here. Devin Setoguchi didn’t fare too well on this one. And then there was this gaffe by Dennis Wideman once upon a time.

But sometimes one screws up, only to rebound quickly and turn a near-blunder into a nice-ish goal.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert did that today, in what’s already being called the best/worst breakaway attempt of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As you can see in the video above, Calvert gets a nice clean breakaway. As he attempts to first a wrist shot, he whiffs on the attempt but manages to corral the puck back, doing the whole spin-o-rama thing, and deposit the puck past Braden Holtby for his second goal of the game.

Sometimes it just all works out.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck